You will of course appreciate that as Mayor I get a considerable number of invitations. I have to turn many down because there simply are not enough hours in the day to accept them all.
But I accepted this invitation for a special reason. Hugh Swaney is a personal friend of mine, so whoever suggested that Hugh should send the original invitation to me directly, did very well.
I cannot pretend to be an expert on any of this, but I do know that poverty of spirit is what grinds away at people’s innate capacity to thrive and I know that the effects are inter-generational. And I also know that inequality can be a real driver of this downward spiral. So any discussion on the development of areas for housing must include a commitment to building thriving communities. A shortfall in household income can be made up by ensuring high quality public realm and genuine community participation in the development process itself. It’s a question of ownership and that all important sense of belonging and pride in one’s community.
I know all these areas quite well. I live one suburb over from Mairehau and Shirley in Burwood (I drive or bus through them pretty much every day and I shop at the Palms a lot. I used to live in Springfield Rd, St Albans for three years. But more importantly I grew up in a part of Papanui that has been renamed Strowan even though it’s closer to Papanui Rd than Strowan Rd and I used to go to the mobile library at the St Albans shopping centre before it became the Merivale Mall and some of the suburb got a new name.
I make this point because the communities we live in are what we define them as, not what developers or real estate agents say they are. They are much more about the public spaces where we run into our neighbours when we’re out walking – the parks, little shopping centres, the schools, the churches and community cafes. That’s why large shopping malls – although centred within wider communities – are not really community centres as of themselves – nor are large area-wide schools and churches. What has been successful in our post-earthquake environment is the sharing of local community facilities enabling people to stay in their neighbourhoods for the parts of their lives that keep them connected with others in that area.
Future developments, which are what you have asked me to speak about tonight, are not always driven by council zoning decisions, but rather by private developers wanting to invest.
And for them there is a reasonably straight forward analysis – does my rate of return stack up in terms of the investment I make and the risks that I take?
For a city the questions go beyond that to the impact on infrastructure – can our services cope – what about transport – can everyone walk to a bus stop, to a dairy and walk or bike to a school. And what about amenity – the things that define our communities like parks, pools and libraries – where do they fit?
Urban sprawl may meet someone’s return on investment, but not necessarily the ratepayer’s, who meet the ongoing costs of distance from school, work and play every time they get on the roads that are subjected to increased wear and tear.
For every action there is a reaction, for every decision there is a consequence for which the cost is often hidden but, in such circumstances, invariably socialised.
Redeveloping areas that are already developed and have capacity in terms of land use and services is gaining attention in cities around the world.
And that makes opportunities for the future development of Mairehau, Shirley and St Albans all the more appealing.
One of the areas of significant opportunity sits in the Housing NZ area of Shirley. A master-planned approach can turn this into a wonderful asset, with a mixture of properties, private and public, and a much better use of the green space and public amenity. The regeneration planning process our city now moves to with a law that should be passed this week, also gives an opportunity for further development in the area with a community focus. Closed shops with roller door facades would have to be one of the worst aspects of what describes a community in decline.
On the 9th May I’m opening a magnificent facility in Hampshire Street, Aranui. The earthquakes destroyed the Aranui Community Hall and made the Aranui/Wainoni Family Centre uneconomic to repair. This new facility is what the community gets in return. But this is not the only thing that’s happening. More than a decade ago, the community entered into a partnership with central and local government, something that would have been impossible to imagine in the decade before that
The concept of partnership lies at the heart of an effective community development initiative. Representation on a committee is mere tokenism when contrasted to the meaningful contribution of a partner to a process. It is not for Housing NZ, nor for the city council, to drive this process, even if our motives are altruistic.
We need to build capacity within the community so that it can sit at the table as an equal partner. This is what I believe in when I talk about community development.
It’s called Asset Based Community Development – ABCD – and it is all about building on the strengths of the community that lie within the people who live there. Mapping the community for its asset base identifies opportunities that may not be obvious from the outset. Obviously your own Neighbourhood Trust works on that strengths based philosophy.
The worst thing to do would be for ‘the government’ to go into a community saying we can fix you. The best thing would be to go in there and say, we are here to listen. And once we understand the asset base, what people appreciate about this area, including Trusts like yours, then we can have a deeper conversation about what they think would improve it. That's the beginning of a partnership. It’s a journey that neither can walk alone.
Unfortunately governments – be they central or local – seem to have a default setting of wanting to do things for communities and in the process both defining and seeking to address the problems to be solved - all by themselves.
Communities are not problems to be solved. That is paternalistic and the kind of deficit thinking that has no place in a society that seeks to build on its asset base.
Non-government organisations aren’t always exempt from this kind of thinking either.
Asset based community development assumes the community is engaged in a meaningful way in all aspects of decisions that affect their lives.
Bt it seems to be a real challenge for central and local government to stop thinking of their citizens as nothing more than taxpayers & ratepayers or consumers of the services they provide or needs to be met.
I am very aware that every cent we spend at Council comes from ratepayers one way or the other - that makes me mindful of expenditure - but I don’t think of our city’s residents as mere consumers of the services we provide as a council.
I don't even really think of us as a council, as if we were an entity separate from the city. We are the city and I have been privileged to be democratically elected to provide leadership and to represent and speak for the city as its Mayor.
We are united around the council table in wanting to reach out to our communities and offer to them the ability to co-create our city. We know that participatory planning and collaborative decision-making are the pre-requisites to a truly inclusive form of citizen engagement.
I said recently that if there was one city in New Zealand that should be the vanguard of such an approach, it is Christchurch. We won an international award for Share and Idea – it was in recognition of our work towards co-creating our city centre and the community building that represented.
Look at the community groups that pre-existed the earthquakes – the Lyttleton Project & Timebank – you don’t need a standard civil defence response when you already know who is available to do what – a community that trusts people to do things for each other in exchange for equivalent time – not money – each hour valued equal.
The Aranui Community Trust (ACTIS) as I mentioned before had been partnering with central and local government for a decade before the earthquakes.
They were trusted by their community, making it easy to gather crucial information from the community after the earthquakes. That community may not have trusted outside authorities enough to even answer the door let alone pass on that information.
And what about those emergent community groups, which undertook such important roles? The Student Volunteer Army has created a trusted virtual community that can be activated regardless of the turnover in students.
So why are we not at the vanguard?
One word repeated in all the examples I could use and that is trust.
Trust is missing in action here and yet it’s the essential ingredient to participation.
Why would you participate, if you don’t trust that you can influence the decisions and all your experience is that ‘they’ meaning ‘we the government or the council’ don’t listen?
As we know establishing a relationship of trust goes both ways.
The irony is, with people expressing such little trust in governments, it is in fact governments that have to learn how to trust the people.
Armed with the right information communities can work things out for themselves.
I always thought that earthquakes released stress – in fact they redistribute stress – hence the aftershocks. A scientist put me right. Why do I mention this? Because decision-making has to be informed.
The community network that emerged after the earthquakes, CanCERN, had a motto: ‘the wisdom of the community always exceeds the knowledge of the experts’.
My experience is that that is not quite right – I would say the wisdom of the community combined with the knowledge of the experts always exceeds what one can offer without the other.
Excluding the community from decision-making has been very damaging and has added unnecessary stress to an already stressed environment.
Often it has been the not knowing the how, when, why and what of the decisions being made, which has been just as disempowering as the original event.
Open channels of communication between decision-makers and affected communities and vice versa are essential to establishing the level of trust people need to have in each other and with the government of the day – be it local or national.
And we can fix that now.
I often quote a headline from the paper a few years ago which read: “Community leaders advised to ‘shut up and listen’”.
I was at the TEDx event and so knew it was Ernesto Sirolli’s presentation that sparked the headline, and it is his story that I wanted to share.
When he was 21, he started to work for an Italian organization of technical development in Africa. They had sent five young Italian volunteers to a small village at the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe to teach local people agriculture. It was a traditional African village of hunters and gatherers. The Italians decided that these people would be better off if they became farmers.
They cleared a piece of land by the Zambezi River and the first crop they Italians put in, of course, was tomatoes. They grew really well.
The morning they were to go and harvest the tomatoes, and when they arrived in the field, there was nothing left. No tomatoes, no plants, no green, nothing. The Italians looked at the river, and in the river were 300 hippos, digesting tons of tomatoes!
The Italians turned to the villagers in shock - who just shrugged their shoulders and said that's why we never plant anything by the river; the hippos always eat what we grow!
So why didn’t you tell us, they demanded. Because you never asked.
And that was what he meant by ‘shut up and listen’. No-one can truly aid development from the outside; the hippos are everywhere and only the locals truly know the lay of the land.
So for me the future of all these communities look bright. Each seems well located in terms of public transport routes, bikeability and walkability. The largest part of the three areas has been identified for its potential for Housing NZ to create a new mixed development, reducing the percentage of people who have the need for social housing, and improving the overall amenity of the area.
The council’s role in my view is to ensure that its community development focus centres on capacity building so that the community joins Housing NZ as a partner at the table and not as a token representative on a committee.
Otherwise we could in the future find the hippos munching on the tomatoes - metaphorically speaking – and wonder what went wrong.