No place for parochialism over Christchurch rebuild

Christchurch reader Albert Salmon, on holiday in Dunedin, a city where he lived during some of his university days, responds to Cr Lee Vandervis' recent suggestion that the earthquake-torn city should not be rebuilt in Canterbury but in Dunedin.

When I first came from Christchurch to visit Dunedin in the late 1970s I was struck by a different set of values that pervaded the city, expressed by this newspaper on the front page where, under a sizeable leader, there was an article about an elderly widow who had lost her cat.

While feeling for the poor woman, my main response was intrigue; that in the early days of globalisation the ODT felt a widow's loss was more important than, say, the signing of the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, the opening of the first commercial cellphone network or the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

For a while, I thought it a sign of small-town-think, of a vibrant city desperately wanting to be a seaside holiday destination (you know, like those English ones we see on telly where it rains all the time). I was wrong.

It was more, in the face of an emerging priority given to predatory financial success as an indication of the value of a person, an attempt to maintain a good-hearted respect for peoples' lives and a community spirit of nurture as central to a way of being.

Spending a few days in Dunedin with dear old friends, I have discovered that this is what I love most about Dunedin. And it is what, I suggest, will continue to make it a wonderful place to be in.

Mr Vandervis' recent opinion (ODT, 6.1.12) on the need for Dunedin to prey on the consequences of the Christchurch earthquakes, grates.

Dunedin had a significant kick-start with the gold rush and was the powerhouse of early New Zealand, despite associated problems with sewage and crime.

It was unable to maintain that position. People choose where they want to live and more chose Christchurch.

This may not necessarily be a bad thing, of course. When economic advantage determines where people want to live, well, the adage "follow the money" has something going for it. Those who choose to stay are often the ones you want to stay.

I laud Mr Vandervis' entrepreneurial spirit; the efficiencies of taking over someone else's achievements, rather than creating your own.

The concern he expresses for others in his comment that developing Dunedin as the centre of the South Island would be in the benefit of the whole of Te Wai Pounamu (except, presumably, the 40% who live in Christchurch) is admirable, if not a little hollow.

I respect his cleverness in "overlooking" the economic grunt of the wine regions in Marlborough, the energy production of the West Coast and the vibrant Nelson tourism economy when commenting that there is little business north of Christchurch.

And I agree with Mr Vandervis that parochialism is not sure grounds for making decisions about rebuilding Christchurch. Nor is it a rational argument for moving Christchurch to Dunedin.

As a strategy for developing Dunedin's place in the world, predatory business practices won't cut it. There are other places in New Zealand that, over the past 150 years, have done it much more effectively.

Further, Dunedin will be up against several billion dollars of domestic insurance money that will be pumped into the Christchurch economy over the next five to 10 years and is not in the hands of the Government to dispense as it sees fit.

I would suggest that Dunedin's huge potential rests in its ability to develop economically while, at the same time, maintaining a spirit of valuing people for the right reasons.

However, should Dunedin wish to pursue Mr Vandervis' vision of relocating Christchurch's population and business resources further south, it should not forget infrastructure.

In a year or two, there will be thousands of spare Portaloos in Christchurch.


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