Universal Access for Gisborne?

A recent survey of households in Kaiti found that 90% have a mobile phone and more than one in three have broadband internet in the home. Gisborne residents are obviously committed to using new technology to help with communication, education and involvement in society.

Given the isolation of our region relative to the big cities and overseas markets, access to high speed internet access and affordable information technology should be the centre-piece of any plan for a prosperous region.

High-speed wireless internet access for all residents is becoming a top priority for local authorities around the world.  Whanganui District Council has just subsidised free wireless to two low income neighbourhoods in their town and in Canada advertising is being used to sponsor wireless access to poor neighbourhoods. Given the high access rates charged by the telecommunications companies in New Zealand, electronic infrastructure is quickly being recognised as a public good that requires democratic control rather than just private owners.

Gisborne District councilors wouldn’t even allow staff to setup a Facebook page for the Annual Plan this year. Thankfully Corporate Affairs Manager Douglas Burt has championed Council involvement in broadband initiatives and projects like Computers in Homes and getting broadband to all our rural communities.

Bristol City Council over the past twelve months has been using Participatory Budgeting, including online ways for citizens to set the city spending. The council put aside funds for three city wards to allocate spending through an online discussion.

To carry out the project, the council used Open Source (free) software which enables residents to suggest ideas for what the money should be spent on, and allows other citizens to vote for the ideas they support. While the final decision on spending can’t legally rest with ‘the internet’, the council committed to stick by the decisions made by participants, so long as they are legal.

Half way through the pilot project results are showing that 130 people had registered on the site, a participation rate that is much larger than the numbers who usually turn up to public consultation meetings.

The age of participants has moved down about twenty years in age compared with attendees at traditional public meetings, showing 40% of participants are under the age of 40.

The site asked people who responded to state their location, and this has shown that most respondents come from the three wards in which the funding will be spent. So people are engaging in their local area, but others are having their say too, just as intended, especially given one of the wards covers the city centre, used by pretty much all residents from time to time.

Gisborne District Council will be interested to know that a sizable proportion of the ideas submitted in Bristol turned out not to need funding at all, and could be undertaken right away. These ranged from some ideas actually being issues that could be passed on directly to council officers for action, to users being able to help each other. In one instance, a user suggested it would be good to fund having bus timetables on your mobile phone, and another replied saying that they’d already worked out how to do it, and gave instructions on how to do so!

The council has thus benefitted from another channel for receiving customer feedback as well as encouraging the wisdom of crowds, in addition to the benefits hoped for by the project itself.

Universal access to high speed broadband is fundamental to transforming the economic performance of Gisborne but a key question is whether or not prospective councilors and local voters consider this infrastructure essential for the future of our region.

Kaiti Neighbourhood Meeting to Address Tagging

A neighbourhood meeting to address tagging in Kaiti this week resulted in the development of a community action plan involving much more than painting out tagging.

The meeting attracted more than 20 residents including a number of young people. Meeting organiser Manu Caddie said he was very pleased with the turnout with some very practical ideas being put forward to tackle the causes of tagging.

A presentations from Gisborne District Council town planner Duncan Rothwell provided residents with a range of strategies to make tagging less likely. Using wire fencing instead of planks avoids providing a flat surface which is attractive to taggers.

“A community paint out day is one approach but addressing the issues that create taggers seems like the most sensible strategy to prevent tagging” said Mr Caddie.

The meeting heard from Police Sergeant Greg Lexmond that while tagging was at the lower end of the offending continuum, it is usually done by people under the age of 20 and still important for Police to respond to.

Mr Caddie presented findings from international research on what families can do to prevent young people getting into trouble with the law. Mr Caddie said the four most important things parents and caregivers can do are: spend quality time doing things that the children enjoy; set reasonable boundaries and know where they are and who they are with; encourage participation in positive activities such as sport and kapahaka; and do everything possible to keep them in school.

Presentations by Te Runanga o Ngati Porou staff informed the meeting about a mentoring programme they are working on in Kaiti schools. Ngarimu Simpkins, a Community Development Officer for the Gisborne District Council, presented an idea he is working that will involve taggers in a community art project.

Mr Caddie said Ka Pai Kaiti will continue to work with local organisations, schools and residents to implement the plan coming out of the meeting.

Ideas from meeting participants that will inform the community action plan included:

  1. Working with schools to identify young people who tag their bags and books with opportunities for these young people to be connected into programmes that address identity and belonging issues and expose students to the consequences of tagging.
  2. Utilising local artists and designers including Toihoukura students and staff to assist with mural painting in high risk spots and mentoring young people caught tagging.
  3. Improving Police response to tagging reports and encouraging judges to include educational and identity development opportunities within sentences.
  4. Using positive Maori mentors and educational experiences to ensure that all young Maori in Gisborne have a positive sense of what it means to be Maori instead of the negative self-image many whanau have inherited from society.
  5. Advertising and social marketing targeting young people that helps them understand the cost and impact tagging can have on households and neighbourhoods.
  6. ‘Dream Expo’ hosted by local schools that encourage primary aged children to realise their potential.
  7. Encouraging the establishment of Neighbourhood Watch Groups in areas that are often tagged.
  8. Publicising the profile of the ‘average tagger’ – how they started, what motivates them, what unmet needs they have and how best to steer them away from tagging.
  9. Using schools as significant public assets within communities experiencing high levels of deprivation that can be the base for a range of support services to family and provide moral reasoning (skills to decide what is right and wrong) training for children and young people.
  10. Encourage churches, sports clubs, marae and service clubs to contribute to a community action plan.

Love Your Library

Congratulations to Pene Walsh and her staff at the public library. Over the past year the number of library visitors has grown 27%. This increase has brought with it a range of challenges, not least of which has been the disruptive and offensive behaviour of some library users, many of them young males.

While Councillor Alan Davidson recently suggested a strategy of exclusion and shame by ordering trespass notices and posting pictures of the offenders in public places, the staff have taken a more constructive approach. Library staff – with the support of the City Watch team – have been committed to building positive and mutually respectful relationships with the young people. As a result, most of these young people have improved their behaviour around the library, accepted the right of other library visitors to enjoy civic spaces without being disturbed and no doubt have also developed a greater sense of belonging to their community.

I was also impressed that Pene sent a couple of staff members to a youth worker training workshop we organised last year. One of the key messages from the day was that every young person in their transition to adulthood needs to experience (a) a sense of belonging, (b) a sense that they are good at something, (c) a sense of taking responsibility for themselves, and (d) a sense of making a positive contribution to their community. It is clear that library staff understand it takes a whole community to raise healthy young people and have been able to find ways to support positive youth development within the public service responsibilities they have at the library.

If there were awards for positive youth development in Gisborne (or even nationally), our library staff and the City Watch team should be first in line.

We urgently need to find the funds, within or outside of Council, to extend the space of our library so it can better cater for the growing number of visitors and properly house the great resources it has available for all of us. While we’re at it, the connection of the library to an outdoors civic space in the CBD seems commonsense.

My Priorities

These are the things I think are important and would strive to promote if I was elected to Council next year…

  1. A region that values the rich traditions and diversity of all its residents.
  2. A region of safe communities based on caring relationships between families.
  3. A region that fosters innovation, enterprise, the creative sectors and scientific discovery.
  4. A region that nurtures well-educated young people and leaves no one behind.
  5. A region that is a magnet for young families and values the contributions of older people.
  6. A region that will leave the natural environment better than we found it.
  7. A region that is committed to ensuring housing, energy and healthy food are affordable and that supports families to manage their finances wisely.
  8. A region that understands the importance of increasing the economic productivity and sustainability of agriculture, horticulture and forestry.
  9. A region that promotes the use of cycling and walking for most people making short journeys.
  10. A region that is well connected with the rest of the planet through low-cost, high-speed, internet access.
  11. A Council that encourages public participation in decision-making.
  12. A Council that is able to keep any rates increases at (or below) the rate of inflation while still providing quality services and infrastructure.