Vision, values, buy-in, dialogue

The Forsyth Barr Stadium ... what processes led to it being built? Photo by Jane Dawber.
The Forsyth Barr Stadium ... what processes led to it being built? Photo by Jane Dawber.
As the local body elections loom on the horizon, Chris Skellett makes a plea for effective community leadership.

Effective community leadership requires a clear strategic vision, an explicitly stated set of operational values, a strong sense of buy-in and clear communication with the stakeholders (i.e. the ratepayers).

Congratulations therefore to the University of Otago for fulfilling each of these criteria by recently unveiling its strategic vision for the campus.

However, in the broader case, our city demonstrably falls down in almost every aspect of the mix.

With the local elections nearly upon us, it is a good time to demand all parties address the obvious failings of recent years.

Individuals are not to blame. People play the roles assigned to them.

Local government by its very nature is controversial and issues-focused. There is always a lobby group prepared to take an oppositional stance to a positive suggestion.

But there are obvious problems with our current system of local government that need to be addressed.

Should there not be a strategic overview that we can all understand, and that serves to reference each and every planning decision that is subsequently made?

The strategic vision

In recent years, there has been genuine confusion for residents about why things happen the way they do.

People simply don't understand why the stadium, the harbour molars and the Chinese garden were ever built.

There seems no coherent overarching strategy.

Libraries are shifted, stadiums are built and roads are realigned with no clear overview.

We will shortly be losing our venue for A-grade one-day cricket (Carisbrook).

We have no suitable mid-size theatre or concert venue.

Conference options in the city are pathetic.

We have no co-ordinated strategy for the development of the waterfront.

The overwhelming impression is of a council that makes its decisions simply in reaction to specific problems.

The Regent Theatre suddenly needs $4 million, and we all seem surprised.

Mild panic sets in.

The money has already been spent on something else.

By investing heavily in the new stadium, we are presumably developing an entertainment culture, designed to suck in dollars from around the country.

So surely we should now be encouraging the development of downstream accommodation options as a logical consequence?

But the recent announcement concerning the private purchase of the old post office building for redevelopment as a hotel seemed to dramatically cut across the council's own plans.


  So what will they do with the city library now?

And did we ever need to shift it anyway? Looking around town, we can clearly see the consequences of this ad hoc approach to planning.

We have somehow ended up with a huge white elephant in South Dunedin that once was called Carisbrook.

We also see a mishmash of architectural horrors in places such as the Queens Gardens, where the graceful lines of the Chinese garden collide with the forbidding slab wall extension to the Otago Settlers Museum, right beside the beautiful Victorian stonework of the harbourside buildings.

It's all so jarring on the senses.

Meanwhile, in South Dunedin, a new supermarket nestles up awkwardly beside the classic brickwork of our heritage gasworks museum.

Who on earth is actually planning all this? And just what is the overarching vision that they are striving for?

Inherent values

Values are curious concepts.

They are all around us, and they guide our decision-making.

Dunedin is a city where we all pride ourselves on the quality of life that is available here.

We are a centre of academic excellence.

The university is the heart of our city, and intellect, wit, art and science should be our hallmark.

We love to hear about the development of innovative technologies that spin off the university, and we feel pride in the achievements of companies such as Taylormade and Natural History NZ.

We love the iD Fashion Week.

We are a small community that loves to punch above its weight.

We are also a boutique tourism destination, where visitors are attracted to both our heritage buildings and the wildlife options around us.

The Orokonui Ecosanctuary is an amazing asset, guaranteed to give us a return on our investment for many years to come.

It is an unequivocal success.

But we also know the Silverpeaks hinterland remains a hugely underdeveloped eco-tourism opportunity that never seems to be mentioned in our strategic plan.

Why not? We also take pride in our manufacturing heritage, such as the Hillside workshops, the steel foundry and the smaller engineering companies scattered around the city.

We can build trains, and we also want to use them! We also love trams and cable cars, and would love to see a chairlift up Signal Hill and a harbour ferry.

This is what many of us want, and our vision is driven by the values that we hold. Everything aligns.

It may not eventually prove to be realistic to pursue all of these things, but there is a continuity running through the ideas that suggests common themes.


Values of heritage, innovation and ecology run through everything that is listed here.

We connect to the vision through shared values.

Buy-in and communication

For whatever reason, no-one feels genuinely involved in the planning for our city.

Anyone who has ever bothered to make a formal submission to the annual community planning process tends to leave with a disturbing feeling of futility.

A bored "Thanks, we'll let you know" is the standard response, and the show rolls on.

All we tend to hear is what has been decided so far.

We have no real chance to become genuinely involved in the process and feel little sense of buy-in to the plans as they unfold.

There should be a minimal need for the council to cite commercial sensitivity when conducting its core business.

The university's recent discussion document has modelled the way for the city as a whole.

We can appreciate the overall vision, and the rationale for any downstream decisions that will need to be made as a consequence.

There is a coherent plan.

The impending local body elections will soon present us with a great opportunity to apply this process more widely to our community.

We can refocus, and we can clarify what we want for our community at large.

The community plan as it stands tends to be the result of many individual stakeholders applying pressure, forging a document that is high on detail but low on providing an integrated vision.

Firstly, all candidates in the coming elections should be very clear about their strategic vision for the city.

They should also be clear about the values that drive them personally.

And most importantly, they should declare an unswerving commitment to community consultation and transparency in the planning process.

Secondly, city planners of all persuasions should be obliged to consult properly with the general public as they plan, in addition to consulting with the hired experts whose advice currently seems to be the key driver of decision making.

Finally, and it's not an easy task, our future civic leaders should make every effort to unroll their plans according to a co-ordinated, coherent overview that we can all understand.

Right from the start, we need them to develop a compelling overarching vision for our community that we can all understand and feel proud of.

Their vision must capture our hearts.

• Chris Skellett lives in Warrington. He is not standing as a candidate in the local body elections.


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