Former Department of Neighbourhoods director Jim Diers says
Dunedin residents should set the city's priorities not
bureaucrats. Photo by Linda Robertson.
The Government could build better communities in Dunedin
by getting out of the way, a community builder from Seattle
Former Department of Neighbourhoods director Jim Diers (59)
talked to nearly 100 Dunedin residents, including staff from
councils and non-governmental organisations, at Burns Hall in
Dunedin this week. He worked for Seattle City Council from
1988 to 2002 to build better neighbourhoods. Although the
hills and valleys of Dunedin created distinct regions for
residents to build a community, they did not ensure a
community, he said.
Because there were institutions designed to build a
community, they actually broke community down, by placing
residents in categories, like young, old, disabled or
Everybody had gifts that were buried beneath labels but many
residents had disconnected from their community because they
were labelled by their needs, rather than their strengths,
and become clients of the service system, rather than
citizens in a community, he said.
''When we do that, all the power is with the agencies.''
Government funding cuts were not always negative for a
community because it made residents engage with their
community when they realised the Government lacked resources.
But the Government had an important role to play in building
communities by getting out of the way, he said.
Communities should set the priorities with support from the
''And that's what I did in Seattle.''
When leading the Department of Neighbourhoods in Seattle he
started a programme that matched voluntary labour with
The programme supported 5000 community-initiated projects in
the past 25 years, he said.
The $50 million of council investment was matched with $70
million community resources and produceda much better result
than the previous funding model, that had asked the
Government to provide everything, with little resources, he
Before this week's workshop he talked to about 20 Dunedin
City Council staff and Mayor Dave Cull, and other community
leaders about building a community-based economy.
''They were very receptive.''