Investing in our city necessary to attract the people we require

Dunedin must invest or wither, writes Mayor Dave Cull.

Dunedin's aspiration is to be one of the world's great small cities.

No small part of that vision is economic revitalisation - new, quality jobs, the creation of new businesses and the attraction of existing ones.

We know the productive work age cohort, between 25-50 years old, needs beefing up in our city.

Consultation and residents' opinion surveys consistently tell the council our community wants us to prioritise economic development goals.

The city keenly chases external business investment and demands central government resources.

Yet, Dunedin has an ambivalent, at times hostile, attitude to investing in its own development.

Any council spending above the bare minimum required to provide essential services is decried by some as irresponsible, ill-disciplined even weak - see the ODT editorial of May 23.

So what does the city need?

Actually it's people.

People own, run and work in businesses, so if we want more business activity in the city - activity by people who are not here yet - we need to make the city attractive to them.

That requires investment; investment in infrastructure, amenities, culture, recreation, sporting facilities and general services.

Investing in access to those and in our efforts to promote and develop them is an overall investment in the city ''offering''.

Through a lengthy collaborative consultation and research process, the city identified where our potential economic strengths lie.

They grow out of the research and graduate output of our splendid tertiary institutions the polytechnic and the university.

That understanding is expressed in our economic development strategy.

Those potential jobs and businesses are largely in the creative and research intensive areas like IT, design, the biomedical arena and the arts.

The people with qualifications in those areas are sought-after all over the world.

They can choose their locations.

They belong to a generation that seeks great educational opportunities for their kids, top-notch recreational facilities, a thriving arts scene and access to outdoor pursuits and cycleways.

They are value-driven, future-focused and internationally and environmentally aware.

They are increasingly finding Dunedin attractive and setting up shop here.

They will help to reinforce Dunedin as a great small city - but not on their own.

The established Dunedin community has to back its own vision and put its money where its aspirations are.

That's what the founders of our city did.

When 19th-century Dunedin benefited from the largesse of the gold rush, what did its citizens invest in?

The thrusting, entrepreneurial businessmen who ran the city built and generously endowed a fine university, museum, art gallery and town hall.

They invested in social, cultural and educational infrastructure which has stood this city in good stead through the long 20th-century decline of our city's economic and job fortunes.

They were outward looking - staging the first national New Zealand Exhibition in 1865.

They were liberal and forward-thinking, too. Women could study and graduate from the University of Otago a full 50 years before they could at Oxford and nearly 80 before women were able to do so at Cambridge.

They invested for the benefit of their children and grandchildren.

That's what Dunedin must do today.

Dunedin won't become a great small city without investment in what the city offers.

So a Mosgiel pool complex, an upgraded city centre, an active arts and culture strategy which realises the enormous creative potential across our community, warmer homes and lights on an international cricket ground - all enhance the attractive liveability of Dunedin for the kind of new citizens that we need.

They all contribute to a great small city.

Clearly, the council has to work within prudent and affordable financial parameters, and it does.

We have a clear handle on debt limits and reduction timeframes.

Council's efficiency is better than ever - yet with some improvements still to come - and we have kept rates rises within self-imposed predictions for several years.

We will keep looking for improvement into the future, because the more efficient we are and the more we can repay debt, the greater the proportion of rates money that can be invested in enhancing the value and amenity of our community.

Costs to councils are rising at 3% per annum because the things that councils use - bitumen, pipes etc - are going up faster than grocery prices. We are endeavouring to stick to no more than 3% for rates rises.

But if those rises were kept at the consumer price index rate of (currently) 1.5% we would actually have to cut services and certainly not invest in anything new.

We certainly won't become a great small city by reducing services and regressively making Dunedin a less attractive place to live, work and invest in or to visit.

The opponents of investment are actually opposing development.

They are critical of the council for not boosting the economy but even more critical when it invests in enhancing our city's offering to do so.

Dunedin must believe in its own vision and potential to invest modestly in attaining it.

Short-sighted insistence that we retrench and spend nothing extra simply means slipping backwards.

 

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