Long Term Plan Submission 2015

The finish line in sight

The ink on the Dunedin City Council’s 2015 Long Term Plan is nearly dry for yet another year and undoubtedly there will be some winners and losers in the community. Annually the Dunedin Amenities Society fronts up to the City Council to promote the values and landscape of the city seeking reassurances that funding won’t be lost or reduced. The other aspect of the Society’s submissions over the years has been the worrying trend of declining standards around, litter, vandalism and general maintenance of the many parks and public spaces reserves enjoyed by the community. In some regards taking similar concerns to the Council each year is a little soul-destroying because of the realisation that it’s almost like a broken record. However, as an organisation the Society have an obligation to act as a voice of advocacy for these issues because of their importance in our community and in the wider recognition of the values of Dunedin.

The Society’s 2015 submission focused very strongly around the growing interest from the public in the two Town Belt Traverse events that it has undertaken in 2013 and 2015. The idea of creating the Traverse into a  permanent interpretative trail has strong appeal. The recreational, heritage and conservation benefits has positive spin-offs for the community and the tourist economy, as well as an opportunity to link social institutions such as Toitu, Moana Pool and Olveston. However, without investment in basic management and maintenance of the tracks and footpaths in the Town Belt the project is likely to stall and founder. Simply put, recreational and commuter walking access is essential to the project and improvements to these assets are imperative to make the Traverse usable and an enjoyable visitor experience. The Society highlighted these issues which are in most cases are no more than minor works in a presentation to Councillors at the Long Term Plan hearings and this can be viewed here. Amenities Society LTP Presentation. A full copy of the society’s submission can also be read here. Amenities Society Submission Annual Plan 2015

Walkers in Woodhaugh

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Economic Development Strategy

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.

A Coastal Walkway of Value

The Dunedin Amenities Society have a long association with the City’s coastline and in particular Ocean Beach Domain. The long running issue at John Wilson Drive has been one that the Society have commented on regularly and will keep a watching brief as the City goes into Annual Plan mode.  It has always been the Society’s position that the Drive should remain closed to vehicles and that the present placement of barriers on the Drive represents the best compromise between recreational and vehicular interests. Part of that reasoning has been around the need to protect the coastal defences found in sand dunes in order to ultimately protect the city from inundation and flooding by the sea. What is perturbing about the Drive issue is the willingness of the City Council to spend a significant sum of money ($400,000 at last count) in order to rectify the traffic and vehicle access issues. The Society believe that at a fraction of the cost there is a far better alternative that would create a more sustainable environmental and economic gain for the city. This could be achieved by the wider linkage of our coastal areas and the need to create coherent recreational assets that meet the demands of our community and visitors. With this in mind the Society sees a very real opportunity brought about by the changes in vehicular access at John Wilson Drive to link the coastal reserves with the Otago Peninsula and create a new recreational  gateway to the area. Physically, the walkway option is almost entirely in place, but lacks any investment in promotion and interpretation for visitors and locals alike.  Our coastal areas have a rich ecological, social, cultural and historic story that we should be sharing with a much broader audience. The Society’s walkway proposal needs some refinement and further thoughts on its implementation, but it offers much better sustainable value to our City than barrier arms and traffic calming measures.

The Conservation of Heritage and Landscape in Dunedin

English: Taken from and Etching in Crombie's M...

English: Taken from and Etching in Crombie’s Modern Athenians. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On the 11th of September 1888 Dunedin lawyer Alexander Bathgate read an address to the Otago Institute entitled “The development and conservation of the amenities of Dunedin and its neighbour-hood.” The address was the catalyst for the foundation of the Dunedin and Suburban Reserves Conservation Society, the fore-runner of the Dunedin Amenities Society. Bathgate outlined a vision for Dunedin that was so detailed in its construction that he apologised to his audience for “frightening you by the extent and magnitude of my programme.” What Bathgate outlined was both the protection of the existing natural landscape and the enhancement of the urban built environment in the developing city. It was a vision that blended the conservation of native biodiversity and landscape with the call home syndrome of “practical and prosaic colonists.”

Bathgate’s model for the foundation of the Amenities Society was based on the establishment of the Cockburn Association in Edinburgh in 1875. In 1805, Lord Cockburn had lamented the apathy Scottish people had for the protection of their city and its heritage. On the demolition of one Edinburgh building Cockburn wrote “It was brutishly obliterated without one public murmur. A single individual proclaimed and denounced the outrage, but the idiot public looked on in silence. Reverence for mere antiquity, or even for modern beauty on their own account, is scarcely a Scottish passion.”

Co-founder of the Dunedin Amenities Society, Thomas Brown had discussed this organisation with Bathgate and both believed that such an organisation in Dunedin would be of great benefit to the city. Bathgate particularly worried that the apathy for the preservation of natural beauty and heritage that so angered Lord Cockburn in Edinburgh would become prevalent in Dunedin. Indeed Cockburn had written that the destruction of trees was a Scottish example of “hereditary bad taste.” Bathgate challenged his Dunedin colonial audience in a similar vein, stating; “I fear we have inherited more than the names of our town and its streets, and that a portion of the hereditary bad taste and apathy has fallen to our lot.”

Alexander Bathgate

What is 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 pecuniarily 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 123 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.

Presently, the tourism sector in the Dunedin economy generates over $350 million/annum and Dunedin actively markets itself as a wildlife and heritage destination. However, such a marketing campaign seems counter-intuitive in the face of the demolition of our heritage buildings and the familiar under-funding of biodiversity and landscape protection in the city. Have we inherited the “hereditary bad taste” that Alexander Bathgate feared, or are we as citizens in Dunedin not “fully alive to the beauty and attractiveness” of our city? The Amenities Society today like its founder still believes that our economic prosperity and development must hinge on the conservation of our environment, landscape and heritage values. Without such measures we run the risk of being just another avoidable destination on a lifeless grey map.

Drunken Worms and First Impressions.

There’s an old saying that “you never get a second chance to make a first impression” and it certainly applies to the northern entrance to Dunedin. The first impression of Dunedin from Pine Hill Road is inviting and promising as you look over the Leith Valley, across the central city and out to the Pacific Ocean. Unfortunately, that promising first impression is then deflected onto the ugly steel tubing fence that runs along the pedestrian footpath like two drunken parallel worms. This ugly fence provides the frame between the northern section of the Town Belt and State Highway One. The Society realise that a fence is necessary in this area as there is a significant steep cliff below its position, but what about considering the aesthetics of its design and its relationship to the wider landscape? Perhaps by considering those elements we might get a second chance on making a good first impression after all.

Robin Hood Park Viewing Area

Robin Hood Park in the Town Belt has been a traditional area for viewing the City since 1954, and was known as the “Queens View”. The area has become overgrown and the seats vandalised and the Society would like to see the area restored to its former glory. Discussions between the Society and the Dunedin City Council will be ongoing in 2011 to see what can be done to repair the site.

The Botanic Gardens – Putting Dunedin on the World Stage?

The Dunedin Amenities Society has always recognised the importance and prestige for Dunedin in having an internationally acclaimed botanic gardens in our City. The Gardens and its staff  provide a standard of  excellence in Dunedin that is not found in many cities around the world. Importantly the gardens provides industry training that develops new generations of horticulturists and plant collection managers through the apprentices who study and train within its grounds. Sadly, that international recognition and reputation is neither valued or recognised  by the majority of Dunedin’s community, and the Council has effectively shelved the much-needed upgrade of the gardens facilities.

Last week the Society’s Vice President Robin Hyndman wrote an impassioned  plea to all Councillors before Mondays’ meeting asking council to show some vision and reconsider the abandonment of the Lovelock Avenue project. His letter correctly pointed out that the project had been through a vigorous process at the Resource Consents Hearing, and that the commissioners decision to grant consent was both rational and fair. The effects of the development were considered no more than minor and a subsequent peer review found the realignment was the best option for the Botanic Gardens. The commissioners also found the objections of  a handful of Opoho residents were unfounded and had little basis in fact. Yet the Botanic Gardens, vindicated by fact and rationality, has seen hysteria rule the day at the Council table.

At what cost? Notwithstanding what the City Council has probably already paid in the consenting process and the development of the plan there are other far-reaching costs for the fair city of Dunedin. It shows that logic, reason and any compelling vision for our international reputation as a city of beauty is neither welcomed nor highly regarded by its citizens and those who govern us. In a city the size of Dunedin economic investment in genuine assets like the Botanic Gardens is essential for our visitor economy if we are to diversify and prosper collectively. Worryingly, this decision nullifies both the democracy of the Annual Plan and the Resource Management processes that are key to the participation of ratepayers and their communities. How can Dunedin people be confident that such processes are no more than political lolly scrambles? It seems clear to the Society that the faith we once had in the fairness of these processes is now unjustified. Indeed the rules have been changed so inexorably that only”those with the shrillest voices” will be heard by our elected representatives above all others. Such selective hearing comes at a significant cost to our international reputation and the greater benefits of our City. The pictures below are what Dunedin missed out on when decisionmaking is undertaken with a political grease gun aimed at lubricating a vociferous but ultimately flawed squeaky wheel.

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