We're not dying after all, Brucie!
"Anna, Dunedin is dying." That's what Brucie said to me a couple of weeks ago when he told me he was moving to Melbourne. I looked at him in a slightly agreeing manner and sighed. How do I argue this one? Businesses are closing or being "centralised", schools are under-utilised, the hospital is clearly busy but with an ageing population it won't remain that way, we have a reputation as a city that says "no" and whenever I mention I live in Dunedin to people north of here, all they can say is "brrrrrr".
Oh, but all of that was before I knew about the cockles... whoop whoop! "Brucie we're not dying, look at those big blimmin' cockles." Melbourne be damned, Dunedin will be the hip city of the South Pacific, complete with cockle shells as its centre piece. What could be more quirky and outrageously cool than that?
In gathering evidence for my argument with Brucie, I have been trawling the internet to read about cities which have come good. There are lots of interesting cases, Pittsburgh, Belfast, Bremen, Turin to name a few, but I am in severe danger of entering territory I know very little about. My arguments will be torn apart by a well-prepared Brucie. I have no city-planning credentials - don't even start asking me about the length of ramps or whether there should be lifts or not.
In my view, what we have been presented with is a vision. Ambitious yes and if we achieve half of what is outlined, we will be in a better place than we are now. An enormous amount of detailed planning and consultation is required, and of course, we need to find investors - I'm thinking those Chinese investors we turned down might be interested in the proposed hotels.
Confidence in projects is eroded as soon as people start attacking details prematurely. At this moment in time, what we need to debate is: is this the right vision for us? If so, how do we make it happen? If not, what are our alternatives? Once we are clear on our vision, then the devil will be in the detail and we can start debating pedestrian access, lifts and cycleways.
Sir George Troup, the architect who designed the Dunedin railway, was nicknamed "Gingerbread Troup" and apparently "he had a forceful personality and the most direct of speech for those he considered to be undeserving". Excellent. It's time to start talking straight. Dunedin is shrinking, we need to be bold, rather than hopeful, and we need leadership.
Many years ago, I was lucky enough to hear Jim Kouzes speak in the United States. He is the co-author of The Leadership Challenge, a book studied by academics and business people alike. In his book he outlines the five exemplary practices of leadership: model the way, share an inspired vision (which is where we are at now), challenge the process, enable others to act and encourage the heart.
Dunedin, we've got a long way to go and a lot of hard work ahead, but with leadership, vision and commitment we can get there and revitalise this city.
I'm excited. I will be in my 70s when the cockles are fully realised and Brucie a little older. He might be up for getting on a plane from Melbourne and sharing an Emerson's beer with me - and you're most welcome to join us - November 15, 2047 to toast the cockles - or perhaps an empty harbour with no-one else in sight.
Image credits: Animation Research