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David Hill's profile picture
Posts: 79

10 December 2017, 4:02 PM

Christchurch - a city of rivers - Otakaro Avon River

Christchurch, Aotearoa New Zealand, is a city of rivers.

Rivers were here long before humans were here and will be here long after humans are gone.

Rivers link past, present and future in more ways than one and demonstrate nature's ever unfolding creativity.

Rivers bring people together and are inspirations for human creativity. Where rivers pass through a city they can reflect the health of the city and display the good, the bad and the ugly of human existence, as well as being the locations of human creativity and economic activity.

My creative place is the Otakaro Avon River, which flows through the centre of Christchurch city, from the western suburb of Avonhead to eastern estuary with the Opawaho Heathcote River and to the Pacific Ocean.

The Otakaro Avon River is one of several rivers connected to Christchurch, including Waimakariri River on its northern border, the Opawaho Heathcote River towards the south of the city and there are several smaller streams, tributaries and water ways which flow through the city and within the city council boundary, including Te Waihora Lake Ellesmere, on the southern border, New Zealand's most polluted lake.

Taking a walk along the Otakaro Avon River, you learn much about the city. Otakaro is a Maori word meaning “the place of a game”, as the children played on the river's banks while the whanau (family) or iwi (tribe) gathered food.

Christchurch was largely built on a swamp, so the indigenous Maori had no permanent settlement in the immediate area, simply passing through and sometimes camping while gathering food and fishing.

The traditional head of the river, not surprisingly in the suburb of Avonhead, is hard to find because this part of the river has largely dried up, so the beginning of the river is now thought to be just to the west of Canterbury University, the city's university moved to its present site in the 1960s and 1970s when it outgrew its inner city site.

The river passes through the university before flowing through private properties in the traditional affluent suburbs of Ilam and Fendalton.

It then pass through Riccarton Bush, now a public reserve, but once the homestead of the first European or pakeha family, the Deans family from Scotland, to settle in Canterbury in the 1840s. Today there is native bush with a kiwi nursery (New Zealand's iconic native bird), while the city's largest farmers' market fills the grounds on Saturdays and a craft market on Sundays.

The Otakaro then passes by the first of four secondary schools on its journey to the sea.

It eventually meanders through Hagley Park, a 160 hectare public reserve set aside when the city was first founded for recreation, botanic gardens, a golf course, sports fields and many other public amusements. Today it hosts concerts and an international cricket ground and in the first couple of years following the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes it became the central city in all but name.

The Otakaro then flows past the Christchurch Public Hospital, the Arts Centre, the Canterbury Museum and art galleries, both old and new.

The Arts Centre is the original site of Canterbury University, so it has long been a source of creativity - it is here where Ernest Rutherford was a student and conducted his first experiments, before embarking on an academic career in the United Kingdom and Canada, which led to a Nobel Prize in Chemistry and the splitting of the atom.

When I first came to the city in the 1990s, it was well established as a hub for the arts and creativity, hosting various artists and craftspeople, a weekend craft market and a hub for foods from many different cultures, amongst many things, including the Rutherford Museum.

The Arts Centre was severely damaged in the earthquakes, but it has now been largely restored and is quickly returning to being a place of creativity.

The Otakaro then meanders through the central city, boasting boating activities, the Bridge of Remembrance (again restored following the earthquakes) which is a monument to soldiers killed in the wars, various cafes and bars - though nowhere near as many as there were before the earthquakes - and public buildings and amenities.

Many of the buildings were destroyed in the earthquakes or severely damaged and the rebuild is slow, but local residents have taken over many of the empty spaces putting their own stamp with “gap fillers” and community spaces with renewed creativity.

Still further along the river we come to Cambridge Green, a small tranquil spot where there are three carved pou (poles) recognising the three iwi (Maori tribes) which have made the South Island their home.

It is not too much further along the Otakaro until we come to the residential red zone land, where the government offered to buy out residents in 2011, following the earthquakes. Most of the houses have been demolished and the sites cleared, allowing nature to take over and restore to its former wetland state.

The red zone is also a source for hope and creativity, with many “regeneration” projects being considered to bring new (human) life to these areas. It is possible there will be wetlands, parks, walking tracks, recreation areas, food forests, urban farms and business opportunities created.

The further you walk east, the more earthquake damage you come across and the poorest parts of the city - investment has been lacking over the years. But there is no shortage of creativity, as many artists and creative people congregate around New Brighton, being attracted to a laid back, seaside lifestyle.

The Otakaro continues to live up to its name, “the place of a game” as the game of life and creativity continues to be played out as the river continues to meander through the landscape and create its own path.

David Hill's profile picture
Posts: 79

12 December 2017, 7:34 PM

In the City and You course, tutor Professor Richard Florida argues that cities, with the clustering of people, and the creative and service sectors are the economic drivers of the future.

He says in the United States just 6 percent of the workforce is engaged in the agricultural sector and about one-third is engaged in the service sector and about one-third is employed in what he calls the creative sector (media and communications, the arts, music, science and entrepreneurs) and the balance in industry and construction.

I decided to compare this to New Zealand, after all surely it would be significantly different due to the apparent importance of the primary sector.

According to the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment:

Primary sector - 7% of the workforce

Service / creative (MBIE doesn't identify a creative sector as such) - 80%

Industry / construction - 13%

New Zealand's biggest export earner is tourism, with education in 4th place.

So why does the primary sector continue to be such a sacred cow? Clearly the future is in the cities and the creative and service sector.

Instead we would rather poison our city residents with nitrates, as is about to happen in Christchurch.

David Bell's profile picture
Posts: 1067

14 December 2017, 10:43 PM

Well, this is an interesting comparison about rural/city divides. Let's clear a detail first. The nitrate poisoning which you refer to, is I think, about risks to the deep aquifers from farm runoffs, and was recently noted by Ecan (Environment Canterbury). Other agencies have posed similar questions in the years after the earthquakes. (Read Stuff article here.) This is a concern and could form a different yet equally interesting dialogue.

The big picture you paint in this discussion, however, is that the total workforce, only 6% in the US and 7% in NZ, are involved in the primary sector (agriculture, horticulture and viticulture).  All the rest are involved in other sectors of the workforce. You ask, why has primary industry become the NZ sacred cow?

My query is simple. Do these numbers really measure anything? How do they measure the contexts and influence between work choice, work place and their interplay? Workforce choice and workplace choice are better measures. For example, I may be a builder or engineer living in Temuka, and inevitably my work choice and place of work choice involves me in a different way with the primary sector than if I lived in Wellington and built apartments to service Coutney Place entertainments. In the same way, if I work in Tourism, my work choice and work place involves me differently in Auckland's Wynyard Quarter (apartments for the home of the America's Cup)  compared to Alexandra (visits to Earnscleugh Station, Bannockburn and Wanaka, for example). 

In other words, jobs associated with the primary sector is not just about direct numbers but rather more about the overall economic ecosystem of where and why people are located and employed. The sectors are far more related than separated, more interdependent than independent. Clean and green has to apply across all the employment sectors, whether in Wynyard or in Earnscleugh. 

David Hill's profile picture
Posts: 79

16 December 2017, 8:25 AM

Yes, I have been covering the nitrates issue for the last 7 years and I was at Environment Canterbury's media briefing last Monday, where Ecan finally admitted not only that nitrates from farmland north of the Waimakariri River could get into Christchurch's drinking water, but it already is.

Ecan's chief scientist Dr Tim Davie admitted a hypothesis was first put 2002 that this could happen, but rather investigate it then, the scientist was rubbished on the basis the modelling at the time didn't support this theory. When I asked if the previous modelling was incorrect his response was: "no, of course not".

Of course Dr Davie is a "smooth operator" (a description others have given him). I have spoken to other scientists, including at Ecan, who all tell me the situation is potentially a lot worse than he is letting on.

As you say, it is due to farm runoffs. It runs off into groundwater which goes deep into the ground and as their recent studies have show, the groundwater flows under the Waimakariri River and into aquifers which supply urban drinking water. The main trouble spot has been identified as the Eyrewell catchment, between the village of Cust and the river (Cust is a small village between Rangiora and Oxford).

By far the biggest landowner in the Eyrewell catchment is Ngai Tahu, which was given a 6700 hectare forest as part of its treaty settlement. However, Ngai Tahu Farming Ltd opted to fell the trees and create 10 dairy farms, 5 support blocks and planted 150ha in natives.

Ecan and the Waimakariri Zone Committee have known this is a problem area for several years, but every solution which has been put up so far has been vetoed by Ngai Tahu, which has two representatives on the zone committee, as being "culturally insensitive" - apparently nitrates getting into groundwater and drinking water is not "culturally insensitive. One option is creating a 200ha wetland - but which landowner is willing to give up 6700ha?

David Bell's profile picture
Posts: 1067

16 December 2017, 8:53 AM

Thanks for that background. Is this the same set of problems that may affect pregnant women?

David Hill's profile picture
Posts: 79

16 December 2017, 9:37 AM

Yes, though the levels of nitrates are considered low at present. Of course we probably won't know for certain for several decades how high the nitrate levels are going to get.

David Hill's profile picture
Posts: 79

16 December 2017, 9:40 AM

I mean "willing to give up 200ha?" of course.

David Hill's profile picture
Posts: 79

16 December 2017, 8:49 AM

In regards to the remainder of your response - you are exactly right. I just thought it the numbers raised some interesting questions.

When numbers for the US were presented for the course, I assumed New Zealand would be a lot different.

Given the apparent importance of the primary sector, I would have expected it be much higher and when you consider much of the primary sector workforce (and the construction workforce in Christchurch at present) has a large number of migrants, the percentage of New Zealanders working in these sectors is clearly very low.

But as you say it's also a lifestyle choice. Having spoken to several of the Filipino workers who are working on North Canterbury dairy farms, they all come from rural areas so they are motivated to work in a rural environment. Whereas these days there's not many New Zealanders living in rural areas, which can make it difficult to attract people, especially if they have to move away from family or an urban or city lifestyle.

In saying that, while I have spoken to some sharemilkers and farmers who say they can never get good New Zealand staff, others have told me they have no trouble attracting New Zealanders. So I suspect it may have as much to do with the attitude of the employer and what they are willing to offer prospective employees.

One sharemilker, for example, told he never has any problem attracting young New Zealanders and said he is always keen to give young people a go, just as someone gave him a go when he was younger. He admitted he pays slightly lower wages than other farmers or sharemilkers, but he pays for their training so his workers earn qualifications - and he sees that as an investment, not necessarily in his business, but in the industry.

What Richard Florida points out in the course is that 50% of people around the world now live in cities and this is predicted increase to 70% by 2050. While data specifically on cities is limited, as most economic measures like GDP relate to countries rather than cities, he says where data is available shows that in most countries today cities are the drivers of economic growth - in some cases producing up to 5x the national growth.

I don't have these figures to get a comparison for New Zealand and indeed we may be slower than other western countries at moving away from the primary sector as our main economic driver. But given tourism is now our number one export earner and education is now number four, this would suggest it is changing.

And yet, government spending has continued to prioritise investment on the primary sector over other sectors - this is what I am questioning. For example, investment in irrigation - though the new government has announced there will be no new funding. Curiously even industry insiders are now saying, what others have been saying for years - that the dairy industry has reached "peak cow".

What if more investment was made into other sectors? For example SpaceX had to seek investment from overseas, because it couldn't get investment in New Zealand, but yet here is an innovative and creative group of New Zealanders doing something which could provide economic benefit and support other sectors, including the primary sector.

David Bell's profile picture
Posts: 1067

16 December 2017, 9:02 AM

Thanks indeed for that answer - fascinating insights. I wonder...if we could get a few more responses in the forum on this topic can edit them into anew zine and publish it in the Spark sermon format for FB. The results for Spark format have been really interesting over about 4 weeks


David Hill's profile picture
Posts: 79

16 December 2017, 9:38 AM

Absolutely, I had better stop now.