It was a sad day when the last bank left standing in Wainuiomata closed. I talked to the manager at length about it, and it seems that the closure had been on the cards for a while. The number of people using the branch had been declining steadily, though I have to say that every time I went in there, there was a queue.
The truth is that people are doing more and more of their business and banking online.
The serious matter behind this is that the bank closure provides one more reason for people not to come into Queen Street. We are all human and need social contact with each other. A lot of that contact is not planned, but occurs when we run our errands. This includes visiting the bank, dropping into the pharmacy (of course!), or the supermarket. These spontaneous sidewalk interactions help to create a feeling of belonging and responsibility for each other and for our town.
The great observer of American city life, Jane Jacobs, focused on the importance of the most casual of contacts at the local level. They are valuable, she wrote, because they create:
“… a feeling for the public identity of people, a web of public respect and trust, and a resource in time of personal and neighbourhood need.” (Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, 1961)
The bank closing means one less errand and one less opportunity for people to meet. In this way, the slow erosion of “community” continues – if we let it.
The corporates don't feel the same way about our towns as we do. To them we are an expense to be controlled.
So what can we do?
Let's find a purpose for our business centre that makes good use of the buildings and space available. Let's find ways to make Queen Street a bustling, positive area to visit. Let's focus on providing things that can't be done online, entice people out of their homes, and encourage them to interact, and enjoy each other’s company.
Maybe the closure of the bank is the catalyst for action – to make Queen Street the vibrant centre of Wainuiomata.
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