Date3 Dec 2021
Places tell stories. Places reveal how power dynamics in societies function, how history, trends, human consumption, investment and fashion change, and how people make meaningful lives and connect with each other. For me, the work of HOOPLA (the urban research and art collective of Nina Patel and Kathy Waghorn) is all about place.
Specifically, how people know, use and value places differently, and how places can be re-imagined and re-purposed. Their work is always grounded in specific places and the histories, people, and transactions that construct these places. HOOPLA’s current research work focuses on the Avondale Sunday Market which takes place in the parking lot of the Avondale Racecourse. The Avondale Sunday Market is one of the largest and longest-running markets in Aotearoa. It was started in the 1970s by the local Labour Party and current visitor numbers range anywhere between 10,000 and 20,000 each Sunday, depending on weather and time of year. The market sells fresh fruit and vegetables, dry foods, seafood, meat, fungi, local art and crafts, new and second-hand goods and clothing. From the start, the market has also been a site of cultural and intergenerational exchange, with wide ethnic diversity and significant Pacific and Asian influences.
While the Avondale Sunday Market is well known, its future is somewhat uncertain as it is tied up with the privately owned Avondale Racecourse. Reflecting wider shifts around the social licence of gambling and changes to racing legislation, as well as changes in technology, the Avondale Racecourse no longer has the number of races or in-person audience that it once did. The current housing crisis and demands for better use of limited urban land are also important drivers for change. In recent years there has been debate about the ownership and future of the Avondale Racecourse. Potential outcomes have included the current owners (the Avondale Jockey Club) being required to ‘hand over’ the land – worth an estimated $300 million – to an industry racing body who may then ‘sell’ it to government.
HOOPLA has a longstanding engagement with both the Avondale Sunday Market and Avondale Racecourse. Nina and Kathy live on opposite sides of the Te Whau awa, which runs close by the racecourse, and in 2002 Kathy conducted a master’s thesis that produced a time-space analysis of the activities occurring on the Avondale Racecourse. Her findings revealed a fascinating account of diverse mixed uses: from the West Auckland Pigeon Racing Association to ballroom dancing, bingo, rugby and touch rugby, cricket, fly fishing casting and golf driving practice, dog training, film shooting and driving lessons. When Kathy was finishing her thesis in 2004, Treasury’s Living Standards Framework didn’t exist; nor was there any talk of a ‘well-being budget’, as in recent years. At that point gross domestic product (GDP) (in other words, money) was the main measure of value at a national scale. Activists, feminists and Indigenous scholars had critiqued this sole focus on GDP, however their demands for alternative measures tended to be seen as ‘too radical’ or dismissed as unnecessary or too hard. While local governments had a slightly different mandate enshrined in the Local Government Act of 2002 to sustainably promote the four well-beings, in many cases the more dominant measure and value of money tended to influence investment decisions at the local level. This meant that community activities like those occurring at the Avondale Racecourse (including the Avondale Sunday Market) often struggled to demonstrate their diverse impacts and outcomes to decision-makers. Consequently, when lease agreements ended, or when funding support and land development was discussed, these kinds of local community activities were often not prioritised.
Given the recent debates about the future of the Avondale Racecourse, HOOPLA’s research is important. It illustrates the diverse transactions occurring and points to the significant impacts for the thousands of people who exchange goods and services at the Avondale Sunday Market. The implications for livelihoods, employment, exchange and well-being are significant if the market ends. For example, HOOPLA’s analysis shows how much cheaper fresh fruit and vegetables are than supermarket prices. Reflecting current concerns about food security and inequality (exacerbated by Covid-19), their work highlights just how important the market is for people on limited incomes. For many cultures, the ‘market’ is a key site of both social and economic exchange. Being able to access food people actually want in culturally acceptable ways is an often neglected but important aspect of food security. HOOPLA’s work points to the key role the Avondale Sunday Market plays in social exchange and networks. Sometimes these networks are about connecting people across geographic distance – like the rural producers from Te Taitokerau Northland and the Waikato who travel hours early on Sunday mornings to sell their produce to urban folks in Tāmaki. At other times these networks help to redistribute surplus and thereby avoid food waste and spoilage. For example, Kathy has described how an Uber driver told her about buying fruit that was about to turn for $20 a box. His family then distributed the fruit among their extended family.
Finally, HOOPLA’s research illustrates the importance of the Avondale Racecourse as a flexible, semi-permanent community space. This is particularly important for groups and businesses (like market stallholders) who cannot afford to maintain or rent permanent premises. Increasingly, high urban land values around Aotearoa are squeezing out these kinds of flexible community spaces. Without security of tenure or an appreciation of the value these kinds of community sites of transaction and enterprise create, market stallholders and others like them can be relatively vulnerable.
HOOPLA’s work reflects thinking from scholars researching diverse and community economies who argue that we need to maintain a diversity of transactions for people to live well. Monetary exchange is important, but so too are all the other exchanges – smiles, laughter, haggling, hearing music, learning about new food, seeing friends and acquaintances, reducing waste by buying second-hand and hearing local politicians on the campaign. HOOPLA’s work illustrates the diversity, messiness and importance of specific places like the Avondale Racecourse and the Sunday Market that help to foster diverse community exchange and transaction.
HOOPLA is led by Nina Patel, who has a background in urban design and architecture, and Kathy Waghorn, who has a background in art and architecture. HOOPLA’s work to date focuses on the Whau neighbourhoods of Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland. HOOPLA specialise in the development of opportunistic tactics, tailoring their work to their means and seeking available resources and local collaborators to support what they do.
Dr Gradon Diprose is a geographer working as an environmental social science researcher at Manaaki Whenua—Landcare Research. His current research is exploring human nature relationships, climate resilient urban infrastructure, and how communities come together around shared concerns to sustain their livelihoods and wellbeing.