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Heavens To Murgatroyd

Heavens To Murgatroyd

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The trouble with Garden Place By DENISE IRVINE and TRACEY COOPER - Waikato Times Last updated 13:30 13/07/2009SharePrint Text Size IAIN MCGREGOR/Waikato TimesPASSING TIME: Young people gathered in Garden Place.DONNA WALSH/Waikato TimesDAILY VIEW: Alisha Davidson, of 4Musketeers Cafe & Bar, says although she had worked in Garden Place for only three weeks, she already recognises the regulars among the kids.

Relevant offers With recent ugly fights and threatening behaviour, Garden Place can seem a far cry from a vibrant, attractive city heart and the frustrations are growing.

Everyone's got a different take on Garden Place, scene of an ugly fight on Friday week.

It all depends who you talk to.The cafe owners and retailers in Hamilton's central square have been feeling the pressure of anti-social behaviour for months; Friday's fight brought things to a head for them and they've had a gutsful of groups of kids intimidating their customers with abusive language, spitting and fighting.

They frequently call the cops.Shop owner Sue Turner's response is typical.

She has had a young person come into her shop after being stabbed, others who've been punched.

The city beat police's phone number is pinned next to her telephone: "It's just like having it on speed dial."The kids, for their part, say they come to hang out, they spend a bit of money in the shops, and they don't want to hurt anyone.Daniel Robertson, 15, says it's central and there are shops around.

"We just come here to meet our mates."The police say Garden Place has excellent camera surveillance (four motion cameras and one still) and strong police visibility.

Inspector Karen Henrikson, Hamilton City acting area commander, says that while there is still more work to be done there, "in the big picture, it is still a safe place".

She says that public place violence in central Hamilton is down by 13 per cent in the past 12 months, and figures for this year look similar.Hamilton City Council hopes its multimillion-dollar City Heart revamp of Garden Place next year will provide fresh energy and activity in the area, and perhaps make it unattractive to the anti-social element which congregates there."We hope the business community will see some benefits," mayor Bob Simcock says.Longtime Hamilton resident Barbara Stack takes a strong interest in city development, and laments the lacklustre image of what should be a vibrant central showpiece.

"Garden Place has been taken over by hoods, it has no grace, no elegance.

It is a mish-mash, there is no design, it is any-old-how.

It has to be a place for lunch, for kids, for families, for lovers."Would Stack walk through Garden Place at night? "Heavens to Murgatroyd no," she says.People have a different take on Friday night's fight, too.

Police say it began with an incident on Wednesday between two boys.

One was on stand-down from a secondary school, the other was the boy who had apparently narked on him.

Ad Feedback Henrikson says police thought the incident had been resolved, but it flared again on Friday afternoon.

The boys came face-to-face, they were egged on, a crowd gathered to watch the fight, and two police officers were called.Police estimate there were about 30 onlookers.

It was not a mass fight, they say, describing the action as an altercation rather than a brawl.They arrested two 16-year-olds boys and an 18-year-old.

They were charged with a number of offences, among them one of threatening to kill (the 18-year-old) and assaulting police (a 16-year-old).But Sheryl Knapp, manager of Astra Bridal on Garden Place, says the crowd was "heaps" more than 30.

It was at least 50, it could even be 80.Knapp watched the situation escalate: "It was quite scary, a lot of shouting and pushing, and a whole swarm of them started tearing over to our (northern) side.

We saw a cop hit in the face, and another cop pepper-sprayed one of the boys.

It was a fight between two people, and a big guy kept yelling and shouting, rarking people up."Knapp says fights and abuse happen all the time in Garden Place.

She is often uncertain as to whether to call the beat police (stationed in Ward St) or 111."How serious does it have to be?"Sometimes she and her co-worker have called police two or three times a day.

"By the time they get there it's over."Knapp says kids have become more abusive, and there is a fight at least once a month.

Other retailers confirm this.

Saturday afternoons, Knapp says, are the worst times for abusive behaviour, and her customers find it intimidating to walk past the kids clustered on the steps leading to her bridal salon.

"It is so frustrating."Which just about sums it up for the players in the Garden Place saga.

All the retailers interviewed for this story expressed frustration.

Simcock met Henrikson on Tuesday afternoon this week to discuss the Friday incident.

He says council now has a better idea of what actually happened, and staff will look at talking to people associated with the young crowd.Henrikson says police want to find out more about the youths involved, and work more closely with their training organisations, schools or families to find solutions.

"I'm confident the beat police have a good knowledge of the (Garden Place) regulars."Henrikson says police would rather be on the front foot, and encourages businesses to continue early reporting.

She reiterates that it's important to call 111 for a serious offence (risk to people or property), rather than the beat police base.She adds that despite their nuisance behaviour, the young people have the right to be in Garden Place.

Unless they are breaking the law or bylaws (such as skateboarding), or they are breaching bail conditions, or have had had trespass notices served for private property.THE KIDS themselves are probably as frustrated as anyone.

They're young, they're bored, and they don't have jobs or schools to go to.On Tuesday morning, Daniel Robertson sits on the low curved wall in Garden Place and waits for his mates to show up.It doesn't take long.

Pretty soon a few others, in the traditional teenager garb of jeans, hoodie and baseball cap, wander in, give each other welcoming shoulder bumps and take their places.As more arrive, some wander off and form other groups around the largely empty area in central Hamilton.The dynamics of the different groups change with each new arrival.Like most of his mates, Robertson says he's finished with school and has no job but is happy enough to spend his days hanging out in Garden Place.They borrow chewing gum off each other, pester passers-by for cigarettes and whoever's got the most (or any) money buys the pies for their mates.Aside from a small group of Chinese people performing tai chi on a Tuesday afternoon, the teenagers are the only ones who spend time in Garden Place, everyone else apparently using it as a thoroughfare between Downtown Plaza and Victoria St.Robertson says there are usually about a dozen regulars in Garden Place but "there's more after school".They're not there to cause trouble, he says, but he can see how some people may feel intimidated by their presence."But we're not going to hurt anyone.

They tell us to shut up if we're swearing," he says."It's mostly outsiders who cause the trouble."Fighting in Garden Place "doesn't happen very often," he says.Logan Fraser, 16, disagrees.

"It happens quite a bit."Fraser, who says he lost his job at an engineering firm when he broke his leg, intends studying at Wintec next year but until then enjoys meeting up with friends in Garden Place.Police pass through Garden Place about every 10 minutes, he says.

"They see us every day, they don't care."He says he had "never seen so many cops in one place," as after Friday's fight.Along with Robertson, Fraser knows the location of every security camera in the area and points out the places they're not welcome to hang out."You can't sit on those steps (outside the dental centre) or you'll get trespassed, and the duty free shop.

And the library, they ask you to move on if you're outside, so you go inside and they ask you to leave.""There's nowhere under a roof," he says as the rain starts falling.Fraser says he'd like to see a small, covered skateboard half pipe in Garden Place to make it more attractive and to give young people something to do."You're not allowed to skate here.

We need somewhere to skate in town.

There's nothing to do otherwise.

Most of us don't have jobs."Fraser, who is waiting the prescribed five working days until he gets his confiscated skateboard back from police, says suburban skateboard ramps and bowls are too dangerous."At Fairfield they're always pulling shit and at Melville there're heaps of fights.

I've been chased away from there with hammers," he says.When police officers walk through Garden Place, the teenagers watch their every move in the same way a herd of zebra watches a predator pass through their territory, aware that drawing attention to yourself can only cause trouble.Fraser says the teenagers aren't out to cause trouble and generally keep to themselves."We just sit in groups.

We sit on the wall, not in the way of people."And they spend what little money they have at Garden Place businesses."If we couldn't hang out here, most of these places would close," Fraser says.

"I buy a couple of coffees from Urge, and chips at Salmas (Rasai), and the dairy."Salmas is the number one shop," Roberston chips in.ALISHA DAVIDSON'S worked in Garden Place for only three weeks, yet she already recognises the regulars among the kids huddled on the wall and grass near the newly opened 4Musketeers Cafe & Bar, on the northern side.

Davidson's the barista at 4Musketeers, and some of the kids are already in the area when she starts work at 7am."I feel sad about it," she says.

"They're just young kids who are getting spoiled.

They need jobs, or to go to school.

They just come here all day and smoke."The cafe's co-owner Sanjay Singh is concerned about their effect on his fledgling business.

On Monday lunchtime this week, he has only a handful of customers and about 20 kids sit on the wall directly out from the cafe."We don't mind them being here, but when they throw bottles, cans and food it's not good," Singh says.

"There are fights once a week.

It puts people off, it's hard on a new business."On the opposite side of Garden Place, Embargo owner Herbert Hickel says the Friday fight was "not so unusual".

He's called police between 15-20 times in the past six months, with a mixed response.

It's difficult for him when he's got customers at his restaurant's outdoor tables, and abusive kids are sitting on the brick wall nearby.

He has a series of anecdotes about bad behaviour, including swearing, fighting, spitting, lack of respect for police, and an altercation between one of his customers and some kids.Hickel's not blaming the council or police for the ongoing problems, and he can't see a solution overnight.

But he'd like a greater police presence during the day, and he'd like to see police being more assertive with the young people.

The council's City Safe team does a good job at night, he says, but more lighting in Garden Place would be helpful.

He also thinks temporary night-time parking in the adjacent Civic Square might bring more people and activity to the area.Hickel says there is a hard core of trouble-makers.

"It's frightening to see, when something happens.

It's like a pack of wolves circling."John Erceg remembers the days when families played in Garden Place, kids chucked balls, office workers ate their lunch on the grass.

"Now you can't do that." Erceg owns the Garden Cafe in Garden Place, he's been there for nearly 16 years, and he's watched the social situation deteriorate.

Like Hickel and others, he says it is a minority causing trouble, with the rest tagging along.He takes a firm line outside his cafe, and doesn't know what the answer is.

He looks out to the grass, trees and clusters of hoodies: "It's a pity, Garden Place used to be a lovely, friendly area."Sue Turner, owner of Trendez store, probably sums up for the retailers when she sighs, "I don't think anybody knows what to do."GARDEN PLACE should be the jewel in the city's crown, but it's become tarnished of late, dogged by a jaded landscape and the anti-social behaviour that boiled over on Friday last week.

Mayor Bob Simcock agrees this incident, and similar problems, are not a good look for the city.

He wants to see fresh attention paid to Garden Place, and in the next six months or so a new design will be formulated as part of the City Heart central city rejuvenation that has so far focused on Hood St and parts of Victoria St.Garden Place retailers and property owners will be consulted, and he expects work to probably start early next year.

About $3.5 million has been allocated for the precinct from the $26 million City Heart budget.Simcock hopes for an "energy change" as well as some physical alterations.

"We are trying to encourage a whole lot of activity in that place that will make it attractive."Some of the City Heart proposals for Garden Place include clear, open views to the precinct from Victoria St, to create a more inviting entrance and draw the public; links from the river through Garden Place and Civic Square to urban places and institutes beyond; spaces for public gatherings and performances; and the central library maybe opening to Garden Place with an outdoor "room" and multi-media facilitate."We've got a lot of ideas, but not a lot of money," Simcock says.Meantime, life goes on in Garden Place.Like the teenagers, unemployed man Michael Cammock is in the precinct most days and says the area "has the potential for good things".He'd like to see more entertainment, and somewhere for outdoor performances.

The City Heart upgrade might be just the thing for him.

Cammock thought the giant Christmas tree installed there last year was a great idea and "the first thing worth having in Garden Place in the 20 years I've been living in this city".Cammock says the groups of young people that hang around the area are no trouble but "there's always a couple of hoods in their midst and they stir it up".Daniel Robertson agrees and says almost in unison with retailers that it's the few making trouble for the many.

For him, the solution is simple.

"They've just got to stop the fights."Sponsored links Next Features story: Beehive to housebus, life's a lot betterWaikato Times HomepageShare this page Email Facebook Myspace Digg StumbleUpon Delicious Reddit
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