by John Stringer.
There are seismic civic rumblings in Christchurch as ideological tectonic plates grind and rub against eachother.
Christchurch -that brought you Big Norm Kirk, Jenny Shipley, John Key- has always been an engaged civic democracy, with hot feelings on both sides of the “People’s Republic of Christchurch.” It’s traditionally a Labour town, but National won Christchurch Central for the first time back in 2011 (by 47 votes) and again in 2014, but returned to the Red Flag fold 2017 (by 3000 votes). It had the first openly gay MP, and was responsible for the bill to make prostitution legal in New Zealand. The City Council just this week gave $40,000 of taxpayers money to assist street sex-workers‘ “safety” and “well-being.” That’ll ill-please residents on Manchester St of this ever-so English city of Aotearoa.
The grinding and rumbling has most recently manifested around the “Eastgate” scandal (and here). It is further expressed in a very low public rating for its council in the Quality of Life Survey (only 36% confidence, down from 47% in 2006) and even lower in the City Council’s own Residents Survey (just 28% confidence).
Whichever way you cut it, voters are unhappy with Christchurch City Council which is led by former Labour minister and MP Lianne Dalziel (Chch Central/List 1990-1999 and Chch East 1999-2013). It can perhaps be understood to one extent, in the wrestling match of political ideology v civic application.
Cr Aaron Keown (Harewood) is dis-allusioned with democracy in Christchurch. He says there is none, and what’s left is strangled by process. Local MP Gerry Brownlee says the council simply isn’t making needed decisions.
That is most acute where the rubber hits the road over cycle-ways, inwhich city council spent gazillions putting in kerbed dedicated cycleways (sometimes on both sides of a road) when residents had not asked for them and in many cases have said loudly they don’t want them. There’s a strong feeling all future spending on more cycleways should be well and truly ‘flat-tired’ and cash spent on existing road surfaces.
Now there is a radical proposal for new dedicated bus and bike lanes through the heart of northern Christchurch suburb Papanui, one of the oldest suburbs in Christchurch (ca 1850).
It’s a case of proposals being put up by well-meaning professional experts on behalf of a Council who, via political application, are trying to “change mind sets” with ratepayers’ money, and forcing residents to cycle or use buses. City councillor Keown again,
“Is it our role to facilitate the way people want to live their lives? Or is it our role to dictate to people the way we think they should live their lives?”
Many residents are reacting in Letters to Editors (and council surveys) to being ideologically ‘preached’ at; and their money used on projects they increasingly question: money-losing buskers’ festivals, twinkly lights in Hagley Park; cycling for health; Green Cities; swimming pools on every corner (because “well being”); and support mechanisms for commercial sex work. This week Council voted to dedicate $220 million of a taxpayers’ cash injection of $300 mill., on a new Christchurch sports stadium. (Bob Dylan has just played for the third time, at the perfectly useful Horncastle Arena in Sydenham; as did the All Blacks to a sold-out AMI stadium next door the same week).
The local body elections are in October next year, 13 months away. 2019 suggests itself as an election in Christchurch at least, over process, application, and emphasis.