Our first experiences of the environment and biodiversity usually come from our early explorations as children in our backyard and local community. It’s the beginning of our awareness of the natural world and an important step into our understanding of the world around us. The Dunedin City Council has recently presented Te Ao Turoa – The Natural World as a draft environmental strategy for the City. The proposed strategy lo sets out themes, objectives and priorities for the management of the Dunedin Environment.
I was asked to write a submission on the proposed strategy on behalf of the Otago Peninsula Community Board. Strategy documents like this one are highly aspirational, they aspire to high level objectives and priorities. There’s nothing wrong with this as it’s designed to give some direction in a very complicated issue, but the real test of these kinds of documents lies in how they are going to be implemented and funded. The other part of that test is whether the organisation that develops the strategy can ensure that it becomes part of the broader corporate culture of that organisation at all levels. This is a particularly critical aspect for its success.
My submission on behalf of the Community Board dealt specifically with the effects of the strategy on the Otago Peninsula. Implementation, communication and the ability of the strategy to be assimilated into the contractual, legal and policy landscape were major themes of that submission. The other aspect of the submission was the acknowledgement of community, business and human resources in the management and conservation of the environment needs deeper consideration. This is directly relevant to the Peninsula as our landscape and environment is so highly reliant on people who act as guardians and stewards of this unique place. It’s always difficult to synthesize such a daunting topic as the environment in a few succinct pages of a submission. The scale of the topic and its complexities means that you always feel as though there’s something you’ve missed out. I imagine that the strategy process will be an evolutionary one as submissions come in from a wide range of people around the city with widely different views.
Many households and businesses have frustrations over the availability and quality of broadband in New Zealand. It seems to be taking forever for the fibre network and rural broadband initiatives to become available for many. The Otago Peninsula is no different and given its importance to the local economy as a tourism destination the need for better broadband coverage is becoming more apparent. At a broader level, business, education and community opportunities are being impeded by not having a reliable and accessible service.
No matter what scale business is, the opportunities that broadband provides are immense to improve productivity, the way people work and the way they promote their business. I was asked by the Peninsula Community Board to put together a submission to the Governments Digital Enablement Plan. The submission will be part of the Dunedin city Council’s citywide submission on broadband for Dunedin. I would have liked to have placed the direction of the submission from inquiry from the wider community, but time did not allow that. I’ve tried to provide a balance between business and community needs over the broadband issue so that everyone gets a fair degree of representation. I’m still very open to people contacting me if they have any thoughts or queries about the submission.
The recent Representation Review undertaken by the Dunedin City Council will see major changes to Community Boards across the city. For the Otago Peninsula that means we have lost the Tomahawk area from the Otago Peninsula and next year may lose two of the Board’s members. This appears to be part of a longer term plan by the City Council to abolish Community Boards all together. For me its deeply disappointing to lose part of our community from what has been a traditional part of the Peninsula for more than 150 years. I’ve heard arguments from urban people who areas with Community Boards essentially get two types of representation. To some degree that’s true, but when I look around the city there’s actually a good argument for having more board’s to represent people in urban areas. Take South Dunedin for example, what might an active Community Board have done for this suburb? Perhaps it might not still be waiting after many years for a library to be built.
The other aspect of the Representation Review that I’ve found concerning is the question of value to the community from having a board. It appears that the long-term plan will be to disestablish boards from all communities, and have community groups act as conduits with the City Council. In essence this is a type of community privatisation, where private groups will represent the needs of their community and compete for the small amount of funding in that sector. The trouble with this option is how can the community or the Council actually know whether any one group actually represent the views of any given community? Communities are funny things, often its the squeaky wheel or the loudest voice that is heard first. Sometimes, that’s not always fair and there are examples of local groups claiming to represent the views of the community when they have no such mandate. This is where Community Boards come to the fore, because they are elected bodies with rules around conflicts of interest and representation. They are not serving their own interest, but the collective interest of their communities.
The loss of Community Boards has serious consequences for governance and representational democracy in Dunedin and the Otago Peninsula. More importantly it is breaking up the traditional areas and communities of our city.
The flooding of South Dunedin and damage to roads and other infrastructure have been a timely reminder of the vulnerability of community’s to such events. Now that the city is in “recovery” mode and people dry out their homes it’s also a time to take stock of how well the community responded and coped during trying circumstances. On the Otago Peninsula the biggest issue is the fragility of the road network in adverse weather. This is exacerbated by the unstable structure of the landscape, and the area was closed off at various stages during the flooding period. Largely, homes and buildings were unaffected other than in a few places and when compared to the desperate plight of people in the South Dunedin area our residents probably got off quite lightly. Not all were so lucky like the Yellow Penguin Trust nursery that suffered a major loss through flood waters push through the site. By far the biggest thing on the Peninsula and the City was that fortunately there was no loss of life.
During such events its critical for the community to rally together, helping families, friends and neighbours in any way we can. Communication and information is key to making the right decisions in difficult times, when circumstances may bring you into a situation that is unique and often dangerous. The Peninsula is very fortunate that we have good networks of communication that keep people updated and informed. As a Community Board member I see that as one of my primary roles during such events and I utilise any method of communication I can to do this. However, sometimes a good old-fashioned trudge in the mud to your neighbour’s house is just as important.
Being prepared around the home for any event is also important and like many I’ve been looking at my preparedness for food, water, heat and communication. It’s never too late to take stock and think about how you might cope in situations of adversity. The Peninsula road network probably came through the flooding as well as it could do in the circumstances. Slips and road damage will certainly be trying for residents over coming months and the City Council will have quite a large job on their hands to remedy some areas. It will require patience and care from the community for things to get back to normal.
As April moves rapidly towards ANZAC Day, people across the country draw their attention to local commemorations especially in light of the centenary of the Anzac landings at Gallipoli. Today I attended the unveiling of the refurbished Soldiers Memorial in Highcliff Rd on the Otago Peninsula. Despite an icy wet blast many people made the trip to this commanding place with its 360 degree panoramic views of the city. The refurbishment of the memorial was undertaken as a Rotary project that this organisation does so well. The dramatic setting of the Soldiers Memorial is a very tangible link between the Peninsula landscape and its people and a moving place to reflect on those terrible times 100 years ago.
As time moves on and the survivors of both World Wars dwindle in numbers the mantle of commemoration is being passed to a new generation of people across New Zealand. Our commemorations are not just a time to reflect on the values of service and sacrifice, but also on the peace and security that we have enjoyed. With this in mind perhaps we should also reflect on how we can best use this peace to serve our families, our community and our country today. The lasting legacy of New Zealand’s servicemen and women has been that their victories are those of peace not of war. Lest we forget. (Click on the pictures to see in full size)
One of the great things about the Otago Peninsula is the way that local people are willing to pitch in to make their community a better place. This is never more evident than at the Keep Dunedin Beautiful Awards held at the Library today. Among the many worthy winners from a multitude of community groups and individuals the Otago Peninsula gave a great account of itself. There is a visible determination among all of the winners from the Peninsula to contribute in any way they can. “Adopt a Spot” award winner Barbara Smith picks up rubbish from around Highcliff Road, one of the region’s most scenic roads. While Robert George who has kept Macandrew Bay township free of litter from many years won an appreciation award from the National Keep NZ Beautiful organisation for his many years work. All of the Peninsula award recipients have not shied away from hard work and seeing pupils from Portobello School accept that mantle too is very heartening for our community. As the Otago Peninsula Community Board’s representative on Keep Dunedin Beautiful it makes me proud to see that we have people in our community willing to roll up their sleeves and do the hard work that is always out there.
The Norwegian playwright and poet Henrik Ibsen once wrote that “a community is like a ship; everyone ought to be prepared to take the helm.” In many respects it was that wish to make a difference and be part of the decision-making process that led me to stand for the Otago Peninsula Community Board. Being prepared “to take the helm” as Ibsen wrote and represent my community in the daily ebbs of flows of community life. As 2014 draws to close its a good time for me to reflect on what the year has brought for me and the community while I have been serving on the Board. Probably most importantly I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the diversity of views that I’ve heard from people in the community. Those views all have one distinct common theme and that is a real concern for the type and nature of the community that people live in on the Peninsula. Some are steeped in the needs of the landscape and conservation management while others are heavily drawn to the facilities, opportunities and needs of the people who create the Peninsula community. All are argued with the same level of passion. I’ve enjoyed my first year on the Community Board mostly because of the people I’ve met and that through that contact I’m able in some small way make a difference to the wider social and political fabric that covers the community. Whether it be bus routes, the Portobello Pontoon or the Tomahawk Lagoon each issue has importance for the community that must deal with these issues on a day-to-day basis. For me it’s not a chore, rather its a challenge that asks me to exercise all of my skill in mediation, listening, planning and problem-solving. Sometimes it’s also about using simple common-sense which I’ve found that Peninsula residents have in droves. Its been an interesting and stimulating year and I’m looking forward to 2015 with similar enthusiasm.
I was at the working bee held at the Portobello Domain, developing the skate park with a great bunch of people and their kids recently. Peninsula communities are so good at getting together and pitching in when there is something that needs to be done, especially when it comes to providing facilities for their kids. It was very pleasing to see so many of the local children take an interest and actively participate in helping the park get up and running. While my days of skate-boarding or scootering are well past there will always be a new generation of kids ready to give riding on wheels a try. Read the full story and view the pictures at the Portobello Community website.
The American Unionist Cesar Chavez once said “Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sake and for our own.” With the Dunedin City Council undertaking its “Draft Significance and Engagement Policy“ we might well consider just how we decide and disseminate our individual and collective aspirations. For any community that means having the ability to voice both its opinions and values in the local government environment so that they are heard and understood. Deciding what is a big or small issue is fraught with questions and problems. Competing interests within the community may have a wide range of views that are equally valid, but they may not necessarily align into a consensus. What is significant to you may not be important to someone else. Which is why being able to present your views is an important part of ensuring that community aspirations can be achieved or developed to meet its needs. The City Council’s draft strategy is an important process for Dunedin residents and one that everyone should look closely at. All residents should feel that such a policy will assist them in being heard, listened too and ultimately that decisions over issues large or small are transparent and fair. Feedback on this policy closes on Monday 10th November, so “don’t snooze and lose.”