Alexa Forbes MR2

My Point of View - Alexa Forbes

  • by Alexa Forbes :
  • May 2,2018

Growth and its issues are the topic du jour in the Queenstown Lakes District and close behind are the issues of a rapidly changing world. There is a real need to do things differently if we are to head down the path of becoming a wonderful 21st century centre where people want to come to live, work and play. 

Since 2001, Queenstown Lakes District has had a growth rate average of about 5%[1]. At this rate, our population more or less doubles every 15 years[2]. This rate of growth is extremely difficult to plan for, let alone fund the infrastructure needed to support a doubling of our existing populations. While conventional economic thinking applauds such growth, I think it’s exhausting for a community.

The problems in our district are thorny, multi faceted and interrelated. 

Housing – we don’t have a housing shortage, we have a housing occupancy problem. Forty percent of our houses are empty, according to the last census[3] (2013- 2017 data isn’t yet available). And we have a massive affordability problem. Our house-price-to-income multiple is 11.58[4] – that is, it costs 11-and-a-half times the median household income to buy a house. The internationally accepted measure of affordability in housing is a price-to-income multiple of three or less. So, in Queenstown Lakes District, a secure place to live is out of reach of almost everyone who works within it. For the past several years, immigrant and visitor labour has filled the resulting employment gaps. Now, even this supply of workers is drying up because housing inefficiency is now affecting even these groups, and immigration rules are tightening.

Transport – it’s harder and harder to get anywhere by road in Queenstown. We cannot really contemplate more roads – geographical constraints, carbon emissions, other environmental risks and huge expense. So we need to move to other modes – public transport, bikes, walking, shared rides. This is underway but is hampered by inadequate infrastructure. Without bus lanes, the buses are facing the same delays as all other traffic, without safe biking trails, only the most confident and committed cyclists will risk the necessary but unsafe-for-cyclists routes where our trails don’t link up. Newcomers like Savy, Takeme and Zoomy will find their place within this, as we start to accept we can’t all take our cars into Queenstown, park them all day and then drive then out again.

Which leads me to another thorny one, the need to urbanise. Building green field developments out of town is a driver of even trickier transport issues (and that of other infrastructure). It creates more stress on the already congested transport network, as more and more people live a long way from where they work and play. How we live is also changing, yet we still design suburbs that are more suited to the middle of the last century rather than looking future-ward to the characteristics of this century. There are social and health problems that come with applying last century’s planning to this century’s lifestyles. Growing up 10km from town in the 1970s was an entirely different prospect to doing the same thing today. In those days we could cycle to our footy games, school and friends' houses and play in places that would not be considered safe now. Suburbs can now isolate older children when the cycle trails aren’t safe, the public transport doesn’t work for them and they are fully reliant on parents to taxi them around. This works well for no one and we need to rethink where and how we live. Our millennials want apartments above shops in urban villages[5], where everything is easily accessed on foot. How do we design our towns so they provide this village atmosphere? How do we get our developers to put apartments on top of the shops? How do our planning rules allow for creating these "urban villages"? Thinking this through and finding solutions for our local people is essential.

And then there is our waste. As the towns are built and grow, more and more waste is created. Most of our waste comes from construction and demolition waste, which is high in boom times when rapid building is more important than careful consideration of efficient use of materials and organic waste, food and green waste. Our Waste Management and Minimisation plan[6] is working towards reducing and reusing waste but, really, we need to seriously look at refusing waste – that is not creating waste in the first place. This is becoming more and more important as we begin to realise the difficulty and costs associated with recycling, particularly as China now refuses our waste material.

At the same time, we need to start looking at how we deliver and manage our major industry. This past summer freedom camping and Airbnb have become the face of our tourism issues. At the core of this is the way we promote and deliver tourism as a product. New Zealand is promoted as a touring destination, so for young people without much money, it’s seen as a great place to buy a cheap van for both accommodation and transport. Numbers have increased markedly with the resultant impacts on our beauty spots and tolerance. Imagine the distress of people thinking they can act in one way, only to find the locals think they should act in another? Dealing with this needs to go right back to how we attract visitors, where we want them to stay and how we want them to behave.

I think we need to get on with looking at all these issues in a holistic way, understanding that the interrelation of transport and housing affects social structures, health and our environment. This starts with understanding what we want for our district, then figuring out how to achieve it. Around our council table, this is exactly what we work towards. It’s difficult, thorny and sometimes conflicts with long-held truisms around growth, economy, property rights and our environment. Our problems are not unique and we can learn from other parts of the world. Many of you call me, send me messages and tag me in posts about things happening elsewhere that might help us – this is really useful, thank you and keep it coming. Now is a very good time to engage, set aside the small irritations in life and look at the bigger picture. Please do use this article as a conversation piece and come back with feedback and suggestions.#

 

 

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Comments

  • hikuwai drifter : 31/05/2018 8:24pm (6 months ago)

    decentralise that is ... no editor damn it

  • hikuwai drifter : 31/05/2018 8:21pm (6 months ago)

    thanks alexa for the words. you sentiment is shared by a majority over the whole district.

    i feel that a solution to some of the woes could come through the empowering and creation of community level social enterprises overseen by community associations that have the governing power to oversee the smaller, local issues that are of relevance to the community that they are involved in.

    by creating an air of decentralisation within the district it leaves the main council to carry on with the major headaches while leaving footpath management, local recycling, waste management, dog shit, community supported economics, growth visioning and other community level responsibilities up to the people that are effected the most by the issue, the locals at any said place.

    happy to talk about this more anytime you want, as my ramblings may need a little clarity.

    as you know, lets do to governance what bitcoin has done to banking ... decentalise decentalise decentralise

  • Simon Russell : 14/05/2018 2:00pm (7 months ago)

    Great article Alexa.

  • Patrick Dodson : 08/05/2018 1:18pm (7 months ago)

    Thanks Alexa

    I wonder if this kind of complexity can be properly worked on with such short council terms and resources? Seems that every three years there's a shift in personnel which can often reset the clock on development. Then there's the resources available both in terms of a worthy pay packet for public servants as well as the limited finances they have to work with given the ratio of rate payers to the actual population on any given day in the region.

    I know a lot of us want reasonable limits on public office (especially if you guys screw up by over regulated home sharing ! Hah!) but I also want you to have the time and resources needed to tackle the kinds of issues you've mentioned above. They require well researched solutions that will take decades to apply well. They need national as well as local support - keeping rates reasonable. And they need a vision that embraces such a diverse region and the people it serves.

    I'm all for longer terms and national support for these issues. And I'm grateful for people like you who can work with the complexity while remaining true to your community.

  • Damian Russel : 06/05/2018 6:24pm (7 months ago)

    Hi Alexa,
    My name is Damian and I deliver stone to queenstown regularly in my truck. I have often wondered why the road coming out of what used to be called tuckers beach isn't routed uder the bridge with an on ramp back onto the road to join in with the traffic. This would be a relatively cheap and easy fix to one of the problems facing traffic in queenstown.

  • Trent Yeo : 06/05/2018 4:06pm (7 months ago)

    Such a succinct summary of the problems. Now to contemplate how we effectively and collaboratively seek out solutions. All possibilities on the table and on a flexible platform to adapt to the changes that we know will happen. I'm with Hud, great article

  • Hudson Turnbull : 06/05/2018 5:42am (7 months ago)

    Excellent !