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.





Scoring own goal can mean you’re trying to change the rules – or The Game

22 09 2014

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Kia ora Nandor, thanks for this great post: ‘Not Voting is An Own Goal‘.

I think you make some valid points though I disagree with you on a couple of others.

For the first time, I didn’t vote this election – it was mostly for personal reasons but it got me thinking about the more public/political reasons for choosing not to vote:

  • Ignorance about the political system, the rights and responsibilities of citizens, etc. is one reason some people do not vote. They haven’t made an effort to find out, or have thought it was not something they are allowed to do because it’s just not a system or society they feel a part of in any meaningful way. (Read this excellent reflection on these issues)
  • Others just ‘can’t be bothered’, they know they probably should but can’t get motivated enough to spend 15 minutes of their time going into a polling booth. That lack of motivation has a variety of contributing factors to it which may include being new to the place or just having other more pressing personal priorities, which may include emotional or physical needs.
  • Others choose not to vote because they honestly don’t know which person or party they would want to give their vote to – they feel ill informed and unwilling to commit one way or another because they haven’t got enough information.
    Another group don’t want to vote because they don’t have confidence in any party or politician – as a society politicians are way down the bottom of professions we trust. They have heard all the promises, probably participated in elections previously and maybe been a member of a political party but have been so disappointed by the inability of any party to live up to the expectations they held that they currently can no longer bring themselves to support any party or candidate.
  • I’m not sure if it’s a different group, a subset of the last one or just the same people with a different expression for their lack of confidence, but there are people who have given up on the whole process, the ones you suggest don’t want to legitimise a rotten system and think that voting ‘just encourages the politicians’. You suggest that this decision to not vote ‘will have absolutely no impact at all’ – but I’m not so sure.

For a starter, when nearly a million eligible voters don’t exercise the right, it provokes these kinds of discussions and encourages more deliberation on the validity of the system, the legitimacy and effectiveness of representative democracy, the possibility of more effective and potentially disastrous alternatives, the level of social capital and social infrastructure in our society that means such a large proportion of the population are disenfranchised (or not) and allowing others to determine (or not) the future for the most vulnerable in our communities, etc.

Choosing not to vote, is still a vote. It may have made John Key more likely to win, but then a Labour-led alternative is not any more attractive to many of us. Concessions on RMA and welfare reform, indigenous rights, mechanisms to address inequality, state asset sales and ties to the US economy and global military industrial complex would continue to frustrate many of us who like to think we vote with a little less self-interest than the majority of our fellow citizens. Choosing not to vote is a message to say, the system is broken (no where near as much as some others) and we want to put energy into improving or replacing it.

I think there is a place for a Vote of No Confidence option on the ballot, a space for those who don’t think we should settle for the current form of government modelled on (and still linked to) the Westminster system imposed by European settlers on these islands.

There are plenty of improvements we can make to the system (I listed some toward the end of this post), and we can help create those changes with or without central government support. There are examples of this happening all the time using existing institutions and creating new processes and contexts for reducing the influence of the dominant paradigm on our families and communities.

Likewise we can build authentic alternatives for self-governance, most likely without public support and eventually these will create conflict with the dominant system if they refuse to contribute to its maintenance and self-legitimising mechanisms for survival. This is a much more costly option and is unlikely to succeed, but if it’s all too hard then we continue to meddle and tinker with a massive infrastructure that is controlled by very powerful forces that refuse to give up power while we’re running out of time to make the changes the world needs to have any chance of a decent future.
I like your point that voting doesn’t actually take much effort and provided it’s value and potential is seen for little effort and little impact it has, it’s not really so demanding that we should abstain for any good reason.

I’ll probably vote again in the future, but by not doing so this time, I’m choosing not to abdicate anything to the government and voting for myself to take more responsibility for creating the community, country and planet I want my kids to be able to contribute to.





Census surprises

4 12 2013

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The Census results provide a useful set of information for anyone who cares about the future of our region.

With one in three locals now aged under 20 and half the population under 40, we need to ensure the voices of young citizens are heard clearly and that we provide decent support to help them grow as contributing members of our community. I would also be keen to hear from the three local teenagers who said they earn over $100,000 per year!

Ethnic and cultural identity figures are very interesting. The proportion of the population identifying as Māori remains about the same at 49 percent (likely to be a bit higher in reality). Many of us Pākehā seem to have some ambivalence and lack of confidence about our cultural identity. The number of local ‘European’ residents has jumped sharply, while those claiming ‘New Zealander’ as their ethnicity has dropped by over 3,000. Pacific peoples have increased by about 15 percent and other ethnic groups, including Asian, have all increased more modestly. While we may be one of least ethnically diverse regions, few others have Asian and African political leaders!

Though we do have 804 people – including the three teenagers – earning over $100,000, we have comparatively low income levels and the lowest home ownership rates in the country. We have also had a significant increase in the proportion of the population that hold a university degree. A population with higher levels of education should result in positive changes over time to income levels, home ownership and many other benefits. The key ingredient in that equation is a good match between education and employment opportunities. There is some good work being done in this space and a closer relationship between schools, employers and training providers will be critical.

With the lowest access to the internet at home, there is a great case for more public access options to information and communication technologies. The proposed neighbourhood computer hubs and better online options at schools, marae and the public library service all need significant support and investment to bridge the digital divide and enable new technology-based industries and employment opportunities to evolve quickly.

The Gisborne/Tairāwhiti region has the highest proportion of Māori language speakers in the country, with one in six of us being able to converse in Te Reo. I agree with the Chief Statistician who has called our region ‘the home of Te Reo’ – an asset we can use not only in tourism but also as a selling point for the tens of thousands of people – Māori and non-Māori – who want their children to grow up bi-lingual and in an environment where Māori traditions and values are maintained and appreciated.

All in all, I’d say the numbers suggest we are a pretty fascinating mix of awesomeness with plenty of room for improvement, but also much to be proud of.





Tairāwhiti Multicultural Council Q+A

21 09 2013
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Photo: Mel Tahata, opening of To Be Pacific exhibition, Tairāwhiti Museum, 20 September 2013

Tairāwhiti Multicultural Council asked local body candidates five questions. They seem to have liked my responses!

- – -

1.What is your vision for Gisborne in terms of cultural diversity?
That all Gisborne people can feel proud of their unique cultural heritage and honoured for the diversity they bring to our community. Gisborne could show other regions how to support the exchange and sharing of diverse cultural backgrounds in a way that enriches our town.

- – -

2. The Ten Year Plan says GDC will support the development of cultural groups in the district, what kind of support do you think GDC should provide to the Tairāwhiti Multicultural Council?

As part of GDC cultural responsiveness it could utilise the TMC to be a liaison network with community. GDC would then benefit from investing in the Council by providing administration support and resources. The Council could discuss further with GDC how it might like to have input into Council discussions.

  – – -

3. What regular interaction do you have with groups of people from cultural backgrounds different to your own?

I have worked on aid and development programmes in Asia, Africa and the South Pacific but most of my work has been here in Gisborne and mostly within the Māori community. While I have Tongan whakapapa, my upbringing was pretty middle-class Pākehā – though I did spend a lot of time at marae, in hui and kapahaka as a child. Marrying a woman from Ngāti Porou and coming to live here has meant I have a direct family connection to mana whenua and have immersed myself in the culture of Māori communities both in Gisborne and on the Coast where we are intimately involved with a whānau marae. My wife and I have only ever spoken Te Reo Māori to our children and we’re committed to them being educated and socialised in Te Reo as well as the exposure they have everywhere to English. So we understand something of the struggle people from minority linguistic, religious and ethnic communities have to endure in this Anglo-Saxon dominated society.

I have been a founding member of the Tairāwhiti Inter-Faith Network and more recently the Tairāwhiti Multicultural Council – both are small but important networks that encourage people from diverse backgrounds to come together for the common good.

I’m regularly invited to Tongan and Pacific Island community events and recently participated in discussions around the establishment of a local consortium of Pasifika peoples focused on Whānau Ora initiatives for Tairāwhiti. I have supported migrants with immigration issues and negotiated on their behalf with immigration officials and lawyers. I have helped organise multicultural community events that bring people from diverse cultural backgrounds together in our neighbourhoods.

  – – -

4. What, if any, common challenges are you aware of for local residents from ethnic minority groups?
Negative stereotypes are still around. Such unfair stereotyping of any group can detract from the community as a whole being able to draw from the energy and contributions a group can make. There are still some groups over-represented in crime and educational failure and under-represented in business leadership and educational success. Initiatives like the Tongan Homework Support Programme utilising local volunteers and working with the students while the parents learn English at EIT is an exciting community-based response to do something about this situation. Some particularly new to New Zealand arrivals can often feel isolated so strengthening community connections for those families is important. Also there needs to be support for ethnic minority groups to be able to feel that they have a home in our city and can adapt in ways that are useful to them, while also maintaining their own culture.

  – – -

5. What are the biggest opportunities you see for attracting new immigrants and refugees to Gisborne?

As a city if we genuinely aspire towards sustainable solutions to the challenges that ethnic minorities face, this may attract their talents to our region.

There are opportunities to ask the Government to consider resettling some refugees here as they settled Burmese refugees in Nelson ten years ago. There are also a number of local businesses that rely on migrant workers – not only in low-skilled horticultural work but high tech positions like computer programming and materials technology. I met a PhD from Bangladesh who was working at Pultron and subsequently head-hunted by a company in Melbourne – he had some awesome ideas about developing composite materials from flax fibre here.

If Gisborne can show that it celebrates diversity and wants to involve ethnic groups in meaningful discussions on relevant issues – this would enhance the decision making process of GDC.

- – -

Other responses: http://tairawhitimulticulturalcouncil.blogspot.co.nz/





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 Views on a Multicultural Tairāwhiti

9 09 2013
Meeting with youth in a Nepalese village in 2007 with two young people I took over to share the experience.

Meeting with youth in a Nepalese village in 2007.

Tairāwhiti Multicultural Council sent out a list of five questions for candidates to answer for them, here are my responses…

 

1.What is your vision for Gisborne in terms of cultural diversity?

That all Gisborne people can feel proud of their unique cultural heritage and honoured for the diversity they bring to our community.

Gisborne could show other regions how to support the exchange and sharing of diverse cultural backgrounds in a way that enriches our town.

 

2. The Ten Year Plan says GDC will support the development of cultural groups in the district, what kind of support do you think GDC should provide to the Tairāwhiti Multicultural Council?

As part of GDC cultural responsiveness it could utilise the TMC to be a liaison network with community. GDC would then benefit from investing in the Council by providing administration support and resources. The Council could discuss further with GDC how it might like to have input into Council discussions.

 

3. What regular interaction do you have with groups of people from cultural backgrounds different to your own?

I have worked on aid and development programmes in Asia, Africa and the South Pacific but most of my work has been here in Gisborne and mostly within the Māori community. While I have Tongan whakapapa, my upbringing was pretty middle-class Pākehā – though I did spend a lot of time at marae, in hui and kapahaka as a child. Marrying a woman from Ngāti Porou and coming to live here has meant I have a direct family connection to mana whenua and have immersed myself in the culture of Māori communities both in Gisborne and on the Coast where we are intimately involved with a whānau marae. My wife and I have only ever spoken Te Reo Māori to our children and we’re committed to them being educated and socialised in Te Reo as well as the exposure they have everywhere to English. So we understand something of the struggle people from minority linguistic, religious and ethnic communities have to endure in this Anglo-Saxon dominated society.

I have been a founding member of the Tairāwhiti Inter-Faith Network and more recently the Tairāwhiti Multicultural Council – both are small but important networks that encourage people from diverse backgrounds to come together for the common good.

I’m regularly invited to Tongan and Pacific Island community events and recently participated in discussions around the establishment of a local consortium of Pasifika peoples focused on Whānau Ora initiatives for Tairāwhiti. I have supported migrants with immigration issues and negotiated on their behalf with immigration officials and lawyers. I have helped organise multicultural community events that bring people from diverse cultural backgrounds together in our neighbourhoods.

 

4. What, if any, common challenges are you aware of for local residents from ethnic minority groups?

Negative stereotypes are still around. Such unfair stereotyping of any group can detract from the community as a whole being able to draw from the energy and contributions a group can make.

There are still some groups over-represented in crime and educational failure and under-represented in business leadership and educational success. Initiatives like the Tongan Homework Support Programme utilising local volunteers and working with the students while the parents learn English at EIT is an exciting community-based response to do something about this situation.

Some particularly new to New Zealand arrivals can often feel isolated so strengthening community connections for those families is important. Also there needs to be support for ethnic minority groups to be able to feel that they have a home in our city and can adapt in ways that are useful to them, while also maintaining their own culture.

 

5. What are the biggest opportunities you see for attracting new immigrants and refugees to Gisborne?

As a city if we genuinely aspire towards sustainable solutions to the challenges that ethnic minorities face, this may attract their talents to our region.

There are opportunities to ask the Government to consider resettling some refugees here as they settled Burmese refugees in Nelson ten years ago. There are also a number of local businesses that rely on migrant workers – not only in low-skilled horticultural work but high tech positions like computer programming and materials technology. I met a PhD from Bangladesh who was working at Pultron and subsequently head-hunted by a company in Melbourne – he had some awesome ideas about developing composite materials from flax fibre here.

If Gisborne can show that it celebrates diversity and wants to involve ethnic groups in meaningful discussions on relevant issues – this would enhance the decision making process of GDC.

 





Ask Ratepayers Before Deciding on Extra $2 Million for Theatre

28 08 2013

Image

Expecting ratepayers to fork out an extra $2.1 million dollars for the War Memorial Theatre without asking if they support the decision is unacceptable according to District Councillor Manu Caddie.

Mr Caddie was responding to news that the War Memorial Theatre upgrade will cost $9.6m instead the $7.17m budgeted and approved in Council’s Ten Year Plan.

Staff and some councillors are recommending an extra $2.1million is borrowed because debt is lower than forecast and the expense is ‘therefore affordable’ and ‘not luxurious’.

“I beg to differ. Spending an extra $2million of ratepayers money really needs to go to them before a decision is made” said Mr Caddie.

“The community was told 70 percent of the Theatre funds would come from external sources, now it looks like that could drop to closer to 50 percent and $4.25m worth of rates would be used to make up the difference.”

“The Theatre is a important part of our civic infrastructure and used by many parts of the community, but it now has a much higher price tag than the $6.8m estimated in 2011 and the $7.2m approved in the Ten Year Plan last year.”

Mr Caddie says he could be agreeable to upping the Council contribution to 33 percent which would require $1,050,000 of loan funds, but still believes it would require a special consultative procedure if the decision was to be made before the next Ten Year Plan.

“We couldn’t find even $15,000 for the Skate Park, a Council-owned asset that is used by more people in one weekend than the War Memorial Theatre sees in a month, so I really can’t stomach committing over $2million without proper public consultation.”

“While the loan swaps we are locked into may mean there are advantages in spending on bringing projects forward, we really need to get some sense of the cost for replacing Council administration buildings before rushing into unplanned spending.”

Mr Caddie says Council should go back to the organisations that have granted funds for the project so far.

“First we need to explain that the project has cost a huge amount more than the best estimates we got in 2011 and see if they are willing to add up to 25 percent to their grant to help cover the difference. If that is not an option then we need to explain it may take require longer than expected to secure the funds. The project is not planned to be completed until 2016 so we have some time still.”

Mr Caddie said he is impressed with the external funds secured by Council staff and the War Memorial Theatre Trust and would be willing to help find the additional funds required from external sources.

The matter will be debated by Council at their meeting next Thursday 5 September.








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