Dunedin - not a bad place to live

Hard on the heels of a national health survey showing Dunedin residents feel among the healthiest in the country, comes a further fillip to the city's residents.

A Quality of Life survey - a joint exercise involving councils covering New Zealand's eight largest cities - has Dunedin at the top of several critical lifestyle indicators, including safety in home after dark, access to parks and green spaces and a positive overall quality of life.

The former result, based on a survey of 1000 people living in New Zealand's six largest cities was conducted in March by Southern Cross Healthcare Group.

It revealed Dunedin people said they generally felt well, ate plenty of fruit and vegetables, kept takeaway purchases to a minimum, got the amount of sleep they needed and wanted, were not overstressed and did not feel work dominated their lives.

There were, naturally, some more ambiguous, not to say, less satisfying categories including the fact Dunedinites were the second-heaviest drinkers in the country (behind Wellingtonians), were the most dissatisfied with their weight and more anxious about their retirement than others. Still, this was a good result for the city.

The later survey, on which this newspaper reported last week, canvassed 500 Dunedin residents.

Carried out between November last year and March this year, it is the fifth time the survey has been conducted since 2002. It measures residents' perception of the built environment, transport, democracy and governance, leisure time, health and social connectedness.

Among other results, it found 97% felt safe or very safe in their homes after dark. This was up 1% from the last survey, in 2008, and saw Dunedin better all of the other cities - Auckland, Tauranga, Hamilton, Wellington, Porirua, Lower and Upper Hutt and Christchurch - in their sense of evening security.

Other categories in which Dunedin scored well included overall health (90%), satisfaction with life in general (89%), access to a park or green space (95%), and lack of air pollution (85%). Workers in paid employment were also happier with their work/life balance (85%) than the survey average of 79%.

All this belies the image of the city some of its residents like to project. This image can be coloured by a dour, curmudgeonly front - doubtless exaggerated by a tenacity of argument and an intellectual rigour.

Occasionally, it appears as needless griping which it sometimes is, but which on occasion can simply be misconstrued or dismissed as such. Most often it is in fact the embodiment of residents' passion for the city in which we all live.

It would be too good to be true if the latest survey did not turn up elements of life in Dunedin that told a somewhat less self-satisfied tale: the not-so-good news includes the revelation - hardly a surprise - that only 44% of citizens are confident Dunedin City Council decisions are in the best interests of the city.

Even accounting for a natural hostility for any body charged with levelling rates, it has been a consistent message that the DCC has to get better at listening to its people, and this survey confirms that.

Happily Mayor Dave Cull, at least, seems to appreciate this and while conceding that the good news is welcome progress, in certain areas the council had obviously got some work to do.

This related particularly to confidence of the citizens in the council's decision-making. At the aforementioned 44%, this was well below the survey average of 53% and down in Dunedin from 55% in 2006 and 46.9% in 2008. Turning around that steep downward trend is going to require hard and persistent work.

For all that, there is much for the city to be positive about. A series of graduations has served to remind of the central part this city plays in the country's education sector.

It has managed to turn on at least two beautiful weekends with which to impress the thousands of visitors in the city for the occasions. It has a rugby franchise in the Highlanders that is winning again, and even local basketball team the Nuggets has this weekend ended its 33-match losing streak.

Culturally, horizons are brightening, too, with pleasing signs up at the Fortune Theatre, and much else besides. And then there are all those other positives, taken for granted much of the time, but which as the surveys show, have a very real bearing on the comparatively high quality of life many Dunedin residents enjoy.


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