Dunedin's growing pains here to stay

After a long time of Dunedin being the unwanted poster child for regional stagnation, strong population growth has led to it suffering something unexpected - growing pains.

In fact, much of the South is experiencing population growth and the frustrations, disruptions, annoyances and changes that come with it. Queenstown and Wanaka residents must feel they have become experts on all manner of growth frustrations, as they've watched their towns expand from seasonal resorts to year-round construction sites. Invercargill and Oamaru, with their wonderful architecture, profitable hinterlands and bold, visionary plans for the future, are likely to experience strong growth in the near future.

But it is in Dunedin where growth is being felt most jarringly at the moment. Not because it is growing the fastest, or that it is anywhere near its population limit, but because it is a city that has for so long been a study of sameness.

Residents have always been able to rely on the same car park, expect their commutes to take the same time, and look out the window and see the same skyline. The city's roading network cuts - sometimes comically - between the remains of ancient volcanoes and beside flood-prone streams and an often-bitter southern coastline. People have long since become used to such quirks.

But the recent rise in population, combined with a shift from manufacturing hub to tourism destination, means significant changes are under way. Roads are being widened, public transport and cycling infrastructure added, large construction projects are under way - with more to come - while subdivisions and in-fill housing are moving ahead.

The current level of growth is good for Dunedin, in part because it can absorb it. It was designed - from the outset - to be a large, thriving metropolis, and while that expectation never quite materialised, the city's bones, as they say, are good. It also retained many of its old buildings, albeit some in a dilapidated and largely unutilised state.

Those buildings are now being repurposed as more people move in and see potential where others once saw poverty. The influx is bringing new life to old areas, new jobs, more money, and more ratepayers to share the burden of the city's infrastructure.

But growth is no panacea. It brings with it numerous challenges, changes, costs and frustrations. For many city-dwellers around the world, such frustrations are as common-place and accepted as Dunedin's weather is here. It isn't celebrated, but it exists and people get on with it.

In Auckland many of the central city's biggest and most traffic-heavy roads have become narrow chokepoints as the underground rail loop is built. Big roading projects are a constant in Tauranga and Hamilton, while Queenstown residents have seen much of their hinterland become a construction site, their town centre become a near-constant traffic jam and their commute become a twice-daily test of endurance.

Dunedin's growing pains are, comparatively, small. The work being carried out on Portsmouth Dr, as reported in last Tuesday's Otago Daily Times, is both necessary and commendable. The end result will be of great value to the city. But it is bringing delays and will continue to.

So, too, the bus-hub construction in the central city. For some nearby businesses the project is bringing financial hardship. For many motorists it is an inconvenience. Long term, though, the project will add value to the city.

There are far larger projects on the horizon, of course, notably the city's new hospital build. The hospital will be a great asset for Dunedin, but its construction will fire frustrations - perhaps for several years.

Dunedin's recent growth is welcome. But it means growing pains are now the norm, and will be so for years to come. It would benefit the city, and all those who move around it, to accept patiently those growing pains as the reasonable conditions of civic success.

Comments

They're all right here.. Let's not be emotively provincial.

Buy a bike. Embrace the new world order.

 

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