The recent Draft Economic Development Strategy undertaken by the Dunedin City Council was an opportunity for the Dunedin Amenities Society to put its views on the economic pathway outlined for the city. The development of such a strategy is an important step for the future of Dunedin, but it’s not the first time that the Society have advised the Council and its citizens that Dunedin has much to offer. In September 1888 Dunedin lawyer and Society co-founder Alexander Bathgate read an address to the Otago Institute entitled “The development and conservation of the amenities of Dunedin and its neighbour-hood.” Bathgate outlined a vision for Dunedin that blended the conservation of native biodiversity and landscape with the smoothing of the rough edges of the colonial city.
What was remarkable about Bathgate’s address is his realisation that Dunedin could play a major role in the tourist industry and that such an industry would become a key economic driver for the burgeoning Dunedin economy. Prophetically he stated; “Beauty in itself or in its surroundings is a pecuniary valuable attribute to any town. We have much to attract the passing stranger, and these attractions may be so added to that he may be induced to linger longer in our midst and perhaps even cast in his lot amongst us…” If he was prophetic about the tourism opportunities Dunedin could create he was equally concerned that Dunedin citizens did not appreciate what was available to them; “I do not think that the people of Dunedin as a rule are fully alive to the beauty and attractiveness of their city, and there are but few, if any, evidences of that love for, and pride in our own romantic town, which might not unreasonably be looked for from the inhabitants of such a highly favoured city.”
It seems difficult to believe that what Bathgate wrote and presented to a stunned but enthusiastic audience in 1888 is just as relevant to Dunedin today. While his rhetoric and his belief in acclimatisation are typically Victorian, his passion for Dunedin and its environment are just as vibrant 124 years after the address was written. Indeed one could argue that his address is of even greater importance to Dunedin now, particularly in the face of the destruction of our built heritage. In 1888 Bathgate identified apathy for the preservation of such values that today we seem to have taken for granted. It seems that public apathy has continued to dog the city into the new millennium. Our natural environment and our built heritage appear to be at a crossroads in Dunedin, complicated further as Dunedin grapples with its economic path.
The Draft Strategy only deals ephemerally with the issues of biodiversity, sustainability, landscape and city vibrancy and describes Dunedin as a “compelling destination.” Yet in many respects both private and public enterprise have failed to invest deeply and meaningfully in a planned campaign to make Dunedin a compelling destination. In fact Dunedin sells our recreation, landscape, and ecology assests rather short.. Which means that we fail to reach our residents, potential immigrants, investors and tourists alike. Our public parks, walking tracks, heritage areas and open spaces are very poorly interpreted and promoted to a local, regional, national and global audience. So, if we are serious about creating new business and new opportunities we must promote as a matter of everyday life what our city has to offer as a lifestyle and landscape location to create interest in investment from other areas.
Within the Draft Strategy four small city examples were provided as potential models for Dunedin’s direction. While such models are admirable, its worth taking a closer look at what these cities actually provide and what makes them attractive and viable business communities.
• Cambridge promotes its recreation and open space as well as its world-class botanic gardens.
• Leuven has outstanding, woodlands, heritage buildings, botanic gardens and city parks.
• Adelaide is one of only three cities in the world (including Dunedin) that has a Town Belt.
• Kingston is a premier cycling, outdoor recreation and world heritage area.
Each small city example actively promotes its environment and landscape as a key component to the attractiveness of their respective city. It’s the promotion of those values that creates an environment of vibrancy that brings people to establish businesses and settle in these cities. The Draft Strategy utilises the chocolate box pictures of Dunedin’s landscape and streetscape for promotion and effect, but look closely around Dunedin and there is a much deeper opportunity that is being lost here. The Dunedin Amenities Society stresses the need to create a meaningful promotion and interpretation programme of our landscape, heritage and ecology. Such promotion is urgently needed in traditional and electronic media so that as a city we can create the necessary vibrancy and interest for citizens and visitors alike.