Guy Marriage reviews Ben Schrader's The Big Smoke: New Zealand Cities 1840–1920, published by BWB.
The Big Smoke is the missing part of our history in Aotearoa – the urban history of our four biggest cities. Ben Schrader’s work documenting the rise and rise of Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin from 1840 to 1920 is a surprisingly enjoyable tiptoe through urbanity in New Zealand, from the cesspools and slum dwellings of Te Aro and Queen Street right through to the time that things started to get interesting.
Well researched and heavily illustrated with excellent pictures from the archives, Schrader touches on issues that affected us then, just as much as today: the growth of cities from tiny fledgling towns; the health of those cities and, conversely, the great unhealthy conglomeration of humans not adequately catered for with sanitation and housing; street people; crowding in the cities; Māori and the city; the “soiled doves” of Auckland; the hookers of Christchurch, the sewer planning, the smallpox epidemics, the Temperance movement and ladies marching bands. Criminals, larrikins and inebriated Cantabrians.
Oh, and architecture too. As an architect, should you own this? Probably. Should you read this? Definitely, especially if you are one of the many architects working on trying to squeeze ever more people into a narrow isthmus of land known as Auckland.
Read it before you design another medium-density slum…