Gigtopia

1 11 2014

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Gisborne/Tairāwhiti is fighting hard to win the Chorus Gigatown competition that ends this month. Like many around the country, I’ve been a bit cynical about the way Chorus decided to start Gigabit Ultra-Fast Broadband (UFB) rollout and the competition hasn’t helped my feelings much.

Having said that – while some of the social media and news stories almost seem to suggest that with the gig that no one will ever cry, no one will ever die in our special community should we win – I can see some real benefits if Gisborne is successful in securing the gig speed connection first.

So as Project Manager for the Tairāwhiti Technology Trust, I’ve been keeping track of #gigatowngis social media progress and helping with the top secret ‘Plan for Gig Success’ that each of the final five ‘towns’ have to prepare and will be judged on by the country and an expert panel of judges.

As you do in such situations, I’ve been doing a little online research on the topic and found a few articles of interest related to gigabit internet services, particularly the US experience to date – and more broadly, which I am most interested in, efforts to close the Digital Divide that seems to be increasing as fast as technology develops:





Neighbourly-ness

26 09 2014

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Recently I started using a social networking site called Neighbourly.

I am encouraging others to try it, as I’ve been an advocate for using new technologies to help build community cohesion, improve public participation in planning, share learning and improve communication.

Place-based online networks like Neighbourly, Nextdoor and MeetTheNeighbours have potential as tools for communicating useful information and knowledge between local residents. Eventually Neighbourly could be a valuable platform for local government and residents associations to engage with people in our area. There are limitations in our community because we have lower internet than most of the country – indeed we have lower rates of access than some developing countries!

We’ve seen it used to help solve crime and get stolen property returned. It’s also being used to promote neighbourhood events that bring people out to meet face to face. We have been trying to build trust and care between residents in our neighbourhood as a way to address wicked social issues like child neglect and violence – we are seeing neighbours getting to know each other better and Neighbourly can only help with these bigger processes of community building.

Platforms like Neighbourly will enable organisations to engage with the people they are supposed to serve in new ways. We are seeing the rise of services like online youth work and counseling – as it can be easier for some people to engage online than in person. As Neighbourly develops I expect it will increase the suite of tools available for organisations to target particular groups within a larger population with specific messages and in conversations about issues of mutual interest. Geo-tagging and place-based online platforms will be increasingly important for things like civil defence, e-democracy, tourism, historical archiving and cultural revitalization.

I’ve been organising in my neighbourhood for 15 years and worked for four years as an elected representative for the area so using social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Neighbourly seemed like a natural progression to take a lead in online organising as well. Having said that, it’s been great to see a number of local people with no significant public profile or community organising experience take a lead on Neighbourly and in other social media.

Developing a national network on people committed to engaging with their communities is a vision many of us community organisers and development workers have had for years. Neighbourly has the opportunity to provide a powerful platform for mobilising large parts of the population on specific campaigns and supporting critical issues we may be interested in – both in public policy and in specific communities.

There are obvious opportunities for creating learning circles within the Neighbourly network to share best practice and well-established principles of good community development.

Social media is demonstrating how powerful it can be as a tool for social change around the world. While we may not be organising a revolution (just yet), we can use these platforms to share stories, raise awareness, mobilise residents for collective action, collect valuable feedback and information on local priorities, attitudes and behaviours that can provide better evidence for where scarce resources should best be allocated.

I think the growing digital divide is one of the most critical issues that the champions of online community building initiatives and public policy makers need to wrestle with. If we don’t address the elephant in the room of affordable internet access and online skills we will exacerbate already staggering levels of inequality our country is increasingly being shamed for on the global stage.

There are also privacy issues that need to be addressed. Recent revelations that the NSA and its partners have access to all online communication will make many organisations and individuals more nervous about how much data they are prepared to share online about themselves, their community and others.





Have your say on access to alcohol

9 05 2014

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While there has been much justified public concern about at the sale, consumption and effects of synthetic psychoactive substances, there has been no public outrage at a far more dangerous, less regulated and damaging drug. It seems alcohol-related harm is tolerated by the vast majority of Kiwis and Gisborne is no exception:

  • New Zealand Police data shows that alcohol-related offending in Gisborne peaks on Friday and Saturday nights between 8pm and 4am.
  • Alcohol is a big factor in at least one half of deaths in people aged under 24 years.
  • Alcohol plays a role in at least 30% of hospital emergency department admissions on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
  • Alcohol-related injuries make up 60 percent of injury-based admissions to the emergency department.
  • 10 percent of assaults are recorded as alcohol-related by victims.
  • There was an increase of 22 percent in Police callouts for alcohol-fuelled crime 2008 and 2012.
  • NZTA statistics over a five year period show alcohol was involved in about twenty percent of Gisborne city crashes and a quarter of accidents on local rural roads.
  • Last year alcohol was a factor in up to 30 percent of fatal accidents in the Gisborne region.

To their credit it seems Gisborne District Council staff and councillors are finally willing to take on the industry and put tighter controls on the supply of this drug we have come to accept the daily abuse of in our community.

Bold proposals in the Draft Local Alcohol Policy will see sale times at off-license venues like wholesalers and supermarkets limited to between 10am and 9pm, bars and clubs will need to stop selling alcohol by 2am and bottle stores will not be allowed to setup close to schools and other sensitive locations. There will also be a limit on the number of off-license sites and licensees will need to have a plan showing how consuming alcohol in their venue will be managed to ensure safe and responsible drinking.

Tairawhiti Community Voice has encouraged our member organisations to make submissions on the Draft Local Alcohol Policy and we hope many local residents and other organisations do likewise to support the courageous position the Draft Local Alcohol Policy is taking in an effort to help reduce the harm caused by this drug. No doubt the alcohol industry and their well-paid lobbyists will attack the proposed changes. Councils have already been threatened with legal action just for letting locals have more say as the new law allows.

Responding to alcohol lobbyists suggestions that such policy changes are ‘going back in time’, a senior Police officer recently said research and experience confirms that every hour the drinking hours are reduced creates a safer environment. The longer people drink the more intoxicated they become and more harm is caused.

Submissions closed this week and the hearings will be an interesting exercise in local democracy as concerned residents and emergency services face off against the might of the alcohol lobby.





Perfect timing for PCE freshwater report

21 11 2013

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A report on freshwater management released today by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment was exquisite timing given the release this month of two important regulatory documents according to District Councillor Manu Caddie.

A proposed National Objectives Framework (NOF) for Freshwater by the Ministry for the Environment is currently being consulted on and has received mixed responses from freshwater experts so far. The NOF, for the first time ever, sets absolute bottom lines for freshwater quality to protect ecosystems and human health. Some scientific commentators have said it is good that these bottom lines have been established, while others have criticised the proposed acceptable levels as too low and questioned the decision to exclude macroinvertebrates (small living critters in freshwater systems) as a measure of stream health as recommended by the expert panel advising the process.

A local Freshwater Advisory Group discussion document on the development of a regional Freshwater Plan will also be released by Gisborne District Council for consultation this month with a proposal for collaborative planning in the Waipaoa catchment.

“Irrigation demand is expected to increase dramatically over the next 30 years and establishing consensus amongst stakeholders and users while protecting the life sustaining qualities of waterways is going to be really important” said Mr Caddie.

Mr Caddie said the PCE report paints a fairly positive picture of the Gisborne region in terms of water quality improvements from tree planting and hillsides reverting to indigenous bush.

“While Dr Wright’s report will have most implications for the regions that have seen massive dairy intensification, there are some good news stories in terms of the comparatively low levels of nitrogen and phosphorous in our waterways – in fact according to the report.”

“Gisborne is the only region predicted to have these nutrients decrease in our water, largely as a result of the farm conversions to forestry. Large areas of steep land have been, and are predicted to continue to be, converted to forestry. As a result, nitrogen and phosphorus loads in the Waiapu catchment are predicted to decrease by 10% and 2% respectively below 1996 levels by 2020.”

The report notes the productivity of sheep/beef farming has improved by about 20% over the last twenty years. This increase may be more attributable to efficiency gains such as advances in animal genetics than to increased fertiliser inputs. The productivity of plantation pine forestry has not significantly changed in the last two decades. The report suggests Government plans to double the value of primary exports by 2025 should not be at the expense of the environment.

ENDS





The Weight of Risk and the Risk of Waiting

15 10 2013

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A paper I presented at the Oil & Gas Symposium, Hastings District Council, 11 October 2013.

DOWNLOADS:





Chamber of Commerce Q+A

21 09 2013

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The Gisborne Chamber of Commerce asked candidates five questions, these are my responses…

- – -

I have enjoyed first term on Council, part of that was on the Chamber Executive and I’d like to see those links strengthened a little more as I think Brian Wilson and myself acted as a useful conduit between the Council and Chamber on a number of issues.

I think I’ve been able to make intelligent, sensible and considered contributions to Council and I’ve helped raise the quality of discussion, debate and decision-making.

I’ve had a focus on increasing public involvement in planning and decisions and been a strong advocate for the city and the district as a whole.

I have listened to residents and ratepayers (even after being elected!), worked well with others (who don’t always share the same values and views) and helped make good decisions in the best interest of the region as a whole.

- – – 

1. What do you see as the GDC’s role in contributing to economic development and growth in this region?

Council has a key role in a number of areas contributing to economic development:

  1. Providing good quality infrastructure, predictable regulation & consistent planning
  2. Collecting and disseminating information that helps the community make informed decisions on the direction for the district
  3. Advocating for the district at central government – ensuring our big issues are nationally significant issues.
  4. Facilitating relationships between stakeholders to realise opportunities and achieve sustainable solutions in the best interest of the district where there are competing priorities.

Some of functions within these areas, particulatly information gathering and sharing, advocacy and relationship brokerage could be devolved to an Economic Development Agency run separate to Council. But the Mayor and Council have a critical leadership role in advocating on behalf of the region – especially on things like roading, new costs being imposed by central government legislation, etc. And political leadership can help broker mutually beneficial relationships with industry, iwi, land owners, research institutions, entrepreneurs, etc.

Council can also have procurement and banking policies that benefit the local community in different ways.

- – -

2. What is your view of the core role of council? Do you consider there are any current council activities that do not fit this role?

Under new legislation the purpose of local government is now to provide quality infrastructure, regulation & essential services. Opposition parties have pledged to revert the purpose back to promoting sustainable development and local cultural, environmental, social and economic wellbeing.

I’m not completely wedded to Council providing social housing. I have argued it could be sold to a Charitable Trust, housing cooperative or something like ECT but wouldn’t want to see them go to private ownership. I’m also open to Council not owning any or all of its commercial assets (WOF station, holiday park, farms) if there are compelling financial reasons to divest from these enterprises. We need an urgent review of Council asset ownership to identify options and the benefits of retaining or releasing these enterprises.

Tauwhareparae Farms are being well run but I’m not convinced we need to retain them. They were acquired to supplement port income and will always provide low value compared to capital committed, as the trees appreciate so will the capital value. There is no legal risk in selling them and my preference would be as Margaret Thorpe suggests to land-bank them via OTS as they are subject to Treaty claims. This will ensure we get a premium price, they are retained in local ownership and we demonstrate goodwill to the traditional owners.

- – -

3. Businesses have to live within their means, or face the consequences. What is your view with regard to GDC achieving the same discipline around keeping rates increases in check?

Significant savings have been made by previous and current CEO to trim as much as possible. More ‘savings’ could be found but that depends on what we want to give up and what quality of life we can tolerate.

I campaigned on rates rises at or below inflation and we have achieved that. The ‘razor gang’ didn’t make any significant savings. I also campaigned on getting more predictable rates system with smaller variations year on year and we are making good progress on this through the participatory rates review process.

Council league tables suggest we are now one of the most financially sustainable and we rank 26 out of 73 councils for cost of rates.

Councillors are financially conservative and understand the limits of affordability for residents, but the WMT suggests this is not the case. That massive blowout and the need to address some basic first suggest some of the fancy projects need to be reviewed while we attend to the basics first.

If the community has things they think we should stop doing or not start they have the opportunity every year and we listen to that feedback.

- – -

4. What is your position with respect to the re-opening of the Gisborne to Napier rail line?

The railway line a billion dollar public asset that is lying idle while Gisborne and Wairoa businesses scream out for it to make our products more competitive. Some people say logs will never go South on it but there are massive forests between Napier and Gisborne that will provide the anchor business for the line so that containerised seasonal produce and timber coming out and fertiliser going to Gisborne can be transported by rail instead of trucks. Coastal shipping is unlikely to ever be viable if the rail is operating.

More trucks on the road means more cost in maintenance, more congestion and more danger for other motorists – it also means more cost for local businesses and more competition from other places that have lower freight costs.

With the support of 10,000 signatures and $20,000 given by local businesses and residents, we commissioned a study that demonstrated the lack of rigor in the government’s position and the potential for a realistic business case if roads and rail were considered on a level playing field by central government.

A different government next year will reinstate the line if the local business consortium is unable to raise the funds required. Some candidates say they don’t don’t support ratepayers funding the line operation – that has never been a realistic option – but Council could be a stronger advocate for the line.

- – -

5. If you were elected to the council, what activities or actions would you take to ensure Gisborne becomes an even better place to work, live and play?

I will keep doing what I have been:

-  all of the above, plus…

-  working with the IT sector to establish local computer hubs for young people and families with few opportunities to access IT, career pathways via the Techxpo and partnership with major NZ telcos

- advocating for more central government support for our district (transport, rail, imposed costs, renewable energy, forestry carbon credits, aquaculture, etc.) and working with iwi and other stakeholders on these issues

- leading a gang transformation project focused on employment and working with employers and support services

- review commercial assets

- keep rates at or below inflation

- continue support for better commuter cycling and walking infrastructure

- more emphasis on local housing issues – affordable, healthy housing for everyone, not provided by Council but Council facilitating government, community and private sectors working together

- continue emphasising the importance of opportunities for public input on issues like forestry harvest rules, petroleum exploration applications, legislative submissions, etc.

- continue work on Māori land issues – Council working with landowners to look at how to make the land more productive and/or revert to indigenous forest

-  continue supporting illegal dumping prevention and removal, and more ambitious waste minimisation targets.

- continue bringing diverse parts of the community together to address complex issues

- continue voluntary involvement in a wide range of community groups and local issues.





My position? 20% of commuter trips by cycle by 2020

23 08 2013

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Yeah, Waikanae is not a commuter cycle route (well, probably half a dozen cyclists a day) but the point is we need to invest in commuter cycling infrastructure, get some baseline data on where we are at now and develop a concrete plan to see substantial mode change by 2020.








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