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business community creative

Creating entrepreneurs to create change

Jesper Kjellerås is the Founder & Managing Director of Impact Hub Stockholm.   A change maker, process facilitator, team coach, business coach, Jesper believes we can change society in positive way through entrepreneurship.

 

Talking points

Being the change we needed to see

How do we change behaviour to actually care for each  other?

Drive a prosperous community that can be the change you need to be.

Everybody will have an impact

See unlikely allies as potential for collaboration

The goal is to solve the issue, this needs a business model to be viable, and that means scalable.

Innovation at the edges

Not just the best in the world, the best for the world

Creating entrepreneurs to create change

Sustainable: I don’t really like the world sustainable, because really what is sustainable… does that mean that nothing happens and it’s just sustained?

Success:The scaling program that we did with eight different houses in Europe was a huge success.  

Superpower: My ability to not give up, I’ve done this for many years now, I’ve been on this rollercoaster and it’s just been going really steep down hill… but somehow we always seem to get up again.

Activist: I grew up with both of my parents as activists, so in some ways yes I have it in my blood. In a present sense, I’ve tried to do it now by creating a framework for others to try and take action.

Challenge: We just launched the SDGhack (Sustainable Development Goal Hack ) our upcoming challenge is developing our role as a creative workspace in stockholm, we are really taking on these sustainability goals.

Motivation: My children, probably my five year old who wakes me up in the morning. Being able to hear their struggles, ideas and creativity… it’s so motivating.

Miracle: I would put women in power, not just an equal power share but a comparable amount of power that men have now. Just flip the imbalance.

Advice: Be yourself, whoever you are meant to be and be transparent about it. Don’t be ashamed if you think differently to others, just embrace it.

 

Categories
art communication community occupational therapy urban

Creating opportunities for resourcefulness

I think if we were living resourcefully, we would make the most of what we had around us, in a way that meant that we came together as communities, to share resources, and that we took responsibility for what happens within the life of the resources that we use, as individuals, and as families and communities.

Recycling, reusing, reducing, remodeling, and reselling! Juliet Arnott’s social enterprise ‘Rekindle’ is all about diverting reusable resources from waste via creativity and craftsmanship.  Juliet Arnott studied at Otago Polytechnic’s School of Occupational Therapy and went on to use her creativity and craftsmanship with community groups, schools, health groups, artists and designers. Rekindle originally focused on diverting timber from waste within residential demolition in Christchurch, turning it into furniture, interiors, sculpture and jewellery. One of Juliet’s more famous projects was Whole House Reuse, where her team deconstructed and transformed an entire earthquake damaged house into beautiful and purposeful artefacts. More than 250 people from around New Zealand and the world were involved, creating everything from a delicately carved taonga puoro to a finely crafted backyard studio.

Juliet will be honoured in May as one of Otago Polytechnic’s distinguished alumni.

 

 

Samuel Mann: Welcome to Sustainable Lens Resilience: On Radio, a weekly show on sustainability topics brought to you by Otago Polytechnic. The show is co-hosted by Shane Gallagher and me, Samuel Mann. Each week, we talk with someone making a positive difference and applying their skills to a sustainable future. In our conversations, we try to find out what motivates them and what it means to see the world through a sustainable perspective, through their sustainable lens. Tonight’s sustainable lens is that of Juliet Arnott, the artist, a founder of Rekindle, and an occupational therapist.  You trained at Otago Polytech.

 

Juliet Arnott: That’s right. Yeah.

 

Samuel Mann: Thank you very much for joining me.

 

Juliet Arnott: Pleasure. It’s lovely to be here.

 

Samuel Mann: Let’s start with questions about you. Where did you grow up?

 

Juliet Arnott: I grew up in a little place called Canvastown, in Marlborough. It’s between Nelson and Blenheim, near Havelock. We were farming and pretty self sufficient, really, back then in the 70’s. Yeah, that was pretty …

 

Samuel Mann: Did you say Canvastown?

 

Juliet Arnott: Canvastown.

 

Samuel Mann: Like tents?

 

Juliet Arnott: Which was a gold rush. Yes. It had this wonderful history. In fact, we spent a fair bit of time in our childhood with our gold pans in the river, ever hopeful. It was a pretty lovely existence, living off the land and living pretty closely with the resources around us, I suppose.

 

Samuel Mann: What did you want to be when you grew up?

 

Juliet Arnott: That’s a good question. I don’t know that I really had a clear sense of that. I just remember being encouraged by mum, particularly, towards being creative. But no, generally I don’t recall what I was particularly aiming at.

 

Samuel Mann: What did you get involved in?

 

Juliet Arnott: It was a pretty rural community, so it was barefoot running around. I just remember being outside, I remember being on the farm, involved in all the usual farming activities, and really enjoying that. I do have this story that I recall, which relates to how things did develop in my life, which was Mum and Dad had this beautiful rush basket, that acted as our bread basket. I remember quite clearly, this experience. I must have been really quite young, maybe five or six, going out down to the paddock below the house, which was full of rushes, a different kind of rush, and attempting to weave a basket, but I was completely inept. I absolutely didn’t have the understanding of how to do it, but I remember the magic of that basket as an object, and that’s kind of lingered with me, I think. It’s definitely part of what has since rolled out in my life, I suppose, as that journey towards understanding how those simple resources can be harnessed and valued.

 

Samuel Mann: I won’t make the obvious connection between baskets and occupational therapy, but is that what got you into occupational therapy?

 

Juliet Arnott: It was!  My mother was a nurse, and I think in my teenage years, when I was starting to think about what I wanted to be, she did encourage me, or my parents encouraged me towards a health profession. I remember one day, bizarrely, we were taken on a tour of the local … In Nelson, where I was at school, taken on a tour of the local … What was then a psychiatric institution, called Ngawhatu. It was really the old fashioned style of institution, and we were walked through it, which I look back and think how bizarre that really was for school students. I saw this woman working in the industrial woodwork shop, and I saw her role and thought what an incredible role to have, to be able to work creatively with people, to work practically in that way, I suppose. That was all I really knew of occupational therapy, in some regards. It was only when I showed up at Otago Polytech and got onto the course in 1993, that I realised that actually, I had hit the jackpot and I actually had found something that was really aligned with what I valued and was really intrigued by, I think, by its diversity and the fact that it connects with what we do every day.

 

Samuel Mann: Did it deliver what you were hoping?

 

Juliet Arnott: Yes it did, and it didn’t. It did in the sense that I learnt a lot. I learnt a huge amount through my training, and through the first probably, fifteen years of my practise, where I was attempting to … Where I was learning about the health system and how it functions, and then attempting to find my place within it. In terms of being able to work well, and truly therapeutically within that system. I think I continuously hit up against the struggles of that system, and whether it was the lack of funding around the time that I could spend with people, or the way that services were limited in the way that they could genuinely support people through big change and challenge in their life. It was helpful in learning some realities, but it’s also been frustrating, I suppose, to be exposed to some of the current systemic challenges. But then, it’s pushed me on to look at something beyond that more conventional occupational therapy role.

 

Samuel Mann: Because you wanted to do more than was in those bounds, or …?

 

Juliet Arnott: Yeah. One of the common struggles for me, and I think definitely for other occupational therapists, is that you end up working within the health system, and you work with the people who have needed your support for the time that the service allows them to be a part of that service, but then you have to support that person back into their home, or back into their daily existence outside of the service. And often, there’s not enough there. I’m particularly thinking in terms of mental health services. There’s simply not enough there, to aid that person, to bridge that gap between being really quite unwell and being quite dependent on a service, through to living a really healthy, productive existence, engaged in community. That gap really was something that’s difficult to do anything about, from inside the service. I guess what has happened gradually over the last few years, has been that I have been attempting to create some of these opportunities that I would like for people going through those challenges to have the opportunity to experience. I guess part of the journey recently has been about trying to evolve, and what I was frustrated with the lack of in the past.

 

Samuel Mann: What was your first venture outside of the conventional bounds?

 

Juliet Arnott: In part, it was probably … For quite some years, I worked conventionally as an occupational therapist, but on the side I would continue my own creative practise, and the two co-existed. I would go to work and talk about doing my basket weaving, and my colleagues would laugh at me, and I would try and explain to them how important it actually was. I had these two very separate parts of my life, and the creative practise was very much, that was when I was living in the UK, and it was very much about my own personal connection with the environment that I was living in, but it was also about revealing the value of materials that were being wasted in the community around me. That became a bigger and bigger part of my life outside of occupational therapy, to the point where I was being commissioned to make work, sculpturally, with these waste materials, and would do that half the time, then in the winter when I wasn’t doing it, I would work as an occupational therapist.

 

It’s been a gradual journey to the point where returning to New Zealand, that’s when I started Rekindle and the two came together more indefinitely.

 

Samuel Mann: What prompted the interest in waste materials?

 

Juliet Arnott: I think the reality was, growing up in that fairly idyllic farming situation, you’re exposed to a fairly simple relationship to the resources around you and understanding where the natural limits lie, and how to live well with what you have around you. Then, I was quite struck, in a fairly naïve way, when I did move to the UK in my mid twenties, and even in rural England, was surprised that there was quite a strong culture of consumption and disposal. It was that really, that pushed me to really look around in my day to day existence, and to really want to make something of the material resources that I was seeing around me that were going to waste. That particularly started with things like the prunings from the hedge rose when they were trimmed. Corpus material that was cut from Willow or Hazel trees. Then, that moved on through and to … As I learnt crafts to use those materials, then through to use of a lot of the waste that washes up on the beaches in the UK, a lot of rope and plastics. It evolved as my wanting, needing, to make sense really, of what I was seeing around me, in some sort of vain attempt I suppose, to show the value of what that stuff was, because mostly, it was being ignored.

 

Samuel Mann: And you came back here?

 

Juliet Arnott: I came back in 2009, after 9 years away, and was feeling relatively displaced, and didn’t really have a grand plan for my return home, and found myself in Auckland for the first time, which I enjoyed. But again, I realise now I was quite naively struck by the waste that I found there. I think that I had imagined that in New Zealand we were well beyond things like landfills, but I obviously found we weren’t, and was just surprised at the dependence on the land fill mechanism and at that time. A lot has changed since, but at that time was surprised to find a big pile of wood out at one of the transfer stations in Auckland, and that is what I responded to with the initial furniture designs that I came up with for Rekindle.

 

Samuel Mann: You established Rekindle…so Rekindle 101…?

 

Juliet Arnott: Rekindle 101, yes, it’s definitely been a big journey since then. Rekindle 101, in a sense … I was living in Grey Lynn in Auckland at the time and I was appreciating all the beautiful old villas around in that area, and other suburbs of Auckland, and realising that there was a fairly common sight to see skips with a fair amount of timbers in them, whether renovations were happening, or to see demolitions underway, and I guess that combined with the wood pile I had seen in the transfer station, I was very intrigued to understand what this was all about, and then to learn that of course, demolition and construction waste are such big contributors to our land filling here. I decided to try and come up with a furniture design that would just reveal some of the structural integrity of that material, some of its beautiful aesthetic value and obviously its cultural value, in terms of it being ancient indigenous timber. I did that with the help of a couple of furniture makers in Auckland, we worked together to prototype the first chair, and then tables, stools and the like.

 

I had just started putting those out into the world, and made a first couple of sales up in Auckland, and then started … I guess being aware through my previous relationship with Christchurch, that my old home that I had lived in in my early twenties was now facing of course, this mess of challenge with regards to demolition waste and the dis empowerment that was occurring as part of that hasty process. That was when I started to think about coming back here, and what role I could play really, in that period of demolition.

 

Samuel Mann: Your website makes the connection between not just the waste, but the community?

 

Juliet Arnott: Yeah.

 

Samuel Mann: And you just talked about that sort of, in the dis empowerment and the waste. Tell me how you’re bringing those two things together.

 

Juliet Arnott: I suppose I find it hard to look at waste without wondering how making waste affects us as humans. I think it’s something that we take for granted that we do, which of course, naturally, many of the inhabitants of this earth make waste. I don’t think we think enough about the impact of that. I think when your ability to hold on to something that you value, is taken away from you, and when the resources that you have owned are taken away from you, and their disposal is managed by someone else, that … In terms of how the demolition played out here, was very difficult for a lot of people. When people are choosing to dispose of their own resources, that’s a whole other story, but I think for people to have that choice taken away from them, was very difficult. Both taken away by the earthquakes themselves and by the damage that occurred, and of course, by the bureaucratic processes that would naturally unfold afterwards.

 

I think for me, as an occupational therapist, I see both naturally the environmental concern about the waste, but for me it’s much more than that, it’s the human experience of disposing of materials that we still see as having value. There’s something futile about that, there’s something even a little hopeless about not being able to take the time to value the things that we would perhaps even feel a bit guilty about throwing out ourselves, if we had done it ourselves. It relates to our need to demonstrate value, when that exists. I think if we’re not experiencing that, if we’re not given the opportunity to experience that, that becomes quite problematic.

 

Samuel Mann: Are we not quite happy having somebody take it away?

 

Juliet Arnott: I just think we definitely are –

 

Samuel Mann: We put the bin out at the curb and it disappears.

 

Juliet Arnott: Absolutely. We would say that we probably would, in most cases, not value the material that we’re putting in those bins, versus say the residential demolition. Different thing. I think … It’s such a complex thing, but you know there’s that thing about there’s hidden nature being useful at times, when we don’t have to face the land fill. If the land fill was just over there, and we saw the seagulls, we might feel slightly uncomfortable, versus what we were seeing with the residential process that was that obvious to us, it was in our faces and that was incredibly difficult to witness.

 

Samuel Mann: You arrived back in Christchurch, thousands of houses being knocked down.

 

Juliet Arnott: Yeah.

 

Samuel Mann: Where do you start?

 

Juliet Arnott: It was quite overwhelming. I didn’t really know what the solution was at that time. It was a very difficult bureaucratic process to even understand, let alone intercept. I spent probably a year speaking with demolition contractors, gaining their trust, getting them to understand that what I wanted to do wasn’t crazy, it wasn’t unsafe, that I wouldn’t slow them down. Initially, we did a lot of salvage just on sites where the diggers had been, and they’d just left a pile of crushed timbers and we would haul out what was still viable for furniture. But, over that first year, we worked out a way that worked, and with the contractors so that we would salvage before the diggers arrive. That’s how we got rolling really. It was only a symbolic thing in the sense that we were definitely not [occurring] … We were definitely not able to grow this capacity to salvage timber, to the degree that we could really address the whole problem, but I guess we just did our best within the constraints at play.

 

The second big response I had to the scale of it all, was the Whole House Reuse project, that very much acknowledged the fact that there were at least 9,000 homes in the red zone, and more, demolished beyond that. How on earth do you attempt to make a statement or celebrate the homes that were lost, or even define the value of a home. It was really hard to know how to even begin to think about these issues. I decided that perhaps if we just put all of our energies into this, to the ultimately resourceful response, to just one home, that we might see something from that that feels heartening for us, so that’s what we did. It didn’t happen for the first … We worked on it for years, but didn’t really get underway until Kate McIntyre came on board as the project manager and we managed to get a red zone home from a demolition contractor, and all of the funds raised to allow us to fully deconstruct that home. We then published a book with a catalogue with all the materials from the home. We used that book launch around the country to call for creatives to submit designs of the materials from that home.

 

That lead to those successful designs being then issued. The people that submitted those were then issued the materials. We sent the materials all around the country and across the world, in fact. And then, the successful objects were sent back. We’ve received around 400 objects made from the home that were later exhibited in Canterbury Museum in 2015.

 

Samuel Mann: So, nice and slowly…you took it apart?

 

Juliet Arnott: Yes.

 

Samuel Mann: Piece by piece?

 

Juliet Arnott: Yes.

 

Samuel Mann: Laid it all out somewhere?

 

Juliet Arnott: Literally, Kate and a team of volunteers put it on trailer loads and took it to the storage unit, categorised it, photographed it, measured it, and created this taxonomy of what we think is the first time in the world that a whole house has been classified in that way. We utilised that catalogue to call for designs, then we had designs submitted from all over New Zealand and some from overseas, from people, from professional designers and makers through to hobbyists and school children, and really fantastic craftspeople, legends of their time, like Brian Flintoff who is New Zealand’s, one of the most remarkable carvers of taonga puoro. With things like an amazing artist on the Isle of Tiree in Scotland, we sent her some broken window panes and she sent back some beautiful slumped glass vessels. Some really wonderful creative responses that valued the material.

 

Samuel Mann: Did people put in a bid, and say ‘I want two taps and a cupboard door’?

 

Juliet Arnott: Yes. They all had to kind of … They all had the same catalogue so it was quite a logistical process, making sure that different people didn’t want the same stuff and all of that, and getting it out to people and then getting the finished objects back. But, generally, Kate managed that process and generally it seemed to work quite well.

 

Samuel Mann: What was the most sought after bit?

 

Juliet Arnott: Do you know what, I don’t know. I think the timbers … The obvious things, like the beautiful rimu and things were pretty popular, but that actually worked out, that was actually quite well spread. That was kind of … We also did it in a couple of rounds, so it wasn’t all at once. We had the first wave of designs, then we had the second wave, it was helpful to co-ordinate it in that way. Yeah. Then, the variety of things that people made were just extraordinary.

 

Samuel Mann: What sort of things did you get back?

 

Juliet Arnott: I mentioned Brian’s taonga puoro, he made some beautiful floats and wind instruments, traditionally carved with [inaudible 00:21:30]. He carved these most beautiful boxes that were traditionally made to store the huia feathers, so they were just three really beautiful ornamentally carved, boxes. And we had Tim McGurk who made a whole lot of stuff with his partner Emma Burn. He made a double bass, which was called the Double Basin, which had a basin as the resonator for the instrument, and it was playable. We had David Trubridge make a magazine rack/coffee table. We had Nic Moon and Lynn Russell from Nelson make the largest object, which was this really beautiful studio building, and it was built in Nic’s  –Nic’s an artist in Nelson, it was built in Nic’s garden, built for deconstruction, so that it could be deconstructed to be brought down here to be reconstructed in the museum. That was pretty amazing, and very beautifully furnished. She worked on it very laboriously and the whole finish was very painstaking and beautiful. There are some beautiful images of it on the website, actually.

 

Through to, tiny little pieces of jewellery, beautiful jewellery made by people like Jeremy Leeming, and thinking of also the beautiful wooden type. We had some whole synopsis of type carved out of rimu framing, by a type fanatic, Russell Frost, in London. He’s a New Zealander but he was over there, he did that, and we’ve since been printing with that, so it’s quite beautiful to …

 

Samuel Mann: Did you attempt to value the …

 

Juliet Arnott: What, the outcome?

 

Samuel Mann: Yeah.

 

Juliet Arnott: We’re actually just in the middle of finalising an academic article on this, because we have. What happened at the end of the exhibition was that the makers could decide what happened to the objects. Half of them chose to put the objects forward into a charitable auction, so we literally have a monetary value associated with those objects, as to what they sold for. Some of the makers also chose to gift their objects to the home owners, which was really wonderful, then the rest … Most of the rest either they went back to the makers, because the makers weren’t paid anything, they did this out of their own goodwill, so they could take their objects back or they could gift them into the community, if they had a specific community purpose in Christchurch. We are doing sums around the value, the monetary value, we’re also doing some sums around essentially what was diverted and how much of an impact that would essentially have. That’s quite useful information to reflect on, the rest of what happened here in Christchurch.

 

Samuel Mann: Did you get stuck with anything at the end?

 

Juliet Arnott: Yeah. We really wanted to reuse the whole house. The shame of it all was, we actually ran out of time. We would’ve been able to. We could’ve kept pushing it, but actually we had to commit to the exhibition and we literally ran out of time, so we were left with a couple of toilet bowls. We still had some weird things like corrugated iron. Weird things like buckets of nails, because the other quite interesting thing was that, when the makers received the materials, their waste from their making processes, we asked them to send that back, so we actually received buckets of nails from the de-nailed timber. Things like that had a ready place on the scrap metal market, for example. If nothing else. In the end … I’m trying to think what was really hard to deal with. There were things like the boreded timber, for example. The idea with that was that … We weren’t allowed to go to the Canterbury Museum funnily enough, so that stayed in the paddock. Things like that can become wood chip, depending on it’s use.

 

We did really well. I can’t remember the number of items we had left, but there was a chunk, but not too many given the scale, I think.

 

Samuel Mann: Did the house have visible history? Layers of wallpaper, and things?

 

Juliet Arnott: Yeah, there was some cool things like that. There was things like … And actually, some of the photographs, before we deconstructed the home, we had an amazing photographer, Guy Frederick, come and document the home. There’s things like, there’s this beautiful cupboard in the laundry bathroom area, you opened the cupboard up and inside there was this bright orange patterned wallpaper from the 70’s. There’s definite areas in the home where you could see the patina of life in there. We spent time before we deconstructed it, with the family and we invited in some of the older families that had lived in the home before the current homeowners, so we really traced as much of that history as we could and documented that, and we showed that in the exhibition with photographs and the like.

 

We really wanted to celebrate the life that that home had held.

 

Samuel Mann: Is this story ongoing?

 

Juliet Arnott: Well, it’s paused at the moment. The next part we would really like to raise funds for, is to document where all of these objects have ended up and end in their current use. One of the key criteria that we had in the design brief is that the objects needed to have utility, so we would love to be able to follow the story of the objects and see the full life of the house and its new use. Otherwise, we have looked at, with enviro schools, at creating an educational resource from it also, so hopefully we’ll get to do that at some point. But, that’s probably acting otherwise, but its legacy in the sense that we learnt a lot in that is certainly spilling out into my work now in Kokoda, for example. It was certainly a journey. We were quite pleased to get to the end of the exhibition, just because it literally, physically, it was an enormous process to manage.

 

Samuel Mann: You worked with the museum to do the communication, the narrative around it?

 

Juliet Arnott: Yes, and to show the work there. There’s actually a lovely film online, on the Whole House Reuse website, that depicts the whole story and gives you some sense of what was seen the in museum.

 

Samuel Mann: Would you do it again?

 

Juliet Arnott: Well, it’s funny you ask that. I’ve been asked that several times, in some cases it was a genuine wish to do it again, and I don’t think I would. I think I would do parts of it again. I think there’s ways that it could be done to make it easier. I think there’s ways that it could be done to make it have greater impact, too. I think it’s a wonderful way for a community to come together around something that they’re feeling concerned about.

 

Samuel Mann: You talked about how building the community in terms of volunteers. Are enterprises springing up out of this sort of work?

 

Juliet Arnott: Yeah, I think to a degree. I think there’s various things that happened here, in Christchurch. We certainly saw a boom in the demolition industry and the salvage industry. I don’t know in terms of creative entrepreneurs. I wouldn’t say there’s been that much. My sense about that in Christchurch is that there’s been a lot of things that people have been dealing with. I think when you look at waste minimization across New Zealand though, we are seeing more and more of a thoughtful, creative response to waste, as a means of raising its value, so to divert it from land fill, and it’s really lovely to see that, I think. You know, certainly see that, and the work of the community recycling network across the country, and the awesome organisations like Extreme Zero Waste in Raglan, and Wanaka Wastebusters, and those organisations. They’ve been doing that for some time.

 

Samuel Mann: You talked before about a resourceful response. What’s your take on resourceful?

 

Juliet Arnott: That’s become a really big focus for me, I think. When I finished the Whole House Reuse project, when we packed that up and had taken a bit of a holiday, I realised that I didn’t have the energy left to keep working with the focus of wastefulness. It was too … The machine, the big waste making machine, whatever it might be, and whatever is contributing to that, is so vast and there’s so much of it, that for me intellectually, it was becoming a struggle to see how to keep working with that positively. I did a lot of thinking about what’s the other, what’s the antithesis of wastefulness, and really out of that thought came this notion of resourcefulness. That, if we were to look at our lives in that healthy state, and that opposite state to wastefulness, it would be a resourceful way of life. It would be a way of living that allows us to be very much in touch with the resources around us, with the natural limits of those resources. I think if we were living resourcefully, we would make the most of what we had around us, in a way that meant that we came together as communities, to share resources, and that we took responsibility for what happens within the life of the resources that we use, as individuals, and as families and communities.

 

I think, for me, more and more I’m focused in terms of developing that concept of resourcefulness, what it looks like, what are the realities of that, what do we do, how do we build that positive relationship with the material resources around us. I think you can’t help but reflect on that, by reflecting on your inner resources as well. You can’t just think about … You can’t separate out really, our relationship with what’s around us, without considering how that makes us feel. I can’t, anyway, I should say. Resourcefulness for me, reflects both that positive state, in terms of our [inaudible 00:32:46] and consideration of the earth and the resources that we utilise from it, but also how that impacts on us. If we act resourcefully and repair a piece of furniture, or an appliance that breaks, then that changes the way we feel. We feel it builds our sense of the resources we have to cope, to feel confident, we have what it takes to manage when we don’t have much money, but we have something break on us. It builds our confidence that we have hands that do the things that we need them to do, or that we know about materials, we know about wood, or textiles, you know. That intimacy between us as humans and the resources that we live around constantly, and interact with, is something that is so present that sometimes we don’t really … We almost don’t think about it.

 

Samuel Mann: Do you feel as though you are fighting a machine?

 

Juliet Arnott: I feel less like it now. The work that I’m doing currently with Rekindle, is very much focused on the resourcefulness, on depicting and bringing out experiences of that. Offering people opportunities, to feel resourceful, as well as still doing some work that is directly addressing wastefulness. It’s not that I’ve given up on that, it’s just that the two for me need to … I need to show them both, as parts of a continuum or spectrum, for me to feel that we’re really focusing on what’s positive and possible in all of this.

 

Samuel Mann: What does a resourceful world look like?

 

Juliet Arnott: I think it’s one where we are just fundamentally really aware of our relationship with what’s around us, so therefore we don’t discard of materials before they’ve had a full life. We also don’t chose to use materials that area harmful to their origin, or to the earth or to each other. There’s all of that knowledge about where things come from, where materials have come from, how we use them in relation to how that impacts the environment, and then also how we share those resources. Because, how we share those resources, how they flow within our communities, also relates to our access to resources, and in terms of poverty and the like, I think there’s a huge amount to be gained from living resourcefully in communities, in terms of improving our access to resources.

 

Samuel Mann: Have we lost the ability to do that, though?

 

Juliet Arnott: I think it’s definitely compromised, currently. I think our consumption and a lot of autonomy in our daily lives around … Not so much autonomy, but anonymity, I mean. Each household tends to do whatever they do, with waste. They’re not obviously accountable for anyone else, or anything. There’s not a lot of shared problem solving around that, there’s not a lot of shared responsibility around how we care for the resources that we have. I know for efficiencies sake, it’s good that we have great waste minimization organisations helping streamline that, but the bottom line is that it takes away our sense of need to deal with these things. In some ways, I think that’s problematic.

 

Samuel Mann: Do you have any idea how much of the, whether you want to see it as a positive or a negative, but, how much of our individual contribution to the waste we actually have control of? How much of it is upstream or downstream of us, and we don’t actually have much control over?

 

Juliet Arnott: I think we do. I think nowadays we have significant opportunities to control it. For example, the use of the second-hand market has been demonstrated to be a really considerable opportunity to divert material from land fill. I guess, effectively, simply that choice of buying new or buying second hand, that can really impact what ends up going to land fill. It’s not all about the designers or who’s creating what we find on the supermarket shelves. Yes, that certainly contributes to things, and packaging and all of that is problematic, but we absolutely have the choices. Many of the choices that we need around us, in terms of avoidance of packaging, and buying locally without packaging at all, and shopping second hand. That kind of thing.

 

Samuel Mann: One of the things that we like to talk about is how a sustainable future is a better future, not a lesser future. I think well framing that, in terms of this positive relationship. But, to what extent are you and I, and a disappointingly small band of others, kidding ourselves?

 

Juliet Arnott: The occupational therapist in me, looks at mental health statistics, for example. I can’t help but look at that and think, that is such a massive sign that we as a race are really, really struggling with our current way of doing things, and that our search for meaning if you like, in itself, is really challenged by the current way that we do life. I think things are becoming so dire, both in terms of our mental health, but also in terms of the economic struggles that we’re seeing around the world, struggles over natural resources and the like, that I can’t help but think that when things change, as things change, that there will be some improvements there, because it’s bringing us back to some of the fundamental realities, like the fact that we have limited resources. Therefore, we have to learn to care for what we do have around us. I guess, I’m so biased that I can’t see.

 

Samuel Mann: As a species, you’d like to think we’re not stupid. How come we’ve been distracted by this party going on?

 

Juliet Arnott: I just think it’s so convenient. There’s an allure of the sophistication of being able to purchase what you want, being able to have what you want, being able to wear what you want, when you want, eat whatever food you like, wherever in the world it’s come from, whenever you like, whatever season it is. All of that stuff. But, actually, we’ve splurged on that now. People know that they can … Not everyone of course, but people understand those realities now. The impact is such that it doesn’t really make a difference. It doesn’t really mean that we have everything we need, because in fact it’s distracted us probably from what we really need.

 

Samuel Mann: Okay, some questions to end with. I don’t think we’ve covered this one already, so let’s do it now. What’s your go-to definition of sustainability?

 

Juliet Arnott: You see, I stay well away from the word. Just simply because, I think it is a word that for me, has been overused in some regards. I find it easier to talK about some of the more specific concepts that make up a part of that, like resourcefulness.

 

Samuel Mann: Okay. What’s the biggest success you’ve had in the last couple of years?

 

Juliet Arnott: Success. That’s hard. I think probably the most meaningful thing that’s happened in terms of my work, was recently when supporting some of the planning that’s happening up in Kaikoura, post-quake. I was sitting in a room with a lot of others who had been heavily involved in the demolition process of the red zone, here in Christchurch, residential red zone, was to hear the will for change, so that community can be more involved in deconstruction outcomes, following these kinds of disasters. That for me, was incredibly heartening. It felt like a definite sense that we have learnt something from what happened here.

 

Samuel Mann: We’re writing a book of these interviews. We’re calling it ‘Tomorrow’s Heroes.’ Looking back at the people who are doing the work. How would you like to describe your superpower?

 

Juliet Arnott: My superpower. I think probably, it’s something to do with being … My superpower, that’s really …. Something to do with maybe being able to see the inherent value of material resources and being able to transform them.

 

Samuel Mann: Do you consider yourself to be an activist?

 

Juliet Arnott: I suppose I do nowadays. I suppose I do. Just in the sense that I can’t help but …

 

Samuel Mann: That sounds reluctant though. A reluctant action, or a reluctant label?

 

Juliet Arnott: A reluctant label. The action isn’t reluctant, it’s something I can’t help. I probably don’t call myself that, no.

 

Samuel Mann: What motivates you? What gets you out of bed in the morning?

 

Juliet Arnott: Just, what’s yet to be done. I guess the opportunities that are there, and the impact that I see that that could have for people who would benefit from, like myself, who would benefit from being creative with resources that are undervalued.

 

Samuel Mann: What are you looking forward to in the next couple of years?

 

Juliet Arnott: I’m looking forward to doing more green wood working. We’ve just got a project that’s being launched at the moment, that’s pushing green wood working into the centre of Christchurch, we’ve set up a workshop in the middle of the city, so I’m looking forward to doing more and more of that myself, working with some beautiful old timbers from within the city.

 

Samuel Mann: Two more. If you could wave a magic wand and have a miracle occur, tomorrow morning, what would you like?

 

Juliet Arnott: I would just love to see … I would love to have a huge craft workshop facilities, that had all of the wonderful tools, and everyone knew about them, and people were coming and sharing their skills and I didn’t have to make it happen.

 

Samuel Mann: Lastly, do you have any advice for our listeners?

 

Juliet Arnott: Nothing that comes to mind.

 

Samuel Mann: If someone gave you a big billboard that you could write on by a motorway, what would you put on it?

 

Juliet Arnott: I guess I would say something like … I guess I would ask people to consider that wastefulness is kind of like … Them being wasteful, is in effect missed opportunities for resourcefulness, you know? If you think about where those opportunities for resourcefulness lie, and seek them out, that probably will assist your will to get out of bed in the morning.

 

Samuel Mann: Thank you very much. You’ve been listening to Sustainable Lens Resilience, on Radio. A weekly show on sustainability projects, brought to you by Otago Polytechnic. The show is co-hosted by Shane Gallagher and me, Samuel Mann. We broadcast on Otago access radio, oar.org.nz, and podcast on sustainablelens.org. On sustainablelens.org we are building up a searchable archive of conversations with people from many different fields, who are applying their skills to a sustainable future.

 

In our conversations we are trying to find out what motivates them, and what it means to see the world through a sustainable perspective, through their sustainable lens, even if they don’t call it that. Tonight’s sustainable lens was that of Juliet Arnott, founder of Rekindle.

 

You can follow the links on sustainablelens.org to find us on Facebook, to keep in touch, and you can listen to Sustainable Lens via Itunes as well as all the other poddy sorts of places. That was Sustainable Lens, I’m Samuel Mann, I hope you enjoyed the show.

 

Sam’s pictures from the Whole House Reuse exhibition at Canterbury Museum.

Categories
community education environmental entrepreneur local government

Getting stuff done

Vicki Buck on getting stuff done.   And laughing a lot.

It seems to me that it’s self-evident that if you live on a planet that you don’t stuff it up. That you’re here for a relatively short period of time and what you do can make a difference. And if you don’t do that, then you’ve stolen from everybody else on the planet and you’ve defrauded the following generations.

 

Samuel Mann: Tonight’s sustainable lens is Vicki Buck who is the chair of the Innovation and Sustainability committee of the Christchurch City Council. Thank you for joining me.

 

Vicki Buck: Thank you for having me.

 

Samuel Mann: Where’d you grow up?

 

Vicki Buck: Christchurch, in this town.

 

Samuel Mann: What did you want to be when you grew up?

 

Vicki Buck: I wanted to be a teacher and then, when I got to high school, I thought that’s a really dumb idea. So I didn’t want to be a teacher at all. I actually saw an interview on TV when I was at high school from somebody calling themselves the political scientist, a guy I know actually, and thought, “That’s a really good job. I’d like to be one of those.” Not having a clue what they did. I was really interested in languages, I loved languages, so thought I might go and study them. Got some of it [inaudible 00:01:20] but I really liked the politics. And, yeah, ended up I still don’t really know what I want to be. So I’m kind of thinking that when I grow up, I’ll know. But as yet I haven’t a clue.

 

I know I like doing things that I enjoy doing and probably largely unemployable, actually. So I kind of have to go and set up my own companies and do just stuff that’s fun. I can’t see the point of doing it if I’m not enjoying it and having a really good time. So that takes us into all sorts of paths.

 

Samuel Mann: But you’ve been in local government since you were a teenager.

 

Vicki Buck: No. I first stood for council when I was 18, 19, so I was elected when I was 19 and stayed in that for a long time. It was a very part-time thing at that time and you got paid, I think, about $260 a year max. So it wasn’t something that you did as a job. I had to have a job that paid the rent and everything as well. Much later when I was 30 something, 33, 34, I became mayor. So I had been in local government a long time. I got out of it completely after I finished being there. I had no intention of coming back. It was only because I was kind of annoyed at what was happening to the Christchurch area that I came back.

 

And so have been involved in kind of a whole lot of things. Got involved in education because I’d kind of thought that there needed to be some changes and thought, you know, it’d take three weeks to do. I ended up there for about 10 or 15 years. I’m not a teacher. Got involved in a whole pile of climate change stuff that involved sort of deriving fuel from algae and all those sorts of things. And I’m not a scientist either. So I kind of figure I haven’t got any real skills so I just had to play across all of the areas, yeah.

 

Samuel Mann: When you left politics the first time, or perhaps it was the second time-

 

Vicki Buck: First time.

 

Samuel Mann: First time. Off into education despite not being a teacher?

 

Vicki Buck: What I wanted to do was … The bit that excited me was just kids learning around stuff that they love. What excited them. My own son went off to school and was bored completely, so he would deliberately get kicked out of classrooms at age five because he was annoyed with the teacher interfering with his thought process. He was interesting at school. A pain in the neck, I would have thought. I wasn’t keen to do home schooling because I wanted to be doing a whole pile of other things as well. So I thought, well, okay, so we need a different type of schooling because clearly this is not working. And because I’d actually enjoyed school, I didn’t realise how many kids it wasn’t working for.

 

We then discovered, amazingly in a meeting with the Ministry of Education, that there’s a lovely, lovely section in the Education Act, section 156, that enables parents within the state system – because I like the state system, I like the idea that everybody has the same options – that within that, if you don’t like the style of education you’re getting that actually a group of you can go and set up a whole new system within the state system. Well, a brilliant little piece of law. And so, well, we decided we would do that. Ironically and not surprisingly, I suppose, the Minister of Education, who was then that guy Smith. What was his name? He was on TV … forgotten his name.

 

Samuel Mann: Lockwood.

 

Vicki Buck: Lockwood Smith. That one. He hadn’t thought about the possibility either and so later on Wyatt Creech became Minister of Education and he was way more open to the concept of innovation because, I think … Actually, many politicians, I think, come in wanting to do things and then find that they’re kind of held back by here are the rules, here are the regulations. We’re going to take you through this journey that’s going to take you many years of your life. And actually that’s not what they came in to do. They came in to change things and to try things. So he was amazingly helpful. It still took a long time to get through the ministry. And so we discovered that we could actually do it.

 

And, yep, they finally approved it and so we were allowed to start Discovery One, which was still based on a state school so it was free. Based on kids learning around what excited them. If you learn around what excites you, first of all you’re going to probably like learning. Because I think we come into the world being naturally curious and excited about possibilities, and then we gradually get that ground out of us. So like “these are the things that you need to know” and “this is what you need to know for NCEA”, so that’s going to be the be all and end all, and there’s never going to be any technological gains or disruptive technologies or innovation of any sort whatsoever.

 

So I think the really key thing is, one that kids love learning, two that they learn how they do learn and that they have fun along the way. When we wrote the submission I had to take the F word, the fun word, out of the submission to the Ministry of Education. It was not allowed to be included so I had to go and delete it all along the way. People who did know about education helped enormously in the process of doing that. There was about six of us involved in that. So we finally got this up and running. And then, from my own selfish point of view, my son got there just in time, for a year or so, before high school. And so then we had to create a secondary school as well, because otherwise our local school was going to be boy’s mayhem. That was completely unfair on boys I had to do that to them.

 

So we created Unlimited. Actually, we created it in about 10 weeks from the approval to the start of the term, which was way fun because it meant during the holidays we were in there with the plumber and doing all sorts of things that were just, you know, these are the things that you have to do. So a lot of fun. I had enormous fun with both of them. I haven’t been involved with either of them for about four years but we may merge the two. But, yeah, I thoroughly enjoyed just the incredible energy and drive and passion that goes with young people and what they want to do. And the opportunities to learn that are just so widespread and so ubiquitous that it’s mind-blowing. So, yep, that was incredibly good fun.

 

So I think in many ways, as a parent or as a member of the community, we’re all educators. We’re just not recognised as teachers. I’m cool with that. I have no desire to sort of be a teacher or anything. We got to the end of Unlimited and thought, “Hmm, the university system.” But that’s quite controlled in New Zealand so you have to be really tolerant for that.

 

Samuel Mann: So you haven’t taken them on?

 

Vicki Buck: I haven’t taken on the university system, no. Actually, in many ways the university system has, especially – I mean, I work most closely with the University of Canterbury here – has adapted quite a lot. Especially post-earthquake with the student army, with their engagement with what they want the kids to achieve and with their emphasis on community involvement and active internships and all sorts of things. So it’s been great to see that happening. So, no, we haven’t established a university.

 

Samuel Mann: So now back on council?

 

Vicki Buck: Yep. I came back on three and a half years ago when I got a bit annoyed about what was happening in Christchurch and what wasn’t happening, and the opportunities that you could see everywhere that perhaps weren’t being taken advantage of. And just what happened post-earthquake was this amazing energy. There was no-one in control for such a long period of time, or it felt like there was no-one in control, so you just had to do stuff. If you wanted things to happen, nobody was going to do it for you. You just had to do it. And all throughout the city, over and over again, you see people doing stuff that they probably didn’t even know that they could do, just because they had to start doing it.

 

Samuel Mann: So other than the matter of the devastation and so on, it was your dream come true?

 

Vicki Buck: No, I would never have gotten about it that way. I would prefer to have stayed out of politics, actually. There were lots and lots of things that I found … Like, so I was working in climate change technologies, all of which I love, and the climate change website.

 

Samuel Mann: With Nick Gerritsen?

 

Vicki Buck: Yep, and with a range of other people on all sorts of things and on windfarms and stuff, which I was still involved with till a couple of years ago. So there are amazing, amazing possibilities. So the whole thing about sustainability strikes me as the most pressing issue that we have. We don’t really have a Plan B. We have one planet that we’re fast destroying and, you know, even looking forward, never mind my children’s or their children’s lifetime, this will happen in my lifetime. And you can see it with water happening all around. You know, the need to create so-called economic development by taking as much water as you possibly can for intensive dairying. It strikes me as crazy when you’ve got this incredible resource that is going to be one of the scarcest resources in the world and the most important. So water and food and clean air and those valuable commodities that – not commodities, because they’re not commodities, they’re way above commodities – that you just need to treasure. We haven’t and we so need to.

 

So just from a “what is really important” sustainability and just the awareness of climate change and what we’re not doing and what we could do. I mean, I see it as almost … it’s one of the huge issues of our time. Yep, I can’t ignore it.

 

Samuel Mann: Where did it come from, that passion or knowledge in you?

 

Vicki Buck: It seems to me that it’s self-evident that if you live on a planet that you don’t stuff it up. That you’re here for a relatively short period of time and what you do can make a difference. And if you don’t do that, then you’ve stolen from everybody else on the planet and you’ve defrauded the following generations. I don’t even know where it came from. It just seems so apparent, how can I not know that?

 

Samuel Mann: Were you an environmentalist at school?

 

Vicki Buck: I think I’ve always been an environmentalist. I don’t think I understood how rapid and dangerous climate change was to all of us, regardless of where we live, and how it affected people grossly unequally, till probably, I don’t know, 20, 30 years ago. Who knows? Who knows? It wasn’t last week and it probably wasn’t when I was nine so sometime in between.

 

Samuel Mann: Somewhere between nine.

 

Vicki Buck: Sometime in between nine and last week, yeah.

 

Samuel Mann: I don’t know what sort of council you’ve got but is it hard work, are you pushing that up a hill on the council or the council gets that?

 

Vicki Buck: This council and the previous one have actually been quite green in terms of their environmental concerns. So the awareness of climate change is very real. The importance of the quality of our water is felt strongly and the initiatives that we can take, like watch this space later this year for electric vehicle fleets. Entire compact vehicle fleets that we’ve been working on for a couple of years. We’ve got the autonomous electric vehicle out being trialled at the airport, which has been great fun. Those sort of changes that make possible quite different dimensions are fantastic.

 

We’re spending, probably over a five to seven year period, about 150 million on retrofitting the city and cycle lanes so that when you ride a bike you feel safe because you’re separated from the truck or the car. And I think for a lot of people that’s incredibly important. That makes me ride a bike as opposed to not ride a bike, if I feel safe. And I think that’s quite a different perception for women than men sometimes, and some of the research I’ve seen suggests that. But when you’ve got a city that’s already fitted out, retrofitting it with cycle lanes is an interesting process that requires a huge amount of public consultation. And you have to take the public along with you. So it’s not something you can do in 10 minutes but over a five to seven year period it will happen.

 

Obviously you’ll see in the central city that the speed limit is 30 ks, that the emphasis is on walking and cycling. We’ve just put some money on to extend our bike share so that it’s citywide, this one in the central city but it needs to go citywide as a means of public transport. So your helmet’s there, your bike’s there and you can leave it wherever at any of the other hubs.

 

Yeah, so there’s a … I mean, from our point of view, obviously insulation has been seriously important and one of the things, especially in a climate like this, one of the things we’ve been really, really wanting to do is to increase the building code standard. In the district plan we wanted to raise that to about six green star from the current building code, which we think would have added about $1700 to the cost of a building but ensured the wellbeing of children and their health and education and all sorts of things. The government, unfortunately, wouldn’t allow that to go through and the replacement district plan, it’s not there. So you win some and you lose some.

 

Samuel Mann: In fact, in terms of wellbeing they went the other way.

 

Vicki Buck: It’s the building code.

 

Samuel Mann: But in terms of the wellbeing responsibility of council, they took-

 

Vicki Buck: Yeah, slightly different. This is the district plan so we’ve had a very fast process of redoing the entire district plan. It’s not one I’d really recommend. But if you’re rebuilding a city and you’re rebuilding so many houses, you would think one of the most basic things is that you make sure they’re really well insulated, that the VIM envelope is really important, that you actually build them to a standard that guarantees that those kids are growing up in warm, dry houses, or those adults are living in warm, dry houses. Because you know the impact that that has on education outcomes, on housing outcomes. I mean, on health outcomes, everything. So not to be able to do that was infuriating. Annoying, to say the least.

 

Samuel Mann: So as chair of Innovation and Sustainability-

 

Vicki Buck: That’s just this term, so we’re having our first meeting next week, yep.

 

Samuel Mann: Awesome.

 

Vicki Buck: Yep, it’ll be good fun.

 

Samuel Mann: So what’s the first thing on the agenda after-

 

Vicki Buck: There’s a few things. Obviously one of the things that we do here in council is that we have an open session at the council that we started last time called Vox Pop. So anybody can come in with any issue whatsoever that has to do with the city and they get five minutes, and they’re allowed to talk directly to the councillors. So they’re all sitting there, it’s all live streamed, it’s all the media sitting there. Choong, here’s your issue. Make of it what you will. And that’s been wonderful but I think we need quite innovative ways of engaging people. I’d like to see someone involved in some waste minimization things. Obviously I’d like electric fleets, not only at the council but I’d like to see some trial bus routes. I’d like to see us get to the point where that autonomous vehicle was licenced to go on the road. We’ve done all the work on that and so we’re working with a range of research organisations and the HMI has been amazing on that.

 

So there are a whole raft of things. From our point of view, probably the transport fleet is the biggest carbon emitter, although probably the destruction of buildings and the rebuild has used way more than we would … I mean, our carbon footprint will have looked horrific in the last five years.

 

Samuel Mann: I think that’s going to be the most important thing in terms of doing the transition to electric vehicles, is the big fleets.

 

Vicki Buck: So do I, because if you and I want to buy an electric vehicle we’re probably buying a second-hand one. And to get a big supply of second-hand ones into the country, we want a range of things. We want the big companies to be buying them and so what we’re looking at is possibly with 10 other business and government agencies in the city, so it will make a huge difference to the city, just like that when it happens, which I love, those sort of things. But then when they sell the second-hand vehicles, then they become affordable for everybody else to buy. Because I think, although the running costs and they stack up incredibly well, I think that always with renewable technologies there’s that initial capital cost which is hard for people to get past.

 

Samuel Mann: And it’ll normalise it and make it viable for things like mechanics to get training or whatever they need to do to get there.

 

Vicki Buck: Yep. Actually, there’s so few moving parts I think the training will be … you could do it. You could do it as one of your courses.

 

Samuel Mann: It all sounds so positive to me and so obvious.

 

Vicki Buck: It sounds obvious to me too, so what’s the problem? I don’t actually see that there is a problem. I mean, it seems to me that any authority, whether it’s a council or a large business or a small business, has a responsibility to ensure that the environment that they live in is not made worse by them being there and is, in fact, improved by them being there. That seems self-evident to me. So I don’t see the problem either.

 

I think the other thing that’s always really important is the importance of what I see as the strength of Christchurch, is the 386,000 people who live here. And the brains and the thoughts and the talents that reside in those people. And I think quite often we tend to think of cities, you know, pipes and roads and footpaths and, you know. And those things, believe me, not having had them for a while, we love them.

 

But the really, really important part of any community is the people who live there. And so what you want to do, I think, is make sure that everybody feels that this is their community, that they have a really strong sense of belonging to this community. And that the things that they want to do that excites them, not just in education, not just at tertiary. But, I mean, they’re here for their whole life, or they’re here for 10 years, whichever, that period of time that they’re here, that that sense that they can do the things that they love doing. That anything is possible, so the byline I quite like for Christchurch is that anything is possible. And so that’s what we’re sort of working on. That’s got to be true for every age and you’ve got to maybe make sure that that works for people at certain … so it’s not just true if you’ve got a certain income level.

 

One of other areas that I’ve spent a lot of time on is housing which was, after the earthquake, really critical. Our housing policy spans from making sure there are no homeless, which is quite a good goal in itself, right thought to helping people into their first house, which we’re currently working with government. Touch wood. Not yet sorted. But those things are really, really important. I mean, people’s sense of belonging, it is way enhanced if they are living in a place that they feel is theirs, whether it’s a rental or ownership. And making sure that there aren’t people living on the streets who … Some people occasionally want that for a while. That’s fine, but if they don’t want that, that there are options for them.

 

We’ve done some things within the Mayor’s Welfare Fund, for example, where if we can’t within our own social housing, which we have 2300 of and which is now administered by Ōtautahi or Housing New Zealand, that we can actually provide the wherewithal for a private rental. I mean, one of the neat things about Christchurch at the moment is that houses are actually affordable. So I’m not sure if we should tell this, because I’m not sure how many Aucklanders we want here. No, I’m having them on. We actually like them. But, you know, if you’re looking at a million dollars house in Auckland, that’s really hard to come back from. You can buy a house here for, starting with a three, you know, three hundred and something. And you might need to do it up a wee bit but it’s very livable.

 

And that’s fantastic because you kind of have that affordability factor. For example, I was talking to a research group who were over here doing some research with the autonomous electric vehicle, which is on the Auckland campus, and the guys or the team were from Melbourne. They’d looked at the price of housing over there and they were in their late 20s, early 30s, and they were saying, “We’ve just looked at housing here. We want to relocate our research to here because we can actually afford to buy a house.” And at a million plus, you can’t. I can’t even imagine how much that mortgage must hurt. That’s revolting.

 

So there are cool things, I think, you can do within a city. And I think the key one is talent and the sense of possibility and excitement about living in that city, and the fact that your community is really important. You need to create those deliberate bumping spaces where you bump into people in the community, where you have a nice experience, where there’s events and you come away feeling good. Those are really, really important issues.

 

We’ve got some huge issues in Christchurch in terms of mental health, which is not ours but it’s not something you can turn your back on either. That’s like in education. We’re trying to get to the point where if you’re six or eight or 10, we can somehow make available to you all the learning opportunities that are there in the wider community. Not just at your school with your teacher. And in terms of the city itself, like the opportunities for learning through internships and some other some other sort of internships that we’ll create. It doesn’t exist yet.

 

Samuel Mann: Okay, some questions to end with. What is your go-to definition of sustainability?

 

Vicki Buck: Actually, it’s probably more than sustainability. It’s the fact that you actually leave the planet slightly better than when you came. It’s probably quite a personal one in that I can see my kids, for example, needing, and everybody else’s kids needing clean water, good air, the rivers actually running. I want them to be able to swim in rivers, not wade.

 

Samuel Mann: And to have some water in them to start with.

 

Vicki Buck: I’d like water in them. Yes, it would be novel. And I also think it’s sort of having some obligation to the other, not just people but the other species on the planet. In order to achieve your aims, do you have to completely screw other people? That doesn’t seem like a good idea. I mean, for that reason I can’t get the slightest bit excited about the concept of drilling for oil. It just seems like lunacy to me that you would even contemplate bringing out more oil into a world that cannot actually burn what we already know about without destroying the planet. So where’s the logic in this?

 

Samuel Mann: But there’ll be people in your city that would see Lyttelton or wherever as being a suitable base for a drilling place, don’t you think?

 

Vicki Buck: Actually, very few, I think. Very few people, I think, would see that because, apart from the Banks Peninsula Marine Mammal Sanctuary, we haven’t found much of the thing. And then the drilling part starts right next door, so apparently that oil knows, you know, this is the boundary. Never [crosstalk 00:27:37]

 

Samuel Mann: Well, I wouldn’t go there, no.

 

Vicki Buck: We won’t go there because, you know, there’s a big wall. Banks Peninsula, from our point of view, is just this amazing sort of natural wilderness area. And the sea off Banks Peninsula, and off all of our coastline, is so valuable to us that the idea of anything going wrong, that you can’t control, you’re in deep ocean water. You can imagine, there’s no capacity anywhere in New Zealand to deal with that spill. So wait a minute. We’d have to ring Singapore or China or wherever, or America, and find out where the nearest one is. Seven weeks away? Oh, we’ll just wait here patiently while you completely ruin one of the most amazing assets that New Zealand has. You know, its ocean.

 

No, I don’t think there’s many people that are … actually, I think they need a government. And, you know, even something like Brighton Beach, which for that community is so vital and so loved, that the idea of any sort of crappy oil spill coming up … not welcomed. But no, I can’t think of anybody, actually. I’m sure there are some.

 

Samuel Mann: So what’s the biggest success you’ve had in the last couple of years?

 

Vicki Buck: That’s a hard question. I think possibly changing our usage to electric vehicles will be. I hope. I’ll tell you that in a couple of weeks.

 

Samuel Mann: We’re writing a book of these conversations. We’re calling it Tomorrow’s Heroes.

 

Vicki Buck: Or yesterday’s.

 

Samuel Mann: No, it’s as if we’re looking back and people like you will be the heroes that people will look back who are pleased that you’re doing this kind of work. So what’s your superpower? How do you describe your superpower?

 

Vicki Buck: Probably optimism. Probably a belief that all of us can do, actually, pretty much anything. And that may be a completely irrational belief. But actually, the more you believe it the more it comes true, which is kind of weird. And probably the ability to laugh a lot. So when I do something completely insane, which is regularly, I’m not hugely distressed.

 

Samuel Mann: Do you consider yourself to be an activist?

 

Vicki Buck: Yes. Yes, I always have.

 

Samuel Mann: Why?

 

Vicki Buck: Because the opposite of that is being passive and it sounds so boring. I’ll just sit here passively and go through life. Like, jeez, I’ve only got one of them that I know of. You know, I’m willing to have more. But why wouldn’t you use everything you’ve got to make happen the things that you want to have happen. I can’t see any reason why you would do it any other way.

 

Samuel Mann: What motivates you? What gets you out of bed in the morning?

 

Vicki Buck: I just like the fact that you can make cool stuff happen. There was a lovely interview with somebody from the airport, and he said, “My job is to make cool shit happen.” I thought, “Oh, that’s my job description.” So, yeah, just making cool shit happen. I’ve stolen that from [inaudible 00:31:05].

 

Samuel Mann: What’s the biggest challenge you’re looking forward to in the next couple of years?

 

Vicki Buck: In the next couple of years? I don’t know. I don’t know. It could be different tomorrow from this day. It’s not like I can plan a couple of years ahead. About a week is good.

 

Samuel Mann: Alright, take the time off then. What’s the biggest challenge you’re looking forward to?

 

Vicki Buck: I don’t know. I like them all. I like the idea of completely altering the way we do education here. Which is nothing to do with council, really, but I don’t think anybody will notice for a while. I like the idea of some initiatives that people will come up with that we can help. I don’t think we have to do it all. Really, we’ll delegate it to anybody and everybody. There’s 386,000 of them out there.  So, yeah, just the fact that … what excites me is that I know that today and tomorrow and the day after, people will come up with cool ideas.

 

We just put a thing on, on Facebook, about a community fridge. And three groups, like, I’d really like to see these. You know, people have got surplus food, just put it in a pantry or fridge and it’s available to anybody in the community who needs it. Three groups have come back and said, yeah, we’d like to do something about this. I just love the currency of ideas that people can make cool stuff happen all the time. Actually, the thing I’m probably looking forward to is getting back into our house which has been completely rebuilt, not as an insurance thing but as a leaky house. Which is not the way you want to do it but it’s going to, in theory, be a 10 star one, which will be a lot of fun.

 

Samuel Mann: Awesome.

 

Vicki Buck: Yeah.

 

Samuel Mann: If you could wave a magic wand and have a miracle occur by tomorrow morning, what would you have happen?

 

Vicki Buck: Actually, at the moment I’ve been watching that famine in South Sudan and Yemen, and watching those kids not have food. I can’t stand it. I can’t even watch it. And you feel kind of quite powerless about it, so my miracle would be that one … Well, actually, I’d like lots. But one that they’re fed and they get a chance to live their lives. Another one? Would it have something to do with Trump? Yeah.

 

Samuel Mann: Are those the things that go beyond your optimism? Is everything achievable but there’s things outside that-

 

Vicki Buck: [inaudible 00:33:56]. Really, what were you thinking? No, I tend to be optimistic anyway, so it’s kind of ingrained. I can’t get rid of it. Even after half an hour of Trump I can still get over it. Yeah, yeah, he does test it to the limit. He’s tests it completely. And his advisors, Sean Bannon particularly.

 

Samuel Mann: Lastly then, do you have any advice for our listeners?

 

Vicki Buck: No, I wouldn’t be so presumptuous. I wouldn’t have a clue.

 

Samuel Mann: So if you were to have a billboard that’s not at election time, that you could put up on a big motorway somewhere, what are you going to write on it?

 

Vicki Buck: Probably life is short, have fun.

 

Samuel Mann: Awesome. That F word’s back again.

 

Vicki Buck: Yeah.

 

Samuel Mann: Thank you very much for joining me.

 

Vicki Buck: My pleasure indeed.

 

Categories
community social work

Engaging community

 

John Stansfield teaches Community Practice at Unitec in Auckland where they teach both undergraduate and post-graduate programmes in community development as well as social work and counselling.  He’s worked extensively in community development in his own community – notably Waiheke Island – as well as Palmerston North, Papua New Guinea and other Pacific islands.  He is chairing the upcoming Aotearoa Community Development conference.

 

 Shane Welcome to the show John.

 

John: Thank you very much, gentlemen.

 

Shane: What we normally do is start off with a little bit about your past. Where were you born John?

 

John: I was born at a tragically early age in Auckland and I grew up initially in Te Atatu which is a glorious suburb on the harbour, in the upper harbour. I went to school there and lived there until I was about a teen or so when my parents had some kind of crazy idea and moved just to the Bible belt of Mount Roskill which amongst the many facilities it didn’t have, it didn’t even have a pub. I became bored with it quite quickly and at 18 I decamped and went and lived in the bush in Papua New Guinea for eighteen or twenty months or so.

 

As far as growing up I’m still doing it. It’s been a long and difficult childhood.

 

Sam: What did you want to be when you grew up?

 

John: Goodness. Retired.

 

Shane: You went to Papua New Guinea and then you came back to New Zealand obviously at some point. What brought you back and what did you learn in Papua New Guinea?

 

John: Papua New Guinea was a transformative experience. I went there in 1976. It was a newly independent country. In fact tried to go in 1975 just as it became independent but they didn’t have embassies, you couldn’t get visas and it was terribly difficult. I got there and I worked as a motor mechanic in training, people in small engines in the bush in what’s now called Sandaun Province which was then the West Sepik as a volunteer and lived very simply in villages. Met all kinds of fabulous, fabulous characters. The ‘land of the unexpected’ as they call Papua New Guinea has a way of seeping into you and calling you back. I think I’ve been back more than twenty times since I left. I was fortunate enough, in fact, to go back and do some teaching up there, then later to go back and do some work for Oxfam. It’s a fabulous, fabulous country.

 

Shane: What first got you interested in going to Papua New Guinea? That’s not a standard path. Most people when they’re 18 head off to Europe or America. Why PNG and-

 

John: Well, in common with most 18 year old males it was not a rational decision. I think it was something which came about as an argument in a pub about whether I should join this movement to not have beer and pies on a Friday and put the money into aid and development, and being fond of beer and pies as my girth will tell you, I had to argue against it all. Actually I argue against just about anything, and said I’d far rather do something more practical with my skills and somebody called my bluff and said, “Actually there’s this unpaid job in the bush in the mosquito infested hell hole.” The West Sepik has the best mosquitoes in the world. They need clearance from civil aviation to land. They frequently make off with calves and small children.

 

My bluff was called and I couldn’t back out and I went.

 

Shane: That must have been an amazing experience. Obviously you’re extremely fond of the country and the people. You came back to New Zealand what was your plan when you came back? Did you have a plan?

 

John: Sitting around in the bush with not too much to do but chew beetle nut and occasionally get a bit of wireless you get a bit of time to think and I decided that I really wanted to come back and study social work, but particularly what I thought was community social work which turned out to be community development. Just to add familiar with the term, I think of it as community development is the crucible of democracy. It’s the place where citizens come together to share their dreams and plan their common futures. It’s a way of collectively organising to make life better and that became my discipline and I’ve kept it for the rest of my life, and something I’m enormously fond of and very proud of and which defines me. These days I’m a senior lecturer community development, having become too old for useful work, I’ve returned to academia where it’s not object to advancement. I’m on the Board of the International Association of Community Development, and I’m chairing the Aotearoa Association and chairing the National Conference, and I’ve been fortunate enough to go on tour in March last year through India with twenty other community development practitioners. It’s fabulous. It’s better than religion.

 

Shane: Community development obviously is different depending what communities you’re in. The community in Papua New Guinea might be different to what community here or in Ireland or in India. What are the common themes and what are the differences and what do you have to be careful of going in…?

 

John: The great trap in community development is you really can’t have much of an agenda of your own. You have to help people find the agenda that they want. To give you an example, I chair a fabulous little organisation called the Waiheke Resources Trust. It does all kinds of fabulous projects in community development. We got a little grant here at council to see whether we could do something about food waste. Almost all the work that’s done on food waste is done after you’ve wasted the food. It’s a deeply stupid place to intervene in a problem. Myself and a young colleague intern wrote a paper doing a Lit review from around the world on food waste and said, “You got to start somewhere else”.  We put this thing through to the Ministry for the Environment and they were pretty excited about it. Then they had a change of leadership and no one was really excited again.  We pitched away and did a little trial at home. Ultimately we got the local council to say, “We’ll put some money behind you. Go and see what you can do.” They sent us off to a fabulous community we chose on Waiheke called Blackpool. Blackpool has a resident’s association which exists under the name BRA. The Blackpool Residents Association that came together when the community was flooded some years earlier. It had been little bit in abeyance.
 

 

We got that community together and we said, “Let’s spend an afternoon dreaming about what we’d really like in this community.” I kept in the background that we had a couple of young women, one of whom was working for us and one of whom was working for council in facilitating this process. “That’s good, we’ve got all your ideas, we’re going to write them up, we’re going to bring you back and John will cook you a lovely three course dinner with wine and candles and everything, then we’ll narrow it down and we’ll come up with what we’re going to do.” What we were wanting to do was inject some enthusiasm around sustainability and food waste. What the residents came up with is that they really wanted a pub. I thought fantastic, I can go back to the council and say, “Mr. Mayor, thanks very much for your money. Got nowhere on the sustainability, but the residents would like a pub, preferably on your land.”

 

This could be the severely career limiting approach but actually we worked with that community and they got a pub, it’s a fantastic thing. It’s called the Dog and Pony and it pops up. It’s a pop-up pub, it pops up in a public building every few weeks and people bring their biscuits and their nibbles and their bottle of wine or their homemade beer and their violin and they have a fabulous time in their own community and they walk to it, walk home. No one gets killed in the process. The purpose of that story is to illustrate how it’s actually got to be the community’s decision what they want. Having got there and had the pub delivered, we were able to see who leaders were in that community and get alongside them and say, “Can we do something around food waste?” We did a fantastic trial there and really significantly reduced the waste of food and learned a whole lot that we’re now rolling out in other communities.

 

Sam: Is that easier or harder on an island?

 

John: It’s much easier on an island. Everything’s easier on an island. Not everything, you would run out of water here, that’s not easier. Your relationships are far more intimate. Everybody’s recycled. You have to be a little bit more both self-reliant and collectively reliant on each other to make things work. There’s an opening. I think on this island it’s a very proud history of concern about the environment and of being unafraid to stand up and be counted on things. We were the first place in New Zealand to be nuclear free. I think we were the first council to declare ourselves GE free. When the boats left for Moruroa, they largely came from Waiheke. We’re a great bunch. It’s very easy to find other people of like mind in this community to do something that’s better for everyone.

 

Sam: Then you have a council that is representing all of Auckland and does things like destroy your waste management system.

 

John: You’ve got to have the time sense of a geologist to appreciate these things you see. We originally had a couple of roads boards here, that then got made into the Waiheke County Council. I remember the Waiheke County Council very fondly. A place where politics became a blood sport and source of local entertainment where people jostled to get a seat at the local council meeting, try deftly to be upwind of Fred Burrock who hadn’t washed. We were one fantastic county. We did things like say, “It’s our island and we’re going to green it.” They built their own nursery, employed four or five islanders and every ratepayer could front up and get three trees any time he liked. They get your fruit trees and fruit trees were planted on the road verges, in public parks and all over the place.

 

That was fabulous. Then it was compulsory amalgamated with Auckland City Council which is no longer. Waiheke revolted of course because the first thing that the good burghers of Rocky Bay knew about the amalgamation is they came down their muddy track with the carefully sorted recycling was a big flash new council truck going past and threw the whole lot into a compactor and took it off to a hole in the ground. We were pretty vexed and aggrieved about that.

 

When the Royal Commission on the Governance of Auckland asked the then 1.4 million people of the region to comment on their plan, 28.8% of all submissions came from the 0.8% of the people who lived on Waiheke who demanded that the commission come here and explain themselves about how we were going to do without local governance. Ourselves and the Great Barrier community won their own local governments back. Yes, it’s true that we did lose the fabulous social enterprise in rubbish but we’ll win it back. We [inaudible 00:12:46], we can write.

 

Shane: It sounds like there was already a community there to work with. How do you development a community where the one doesn’t already exist or it’s very fragile?

 

John: There’s been some great work done around that in New Zealand and overseas. In fact, I had a cup of tea this morning with my very good friend, Gavin Rooney who at 76 has just retired from being a senior lecturer in Community Development. He was the first local authority community worker employed in New Zealand. They put him in the new Nappy Alley suburbs of Massey out in West Auckland. When he finished his term, they didn’t appoint a new one, the council, because they had so much trouble with the last one. He just very patiently went around, getting to know people, linking people up. Getting conversations going about things. Similarly a great New Zealand community worker was Wendy Craig who worked in the Takaro community of Palmerston North. Was very famous there when the hospital board were considering closing a maternity unit. Wendy got a whole bunch of mothers with crying babies to go to the hospital board meeting. I think it was a bit of judicious bottom pinching during the meeting because the meeting had to be abandoned there was so many crying babies. The board got the message, they shouldn’t mess with the women of Takaro.

 

It’s a gentle process of getting to know people, finding their interests, linking them up with each other. Making it possible for people to believe that they can control their own futures and have a say. Once you get to that point it’s pretty unstoppable.

 

Sam: We visited Oamaru last year, or the year before, they have got a really strong transition town movement. They’ve got a really good summer school and they’ve got their, what do they call it…The waste recycling system, they’re planting trees on every street frontage. Whole pile of things. We thought, “This is amazing. We have to go and find out they’re managing this. How is the whole town in behind transitional Oamaru?” It turns out it’s not. There’s about six people doing everything but what they’re doing is doing things that other people would get engaged in. Even if they think the transitional town people are a bit weird, they still recognise that having fruit trees in front of their house is a good thing.

 

John: Transition towns, it’s somewhat kind of like a brand really. They came to Waiheke and the next thing we noticed was all kinds of things we’d already been doing with transition town things. That’s good. They’re able to reach a different constituency. Every little tribe that marches in a similar direction that reaches a new constituency makes us all collectively stronger. It’s great.

 

Kaikoura is another place that’s fabulous. Kaikoura, when I was down there last week helping sort the rubbish on the line in the recycling plant because her brother, Robbie Roach, is the manager of Innovative Waste Kaikoura. He is facing a mountain of construction and demolition waste and working out has a community they can make the best of that. Wonderful. There is actually a lot of be said for rubbish. I started to think that we’ve got to grab hold of all the rubbish and keep it for the poor before the rich find out how bloody valuable it is.

 

Sam: One time I visited Waiheke and the rubbish was sitting in some sort of carton or big crate thing on the wharf. I thought, “All the people that go over the wharf can see this is the result of our through-put.” It’s nice and visible. You don’t need to have a website or anything. Unfortunately that’s gone. My question though, was is there a tipping point of how much community engagement you need to actually make a difference?

 

John: If I refer back to my good friend Wendy Craig, who’s a very wise woman. She said once, “If you’re fun to be with, they’ll always be people with you.” Two essential ingredients for good community development are fun, coupled with a deep seed irreverence, and food. If you put those two things together you can find ways to build bridges and get people engaged. Once people become engaged in their own neighbourhood and there’s oodles of research out that says people want to be more engaged and they want to do that locally. Somewhere where they live. We just seem to have built a social structure that’s going entirely in the wrong direction for that. Some clever marketing guru gets hold it, they’ll be community development on sale.

 

I suppose there is a kind of tipping point but it’s a tipping point. It just takes a little bit of enthusiasm in pulling people together and it has its successes and its failures. It requires some judicious thinking about what would be good early successes because nothing succeeds like success. People’s experience of a win is very empowering.

 

Sam: You’ve written about foreign issues. You write about gambling and the relationship between gambling and public health. What’s the cross over between that and the collective organising and community development we’ve been talking about?

 

John: Sure. This second stint in academia. I was here in the mid-90s and I founded a graduate programme in not-for-profit management. I started to wonder, I actually wondered this on a beach with a great American guy called Tim McMain. We sat on a beach and wondered this together whether the biggest threat to biodiversity was not the loss of Hochstetter’s Frog, or the Maui dolphin, but the most important biodiversity was the biodiversity of thought. What I observed happening around the world in terms of governance and management was that there was starting to be a one true solution, one size fits all. Funnily enough it happened to be the one that culturally suited white men in suits from Boston. You saw other ways of doing and knowing and thinking being pushed out to the margins. When I looked at the impact of that on the community sector I became deeply concerned at the kind of corporatization that was happening all over the place that was actually driving out the most important thing we do in the community organisation which is giving people the opportunity to belong. Belonging is just really important for people and for healthy societies. If you don’t think it’s important, go to court on a Monday morning. You’re not going to find many playcentre mums.

 

We started to think about this thing about actually the way we manage community organisations has to palpably different, it has to have its own kaupapa, it has to have its own culture. It has to have a consistency, because you don’t have the same tools. You don’t have the same money that you can incentivize and you don’t have the legislative power of the state. All you have is trying to get people to line up around some values.

 

I did that for nine years and then I did a dangerous thing – I had a holiday. I woke up from that I thought, “I wonder if I’ll still be here, preaching on like this in thirty years time. I should go and find out if it works.” I looked for a broken community organisation which was the Problem Gambling Foundation. I was fortunate enough to be appointed their CEO, and I had a really fantastic five years. Learning about gambling and its impact. My thinking is very influenced by the late, great Bill Mollison who developed Permaculture. I’m sure some of your listeners will know about Bill and he and David Holmgrem’s work.

 

When I got to the Problem Gambling Foundation, things were quite broken so I couldn’t hop into the track and blast off into the sunset. None of the gears worked, the wiring was buggered, and the finance system didn’t work. It was just a bloody mess. It was a lot of grunt work to be done for about three months. While I was doing that I decided I’d have a Masters level education in gambling. Every night I would read two or three hours worth of papers from around the world about gambling. What I quickly found out is that more than half of them had all the validity of 1950s tobacco research, and for exactly the same reason. Just as the tobacco companies corrupted the research sector by buying it, so had the gambling industry. That really made it hard. I didn’t know. I didn’t know what the answer was. I had to keep looking, keep looking, keep looking. One night about 10:00 I came across one statistic and it showed me that ten years earlier, no New Zealand women had come to treatment for gambling problems. Yet, now in 2003 this was, more than half the people coming were women.

 

If you approach that bit of statistic with the traditional addictions lens, and addictions looks at the person who is harmed after the harm has happened and says, “What is the matter with the person?” Then the question you ask is what happened to New Zealand women that they all got so weak over ten years? Mine has not been a life which has been surrounded by weak New Zealand women. I tend to end up with the very mouthy, stroppy ones. There’s still time. It’s a species I’m interested I’m explore. I thought, “This just doesn’t make bloody sense.” I fell back on my trade union background, I thought, “If I’d gone to a mill and there were three blokes sitting around with their arms cut off, my first thing wouldn’t be to get them into a support group and say, “now come on you fellas, what happened in your earlier lives that caused you to cut your arms off?” Essentially that’s what we were doing with gamblers. We were getting people who would come in who were deeply harmed and saying, “This is your fault in some way.” It isn’t.

 

The normal outcome of regular use of a pokie machine is that you’ll be harmed by it. It’s a deeply, deeply pernicious industry and it extracts money out of the communities that can least afford it. You follow the capital flows? It’s a transfer of wealth from the women to the men, from the brown to the white and from the poor to the rich. Once I understood that, I knew that it was deeply offensive and I could have a great deal of fun fighting it. It’s just like any other kind of plunder, environmental plunder or community plunder.

 

Shane: Why has New Zealand’s society allowed that or constructed a system? This kind of gambling, for instance, isn’t simply legal back in Ireland and I was really shocked when I came over here to see the pokie machines and the casinos. What allowed that? What was the construct there?

 

John: I’ve always wondered if in Ireland the reason it didn’t go ahead was because the church couldn’t find a way to control it. Just as an aside.  The way gambling gets in everywhere is a bit of a standard method and it’s lies, deception and corruption. They have fantastic relationships with senior people in government. I can think of a fellow in a one man party, and I don’t mean David Seymour, who in his entire career in politics has never voted against the gambling industry, the liquor industry or the tobacco industry. He stands for Family First party. Think about that.

 

They use all kinds of chicanery in communities and they have got oodles and oodles of money. I often used to say, “Any idiot could run a pokie trust and usually does.”

 

Sam: What do you do about trying to change that behaviour if you’re taking that collective responsibility role that you’re talking about. The point is that it’s already normalised.

 

John: People aren’t stupid. In fact what you see happening with the pokie industry up until the last two quarters is a poisoning of the well. There’s very few people in this country now who don’t know somebody or some family that’s been blighted by those machines. It’s really, really hard to walk into anywhere they are and imagine that there’s something glamorous going on. All you really have to do to fight against this is number one, tell the truth, and we tell the truth about it on a daily basis through a news feed called Today’s Stories that a wonderful woman named Donna in Auckland puts together every morning. Gets on my desk about 7 a.m. and it’s a summary of all the gambling stories in New Zealand and around the world.

 

You find things like the second biggest motivator for organised fraud, white collar crime, and this is a top accounting firm study, is gambling. Unless you look at the charitable sector alone in which case it’s always the highest motivator. Gambling is only allowed in our society really for charitable purposes but the people most likely get harmed by the charities. When you start to tell that story repeatedly it starts to become true. The latest surveys by the Department of Internal Affairs now show that the majority of New Zealanders don’t think it’s a good idea to fund communities out of the gambling industry. While the minister, Minister Dunne, is desperately trying to liberalise the regime and ensure that pokie machines are a sustainable industry. You can’t put glitter on a turd. It just isn’t going to work. Ultimately, people will throw them out and I think we will look back on this period of our history with a sense of deep shame and say, “How did we allow that level of exploitation of our poorest and most vulnerable citizens.” Make no mistake it’s the poor who pay the price of pokie gambling.

 

I put a picket on a pub in Manurewa years ago and they have 5.1 million dollars from that poor, poor, poor South Auckland suburb leave town. Some of the money went to charity, it went to the Otago Rugby Union, and the Canterbury Jockey Club. The horse owners which apparently is a sport. Not one red cent went back into that community yet there were moms dropping the kids off at school in their dressing gowns coming into that pub playing those machines. Desperate to try and win some of it back.

 

Sam: Talking about stories and telling the truth, I’m thinking about now as we move very quickly into what’s being referred to as post-truth, or whatever. We’ve been having the same thing on a lesser level for quite a long time here about the story, it’s all right Jack, everything’s wonderful on Planet Key. Is that making it harder to engage communities because they’re being told so strongly that everything’s all right?

 

John: Yeah. There’s certainly something very comforting about the news according to Mike Hoskins. It doesn’t really bear looking at. Put it in context to the States, I was in the States during the period of the conventions. I just couldn’t believe it. Come on, you people, you’re not stupid are you? What’s going on? You wonder how long it would be before particularly working class middle America wakes up and realises they’re seriously being duped. There is I think a real risk in our society in the decline in journalism. I don’t mean that journalists are any less than there ever were, great journalists in this country but there’s a hell of a lot less of them. They’ve got a hell of a lot less time to do their job. There’s a lot of stuff that’s just sliding by. I just about fell off the chair when I read that we were the least corrupt country in the world.

 

Sam: You’ve written about gagging, I think in relation to Christchurch. Do you think we’ve got a problem with people in government, local government, national government, being told what they can and can’t say?

 

John: Yes we have. It gets passed down so that one of the real roles of the community sector, and community development organisations is to get people together and speak on their behalf. What we’ve seen with the rise of contractaulism and the relationship between government and the community sector is that those contracts are used to exercise gagging and changes in governance and all manner of restrictions. I remember at the Problem Gambling Foundation getting told that we provide free counselling services in prison. That we would not be able to have a contract if we continued to provide free counselling services in prison. Their organisation was actually born in prison. A couple of guys realised they were in prison because they gambled, they decided they were going to do something about it. We had very deep roots to that. I said to the officials at the time, “Hell will freeze over guys. Let’s see who’s going to blink first.”

 

We were a long time, many, many, many months with no income. Staring down the barrel of that thing. You can’t withhold medical treatment, which is what counselling services, from people in prison. That’s in breach of international human rights codes. We won’t participate with it. Boy, did that organisation get punished by the Ministry of Health for having an ethical position. They certainly did. They still got that ethical position I’m proud to say.

 

Shane: Do other organisations look at that example and then think we’d better not cross government?

 

John: Yeah. Absolutely. A terribly expensive case for an organisation to have to take. All brilliant work that was done by a fantastic team of lawyers but by golly it doesn’t come cheap. Just to preserve what you already had.

 

Shane: What we’re saying is what we’re seeing happening in America in a radical and very clear way, has been happening slowly here for a long time?

 

John: Yes, I do think some of that but I also think that we owe it to our communities not to be timid and not to self-censor. I can put up with being censored by the state, I can rebel against it, I can speak out against it, but I’m far more worried about people doing the Nervous Nellie and self-censoring to please.

 

Sam: You’re Head of Department of Social Practise-

 

John: I was Head of Department, I’m happily now … Poor Robert Ford has that honour. I’m now Senior Lecturer in Community Development.

 

Sam: Okay. You’re teaching people how to be community development practitioners.

 

John: Yes.

 

Sam: Are you training them to be trouble makers?

 

John: Absolutely. Definitely. We’re training them to be true, to look at injustice and impoverishment and know where they’re going to stand. Really they are the most delightful students. It must of been 2015 I think, I had a student come into my office breathlessly and say, “I did something!” I said, “That’s good, we’ve all done something. What is it you’ve done?” “I can’t even tell you.” She passed me a phone and she set up a Facebook page to plan a protest on TV 3 about the proposed closure of Campbell Live. I said, “That’s fantastic. Terrific! We’ll talk with the class about it.” She said, “I’ve never been to a protest before!” “Oh well, that’s fine. We’ll have a look on the computer, we’ll find you one to go to.”

 

Her group of them went off down and helped the McDonald’s workers fight the good fight against zero hours contracts. Then they lead a protest march to TV 3 and they got inside and occupied the building and had a wonderful time. Sat on the floor and slapped their thighs and said, “This is what democracy looks like,” and I was terribly, terribly proud of them because that’s how you build a people who will not be bowed. The risk that we have all around the world at the moment is that government’s lose the understanding that they government by consent and that that consent can be withdrawn.

 

Sam: Those young graduates of yours, the ones you’ve trained to be trouble makers, they have to go into organisations that rely on government funding.

 

John: They do.

 

Sam: How are they going to manage that tension?

 

John: Life’s full of difficulties. I talked to one just the other day who did a TV show by posing as school children buying single cigarettes. She’s happily found work in a tobacco control agency. I think young people are actually pretty smart. What I observe happening around the place is some very good advocacy training is going on. I went out on Saturday night and I met Sandy, the producer of the documentary Beautiful Democracy which is about the young people who lead the TPPA protests. Gosh, my heart was so warmed by the fact that these young people were really deeply thinking about their tactics, what would work and trying things out. Doing fantastic research. Really deeply engaging in this society because engaged citizens aren’t the ones you’ve got to fear. It’s the ones who aren’t engaged you’ve got to be worried about.

 

Sam: You are chairing, I think, the Community Development Association conference coming up-

 

John: I am. yes, it’s a fantastic honour. I’m thrilled to bits.

 

Sam: What sort of things can we expect? I should say I’m going to it.

 

John: It’s going to be fantastic, really is. We’ve got, as of this afternoon, 170-odd people from around the world coming. What we’re doing is we’re using a community development lens for by and large people are community activists, community development practitioners and academics and leaders. We’re using that to look at the United Nations have deemed Agenda 2030. Which is the goal of sustainable development. Ordinarily if you wanted to talk about the United Nations, you put me into a deep sleep instantly. The seventeen goals for sustainable development are a fifteen year plan for the whole world, and they are just about the most important things we could be dealing with. It’s ending poverty, it’s ending hunger. It’s about having gender equality, it’s about having good health care. It’s about having good education, and other things that you wouldn’t expect. Like access to clean and affordable energy.

 

One of the guests who’s coming in is Kalyan Paul who’s from Pan Himalayan Grassroots Development Foundation and is from Ranikhet in the Almora District, Uttarakhand in the foothills of the Himalayas. I went up and visited him and he works with the forest dwellers and the people who live in the deep, deep valleys. We were talking about Agenda 2030 which brings together a lot of social goals with a lot of environmental goals. He said to me, “Look, it was inevitable. This is completely inevitable. We’ve known this would happen.” Where did he bloody know that sitting up here? He said, “You can’t protect the forest if the people have no fuel for their cooking. You simply can’t do it.” The only way we’ve managed to protect all this beautiful forest is by addressing the problem, and that is they built small biogas plants. They take the cow dung and human dung and produce gas which does the cooking and lighting. The houses don’t need to walk miles into the forest and cut the trees down. Then you can protect the forest.

 

Very practical solutions but based on some really good deep thinking. This wonderful confluence of the social and the economic and the environmental. It’s a really exciting time because many people in community development actually have got a huge contribution to make to the way we take this stuff forward. Companies are looking at this stuff. One of the big multi-nationals, I can’t remember exactly the name. They probably made your toothpaste and soap this morning. They have so many tens of thousands that they give out in grants and they have so many thousand days a year of corporate volunteering. They just announced Agenda 2030, as of June all about volunteering, all about donations and everything, are going to be targeted on the seventeen sustainable development goals. All of our industries are going to be measured against their contributions to those goals. This is really big, big stuff.

 

Sam: All right. We’re running out of time and I’ve got seven questions to ask.

 

John: I’ll try to be brief.

 

Sam: We’re going to have to rattle through them. What is your go-to definition of sustainability?

 

John: Pass. I haven’t got a short one for that. The Brundtland Commission which is to consume today only so much as to ensure tomorrow can. Is still pretty good.

 

Sam: That’ll do. How would you describe your sustainable super power? What is it you’re bringing to the good fight?

 

John: A really good sense of fun, a deep reverence for food and a great love of people.

 

Sam: I think I know how you’re going to answer this next question. Do you consider yourself to be an activist?

 

John: Absolutely. Activism is the rent price that you pay for living on the planet.

 

Sam: Have you always thought that?

 

John: Pretty much I think. My mom would say so. She said I was this troublesome in primary school.

 

Sam: Have you ever been a position where you couldn’t be?

 

John: I’ve often been in a position where I couldn’t be as activist as I might like to be. I know some fabulous people and I was reflecting with Gavin this morning on an experience I had in a government committee meeting where I felt that the principle that was being applied was deeply, ethically wrong. The others stood with me, he lost it as a vote but when I put it out, impassioned it out, others stood with me. You go, okay, I just didn’t win it today. I’ve got to come back and be better next time.

 

Sam: You said something that was deeply ethically wrong.

 

John: Yeah.

 

Sam: Where did those ethics come from?

 

John: Gosh. I think you get a lot of them from your mom. I know I get my sense of fairness from my mom. She’s still alive, she’s pretty smart. She knows that if she cut an apple, I’d want to have the biggest bit and my little brother get the smallest bit. She’d do the Solomon trick, she’d say, “You cut and he chooses.” Never seen the precision going into cutting an apple like that.

 

Sam: Do you think that people like coming through school getting that stuff?

 

John: You have your moments of despair about it. I have an absolutely 18 year daughter of whom I’m incredibly proud. She’s on every kind of activism there is. She is on so much more activism at 18 than I was that I feel very hopeful for the planet. Again, meeting Sandy on the weekend and looking at the film and the other film around indigenous housing and some of the young people coming through the programmes that were involved, I think there’s some pretty fabulous young people out there.

 

Sam: What’s your daughter going to do with that? There’s not many programmes like the one you teach where we’re actively teaching people or even allowing people to be activists.

 

John: She’s going off to Victoria University next year and I said, “Are you going to do politics?” She just looked at me, she said, “You don’t think I get enough politics at home?” She’s got a love of languages, she’s travelled, she’s Maori so she’s going to do some Maori studies and some law and some languages. Whatever she does and learn she’ll make a big difference with her life, I can just see it.

 

Sam: What motivates you? What gets you out of bed in the morning? A pretty stunning view I must say.

 

John: It is a stunning view. I leave it in the dark, can you believe it? I belt out of bed before 5, and I’m out of here by half past to go all the way to Henderson to do the job there. Lovely team of people that I work with. I think that most people want a job worth doing, they want a team worth belonging to and they want leadership worth following. Two out of three ain’t bad.

 

Sam: That’s quite a commute.

 

John: It is.

 

Sam: Ferry and then train?

 

John: It’s currently either car or bicycle to the ferry. Then ferry and then most of the time it’s taking the little campaign car that we have because it’s got to live in a concrete bunker. At that time of the morning I can be in my office by 7 which gives me clear, early part of the day. When the new trains come and we’ve got a route that doesn’t go by Kazakhstan that might be an option.

 

Sam: What challenges are you looking forward to in the next couple of years?

 

John: I’m really looking forward to the conference and that’s challenging on day by day basis. Got one of the young graduates managing that process. It’s just fantastic. A young woman that can take any pile of drivel that I put on the page and turn it into something that looks like a masterpiece, so that’s fabulous.

 

After the conference I’m planning to do a major piece of research in New Zealand on the behaviour of funding organisations and the processes and how this does or does not contribute to innovative and sustainable funding relationships. I’m planning on doing that piece of work for a few years. I’m just finishing a piece of work on the living wage movement, and also helping on a project looking at South Kaipara community economic development scheme which is featuring in the conference. That is all pretty good.

 

Sam: You’re a busy chap, especially with the dancing in the garden stuff?

 

John: Dancing in the garden is a great deal of fun, yeah. They’re going to get a film maker there.  He just as to look at me in a certain way and I can’t help myself. I become a total show-off really. The garden is very important to me. I have a great garden here, it’s still looking fabulous but we’re entering drought now so it’ll all be dead in a fortnight. Organic food, really, really important to me. Food’s really important. Sharing it with people.

 

Sam: Two more questions unless I get distracted.

 

John: Sure.

 

Sam: If you could wave a magic wand and have a miracle occur by tomorrow morning what would it be?

 

John: My standard reply to that is that every wish that would ever have would come true but I don’t think that’s going to wear in this occasion. Gosh. Would we have to fix the climate. That would have to be the top. The two problems we’re going to deal with are inequality and the climate. If we get those things stopped the rest of it’s a piece of cake.

 

Sam: What’s the smallest thing that we could do that would have the biggest impact on either or both of those?

 

John: I think if we all really looked at inequality in our society and started having a real discussion about it, and saying, “No, I don’t believe these Kiwis really want to have a third of children living in poverty.” That’s been able to perpetuate because we have not been having the conversation and we have to have that conversation really, really robustly.

 

Sam: Last question before we get in trouble with the Buddhists, do you have any advice for our listeners?

 

John: Live long, it’ll damn your enemies.

 

Sam: Great. You’re listening to Sustainable Lens on Talk Access Radio 105.4 FM. This show was recorded on the 26th of January, 2017. Our guest was John Stansfield

 

Categories
art community urban

Artists shaping the future city

Frances Whitehead Image from http://www.makeartwithpurpose.net/projects.php?id=15&tp=4

Frances Whitehead is an artist working in the Chicago/Gary area of the great lakes basins of the USA. She is a professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago andwas in Dunedin for the Art and Future symposium at Otago Polytechnic.   She brings the methods, mindsets, and strategies of contemporary art practice to the process of shaping the future city. Questions of sustainability, culture change, and participation thread through her work as she integrates art and sustainability at the scale of the city.

 

Sam: Welcome to Sustainable Lens: Resilience on Radio, a weekly show on sustainability topics brought to you by Otago Polytechnic. The show is co-hosted by Shane Gallagher and me, Samuel Mann. Shane is not here tonight, but I’m with Frances Whitehead who is an artist working in the Chicago/Gary area of the great lakes basins of the USA. She is a professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and she’s here for a symposium at Otago Polytechnic. Thank you for joining me.

 

Frances: Glad to be here.

 

Sam: Let’s go right back. Where did you grow up?

 

Frances: I grew up in Richmond, Virginia on the East Coast, Middle Atlantic area of the US.

 

Sam: What was it like growing up there?

 

Frances: I wasn’t aware of it at the time but there are two things that have really stuck with me from growing up there. One is a preoccupation that the culture has with its own history and to the point where perhaps it’s almost ancestor worship. The other is that Virginia has four real seasons. I didn’t understand that every place is not. When I moved away, I discovered that every place doesn’t have seasons that look like what shows up in the calendar. That was maybe the beginning of me realising at that place which has become a big issue for me.

 

Sam: What did you want to be when you grew up?

 

Frances: I come from a family of artists. I always say art is the family business. Early on, I’ve always been interested in science and I’m quite good in higher mathematics. I’m a Sputnik Baby as they call it, meaning that when the space race from the Sputnik launch was started, they took a bunch of us and taught us what was called the new math. I’m a new math kid.

 

That interest in math and science coupled with my own family background in art, I think set me going where I am interested in both of those areas in the quals and the quants and I find no conflict between them and for me art is science and vice versa. It’s all inquiry. It’s all ways to understand the world. I think that got me going in a particular direction that has stayed with me.

 

Sam: What did you do about that when you left school?

 

Frances: I went to art school and I think that that was the undertow of my family heritage that in the end, I couldn’t do it any other way. It took me a long time to figure out how to bring my other interests back into the mix.

 

Sam: What sort of art did you do?

 

Frances: You mean as a young person?

 

Sam: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

 

Frances: As a young person, I primarily focused from printmaking. It took me some time to realise that what I liked about it was the equipment in the room which are big mysterious machines with cranks and making images on sheets of copper or images on stone that appear and disappear and that it’s a kind of alchemy that transpires in there.

 

That actually was the process that interested me. Somehow the prints were always a disappointment. I did a lot of lithography. Gradually, I came to realise it was the equipment, and the rocks, and the bottles of acid, and chemistry that interested me. After I graduated, after I already had my MFA which in the states is your terminal degree, I became a sculptor on my own, outside school. In terms of what became my home-based discipline, sculpture is the big tent, but that’s another story. In terms of that, I’m self-taught I suppose.

 

I set upon a course of work that I began to try to figure out first how domesticity might inform creative production and that led me to make a series of what we might call metaobjects. I didn’t have that language at the time, but in retrospect that’s what it was. That was participating in the theory we might now call deconstruction, but we didn’t have that language then. That was an analysis of how classification in taxonomy actually helped us but also hinder us from understanding what’s in front of us.

 

That eventually morphed into a post-industrial look at industrial artefacts because by then I had moved into Chicago and we were moving into the post-industrial although no one had that language or the postmodern, no one had that language. Eventually, I began to garden while I was in the city. We might call that the pastoral response although I didn’t have that language.

 

The question of nature in the post-industrial city crept in organically over a period of 20 years and eventually that career making objects about that condition that I was exhibiting in galleries and museums, I began to have an unease about that practise because it seemed to disconnected from what was going on around me which was the environmental degradation around me.

 

I began to feel it. I gradually became politicised around environmental issues. I would say around 2000, I discovered this emerging discourse that we now call sustainability. Of course it had been around for a while, but nobody was talking about it really. I became aware of it. Once I became aware of it, I always tell people it completely captured my imagination that I am not working out of a sense that will … Maybe a little bit now, but primarily I’m not working out of a sense of social responsibility. I’m working out of a love affair with complexity because it turns out I have a pretty complex world view and that was always a problem.

 

My interests in complexity was a problem because in reductive, essentialized, academic and professional circles, they weren’t broad enough. When I discovered sustainability, it was a way to use my worldview and my appetite for complexity which was a way to use all of my art, math and science capacity in a way that was interesting instead of it becoming always a liability.

 

Sam: If we take a step back, you were talking about the galleries style of work that you did, the nature and the industrial city. Did that come from a wider society, care for the earth, Earth Day, perhaps protest movement or what was driving that?

 

Frances: I was really dealing with these subjects philosophically and even psychologically. I was not at all an activist. I think I had become a climate activist or an activist now, but I have never been a rabble-rouser type activist. Actually much more attuned to what we might call subversive tactics. For example, I have become quite a chameleon in terms of being able to enter the habitués, the world of another discipline, learn to speak their language, understand their values, priorities, methods so that I can connect the dots so that I can collaborate meaningfully.

 

My activism has been … I joke that I’m a double agent working both inside and outside art. Inside and outside civic arenas, inside and outside science as a way to punch holes in disciplinary walls to allow ideas to flow more freely, but that includes art, turning back on art to change art and to change artists and to change the imaginary of what an artist might be in society. I’ve never really been the activist that you’re describing.

 

Sam: You said you were politicised in about 2000. What brought that on?

 

Frances: As I was describing, I had began to garden and this garden that I had next to my house, without me knowing it was actually a reclamation project because the detritus from the building that had been there kept coming up out of the ground. I would reach out to pick up a piece of fluff and it would turn out to be an 8 by 12 rug that was in the soil. It was coming up out of it from some house that have been there before.

 

It was an unintentional reclamation project. After a few years of this, the condition, this post-urban condition was so all round me that it began to actually rattle my beliefs in the family business, in the art that I was making which was seeming increasingly irrelevant. Even as my first moves were to take these themes, environmental themes and move them into the gallery, I quickly became dissatisfied with that because I felt it was pretty clear, I was preaching to the converted.

 

I went from making object sculpture about post-industrial to bringing even living plants into the gallery out of the garden to eventually realising that the garden was the laboratory that had pulled me out of the studio, into public, into public practice, into collaboration with living entities, into confrontation with degraded soils and systems, but also into conversation with neighbours, into working with living systems. It was a step by step process that went on since the mid-80’s and evolved over a 10 or 20 year period.

 

Sam: I missed a step in there … In your garden you were realising that it was a place of urban decay or something that you were trying to reestablish. Tell me nice and slowly what’s linked between that to being critical of the family business?

 

Frances: I mean, you’re basically asking me to recount a history that was not quite so linear. There were many things going on at the same time. I’m teaching at an art school. I’m continuing to participate in the discourse of what we could call normal art in the Thomas Kuhnian sense where he calls normal science and post-normal science.

 

I’m participating in normal art, meanwhile over a long period of time I’m having this garden which is teaching me things as a citizen and I’m capturing some of these insights and I’m trying to bring them into my practise because as an artist there’s no keeping insights out of your practise. They come in and it changes you, but exactly what to do about that took a while.

 

At some point, I began to have this anxiety about what I’m doing, but it was beyond language. It was very intuitive. It was felt. It was not thought. At the same time, I’m teaching at the School of the Art Institute and the school coughed up in an organic way several of us who were having anxieties around the changing conditions about the challenges that that ultimately would make for art practise, again was beyond language. It was felt.

 

One of the people that came forward was actually coming out of the technology sector and had questions about the impact of technology which is of course now very flushed out. We began to realise as a school of art that we couldn’t take on the environmental impacts and the societal impacts of technology in the built world without having a design school.

 

We began to join with a few other faculty to create a design school with the School of the Art Institute. This became what we called the design initiative. We had been a fine arts school, no design to speak of. Now, we have a full-blown design school that we created during this time. In the process of this design school, we began to talk about what kind of design school we wanted to be. We brought in some intellectual leadership in the form of design theorists, Clive Dilnot who brought with him Tony Fry who’s a sustainability theorist from Australia and quite a famous guy.

 

They began to run these really faculty development workshops. This was in about 1998, 1999. I didn’t know anything about design except that I could tell that the largest impacts on the natural world were being created by what we could call design. They were not being created by what we can call art. Just the scale of impacts. That was very interesting to me and Tony Fry was so persuasive about the importance of considering this thing, this theoretical construct called sustainability and that’s where it captured my imagination and began to require that I reinvent myself.

 

The revelation that that was required took some time and then the ability to formulate question and then a platform and then move into what you might call action research to see what those cultural hypothesis might lead to, that took another 10 years. How’s that? Did I connect the dots for you?

 

Sam: You did indeed. You said before, you said a sentence which I really liked which was that your work is a confrontation and conversation with living systems. You went on to say living systems and the social systems around them.

 

Frances: I don’t think I wake up in the morning and think about confronting living systems anymore. I’m too respectful of living systems. I’m not interested in being confrontational. Maybe I was talking about the collision between traditional arts thinking and the realities as they were revealing themselves as we came to understand the interconnectedness.

 

We’re talking about systems thinking now. This is me on a private level doing that thing that so many people have done now which is to begin to see the limits of what can be achieved through a single disciplinary expertise in the face of the systemic reality as it is beginning to reveal itself to us. In a systemic world, what are the limitations of your disciplinary expertise? I begin to feel that and understand that.

 

That of course takes us directly to a critique of the enlightenment and the system of knowledge that comes out of the enlightenment and the limitations of that. Now, we’re talking about starting to understand the need for a post-enlightenment knowledge model and that includes a post-Kuhnian aesthetic model and what would that be?

 

I think that in many ways, I’ve moved from like so many people trying to understand the nature of the condition and the limitations of the knowledge system that we had inherited in the developed north and questioning what another approach might be and what that would look like and then beginning to try to figure out what does that mean for art? What does an artist know that can contribute to the sustainable future?

 

What will we need to do? What bad habits do we have to change? What intellectual errors do we have to correct and what creative possibilities, new creative possibilities are revealed that didn’t seem to exist before which is the part that’s so exciting?

 

Sam: I’m not going to get in trouble for quoting this back at you because it is on your website. What do artists know?

 

Frances: This question,What do artists know?” began as my private question at the beginning around 2000. Tony Fry is talking about the technosphere, semiosphere and the biosphere and he’s laying out these Venn diagrams. We all know about the triple bottom line and then thank goodness, John Hawks comes up with the four pillar model and at least there’s culture there.

 

Actually before I saw Hawk’s model which is so clear and useful with culture as a pillar, the place that I saw that I could enter was the Guattari based model that Fry was using which included the semiosphere. The semiosphere as the realm of the intangible realm of values and meanings, it was very clear to me that as an artist, I had knowledge and expertise of navigating within the semiosphere because art had become primarily a symbolic economy of culture.

 

We were specialists, you might say. Artists, cultural workers are specialists in this symbolic economy. How could I take that expertise and contribute it and thus my question, “What do artists know?” What we’re really talking about is not the explicit knowledge of artists. Artists know how to mix yellow and blue paint and get green. We know how to weld. We know the history of art. We have explicit skills. What we’re really talking about are the tacit methodological procedural knowledge and skills.

 

These are much more difficult to track down. I had a really interesting thing that happened along these lines. I had entered into a two-year conversation early on in this new work that I’m doing under this knowledge platform. I entered into a two-year conversation with the city planners in the city of Cleveland. Classic legacy post-industrial city on the great lakes, steel city, highly polluted, needs a new economy, losing population, classic so-called shrinking city.

 

We’re talking about all of these things and doing this two-year period with these … This was the director of Cuyahoga County planning, the director of Cleveland Parks, Cleveland Metro Parks planning, very level thinkers. It was quite an intellectual conversation. They began to tell me what they think I’m contributing to their thinking. I made a little Word document on my desktop, on my laptop called What Do Artists Know?

 

They would tell me something and I would write it down and then maybe two months later, they’d say something else and I’d write that down. Two months later they’d say something else and I’d write that down. I was just keeping this as a private document and putting it in my own words what I thought they were saying.

 

One day after two years, I looked at this document and there was a full blown document there. I had no idea what it was. It was called What Do Artists Know? You can actually see this online, you can find it. It’s around. I’ve kept the date of 2006 on it. Sometimes people say, “We should go back and work on this language to clean it up a little bit but I feel like as a historical document. I don’t touch it because it’s just the way it arrived to me.

 

The language is interesting because I was very involved in learning their language and they were very much influenced by what we could call innovation speak. This document is a little bit art speak and a little bit innovation speak. Sometimes people get agitated about its oddity in that way. It’s part civic, part art mashed-up together, a linguistic mash-up. This document knocked around in my life for several years and then one day Chris Csikszentmihalyi who was at MIT Media Lab told me one day that he knew what this was.

 

He said, “This is a knowledge claim.” I thought, “Oh, that’s interesting. What the heck is a knowledge claim?” People would say that they’d call it a manifesto and I knew it wasn’t a manifesto. I mean, it’s written a little but like that but it wasn’t really a manifesto. The idea that it was a knowledge claim document was a terrific thing for me because, A, I learned a new word called the knowledge claim but it began to let me understand that this was tacit knowledge.

 

From there, I was able to apply a whole body that’s coming … At the time I was reading these crazy things that you’re probably aware of called knowledge management or change management. This was just emerging out of business schools and the like. Of course this is really not what most artists are thinking about.

 

Yet the history of the avant-garde is nothing more and nothing less than a focus of value proposition on newness and so I began to realise that the experimental thrust of modern art, of contemporary art, the history, the intellectual history of the avant-garde was connected to this idea that something new, something innovative, something experimental would be one of the prime criteria for art and that that might be interesting or useful mapped on to the idea of civic innovation.

 

That came out of the understanding that this thing was a knowledge claim. Based in that, I took that document to the city of Chicago which had just established an innovation programme and showed it to the innovation director and said, “Basically, you should establish a programme embedding artists in city government,” and he said, “Why should I do that?” I’d say, “Because we are the prime innovators and here’s my knowledge claim.” To my amazement, he agreed with me and he said, “Why should I do it? I said, “Because you’re tasked with innovation.”

 

He said, “Oh, you’re right. Let’s do it.” This thing called the Embedded Artists Programme which is a platform for using artists and bringing cultural perspectives to the daily work of the city was born out of this accidental knowledge capture into this document.

 

Sam: The Embedded Artists project, what sorts of things that people get involved in?

 

Frances: The pilot programme which ran in Chicago from 2008 to ’12 was just two artists, myself and another artist. I worked principally at the beginning in the planning office working on the 20, 40, food plan and the idea there would be that I could help them understand the cultural dimension of food planning. However, that engagement was not so fruitful because the outcome was already determined which is to say we were going to write a planning document and I just became one more researcher.

 

You might say an ethnographer could probably have done the same work that I did. My next placement was with the Department of Environment where a very insightful commissioner assigned me to the brownfields division and to her best engineer. Rather than giving us an outcome, she posed a question to us. Her question was actually three questions. One was, “What is a sustainable brownfield cleanup? What does that look like? How do we think about that?”

 

The next question was, “How can this city get practical experience doing an alternative remediation type?” For example like fight over mediation using plants which is what we ended up doing because I work a lot with plants and so I thought, “Oh that’s something that I can contribute to.” Then the third question was, “What can the city do with their 400 plus abandoned gas stations?” Which were all over the city, they revert to city ownership because when the tanks leak and people can’t clean them up, they stop paying property taxes on them and so they revert to city ownership.

 

The city ends up owning all these brownfields, small brownfields, small contaminated properties. What do we do with them? Having given us these three questions, she said, “Okay. Go off and come up with something.” In that framework because it was so open-ended, we began to work on possibilities and came up with this programme called Slow Cleanup and in Slow Cleanup, we realised that if we could identify a much broader range of plants that can clean up petroleum, that we could create a wide range of new urban landscape topologies in the city.

 

We work with the soil scientist and AP Schwab, Dr. Schwab of Purdue University and tested 80 plants, 80 native ornamental plants that had never been tested for petroleum cleanup. We did identify 12 new ones and with the likely prospect of quiet a few more. We didn’t invent the science, we just applied the science to a new set of plant materials knowing that that would then facilitate a whole new kind of urban design.

 

That was a really terrific outcome. There were all kinds of secondary knowledge that were produced. For example, we figured out a new soil prep method that kept all the soil out of the landfills. We involved students in from four communities of practise in the project so value was created at every step of the project.

 

Sam: That has led to larger scale work. I’ve been looking at pictures of The 606 collection of projects. That’s a large park.

 

Frances: Yes, it is. Three miles.

 

Sam: How did that come about?

 

Frances: There were a number of steps between the gas station project. I went off and did a project with Lima, Peru and did some other projects with other city governments but eventually got pulled into The 606 in an interesting way. The people that were doing The 606, it’s a public private partnership so that was the trust republic land, the city of Chicago and the Chicago Park District.

 

The 606 which was originally called the Bloomingdale Trail because it was on Bloomingdale Avenue, is a rail to trails conversion project. It’s an elevated train line, train spur and it was being turned into a bike path and greenway. There had been a phase one which was the public consultancy project and there was some dissatisfaction among people in the city with the level of ideas that were being put forward.

 

I was hearing quite a bit about this and these were the same people in the city that the people from planning that I had done on the food project and the people from Department of Environment, these were the same people involved and they were dissatisfied with where it was going. The project that we did in Cleveland actually involved the trail even though we ended up working slag cement instead but I had produced quite a few documents about integrating art and cultural perspectives into a bike trail.

 

I ended up giving them all of these documents. I mean, why not? We weren’t using them and I said, “Here’s a lot of work. Maybe you can use this. Here, have it added.” I just gave them all of these documents. I remember Cathy Dickhead in planning saying, “This is already more ideas than they’ve come up with in a year.” I’m like, “Good luck with that.”

 

Lo and behold in the next few weeks after giving away all of these good ideas, they came back to us and invited … They came back to me. I always say us because all of my work has become a plural so I just don’t even use the pronoun I anymore, but in this case, they came back to me and invited me to be the lead artist for the design team, the phase two design team which was the team that was going to actually design the trail.

 

What was interesting here was that because there had not been enough ideas in the phase one we had to do the phase one and the phase two at the same time. It was very fast, very large. It’s a three-mile stretch of city and a fairly contentious process and just one thing about that. There was an artist in phase one who was a terrific artist but they had not been working at the scale of the city.

 

They had been working with murals and community-based projects. I think that the reason that I was able to help them in a different way was because I had done these other projects that had ramped up the scale at which I could be created. I had done it gradually overtime from the Cleveland project, the gas station, the work in Lima. By the time I got to The 606, I had figured out how to think at that scale.

 

Artists are not trained to think at that scale, urbanists are. Even for the landscape designers and the engineers, there were 38 bridges on this project, three miles of landscape. It goes to four distinct neighbourhoods that are quiet broad in their profiles. Being able to work at that scale allowed me to do something that I couldn’t have done 20 years before. There was a direct link between Embedded Artists and The 606 in that they came to me because I have that capacity.

 

Sam: Ramping up the scale in which you can be creative, this is not you painting large areas more quickly, this is changing the way in which you work?

 

Frances: Correct. Yes I am coming out of sculpture and the built world and gardens. I’m talking about the work that I do is with soil and pavement. I consider sculpture one of what they called world-making traditions in terms of the built world. I am not my own work. I do some drawings. It’s funny coming out of printmaking but it’s so long ago. My work is with a three dimensional world and living systems with plant systems and water systems, et cetera. By this time I have got quite a bit of experience doing that.

 

Sam: If you have to classify it, you see the whole park or the whole or the whole bits of the plant perhaps as sculptures. Is that how you see it in your head? How does it work?

 

Frances: It’s interesting. The nature of this thing, it can be seen in many ways. It is a transportation quarter. It is heritage infrastructure. Some people likened it to a charm bracelet with charms along the way because there were many, many different pocket parks and sites and interventions. Some were pure designs, some were pure art.

 

For example, there are four locations for large scale commissions, art commissions. Inside that would happen at a smaller scale than what I was operating, but in another way, I did actually without telling anyone conceptualise it as a three-model sculpture. It was a little game I played with myself. At one end, we have an observatory and it is a convex mount. The other end, we had planned a skate park which was not really a skate bowl, it was a plaza style skate park but it was concave.

 

Then perhaps my signature idea that has the most of my intellectual DNA on it is a planted line that runs the full length of the trail that connects the two. This planted line is a climate monitoring planting based on what’s called phrenology which is where you look at bud burst to see microclimate. Because we are east-west in relation to Michigan, the trail is a climate monitoring instrument de facto because of this floral planting that we put.

 

I didn’t really call out to anyone that if you think of … Maybe you can imagine this. If you have a ball at one end and a ball at the other end, concave and convex mirror images of themselves, connect it to a line up the middle, you basically have a baton shape, a three-model baton shape. I never call that out to anyone until it was all done because I thought that … It started because we were doing a line and we were doing the observatory.

 

Then when the skate park happened I began to realise this form was shaping and it became a fun game for myself to see if I could pull it off. I didn’t tell anyone until it was all done and when I did, there was an audible gasp in the room because I thought it would seem megalomaniacal to say, “And by the way, I just made this thing into a three-model object.” It was a fun game for me to think in those terms. I don’t know if that’s what you’re talking about.

 

Sam: How do you go about making a city sculpture? if you were commissioned to make a sculptural whatever, is it the same sort of process for approaching a city degradation problem?

 

Frances: What is sculpture? You’re talking about sculpture as an object, but sculpture expanded beyond the objects many years ago. In the early 70’s, Rosalind Krauss wrote an article called Sculpture in the expanded field where she was talking about art works that had already become earth works, site works and sculpture was returning to its relationship to landscape and architecture which of course is where it was until 100 years before because if you think about the public monument which has an architectural base and maybe it’s a got a guy on a horse or something, this commemorative monument that was always sited, contextualised part of public memory.

 

It was civic. It was frequently tied to some kind of celebratory memorial nature. It was tied to the architecture of the space around it and this thing that we call the sculpture was contextualised in relationship to site and architecture. When sculpture came off of that kind of work and jump off the pedestal and then ran into the art gallery, it left its relationship to place site, civic, and architecture and landscape. It left all of that.

 

By the 60’s and 70’s sculpture was running back out the door and trying to reconnect to all of those things. Krauss calls this the expanded field. In many of their minds, the field of sculpture, we call that the Big Bang or I do anyway and call it Big Bang Moment when sculpture re-expanded and has really just kept expanding.

 

Even though there are people who make objects called sculptures, the field of sculpture has now expanded into what we call sculptural practises or a whole series of expanded practises, critical practises. This includes artist working like I do in ecology, artist working in an urban conditions, artists working with what’s called social practise, artists working with media performance and film video, artists working in all kinds of expanded practises.

 

In many art schools, this lives in the sculpture department. Why does it live there because sculpture is the big tent. It’s the place where whatever goes on in the world, goes on in sculpture. Sculpture as a discipline has become this broad enterprise of practises that include object making but are not limited to it. It’s the home for all of the artistic orphans that don’t seem to go anywhere else. We sometimes joke that if isn’t a painting and it isn’t a photograph and it isn’t something else you can name, it’s a sculpture.

 

Sam: Back to your question, what do artists know? If you were the city planner who’s been told to sort out derelict areas, suburbs, something, why should you involve an artist?

 

Frances: Several reasons. One is for their cultural literacy. For example, if you want to pull forward, contextual dimensions of the site, of the population of the community, this would be a great way to do it. Second reason would be if there are technical challenges about this site, it floods, it’s contaminated, it needs economic revitalization, something and people have tried conventional methods and they have failed.

 

Now artists are not miracle workers but sometimes we have other ideas about things that could be tried. This could be understood as an innovation, but the artists frequently think about things differently and they might see other possibilities. This is what I call the imaginative potential of our artists to deal with issues that where other people see no solutions. Sometimes this is because artists may understand the nature of the condition differently.

 

We call this problem finding rather than problem solving. Maybe it’s not about solving the problem, maybe it’s about understanding that the problem is actually a symptom of some other condition. Artists have been very good at doing a different kind of analysis of what’s going on such that they might be able to offer a different approach.

 

Sam: You may or may not get “artworks” out of that?

 

Frances: The artworks is a completely different question. On the one hand, we’re really talking now about the artists as cultural agent. We’re not talking about the production of artworks. Now, we could say many years ago, it became pretty obvious and this is really a function of logic that the only place you can get art is from artists that there is a necessary and sufficient condition between artists and artworks.

 

What is art? It’s what artists do. What are artists? People who make art. When you involve artists, you could argue that in some way you’re going to get something we could understand as art, but this frequently gets you mired in the question where people want to argue whether or not the product is art which I find a really unproductive place to head. I have turned off the question of art. I changed the channel. I like to say for sure I’m an artist out of habit training and inclination and for sure the work is cultural. The question of art, who knows? Too soon to say.

 

Sam: You talked about ramping up the scale at which you could be creative and you’re currently working at the city suburb level. Can you keep going, scaling up? Is there an optimum at which you think you could operate?

 

Frances: Interestingly, I’ve gone the other direction. After working on The 606, I came away from that project longing to work at a more intimate scale. That and a number of other factors have led me to work around the bottom of the lake in Gary, Indiana. Gary is a smaller city. It’s lost population. It has a lot of available land that needs re-imagining. It needs a new economy because Gary was built as a steel city. US Steel, it was a company town and like it has suffered the faith of company towns.

 

When steel production moved elsewhere, the economy fell apart. People with options left and the people who don’t have as many options have stayed. Gary as a city has got a very extreme version of the post-industrial issues of cities in the great lakes. This has captured my imagination but it also is a place full of possibility.

 

When I did the climate monitoring planting on the 606, the plant that we used called the apple serviceberry, the Amelanchier x grandiflora is actually a member of the apple family. The reason that it’s a great climate indicator is because it’s temperature sensitive. Most fruiting plants are temperature sensitive because the way they bloom, they have to bloom after frost in temperate climates, after frost has passed so that the frost doesn’t kill the fruiting bud and then the fruit.

 

They’re great climate indicators because of that and there also they tend to be beautiful. We all know about the famous Japanese Cherry Blossom Festival which was actually the source, this source idea for that project because people don’t know that the cherry blossoms, the Japanese have … It’s a cultural festival. They have been writing down the bloom date of the cherry bloom since 720 AD. That dataset is one of the most important climate datasets that we have and it was produced by culture. It was by the appreciation of beauty. It was not produced by science and it was not produced by social responsibility.

 

Part of what I had been interested in is can we use this beauty, this engagement with the blooming spectacle to raise consciousness and to engage. On The 606, it was used to raise consciousness of the proximity to the lake and the lake microclimate, but that became … I was calling pink infrastructure, infrastructure for climate awareness.

 

I really wanted to extend that idea. Part of my interest in Gary is that as you moved east around the bottom of Lake Michigan you move towards the Michigan fruit belt. The soils under Chicago are clay, but as the time you get to the bottom of the lake, they turn into sandy lake plain soils. You have the advantageous microclimate tempered by the lake, but you also have improved fruit soils.

 

I began to wonder if a new fruit economy could be … An improvement in the food shed could be developed in Gary. Because I was interested in working at a smaller, more intimate scale, the project that I’ve started with some other people there in the community is a community orchard. Rather than start this through the city even though I’m in conversation with the city and they support the project and they’ve given us some parcels and we can’t do it without them, I am really playing this through the local community.

 

We identified some master gardeners and environmental specialists that live in the neighbourhood and we are it very much bottom up and a small scale and if we can do this orchard as prototype, we might grow ourselves a big programme but we’re going to do it in the opposite way from The 606.

 

Sam: I have some questions to and with. What’s your go-to definition of sustainability?

 

Frances: I hear people say that no one knows what it is. I think this is absolutely incorrect. I think that lots of people know what it is. It’s aspirational. What we don’t know … To me sustainability isn’t aspirational statement. What we disagree with what is contentious is what might the model be. What would be the important components. That’s where you always see those Venn diagrams and then how do you model that in reality, what does that look like?

 

I find multiple models of sustainability useful. I really like the Guattarian model that I mentioned to you, technosphere, semiosphere, biosphere, that model. The idea of attending to all of those systems but that is really academic and abstract. A lot of people for example in business and the city can’t deal with that. They want to use the so-called triple bottom line and it’s been very useful for me just to add the fourth pillar to that.

 

I think critical because one of the problems with the triple bottom line is if you look the qualities, they want it to be viable something unbearable. I think the word is bearable. Who wants to live in a world that … I don’t aspire to bearable. It sounds dreadful.

 

Sam: Hardly inspirational.

 

Frances: Hardly inspirational. Quality of life has to get in there. We’ve got to have that hopeful vitality piece. To me, this is not mysterious. It is not difficult to explain what it is. If you understand it is aspirational and what’s difficult us getting people to change their behaviours.

 

Sam: We’re writing a book of these conversations. We’re calling it tomorrow’s heroes. How would you describe your superpower?

 

Frances: My superpower?

 

Sam: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

 

Frances: You mean what I think I’m really good at? What do you mean by superpower?

 

Sam: What are you bringing to this good fight?

 

Frances: I am a really terrific documenter. I joke that I’m an expert generalist. I think that this actually, this dot connecting and this double agency that I mentioned, comes directly out of the knowledge of the way artists are educated and trained. The ability of artists to see connections among what we might call asymmetrical data. We are excellent at pattern and system recognition, dot connecting and that ability to synthesise things that don’t seem to go together I think is something, maybe our best trick.

 

Sam: What’s the biggest success you’ve had in the last couple of years?

 

Frances: I think the climate monitoring planting on The 606 would have to be up there. The reason for that is I’m going to be dead and off the planet by the time we know whether or not it worked, but if the Japanese Cherry Blossom Festival can produce climate awareness but in an embodied way, in a deeply cultural way, the idea that these floral display along this bike path might change consciousness in a way that is beyond language, beyond mere quantification.

 

I think we have a shot at that. It seems almost inevitable if we can get the plants to become established and to live. I think that that is bound. I’m convinced that will do its magic with or without a citizen science programme, with or without anyone even knowing it’s working. I don’t mind that subversive approach. I don’t mind not having people know that anybody had that in mind.

 

Sam: Do you consider yourself to be an activist?

 

Frances: I do consider myself to be an activist now but in that way that we described earlier in that subversive way that I am interested in changing people’s behaviour. I am working for the nonhuman users of the planet, not just the human users. I’m interested in doing something that actually changes the future and not just changes the short-term political conversation.

 

Sam: You might have just answered this but what motivates you?

 

Frances: I think I just answered this.  The nonhuman users, that’s what actually motivates me because we’re taking … if we survive, we’ll survive but we will take out a lot of species with us and I actually find the ethics of that intolerable. We have to get our act together.

 

Sam: What challenges are you looking forward to in the next couple of years?

 

Frances: I think this new orchard project of the idea that there might be a small fruit economy to be had in this area that really needs … The people there really need new options and I’m very excited about … I consider it about a 10-year project. One thing we didn’t talk about, I don’t think, I’m very interested in this idea of long time, working in long time.

 

We live in a culture of tweets and short political cycles and short media cycles and yet climate change, fruit growing, consciousness, these things happen in long time. I’m really interested in working in these projects that unfold over a long period of time and change people’s conception of time. I might even say that working with time and space as malleable plastic media is the new sculpture.

 

Sam: Are they going to be unfolding over such a long time that you have to relinquish the artist tag on them because all the people are going to be changing it over time.

 

Frances: I already have. What we’re saying about the project in Gary because I’ve already began speaking about what our creativity model is and we’re calling it co-creativity. The very first thing that I did when I got this idea and we were seeking some funding for it is identified my core community partners and invited them to join me in what we’re calling the community orchard collaborative. Walter Jones who’s a long term resident of the Emerson neighbourhood. [Deb Backus 00:55:05] who’s a resident and the environmental engineer.

 

I invited them to immediately become my core collaborative. From the beginning it must be co-creativity and with the city partners because this is not Frances’ orchard. That makes no sense in any way including the question of what happens as I age? By the time the fruit is ready to produce, I will be in my 70’s. It’s got to belong to someone else.

 

Sam: It’s got to belong to people who aren’t born yet. They have to see it as an artwork?

 

Frances: No. I don’t even talk about it as an artwork.

 

Sam: They have to see it as something they want.

 

Frances: Most of what I’m talking about does not need to be seen as an artwork. For people interested in art in the future of art, we can go often talk about it as an artwork but the principal thing is for them to see it as an orchard and we are going to plant in a little bit of an unusual way in a wedge that shows the time that different plants take to become productive.

 

It will form a green wedge that likens itself to the progression of time and our motto is it’s about time. I think that people will see it and go, “Oh, this is a little unusual. This is a little different.” It will be very legible, the time factor in this. That might make them talk about whether or not it’s an artwork. I don’t know but for me it’s primarily making time legible and it’s really a form of embodied environmental education and that’s what’s important about it. If we don’t produce any fruit, it’s all for naught. It’s got to be a productive fruitscape or else what the heck are you doing.

 

Sam: Two more questions. If you could wave a magic wand and have a miracle occur, what would it be?

 

Frances: Orchards all over Gary.

 

Sam: Lastly, do you have any advice for our listeners?

 

Frances: I have an insight that I’ll offer up and people can chew on it over their breakfast cereal if they’re so inclined or whatever and that is that all of human activity is essentially cultural that it is all artifactual. It is all cultural. We need to see ourselves as the way anthropologists would see us. if we can begin to see ourselves, the way anthropologists would see us and see that all of our activity is cultural, is part of the semiosphere that we would begin to see how value driven our decisions are and maybe have a better chance at understanding how to change our behaviours towards something more sustainable.

 

Sam: Thank you very much for joining me.

 

Frances: You’re welcome. Thanks for having me.

 

Sam: You’ve been listening to Sustainable Lens: Resilience on Radio, a weekly show on sustainability topics brought to you by Otago Polytechnic. The show is co-hosted by Shane Gallagher and me, Samuel Mann. We’re broadcasting on Otago Access Radio, oar.org.nz and podcast on sustainablelens.org. On sustainablelens.org we’re building up a searchable archive of conversations with people from many different fields who are applying their skills to a sustainable future. In our conversations, we try to find out what motivates them and what it means to see the world through a sustainable perspective, through their sustainable lens.

 

Tonight’s sustainable lens was that of Frances Whitehead, a civic practise artist from Chicago and Gary, in the great lakes basins in the USA and professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. So many things there I really like. I like the last thing that we just talked about making time legible. I liked that idea a lot.  You can follow the links on sustainablelens.org to find us on Facebook to keep in touch, and you can listen to Sustainable Lens via iTunes and other places as well. That was Sustainable Lens, I’m Samuel Mann. I hope you enjoyed the show.

 

 

The image of Frances Whitehead is from Janeil Engelstad on Make Art With Purpose.

Categories
community development maori

Rejoicing in who we are

Pita Tipene

Pita Tipene is of Ngāti Hine and Ngāpuhi and has an educational background having taught in Tai Tokerau secondary schools and worked in a number of regional and national administrative roles in the education sector. His is the current chairman of the Ngāti Hine Forestry Trust and has a number of other governance roles amongst his people including Deputy Chair of Te Runanga o Ngāti Hine, is on the Waitangi National Trust, and the Federation of Maori Authorities.

 

Sam: Welcome to Sustainable Lens: Resilience on Radio. A weekly show on sustainability topics brought to you by Otago Polytechnic. The show is co-hosted by Shane Gallagher, who’s not here tonight and me, Samuel Mann.  Shane is not here tonight because I’m in Northland, in Kawakawa in the offices of Pita Tipene of Ngāti Hine.
Pita:

 

 Mihi
Sam: Ngāti Hine, that’s the Hapū isn’t it?

 

Pita: Ngāti Hine is the Iwi.  Ngāti Te Tarawa the people who live in the valley of Motatau and surrounding valleys. It’s where I was raised. It’s the Hapū and part of the greater confederation of Hapū of Ngāpuhi here in Tai Tokerau Northland.

 

Sam: It’s a very active group. I’m seeing forestry and health centres and things?

 

Pita: Yeah we like to think that we’re very active on a whole number of fronts. We’re being left with a legacy of hundreds or thousands of years that people like me need to keep up with. We’re always focused on kaupapa. What’s the word for kaupapa? The various aspects that our ancestors have left for us. We remain focused on them principally. Our vision statement which Maori is Mau Ngāti Hine ano Ngāti Hine ekororo, which if you were to ask me what it means in English, it’s all about self-determination and self-reliance.

 

Sam: At this point I normally ask people where they grew up, but you’ve just answered it. Let’s just check. You grew up here?

 

Pita: I did. I grew up in Motatau, which is a small in valley in the inland valleys. I was schooled here in Motatau primary school till I was 14.  Then I went away to boarding school in Auckland. From there I went to university, and then I became a teacher and taught in Northland schools at Whāngārei Boys High and Bay of Islands College. Then I went into working with schools in Northland and eventually it led me into doing more local education work with the hapū, with the tribe. It has since led to a more political role.

 

Sam: Let’s go more slowly through that shall we? What was it like growing up?

 

Pita: It was fantastic growing up. When I look back I can see clearly, but when I was growing up I couldn’t see it. In hindsight we had the most wonderful parents and extended family. We were raised on a dairy farm. My job was to help milk cows, make fences and do all the other things you would otherwise do on a farm. We always had lots of food. We may not have been well off as some people would view prosperity, but certainly looking back we were surrounded with love and everything that we needed in life. Particularly the values I think that have led us to being what we are now.

 

Sam: What are those values?

 

Pita: Particularly Māori values. Looking after other members in our family, looking after the land, working hard, being industrious, making sure that we’re working with the rest of the community, and honesty, truthfulness, all of those virtues that you beg were to surround the world, I think.

 

Sam: I imagine that the dairy farms then weren’t as intensive as dairy farms are now.

 

Pita: Certainly not. Every family, of which they would have been 50 families in our local community, had between 20 to maybe 80 cows. The milking sheds were very small. We produced cream not milk. We raised calves for the following years and pigs and every other kind of animal. That allowed our family to be self-sustainable, but it also allowed us to support other people in the community and particularly the marae, which was the focal point of the whole community where deaths were mourned and weddings, birthdays and every other celebration was held. We had to put our shoulder to the wheel by providing labour through everything else for the community good.

 

Sam: Does this still exist?

 

Pita: Yes it still very much does exist, although I think, and when I talked about legacy, our ancestor Kawiti who died in 1854, he was renowned here in Northland for leading the war against the English, the treaty of Waitangi having been signed in 1840. Five years later Kawiti and Hōne Heke led the war known … generally now it’s the Northern wars against the forces of the English. During those tumultuous times he made a number of prophesies. One of the lines he uttered was “kei poi pakeha koutou” which means you must not be assimilated in your ways into the English culture, which means retain your land as a basis for you to stand on. Retain your culture and your language and ensure that you stay together as a people and keep up your culture in order to sustain yourself over the long term.

 

Sam: Land, culture, language, how closely linked are those for you?

 

Pita: They are so closely intertwined. You can’t really divide them. Ngāti Hine is a tribe that is probably more well off than many others in that we retained most of our land. The land blocks if you go through places like Motatau and Matawaia which adjoin each other. All of that land is still owned by our families. That allows us to have a place to stand, to practice our culture. In 1975 a national research project was held about the state of Māori language in New Zealand. It was led by Dr. Richard Benton. The results of the survey said that there were only three places in New Zealand where today Māori was still spoken as an everyday language of conversation.

 

Those being Ngāti Hine, Tuhoe – that you would know – and Te Kawa in the very far north. When you look at what all those places have in common, they are a little bit more isolated than most places and it’s allowed the culture to be retained and to flourish.

 

Sam: You saw a pathway that led you out of those valleys. You wanted to be a teacher. What prompted that?

 

Pita: I didn’t want to be a teacher. I was led down that path. I could have taken a number of paths, but there were little things in life that lead you down a particular path. One of those being in about 1973, I was a 12 year old some trainee teachers came from Auckland to teach in our school. They carried out a few tests of the students. When they took me aside and looked at the results of my tests, they made it pretty clear that I was … what I thought they were saying was is that I was above average. They made it very clear that I needed to figure myself to go to university and follow that path of learning and it really made a difference in my life.

 

I felt, “Well, maybe I do have some ability!” I didn’t really think that I had. That encouraged me. Somewhat all of my family went to boarding school and there are 10 of us. I’m number eight out of 10. I was sent to St. Stephen School just south of Auckland. Spent five years there and got all of the qualifications that were then available.

 

Sam: I talked to Chris Sarra from the Stronger Smarter Institute in Australia. He talked about the impact on him, an event that he particularly remembered was a teacher that was handing back an exam and said, “Sarra got 75%, must have been an easy test.” Two things that that did to him is one: It stopped him trying any harder because 75% must be good, but second, it made him realize that what teachers do and say is as important as what they teach.  About the expectations, that we need to raise the expectations. Every teacher needs to believe in every kid. It’s a similar thing to what those trainee teachers did for you is believed in you.

 

Pita: That’s not to take away anything from the teachers who taught me every day. I think they all had their particular ways. They all seemed to care. Some used the care, some used the stick. It all came together and worked. I think they were all trying to get the same results, which were to get me to try harder. Those were some of the methods that used to channel me on to a more positive pathway.

 

Sam: You eventually trained yourself to be a teacher?

 

Pita: Yeah. I went to university. Did a degree that focused on Te reo Māori as a major and also geography. Eventually I became a Te Reo Māori language teacher and a geography teacher. When you get into those environments and the people around you are all dedicated to achieving their goals, you get swept along as well.

 

Sam: Why geography?

 

Pita: I think geography because my geography teacher at St. Stephens was a very good teacher. She really gave me some impetus with the subject particularly given that it’s about people and it’s about land. I think I’ve always had a passion for people and land in terms of a social approach. It was very much my cup of tea.

 

Sam: Then you went to teacher training?

 

Pita: I did.  At first I came back here to the township of Moerewa. By then my wife and I had had a child, so I needed some money. I worked in a local freezing works for two years. I worked on the mutton chain.   In those days we got paid some big money. That helped us get established before I went back to training … teacher training in Auckland. Then began teaching in earnest at schools.

 

Sam: You taught in a variety of schools?

 

Pita: Not really. I only taught in two, but then I became an advisor to schools for Māori language. I travelled the length and breadth of all of the schools north of Auckland.

 

Sam: Eventually you found your way moving from that to you said to more local education?

 

Pita: Yeah to local education for Ngāti Hine and working with the local schools in this particular area. I have a passion for our people of Ngāti Hine. I wanted to focus my work on our own people which led me to getting into more political aspects of what Ngāti Hine was trying to achieve, which as I’ve said earlier was self-determination and self-reliance.

 

Sam: Why?

 

Pita: My father who died in 1979, I was 18 and was still in my last year in secondary school, had said to me prior to dying, passing away that…

 

Haere ki te wharewananga, ka reira koe ka matau ai, engari me hoki mai koe ki te kainga, konei koe ka mohio.

 

…which when translated means go away to university for there you will find knowledge and you will also get some qualifications, but ensure that you come home because here you will acquire … how would I describe it? Wisdom and common sense. To answer your question …

 

Sam: Did you understand what that meant then?

 

Pita: Not really. I’m still not sure that I understand it now to be honest. Ngāti Hine, we have our own customs than most. He was saying don’t ever lose the essence of what we are as a people because otherwise we could be anybody in the world. You will stand as a person based on those very cultural aspects and most that we have here in our unique valleys of Ngāti Hine. I’m still searching.

 

Sam: Tell me about the work you were doing when you said you were trying to focus on the local education, focusing on the local people. What were you doing on a day to day basis? What does that mean?

 

Pita: At first it was getting an education strategy for Ngāti Hine, but it’s grown into much more than that which is an overall strategy for Ngāti Hine, using our whānau, our families, our marae our cultural centres and our hapū to be self-sustainable. Above all things one of the focal points for us is to ensure that Ngāti Hine retains its sovereignty. As far as we’re concerned, our Rangatira or chief who signed the treaty of Waitangi with Governor Hopson in 1840, he uttered some words at that time and they were taken down, which basically said, “When everyone else signed on February the sixth 1840, he refused to sign because he said his chiefly authority would be undermined and he would no longer be able to do the things that he wanted to do.”

 

Which meant his tribe would not be able to do the things that they wanted to do. He didn’t sign. Although he signed a little bit later on and that’s famous in itself because even though he signed a long time after everyone else, his name was recorded as the first one because he signed above everyone else. Then five years later it precipitated a full scale war where many, many people were killed in this area. The upshot was is that the Governor pardoned Kawiti, pardoned is the word, and Ngāti Hine retained all of its land and still retains it now.

 

Above all things we want to retain our land. In fact we want to get our land back into our hands as a basis for our people to stand and grow and sustain themselves which is why I put my name up for election on a Ngāti Hine forestry trust. I’m now the chairman after being a trustee on there for the last 12 years. I’m also the deputy chairman for Ngāti Hine Whānau which is a tribal authority. At the base of the tribal authority are all 13 of marae. Membership or representation on the runanga, the tribal council has its membership through each of the marae. When I talk about Sovereignty, we prosecuted a case to the Waitangi Tribunal.

 

An independent inquiry set up here through statute of New Zealand. We prosecuted a case against the government, against the crown in 2010 and 2011. We had not ceded our sovereignty to the New Zealand Government and that in fact they had … achieved sovereignty in an underhand way. We spent five weeks of giving evidence. In 2014 the Waitangi Tribunal came back and upheld our case and said, “Yes there is a strong case that the hapū, including Ngāti Hine, have not ceded sovereignty.” In 2016 and beyond, we’ve got to look at what that means for us as a tribe here in this area and how in fact we will get back the authority that was once ours in this area knowing full well that we only make up maybe 40% of the population in this area.

 

Sam: What would you like it to mean?

 

Pita: I think it means that, in my mind, that the lands of Ngāti Hine are back in our … under our administration and that we are administering governance as we see it. Sovereignty, when people talk about sovereignty, they invariably start talking about sovereignty in terms of political sovereignty. You get sovereignty that manifests itself through economic sovereignty, and when you look at some of the other tribes throughout New Zealand who’ve settled their treaty grievances against the government, say Ngāi Tahu in the South Island and Waikato Tainui, they got treaty settlement packages of 175 million in 1995.

 

Their books last year, they’d grown that well over a billion dollars. It comes down to having that economic muscle to do the things that you want to do in your area.

 

Sam: What do you want to do?

 

Pita: Ultimately we want to ensure that our people have the wellbeing and prosperity that they deserve. That is their right because every statistic at the moment will tell you that we are an impoverished people even though they have wealth in their own ways as I did when I was a child. We’ve got to work on improved wellbeing because our health statistics are terrible, and prosperity to have a high standard of living. That doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re cash rich. In terms of prosperity we want to have options in this world. We want our children to stand anywhere in the world with confidence and competence.

 

If they’re to do that, they need a tool-box full of all the skills they can stand on good stead anywhere in the world. Above all things they must have their language and their culture that belongs to Ngāti Hine.

 

Sam: Pull all those things together you’re involved in several different aspects of it whether the trust, or however you’re managing it, in health and forest and education? They are all contributing to the same bigger picture?

 

Pita: They’re all contributing to the same aspiration, which is about self-reliance. I think key to that is education. I think that as much as you and I are both having a cup of tea, that’s an English Breakfast and it’s a manifestation of colonisation. That we have been well and truly colonised, and it’s what our ancestor Kawiti said in 1846 about being assimilated. I guess we … when I say education above all things, you can have skills like technological skills but we need to liberate our minds from our colonial past. At the same time, and this may sound very, very selfish, but just like any culture we want to take the best of what’s on offer while retaining all of the strengths that we have as a unique people.

 

Sam: What do you see as the future for this area? You haven’t mentioned tourism.  What’s the role of that in this area?

 

Pita: All of the economic areas that we have some strong resources, land, people, skills, the beauty of the Bay of Islands, all of those are attributes that would be foolish not to harness.  Tourism is one of those areas. I talk to people who administer the mini-cruise ships that are now coming into the Bay of Islands. If I put it this way in the 1820s and 30s, the Bay of Islands was full of ships that came in for wailing and what have you. When the sailors came to the Bay of Islands after several months at sea they wanted certain things. Our local chiefs used to provide them with all of the things that a sailor might want.

 

That’s no different in 2016 when large cruise ships with anything between 2,000 and 5,000 passengers come in. They’re all wanting something different and Ngāti Hine needs to pull its shoulder to the wheel to help provide opportunities for tourists to come inland and also make use of the money that they have in their wallets. Just like anything else we’re looking for prosperity in a number of ways and tourism is one of them.

 

Sam: We’re in Kawakawa, which is famous for two things:  Hundertwasser toilets and a train line down the middle of the road.  Maybe that’s why it’s so famous with my family.

 

Pita: What’s probably not known very much is we have the final Pā which is the defensive fort.  Ruapekapeka … the battle of Ruapekapeka 1845/46 it’s a place that people get a chill running up their spine when they go there because although the palisades, defences have been taken down, the ditches and the defensive ramparts are all still there and the  stories are still there. You’ve got the Waiomio caves. You’ve got a whole lot of marae. You can go anywhere in the world but the only place that you’re going to meet Māori, feel their customs and see their customs and experience those things are in places like Ngāti Hine.

 

Sam: What would you do for the money? Would you mine?

 

Pita: Mine minerals?

 

Sam: Yeah.

 

Pita: Depending we always look at things on a case by case basis. If there is any possibility of it being detrimental to the environment then the answer would be no. If they could be extracted in a way that’s safe for all concerned and we’ve got proof for that, yeah we’d consider it.

 

Sam: With any of those economic activities, there is a balance. The forestry will be having an impact on the water quality. It’s almost impossible to avoid. Do you have a world view about how those things are managed, those tensions are managed?

 

Pita: Certainly from a Ngāti Hine forestry trust I am the chairman. Our people as shareholders make it very, very clear that they’re not happy with the Pinus radiata  we have over our lands. We’ve therefore come up with a strategy of what we call a mosaic approach. We will return the land to its natural cover, natural vegetation, but there’ll be an intergenerational approach but we need to start now. We’re looking at manuka as a way of retaining some cash flow. We’re forced to re-plant pine again in some areas. In the mosaic approach means we’ll look at native trees allowing to regenerate on some blocks.

 

Actually planting some ourselves to ensure that we’re starting the mosaic approach. Eventually we don’t want to have Pinus radiata out there on our lands. Although I think we need a lot more science around the environmental questions that are posed. Much of it is perception. We need the science.

 

Sam: You’re encouraging people to go off to university to get science?

 

Pita: Yeah, certainly. We’re really, really keen to get our people involved in all aspects of the work that we’re doing. We haven’t got … We’re probably a little bit better off. I’m not being arrogant about this. We’re probably a little bit better off than some of the other Hapū and Iwi tribes in Northland, but still we’re nowhere near the capacity and capability. We need to achieve the vision in a quick way.

 

Sam: Still quite a lot of those logs getting shipped off to Korea or wherever it is.

 

Pita: Yeah. We’re not pleased with it which is why our forestry trust is providing some leadership for all similar sized trusts in Northland to come together because we know that critical mass is needed if we’re going to control the value chain. That’s what it’s all about really in the end. One thing is to understand the value chain because for far too long people like me have been passive managers of their own land. All of our block had been leased out to a foreign company. They had the stumpage rights so eventually although we got an annual lease, they took the logs, and had control over the logs. The majority of them would have been sent overseas.

 

Some would have supplied the domestic mills, which give our local people jobs. In the end we want greater value add. We haven’t got the capital to provide the startup for any value added mills. We just need to get into a position where we can collectively, and so far we’ve got over 50,000 hectares of trusts and other entities who have created a coalition on Northland of mighty land owners. We can now say to potential investors, “We can supply you with certainty over a long period because we have 50,000 hectares plus of Pinus radiata. If you’re willing to invest, we will enter into some partnership to ensure that everyone benefits, including our local communities,” because we don’t want to continually see logs being shipped off overseas and then returned as a table that you and I are now sitting around.

 

Sam: Not just paper mills, you’re trying to build the furniture?

 

Pita: Aye too, but boutique industries where small towns and communities can work together with a collective strategy.

 

Sam: You’re about to lose your railway?

 

Pita: By all accounts.

 

Sam: Not the steam one, the real one.

 

Pita: Yeah. They call it mothballing which is the same thing. The moment you mothball something it will deteriorate. We need a government that is going to invest in our local community and our region. I think they are but for political reasons that anything else.

 

Sam: As far as that is the … back to the geography in both of us being able to see the whole system as a system and as separate bits. Is probably what leads to things like closing railways because the railway is not paying for itself but we’re having to invest so much money on the road. Those two things don’t ever get on the same bit of paper.

 

Pita: I think there’s a bit of siloed thinking. One thing that I can commend the government for is that I think they bring a more holistic strategy to their approach. Different ministries and agencies within the government are really only interested in their own imperatives and the KPIs that each of the CEOs have on their contracts. That forces them to think in isolated ways.

 

Sam: I’m told you have grandchildren. When they have grandchildren how do you want them to be living how do you see them living?

 

Pita: It’s like when I said to you when we first started this interview, do you want me to speak in English? I want them to be able to speak in English because it’s a fantastic global language but I also want them to speak to their Māori or te reo Ngāti Hine. I want them to … I suppose I’m trying to articulate what our mission is all about which is to allow them to be strong Ngāti Hine people based on their own language and culture.  Stand anywhere in the world with all the other skills that they need to do that as well. I want them to be proud of who they are because I think in general subliminally that our people are … think of themselves as second class citizens. We’re slowly but truly breaking out of that mould.

 

Sam: For not knowing their background detail, I don’t think that anybody I’ve spoken to in the last couple of days is not proud of who they are. Maybe you think something different because you’re closer to it. You’ve seen behind the curtain.

 

Pita: I know quite a few Māori and Ngāti Hine who are not proud of who they are. I’m not necessarily talking as though, how can I say this? When I say that within themselves, they put themselves down because they see themselves as a second … that being Māori is not right so they purposely suppress themselves without even knowing it. Maybe subliminally there’s something in their makeup that’s telling them that they’re not up there and that anybody with white skin is. I go even further to say that many of the institutions that run this country and provide education, health and every other services institutionally racist towards Māori as well.

 

Sam: In expectation?

 

Pita: In expectation and in practice. I can give countless examples. All other things are changing for the good. There was a time not only women did not have the vote but Māori didn’t have the vote. That tells you what people were thinking of Māori and women. Things have obviously changed over time. There was also a time not long ago when Māori were led into more hands on subjects, practical things. They couldn’t do math and science. They had to go and do wood-turning and things like that. Although much has changed in our education system, there are still those subliminal aspects. You can hear it in people’s everyday language.

 

They say, “Oh I’ve got a lot of Māori in our harvesting group because they’re good at that work,” which tells you they are better for holding a chainsaw than being the manager.

 

Sam: Is there a short term effect for that or do we have to … is that long term? Is that getting the kids when they’re young believing that they can do it and taking them right through that chain? Can we be the ambulance of the ultimate cliff or do we have to …

 

Pita: Oh no the whole system needs change. When you look at it, our education system was brought over from where you come from, from England. Its very core is to retain power and authority in a certain class. Even in England the lower classes were suppressed and weren’t offered an education that would bring them up into and have abilities like the upper class would have. The system we have in New Zealand is still a carryover from that. Even though we’ve slowly but truly tried to change it.

 

Sam: You are changing it with things like the education trust?

 

Pita: Yes. Certainly. It’s why our grandchildren go to Kura Kaupapa where everything they’re taught is taught in Te Reo Māori. That’s really trying to break them out of the mould and unshackle them from colonial thinking.

 

Sam: This show is called “sustainable lens”. I don’t hear the term sustainable much around here and our mutual friend Philip Crawford describes that as because it’s more a way of living than a thing you do. You don’t do it anyway then green it. This is the way of being. What’s your take on sustainability and what you’re trying to achieve?

 

Pita: I think that sustainability is a term that’s thrown around a lot but understood. People don’t actually stop to think what it means, myself being one of those. I think it’s really akin to the word that I use that’s central to our vision statement which is self-reliance. We just need to sustain ourselves as people through the future. What that means is that as individuals, as families, as Māori, in our cultural sectors and as a tribe, we need to be able to rely on ourselves for food, and every other aspect that will ensure that we have well-being, that we’re healthy and that we have prosperity. I guess that manifests itself at the moment.

 

We would have the highest… some of the highest percentages or numbers of people that reliant to live everyday through benefits from the government. That’s really what we don’t want. Having real jobs, warm, safe, secure homes, really at the basis of sustaining ourselves, growing our own food to ensure that we are reliant on ourselves.

 

Sam: If and when you get a treaty settlement, if or when, how are you going to stop the calls for a big party? The ones that are for handing out cash? Because it sounds to me like you’re going to be wanting to invest in jobs and homes.

 

Pita: Yeah. The answer to your question will be when not if.  When it does come, we want to ensure that it’s being controlled by the people in each of the areas so that I’m not a great believer in the trickle-down theory.  While on one hand we need to keep some critical mass of funds that can be managed for the greater good. There really has to be some injection of real funds into the communities without breaking down the critical mass. It’s a fine balance between keeping generic pull to invest and distributing it amongst the people to get immediate change. Provide some impetus in the communities.

 

That’s going to be the trick as far as I’m concerned. I’m very, very conscious of the fact that treaty settlements are not the vision. There are already a number of initiatives that are happening in terms of economic and social improvement like Māori first re-collective like Te Matarau Education Trust that Phil Alexander Crawford is involved in.   We come in to give on a regional basis. To get our heads around the problems but more importantly to put in place the solutions of which the treaty settlement is all about.  If you can get millions of dollars them I would like it to be 1% of the general loss of land and other assets over the last couple of hundred years.

 

While that is always hugely frustrating, we need to use any cash settlement in any other part of the general settlement like the return of lands for the benefit of our people.

 

Sam: What’s the biggest success you’ve had in the last couple of years?

 

Pita: It’s a very good question. If you were … If I was to think of something tangible, it would be the sale of our forest within our general forests where we made a stumpage sale to foreign firm, foreign company. They paid cash up front, put it in the bank account. That’s something you can see easily its really tangible. There’s money in the bank. Our ancestors had grown trees for that very purpose and we managed it carefully. On another more general way I think it’s the ability of our people here in Ngāti Hine to come together on a regular basis and celebrate who we are because it’s the relationships that are more important and to celebrate success.

 

We hold festivals where our people come back from wherever they may live in the world mostly from Auckland. We celebrate who we are on our local marae. It’s over a couple of days and it’s just fantastic to see people on the stage and the food it’s cooked and everything else that are part of festivals. The people rejoice in who they are.  In a more intangible way there are some real success stories like that. In another couple of months for instance we’ve invited all of our people and their literally could be hundreds who kayak down our local river from the three bridges north of this town down to the Opua Wharf.

 

It’s a 13k trip and we start the river will be hopefully wide enough to fit a kayak. What was once our state highway number one we went … we plied the river now there’s nobody who knows the river. By getting down in a kayak, we can see some of the environmental issues that we’re faced with. Spiritually we are very much part of the river and the river is very much part of us.  In terms of successes you can measure them in ways like that. Other things, I’m the chairman at our Motatau Marae. It took us five years to rebuild our dining room, kitchen, ablution block. It was a huge community to gather together I would say three million dollars fund raising and acquiring grounds.

 

In the end it’s a magnificent building. It serves our people well. More importantly the journey of collecting the money and building was absolutely fantastic.

 

Sam: That’s similar to that ‘rejoicing in who they are’ stuff, isn’t it?

 

Pita: It always is. That’s the best stuff. The money you can go and get that and put it in the bank and use it wisely but it’s the people relationships that are more important. It always comes down to the fact that we like to express ourselves as a people in our own unique ways.

 

Sam: We’re writing a book of these conversations. We’re calling it Tomorrow’s Heroes as if we’re writing it 20 years in the future looking back at the work that people are doing now, people such as yourself and whether or not you want to put yourself on that pedal stall and describe yourself as a hero, I’ll do that for you. What is your super power? What is it you’re bringing to this good fight?

 

Pita: Nothing special at all that I bring. Probably the only thing that I bring is perseverance. I have no real skills but I’ll always keep my shoulder to the wheel. It gets really challenging at times. Putting your head above the parapets means a lot of people want to have a go at you. Those people are in the minority. The majority of people I think appreciate the work that we’re all doing. I’m very much a people person. I’m part of a team.

 

Sam: Do describe yourself as an activist?

 

Pita: In my own funny little way. I’m not and out activist but I like to say things absolutely plainly. I like to be forthright so people don’t misunderstand me.

 

Sam: What motivates you? What gets you out of bed in the morning?

 

Pita: Both my past and my future. As I said we have a legacy of a number of people. My parents for a start, grandparents, our rangitira Kawiti and Sir James Henare and Tau Henare, you could name quite a few people. In the end it’s all of them together who have left messages for us to pursue a goal of self-reliance. I just want to be part of that journey and to provide any leadership that I can. At the same time it’s going to be lovely to have our grandchildren living nearby so I pretty much see them every day. If I can take them to the kura to their school every morning, that’s a bonus. The conversations I have with them and the values that I try to install in them is a real motivation in itself.

 

Sam: Is that in terms of motivation in terms pure in the goal of self-reliance is it? What’s the driver there? Is that an obligation?

 

Pita: It really is an obligation. One of the sayings of Sir James Henare who was my dad’s first cousin who said “ma to werawera o tou rae te mahi o to iwi ka tu tangata ai koe” which means by the sweat of your brow and working for your people will you find … only then you will find fulfilment. You will not find it in cash; you will not find it anywhere else. You will find it in working for your people.

 

Sam: You have to stick your head above the parapet as you said to achieve that.

 

Pita: Yeah, somebody has to. There’s a lot of reluctance by some to do that. They don’t want to be in that world but I realise that I have to amongst a number of others.

 

Sam: What challenges are you looking forward to in the next couple of years?

 

Pita: I’m looking forward to our tribe Ngāti Hine withdrawing from Te Rūnanga-Ā-Iwi O Ngāpuhi. That’s provided for in legislation. We’re working through that we’re down to the last parts of the complaints which will allow Ngāti Hine to govern itself without any interference. Also to bring about a treaty settlement that’s a fair as possible because it’s never going to be fair. That’s got a whole lot of challenges in itself. About all things it’s about my own family. You can’t really look anywhere else and think you’re going to play a part if you can’t get your own house in order particularly around the grand children and making sure that they’re able to be raised in an environment that’s safe and secure.

 

Sam: How close have you managed to pull off the community-land-people connection that you had growing up for your family? Have you tried?

 

Pita: Yeah to a certain extent. I look back and I think I’ve got a few regrets in how we raised our own children. You get a second chance when your grandchildren are around. Most people try to learn from your mistakes. There was a lifestyle in my 20s and 30s that was pursuing other things. Seeing that I’m absolutely proud of our children and that they are great people doing really well.

 

Sam: They’ve got the same passion?

 

Pita: At this stage of life yes. Some of these things grow on you. I was on a totally different drive when I was a 20 and a 30 year old. As some of the leaders in our own small communities start to pass away and you start looking around and you realise that you really have to step up and fill the bridge. It grows on you. Like many of my relatives they say “wow learning about our genealogy is a fantastic thing. Now I know what our parents were trying to tell us”.

 

Sam: If you could wave a magic wand and have a miracle occur when you wake up tomorrow morning, what would you like it to be?

 

Pita: It’s really to achieve the vision that our people in this area and I’m not just talking about Ngāti Hine, I’m talking about the surrounding tribes. The aspect that our ancestors were trying to achieve. I would like New Zealand to be a bilingual country. That you and I could speak Māori, speak te reo Māori as competently as we’re now speaking English. All of us like it’s just a normal way of life. That we’re not having to fight to have Māori as a way of living. I just think that little New Zealand doesn’t see that. What I see is a thing that we should be aspiring to. Certainly our politicians don’t either because they reflect middle New Zealand.

 

In a wider sense I want New Zealand to be a bi-cultural country. I mean bi-cultural not multi-cultural.

 

Sam: What’s the smallest thing that we could do that would make the biggest difference towards that?

 

Pita: For me it’s working with my own family getting my own house in order.

 

Sam: One question to end with then, do you have any advice for our listeners?

 

Pita: These really needs a lot more thought… I think that we’re all seeking to be a global community and to be truly global we need to both cultivate, strengthen and enhance the small villages that we have throughout the world. To retain that uniqueness and unity through diversity as a key. That’s what I believe in – as long as we can accept and understand the differences just looking what’s happening in other parts of the word that divergence of culture is leading to a lot of loss of life and some real anxieties in some parts of the world and we’re not … we’ve got obviously anxieties and challenges in our own community but be contrast we know some of the other things that are happening in other parts of the world.

 

Sam: Thank you very much for spending some time!

 

Pita: It’s my privilege. It’s really important that I reflect on some of the things that have happened in my life because I never get asked questions like these.

 

Sam: More than happy to oblige. You’ve been listening to Sustainable Lens: Resilience on Radio. A weekly show on sustainability topics brought to you by Otago Polytechnic. The show is co-hosted by Shane Gallagher and me Samuel Mann. We are broadcast on Otago Access Radio and podcast on SustainableLens.org. On SustainableLens.org we’re building an archive of conversations with people from many different fields who are applying their skills to a sustainable future. In our conversations we try to find out what motivates them and what it means to see the world through a sustainable perspective through their sustainable lens.

 

Tonight’s Sustainable Lens, he might not describe it that way, but let’s do that anyway was that of Pita Tipene from Ngāti Hine. You can follow our links on sustainablelens.org to find us on Facebook, to keep in touch and you can listen to Sustainable Lens on all poddy places as well. That was Sustainable Lens. I’m Samuel Mann. I hope you’ve enjoyed the show.

 

 

 

Categories
climate change community geography

inspirational community movements

Sean Connelly and Doug Hil

 

 Imagine. Imagine if the world was like this.

Shane: Our guests tonight are Dr Doug Hill and Dr Sean Connelly, both of Otago University Geography.  Sean has been on the show before so I’ll skip straight to Doug Hill. He got his BA at Australian National University and his PhD at Curtin University, Perth. His research interests include South Asia, especially India, development studies, geopolitics and trans-boundary water resources – we’ll talk to you about what they are – migrant labour, ports, labour restructuring in maritime trade, world development, participatory governance in West Bengal, urban transformation and socio-spatial segregation in India’s megacities. Both of them have just given a talk entitled, “Community Power: Exploring the process for change through the Clean Energy for Eternity campaign in New South Wales, Australia,” which we’ll talk about in detail shortly. Welcome to our show. Doug, you’re from Australia originally, yes?

 

Doug: I am, Shane, yes.

 

Shane: Where were you born?

 

Doug: I was born in Sydney, in St Leonards, which is a part of the northern part of Sydney. I lived there for only a couple of years and then my family moved to the country. For the majority of my childhood I grew up in a place called Tathra, which is in the far south coast of New South Wales, about halfway between Sydney and Melbourne, a little coastal town surrounded by forests, et cetera.

 

Sam: What did you want to be when you grew up?

 

Doug: I think, at that point I really wanted to be a pilot, because when I was about eight I took my first plane ride and it really gripped me that there was this great thing that you could do. My dad started talking to me about being a lecturer, actually. He was quite keen on history as a profession. Quite early on in my life I got this idea that this was a nice thing to do, go and work in a university. He particularly talked up this idea of a sabbatical, which thankfully here we still have.

 

Shane: So, you went to school. Was it kind of the idyllic Australian childhood, wandering round the forests and on the beaches. What was it like?

 

Doug: Yeah, it was relatively idyllic. It’s a small coastal town. A lot of people move there for lifestyle reasons, but having said that, it’s also an area that I guess was fairly socially not particularly progressive at the time that I was growing up. It’s an area where the dairy industry was predominant in that place, and so there’s fairly entrenched attitudes, I guess, around a whole a whole sorts of things. Relatively idealistic, but that always comes with those provisos about the lived experience, of what it’s like to grow up in a small country town.

 

Shane: Obviously your father was encouraging you to do history. What made you change direction? Was there anything in particular, or is it just that you gradually thought, “Hey, geography’s kind of cool”?

 

Doug: When I was at high school I was really interested in the political aspects. I was reasonably politically active as a high school student, and so when I went to university I started studying politics and economics in the first instance. The quantitative emphasis of economics completely lost me and so I started being drawn to development-type issues. A particular motivation for that was I had what now is called a gap year, in between leaving high school and going to university. I went to Nepal, Thailand, Indonesia, and really opened my eyes. Quite different from small, coastal Australia. That got me really fired up about development issues around the environment, et cetera. Gradually I shifted towards that kind of trajectory.

 

Shane: What did you do your PhD on at Curtin? What was that?

 

Doug: It was a study of some villages in West Bengal, which is an eastern State of India. At the time there had been quite a reformist-minded government in that State for the last 25 years. There was a lot of plaudits at that time for the capacity to be a model for the way that poverty alleviation might happen in rural development scenarios in eastern India. I was really interested in going and exploring that. I chose two different parts of a single district, one part of which had undergone agricultural intensification and there was a lot of increasing livelihood options for local people, and the other which continued to be fairly arid and the livelihood options in that part were quite constrained. I was looking at the differences that these things made in terms of the capacity of these institutions, which this government had brought in to try and initiate poverty alleviation.

 

Shane: Wow, so you obviously have a huge focus on India. What’s the fascination for you and where did that come from?

 

Doug: The initial moment is going to Nepal when I was 18 and being grasped by this very different kind of scenario. As I was an  undergraduate at university, I started periodically going to India and in between finishing my undergraduate since starting my honours, I spent a year there. By that time, I was completely hooked. In a more general sense I think it’s just a fascinating country. There’s so much diversity there. People often think about the poverty, but from somebody who teaches development studies, the interesting thing about India is there’s so many interesting solutions coming out that country. It can really tell us a lot about the constraints of development and the kind of avenues that we’re pursuing, but also the kind of solutions which me might be able to utilize and generalize in different places.

 

Shane: Yeah, so your interests … I was looking at the transboundary water resources and geopolitics. That’s probably an issue in India, is it? Round that area?

 

Doug: It’s a huge issue in India.

 

Shane: Huge issue in India. Can you talk just a little bit about that? What is that?

 

Doug: To frame it I guess, and to get our geographic imaginations going as we like to talk about it; if you think about the Tibetan plateau, and everybody has an idea about what Tibet is and what it means in terms of those broader ideas about China and the West, et cetera. What people often don’t think about is what geographers call the third pole, as a great proportion of the world’s water resources begin in that region and then flow down the mountains in the Himalayas and cross over the borders of around 11 countries. The process of it coming from the Tibetan Plateau and flowing down into the ocean, then of course it crosses national borders, provincial borders and the way that those rivers should be utilized becomes the subject of a whole range of contestation, politics, et cetera.

 

For the last couple of years – I guess about the last 10 years actually – I’ve been travelling to Bangladesh, to Nepal, to India. I’m involved in various groups in different parts of the world, to looking at the dialogue processes by which we can think about how to manage those resources. With a changing climate, those issues become all the more urgent.

 

Shane: I was at a talk last night with the US ambassador, came down to talk about the Fulbright Forum. We were talking about Syria. The issue of Syria came up and of course the key driver of that conflict there was, in fact, a drought in the highlands, which droves the rural people down into the cities. That sparked all the conflict. How risky is it for that region that you’re looking at, for conflict to start erupting around water issues, or is that something that’s kind of outside? It is quite a serious issue.

 

Doug: It’s a very serious issue. Scholars who work on this like to throw around this truism that wars have never been started over water conflict, but the reality is that the intensification of contestation over water leads to grievances which then get translated into the conditions by which conflict can occur. For example, the Indus Basin, which is basically the water between India and Pakistan. At the moment there is a dispute going on between India and Pakistan – so, the last couple of weeks – over some terrorist activity which has taken place on the border between those 2 countries, which seems to have nothing to do with water ostensibly, except now India is threatening to renege on the treaties that it’s made with Pakistan over the management of that water.

 

Pakistan is a country of about 200 million people that is completely dependent upon just a single basin for its water and its agricultural basis very water-intensive, so how that water is used, it’s very easy for people within Pakistan, and the military within Pakistan in particular, to start saying, “Well, this is India’s fault, why this is happening.” We see variations of this happening throughout the region. India is worried about what China is doing on the Brahmaputra, for example. Bangladesh is worried about what India is doing above it, Nepal, et cetera. Then, within each of those countries there’s also provincial level disputes. It’s a very … I really like looking at it because I think that it’s a really interesting way of thinking about the contestation over resources.

 

Shane: Let’s get on to your talk today, which was about this amazing project, the Energy for Eternity in Australia. This is really interesting, because last week we had the Australian Prime Minister trying to blame renewable energy for some power outages, which was just this crazy response to a storm which knocked over a few pylons and disrupted the electricity system. Is it our understanding that in Australia renewable energy is a point of politics contestation? Would that be an accurate … ?

 

Doug: Yeah, absolutely. I think that what you find in Australia is a very divided polity when it comes to these issues. There’s a lot of people within the society that can see that Australia is a perfect laboratory for the roll out of all sorts of renewable technologies and that it’s a place where we can really develop a whole range of industries and transform the economy in profound ways through this. On the other hand, it’s also a country which has, at current estimates, about 250 years of brown coal reserves and a mining industry which is very influential in politics, a media sector that is very concentrated amongst particular groups, in particular the Murdoch press, and because of that climate change politics and by extension renewable energy is very, very contentious. It is really something which it’s difficult for politicians of any shade to really get much purchase for moving things in a more progressive direction.

 

That’s not to say there’s not the initiative there, or that there’s no the political will, but there’s a lot of push back towards that as well. That’s one of the things that we were talking about in the talk today.

 

Sam: Is Australia on the edge?

 

Doug: On the edge?

 

Sam: I’m thinking about how close they came with the 10 year drought.

 

Doug: Australia is definitely a place which is already feeling the effects of climate change in a pretty profound way. It’s always been a country of climatic extremes. You’ve always had droughts and bush fires and storm events, et cetera, but it’s clear that that is being exacerbated. I guess, most profoundly, some of the areas which are being impacted are those areas where there’s a significant proportion of the population living. It’s hard to say objectively what on the edge means, but it’s certainly the case that it’s a country where climate change is a lived reality now.

 

Sean: Which I think is a really interesting dichotomy: the politics and climate denial on the one hand but also living and experiencing the effects of climate change on almost a daily basis at the same time, which is a really interesting dynamic, I think.

 

Sam: Presumably they’re aware of that tension?

 

Doug: Of course. The particular movement that we were talking about today really began in 2006 at a time which is typically referred to as the climate change election. This took place at a period when there was a really significant drought and it had seeped into mainstream consciousness that this was something that government should be being proactive about. There was a wave of enthusiasm, I guess, at that point, which this movement, Clean Energy for Eternity, or CEFE, was able to harness to move forward and do lots of small scale initiatives.

 

Shane: What got you involved in starting this project, because it’s outside your research areas and it’s kind of outside where you normally work? How did you get involved with it?

 

Doug: So there’s 2 different things driving this. The first of them is that, in the last couple of years I’ve been working on energy issues with a think-tank based in Jakarta called Economic Research Institute of ASEAN and East Asia. We’ve been looking specifically at low-carbon transitions, so it was on my radar to start to think about these things and ask the questions. The most significant thing is that CEFE began and really prospered in Tathra, the town that I grew up in. During my sabbatical, I had the opportunity to go and spend a bit of time there. The last 10 years while I’ve been living here in Dunedin, every time I go home I hear about what CEFE is doing and look at these great initiatives and et cetera. It just seemed like a fantastic opportunity to try and understand this movement in a more significant way. Bringing Sean in is a way of really understanding that broader application of knowledge around community movements and sustainability and how we might go about understanding those.

 

Sam: Is it a young people’s movement?

 

Doug: No, absolutely not. It was started off by somebody called Dr. Matthew Nott, who’s a local orthopaedic surgeon, essentially in 2006 realized that this was a significant issue which perhaps he should be looking to try and take action on, and so organized a movement on the beach. 3,000 people turned up and spelled out, “Clean energy for eternity,” on the sand, Tathra having a population of about 1,500 at that point, and then thereafter got together a core group of people who formed the nucleus of the movement, most of whom, as far as I can see from my interviews, et cetera, are middle-aged with kids, some of them artists, some of them are professionals, some of them are environmental activists. But, it has been very good at including young people and other members of society, but at its focus, I think it’s certainly not a young person’s movement per se.

 

Sam: That’s one of the things that people are of about critical about Generation Zero, is that it is just coming from young people. Now, they argue that’s that’s their strength, “We are the future,” sort of stuff, but it’s kind of easy for other people to ignore them. “That’s just the kids, they’ll stop complaining eventually.” It sounds like this is quite different.

 

Doug: Yeah, this is quite different, and I think the way that they’re trying to initiate social change is also quite different from those sort of movements that you’re describing. They’re self-styled pragmatic, non-political organization which is interested in trying to craft local solutions and bringing in the broad tent of community members into initiating local action around climate change, so it’s not the usual suspects. I think that that also has some strengths, as well as its weaknesses as well.

 

Sam: You said, “Initiate social change.” Do they have a clear message or in fact idea of what that social change … What they want?

 

Doug: They absolutely do. After this first moment on the beach that I just described, they then formed a community group and did an environmental audit of the district and worked out where energy was being used, both in terms of electricity but also in terms of transport et cetera, and came up with a blueprint for the council called, “50 50 by 2020.” The idea here was to transition towards 50% usage of renewable energy and to have 50% efficiency gains in terms of the way that that was being utilized. 50 50 by 2020 became the calling card of this movement, as it spread from its initial moments in Tathra to become at various points a state-wide – or at least having representation within different parts of the state – and actually thereafter attracting national attention.

 

Shane: How big is this movement now?

 

Doug: It’s a bit hard to put your finger on really, because one of the strengths of it really is that it’s able to cooperate with local movements and mobilize them for specific events and then to move on and to do other things. One of the things that they’ve been interested in doing is to try and work with community groups to get renewable energy put on public buildings: surf clubs, rural fire sheds, public halls, et cetera. It brings people in, helps them to achieve these aims, and then those people may or may not be involved again. I think that nucleus of the movement, the group which is actually active around these things, is probably somewhere between 10 and 15 people, but they’re able to mobilize at various points hundreds and sometimes thousands of people for particular actions.

 

Sam: We went to Oamaru last year on the basis of your geography field trip who went and looked at the Transition Town. We thought we’d go and follow up on that, and it turns out it’s only 5, 10 people. This does seem like a similar thing, that it’s quite a small group of people making a big impact. One of the things that the people in Oamaru said is, they don’t need to convince all of Oamaru, they just need to put the systems in place for them to lead the better life that they want them to. Is it a similar thing here? Are they trying to change hearts and minds, or are they just trying to get it to be better somehow?

 

Sean: I think it’s probably a little bit of both. There’s certainly that … Doug’s told the story of the aha moment of this Dr. Nott of sitting on the beach when it’s abnormally hot, reading the weather makers and having this internal crisis of, “Oh my goodness, what kind of future are going to live? I need to do something.” Sort of that. So, it very much is rooted in, “We need to do drastic change,” but I think it’s interesting that there’s been through the interviews various people that have had that similar kind of moment and that served as motivation for them to actually get together and do something. But then, when they actually go about mobilizing hundreds or thousands of people for events, it is much more focused on the easy access: we’re making this accessible, come out, the whole community’s involved, everyone has a part to play, you can bring whatever politics you want with you when you come, as long as you’re there.

 

You know you’re there for a reason. You’re going to talk to your fellow community members and have a conversation around energy and climate issues. Hopefully, that will build more awareness and lead to further change, but it’s not directly involved in, “This is the kind of change we need to make.” It’s not directly confrontational in that regard.

 

Sam: This, “Hopefully leading to further change,” there’s the crux of the question. Do we need everybody to have this aha moment, this transformation, or can we get away with just a few people having it and somehow infecting everybody else to just make the change without having that aha moment?

 

Sean: I think so. I think so many of us go through our lives unthinkingly, and we use the infrastructure that’s put in front of us. If there’s a cycle path, I’ll use it. If there isn’t, I’ll get in my car, kind of thing. So many of us do that unthinkingly. Yes, I think it would be great if everyone had the aha moment and that led to a massive transformation, but I think that that point of, as long as you have key people in key roles that can make that change … There’s very few people that, I think, are fundamentally against renewable energy, are against taking action on climate change. They just struggle with, “What can I do? How can I do it? I’m already super busy. It might be inconvenient. I don’t have time.” That kind of thing, but if it’s put in front of them, they’ll embrace it. I think that changing hearts and minds, while it is important, I don’t think it is critical.

 

Sam: So you said that they’ve been doing things like working to put solar panels or wind on the surf club. Is that primarily to generate the energy or is it more of an awareness and education tool?

 

Doug: It’s both. It’s trying to make those local clubs have renewable energy, but it’s obviously also a very visible symbol of what the future might be. I think a really nice illustration of this is that last year, the culmination of a lot of campaigning and a lot of work, et cetera, CEFE in collaboration with the local council opened the first community solar panel sewerage works in the shape of the word, “Imagine.” If you’re coming along the flight path you can see these solar panels that have written, “Imagine,” there. If we’re purely talking about the efficiency of the way that those panels should be put together, where they should be facing et cetera, it’s a poor use of that technology, but nevertheless it’s taking up about 25% of the power that’s necessary to run that sewerage plant, and it’s that fantastic symbolic moment where people can think about it. Imagine. Imagine if the world was like this.

 

Sam: To what extent is energy the easy problem we’ve gotten distracted by? We started talking about water and even in New Zealand where it’s not so intense, we don’t seem to have a solution. We don’t seem to be able to come up with a simple way of managing the stuff that doesn’t result in the water getting polluted. I can only imagine that it’s so much worse in India and Cambodia and so on. Ramp it up, put those issues on steroids. I think what I’m asking is, is that the hard stuff? Is energy, that we’ve gotten stuck on, the easy stuff, but we’ve identified energy as the poster child for sustainability, and that’s distracting us from the really hard questions?

 

Sean: I think part of the issue is that energy is so attractive because it lends itself well to technological change and substitution of different energy sources, so it doesn’t actually result in making us uncomfortable thinking about how we use resources. It’s that simple solution, “Oh, okay we’ll put in an energy efficient light bulb and I’ll still leave it on all day when I go to work or when I’m not around because I’m using less energy. It’s that efficiency gains. That’s all that matters.” I think that does distract us from the much more important issues around, how do we actually live differently? How do we have to change our behaviour? How do we have those really uncomfortable conversations about, “You know what? We’re consuming too much. It’s an issue of consumption, not about energy efficiency.” I think that’s why energy is so easy to latch onto because it fits that technological change, not a social change kind of model.

 

Shane: Is there a consciousness of that within the movement? Did you explore that, or was that something that ever came up?

 

Doug: I think that the emphasis of the movement is around everyday changes that people can make in terms of their own life and the simple things that they can do in order to do this, but there’s also … It’s not at the forefront of what the movement is talking about, but certainly the people who are involved in it are very frustrated by the nature of the Australian political system and the fact that you have large mineral companies and others which are very influential in terms of the agenda. I think it’s a little bit of both. It’s born of a realization that there’s some really complex political realities there to try and deal with, but these are the kind of things that we can do.

 

Shane: Did you have a favourite moment or event that these guys did? Apart from obviously that big … Getting 3,000 people onto a beach is pretty impressive, but was there a favourite moment you thought, “Wow, that was something else. That was something special.” Or was there something special about that you found?

 

Doug: A moment that I really liked, if you go from Tathra where we’re talking about and then you go towards Canberra, you go up onto a plateau, which looks not dissimilar to Central Otago, I guess. In a similar kind of a way, there’s a great potential for wind energy there. There’s a little town up there called Nimmitabel which has about, I don’t know, I would say optimistically there’s 500 people live there. They’re very water-constrained. In the summer time they often have to truck water in.

 

But, a few years ago there was a proposal try and put in a wind farm up there called Boco Rock. You got Nimmitabel School, which, I don’t know exactly but I imagine has fewer than 20 kids in that school, together to form a sign which made a wind turbine. They started campaigning on the fact that this was going to be a positive thing for their area, for their school, and to go back there now, and of course, it’s not because of those kids that the Boco Rock Wind Farm is there, but it certainly demonstrated the community potential or that fact that the community was very interesting in embracing that technology. That’s a nice moment in terms of these kinds of things.

 

Sean: I think the thing that sticks out to me in reading through the interview transcripts is, they took all these pictures of these human signs that they made on the beach and made calendars out of them. Someone talks about, they were in the local stores and the calendar was in the local store and the calendar was on the wall and they said, “Oh yeah, I was in the E, which part of the word were you under?” So, this was a point of connection and building identity around, “This is where we’re from. This is who we are, and we all have this shared experience around this wonderful event of making this human sign on the beach.”

 

Doug: My parents are in that boat actually. The rest of my family who lives there can point out to you where they are in that sign and it’s a nice moment.

 

Sam: Okay, so I’ve got a different question. Can those everyday changes, can they add up? Do they add up to a socio-ecological transformation?

 

Doug: I think the history of social change is about those shifts, isn’t it? Some of them are triggered by significant events that bring to the forth people to rethink things, but often it’s just a steady accretion of a particular way of approaching something which eventually wins the day. I think that absolutely, the history of transformation is about those small moments building up into large transformations.

 

Sam: Do we know which ones work?

 

Doug: I think in the case of CEFE – so there’s a very specific case there – we would say that what works is building alliances with people who you wouldn’t necessarily think were you allies, but who nevertheless are interested in being part of the community, who are interested in some kind of sense of collective identity, and are interested in changing things for the better for their community. Shifting those kinds of people towards this kind of action is likely to be more successful, if we look at the CEFE case, than an adversarial politics, which seeks to confront and speak to power head on. Having said that, I would say that we can all identify instances where it’s very much that speaking-truth-to-power moment that is absolutely necessary in order to try and force social change.

 

Sam: Are the people in the area and the town that they’re in, or wider, that actively think, “That’s crazy,” and are actively working against it?

 

Doug: In the broader region, there’s a lot of sea changes and tree changes, people that have moved there in the last say, 20 or 30 years for the lifestyle which is offered there, so I think you’ve got a fairly sympathetic constituency there. But, the general historical nature of the region is a very conservative one, so of course, when you have that situation who think that this is just trouble makers and that this is … In Australia there’s a lot of people who think that climate change is a myth anyway, but I think in this particular case, because you’ve got somebody leading the movement who is an orthopaedic surgeon rather than some kind of rat-bag intellectual or some kind environmental activist et cetera-

 

Sam: Geographers!

 

Doug: Yeah, there’s this veneer of respectability that goes that goes with that, which I think has helped the legitimacy of the movement. It’s interesting dynamics going on, but anywhere in Australia you’ve got people who are passionately opposed to climate change and people who are rabidly trying to mitigate the worst of it. That’s not necessarily the case that either of them are particularly well-informed in taking those positions.

 

Sam: Do you have a go-to definition of sustainability?

 

Doug: This your moment.

 

Sean: I wouldn’t call it a definition but an approach building on what we’ve been talking about. It is fundamentally about doing something differently. Things have to change. Of course we can do things differently in a regressive way, but we can also do things differently in a way that puts us more in tune about our relationship to the environment and our relationship to each other, in ways that promote well-being. I think that’s how I would approach it.

 

Sam: The sample of students that you get to see is a biased subset, because they’ve chosen geography, but are they coming through getting that?

 

Doug: Yeah.

 

Sean: Yeah, I think they are. I was really taken by how you started off with the person from western Sydney around how do you embed these things into education and ensure that once they leave, that they’re actually embracing those kind values and those attributes and carrying it forward into their lives. I think for the most part, geography students do. It is a fundamental aspect of it.

 

Doug: I think that at the very least, they intellectually acknowledge that there’s some really serious problems with the current trajectory of the world. Now, there’s obviously going to be differences in the extent to which they then embrace that and modify their own behaviour and become actively involved in that, but I think most of them aspire to do something in their lives which is going to further sustainability. We’ve got a good cohort in that sense.

 

Sam: We’re writing a book about these conversations. We’re calling it, “Tomorrow’s Heroes.” How would you describe your superpower? What is it that you’re bringing to the good fight?

 

Doug: My superpower?

 

Sam: Yeah.

 

Doug: My superpower is that I’m good at grasping lots of complex ideas and explaining them in a way which is accessible to people, if that’s not too big a claim. I think that that’s really important because we need to be able to speak and have conversations about these things in lots of different ways to lots of different people in order to communicate these kind of issues. I think you need to be able to do that.

 

Sam: What’s the biggest success that you’ve had in the last couple of years?

 

Doug: I think that the work on transboundary water. I’ve been involved in a series of dialogues, different stakeholders in different parts of the region. Some of them have been sponsored by the Australian aid donors with universities in Australia, and some of them have been in European-based think tanks. I think that that’s part capacity building, part dialogue, but I think that it’s really important to try and get people from around South Asia together to talk about the commonalities and differences they have around those water issues. Being involved in that, I can’t claim any particular credit for progress, but in terms of what’s been most satisfying for seeing social change, that’s definitely right up there.

 

Sam: Do you consider yourself to be an activist?

 

Doug: I consider myself to be an engaged teacher. I don’t think that I have the time or the energy to be an activist in a way that I would want, but I think that I’m really lucky in my job allows me talk about a whole range of different things and go and find out about them and talk to people involved in those things, and then communicate them to people here. That’s a form of activism, but it’s disingenuous perhaps, to says that’s activism, per se.

 

Sean: I guess, do you think that’s putting activism upon a pedestal that makes it out of reach?

 

Doug: Yeah, maybe. Sure.

 

Sean: Maybe we should rethink. Activism doesn’t have to be this big, massive marching in the streets or doing these really, really radical things. Maybe there’s all kinds of other ways, as you’re talking about, teaching …

 

Doug: Absolutely. Look, there’s lots of things that have changed the way that I think about the world, but one of them was about going to university. I think that we’re in a really … It’s a fantastic position to be in, that you can change the way that people think about the world. That’s a big thing.

 

Sam: Should we be following Bob Huish’s lead? Should we have Dissent 101?

 

Doug: I think that students are active to learn about how they can be involved in social change. I think that when you look around the world with campuses that run courses and degrees on activism, they’ve been incredibly popular and the students that have come out of that have gained a lot from them. I think that, if we’re interested in sustainability, we need to be helping our students to gain those kind of tools, so why not?

 

Sam: Do you think you could get it passed the senate or council or whoever it is? Why don’t we ask them? Shane?

 

Shane: There might be something in the plan. There might be something afoot already. That’s all I can say.

 

Sam: What motivates you?

 

Doug: I’m interested in stuff. It’s nice to get people to think about things in a different way.

 

Sam: What challenges are you looking forward to in the next couple of years?

 

Doug: Personally or professionally or … ?

 

Sam: You can have both.

 

Doug: I think that, as somebody who works on a region which is going to be one of the largest economies in the world in the next couple of years, and is already the third largest emitter of carbon – that is India – I’m concerned and optimistic and extremely pessimistic and all sorts of contradictory sentiments about the rise of that country and what it’s going to mean for the globe. Not for the global economy or for the lifestyles of the people in the West, but there’s 1.3 billion people there and the trajectory that it’s moving on is obviously going to put further pressure on the finite resources of our globe. That’s a big challenge.

 

Sam: Does sustainability mean the same thing there?

 

Doug: I think it depends a lot on who you’re talking to. I think that there’s a lot of people … If you have population where, somewhere between 300 and 700 million people, depending on whose figures you believe, are really below or only just above the poverty line, then sustainability for those people is being able to live a life with dignity, which means they won’t die early and see their family die early, and won’t irrevocably erode the resources around them. What sustainability means for a middle class person in India that’s now experiencing lifestyles that was unavailable to their parents, is perhaps a whole other thing. The challenge, I guess, is to try and cater for of those groups of people, have inclusive growth, but do so in a way which going to shift India towards a low-carbon economy. It’s a very, very big challenge.

 

Sam: For those vast numbers living in abject poverty, it would be churlish of us to begrudge them a fridge.

 

Doug: Of course.

 

Sam: But, can we do it?

 

Doug: Yeah, I think that it’s going to be a long time till all of those people have fridges, but I think that this is the challenge, isn’t it? To try and … I’m not saying that all of the solutions are technological, but clearly we can’t have the same fridges for 700 million people in India that we do elsewhere, otherwise … The white goods industry will be happy, but it’s going to be a problem. I’m not sure what the answer to that is. I think the rise of India as an economic force is not entirely assured, either. I think that the jury’s still out on that. We always think about it as, “Well, in the future, we’re going to suddenly have 800 million people who are middle class.” I’m not sure whether that’s true.

 

Sam: Do you have any advice for our listeners?

 

Doug: That you should be active participants in your own life, that you should try and gain different perspectives on familiar phenomena as much as you can, and if you feel strongly about something then you should try and take action on it. You should try and work out what kind of action that might mean for you, but you should nevertheless try and do that.

 

 

 

Categories
community geography

spaces of empowerment

Sophie Bond

It starts with talking and it starts with doing things ever so slightly differently. Those sort of little incremental changes allow people to start just even just shifting the way they’re thinking and making space for doing things differently.

Shane:                  Our guest tonight is Dr Sophie Bond. She’s a senior lecturer in the Department of Geography at Otago University. Her areas of research include the formation of collectives in response to environmental and social change. Social sustainability, autonomous geographies, and alternative economies, urban sustainability, qualitative and feminist methodologies, political ecology and discourse theory. Welcome to our show, Sophie.

Sophie:                 Thank you.

Shane:                  Now, just before the show I can embarrass myself as always because you guys said that you went to school with Sam. I thought because I heard that southwest English accent the same accent Sam has. I thought you went to school in England, but you didn’t. You came from very close to where Sam grew up.

Sophie:                 I spent the first four years of my life in Bristol.

Shane:                  Funny, I can still hear it, just a little bit. I’m a linguist so I pick these things up a bit more quickly than other people. Do you remember much about Bristol?

Sophie:                 I’ve been back a few times, spent quite a bit of time there. My partner is from Dorset so we try to get back there quite regularly.

Shane:                  Oh cool. You grew up in Dunedin, is that right?

Sophie:                 That’s right, I grew up here.

Sam:                      They have a great school I might add.

Shane:                  What school is that?

Sophie:                 Logan Park.

Shane:                  Logan Park where my son goes as well and Sam’s son.

Sophie:                 My daughter studies there too.

Shane:                  Oh yeah, it’s a crazy place. You went to Logan Park. Was there something at the school that got you interesting in geography or … What got you interested in going to university?

Sophie:                 Actually I came at geography in a very, very roundabout way.  I did  a law degree as my undergrad. I did women’s studies. I wasn’t remotely interested in geography at that time. Then, had a bit of a break went to, lived in Monaco for awhile, did some stuff there. Including getting involved in the environmental society writing, submissions and helping them out on a few things. Then, we were abroad for a couple of years, came back and deciding that we do something a bit more productive than what we were heading. Went to back to university, and did a planning masters in the geography department and then kind of stayed. Got a PhD. following on from that. Yeah.

Shane:                  What got you particularly interested in the sustainability stuff? What was the urban sustainability? What got you interested in that? I noticed your PhD. and thesis, we’ll talk about that a little bit later. What piqued your interest about that?

Sophie:                 I think it was … It’s really hard to pinpoint. I think I’ve always been interested in environmental issues. I think also, my focus on sustainability has always been in relations to social sustainability and I guess urban sustainability was a way to focus on the social in the context of a very sort of physical environment planning system here. Planning stuff kind of drew me into that urban sustainability stuff I think.

Shane:                  What’s your legal qualifications, do they help with those concepts about legality and governance and …

Sophie:                 Yeah, I think they did. When I did my law degree I focused on peripheral subjects not mainstream law subjects, like environmental law, international law. Some of the public health stuff and ethics and things like that. Yeah, definitely.

Shane:                  Would you characterize New Zealand as being quite advanced with the resource management act at that point. At that stage, was it a bit kind of ahead of the game and thought it was exciting?

Sophie:                 I think the reform process, the resource management reform process and the way that it brought lots of different groups together to discuss the issues was well ahead of its time. I think the way it’s been rolled out and practiced has closed down a lot of those opportunities that initially started with the focus on sustainable management. It was a first, I think, for many countries in terms of focusing on their sustainable management in terms of it being the main planning legislation. Yeah.

Shane:                  That provided a lot of areas for research. Did you find anything interesting about that? Was there any particular  reason why it happened here in New Zealand first? Or did you have any understanding of that? Was it just that …

Sophie:                 I think the 1990s reforms here were so aggressive in terms of sort of embracing the umbrella-ism that we were in a state of flux and a state of change anyway. That might have provided some of the conditions for that. Yeah, so they were reforming local government at the same time. I think that probably had a huge impetus. Yeah, it’s not an area that I’m hugely familiar with. I’m just yeah.

Shane:                  What’s an autonomous geography? That’s another phrase, I went, What is that?

Sophie:                 Autonomous geography, it’s a group of researchers in the UK who were … They describe themselves as activist scholars. They’re really actively involved in creating change through their own scholarship and through their own activism. They bring those things together as much as possible. Autonomous geography has kind of embraced part of that idea, so a lot of their research has been about creating social spaces or community spaces. They’re trying to create alternatives to business as usual, the status quo and be sort of autonomous from mainstream consumption and that sort of thing.

Autonomous geography is about looking at those spaces and how they operate and how they create change for the people who are  living and working within those spaces and that sort of thing. I guess you could include things like time banks, community spaces. They have a number of different operations going on within them. Alternative economies, things like some transition towns would sort of embrace those ideas as well. They often operate on a non-hierarchical consensus building type of consensus based decision making model as well.

Shane:                  Sounds very near anarchist.

Sophie:                 Very much informed by anarchist thinking, yeah.

Sam:                      Just to be clear, though, do you consider yourself to be an autonomous geographer?

Sophie:                 No.

Sam:                      Why not?

Sophie:                 Probably because at the that stage I’m at I don’t think I’m quite fully embracing the way that they embrace those concepts, living it and doing it. I’m working on it, but I’m definitely not there yet.

Shane:                  Moving on to the next interesting topic there was  qualitative and feminist methodology, in order to put those together, why did you put politics and feminist methodologies … A lot of people may be asking what does feminism got to do with geography. I kind of get what it does, but why are those two things together and how does feminism inform geography, understanding geography.

Sophie:                 There’s a huge area of feminist geography within human geography, within the geography of people and place. The sort of more social geographies. Actually, feminist geography is a discipline or sub-discipline has been really instrumental in creating opportunities in making qualitative methods acceptable and rigorous and an important part of social science. They did that by questioning a more scientific method, which has its place but also misses out a whole lot of the human experience. The emotional aspects of being and living in the places that we exist in. I think feminist geographies are  not just about looking at gender as a form of inequality, which they do a lot of. How gender inequality is distributed in different places, and how they exist in the power relationships associated with those things.  It’s also about thinking about how knowledge is produced. How research is responsible for the knowledge they produce. Actual research as a co-production of knowledge, it’s not just about experts coming in and extracting knowledge from groups or from people. It’s about working with communities to produce knowledge in a shared way. Treating people as the experts,  the communities that we work with are the experts. We’re sharing knowledge building processes and doing work that those communities and those groups are wanting to have done. That it’s going to feed into things that are useful for them.

Shane:                  A lot of sustainability thinking criticizes quantitative research and the scientific method because it misses out the human experience. It misses out … You can only use proxies for instance the health of streams. You can say, it’s got the [neoduction 00:09:40] levels of this, the [duction 00:09:42] levels of that. You can talk about bio-diversity, but even that’s kind of controversial. Subject now, that definition there, is that criticism the same as feminist criticisms, that science can only give you approximation or a proxy indicators of what’s actually there. That it misses out on this massive thing, it disconnects us from nature. Is that …

Sophie:                 Yeah, that’s a really big part of it, it’s partly it’s that objective knowledge that you can … It’s like with the scientific method, the scientist is invisible. The knowledge is produced. The scientific method is so far normalized as the means of the main dominant means of producing knowledge that we don’t question the decisions that are made in the process of producing that knowledge enough. What feminist geographers were trying to do, and has happened in other social science disciplines as well, as well as other feminist sociologists for example and others. They were trying to say that we need to recognize that any knowledge production process involves making a whole series of decisions that may include or exclude certain factors and certain assets of the nature of the proxy that’s used to measure whatever. Has an effect on the outcomes. It’s about being really critical about who is making those decisions and why they’re being made and how they’re being made. What the effect of those decisions is. It’s just about questioning the process and not treating science as some absolute, you know, sort of single truth, you know.

Shane:                  It’s not a universal truth. The thing is, what people forget when they tend to be like … When scientists pretend to be invisible is that they choose the questions. Those questions are framed by their world view. This was the feminist critique …

Sophie:                 Absolutely.

Shane:                  Saying hey you come to this space with a world view. You might go into a native tribe in the middle of the Amazon and say, “These people are really primitive, they don’t know anything.” They have a huge wealth of knowledge, but it’s not knowledge that’s recognized by Western science. The knowledge of the environment so that’s really, really interesting. Let’s go on to political ecology. What is political ecology?

Sophie:                 Political ecology is kind of the molding together of ideas about political economy. Almost processes of production, reproduction, roles catylism, within, marrying with the idea of ecologies. Ecologies being networks of systems that involve people, places, environments and so on. It’s a really diverse area. It involves social anthropology, development studies, geography, sociology, loads and loads of different disciplines. The level of sort of scientific ecology that comes into those political ecologies is really variable. Actually, probably more recently it has moved more and more and more towards the social sciences. It’s about looking at the relationships between the actions that people have in particular places and their effects on sort of broad ecologies.

Shane:                  You said social economy there. The current paradigm, the dominant paradigm is that politics and economics, they have to be kept separate. You said social economy here, so will you talk about that?

Sophie:                 I’m not a political economist. Yeah, I guess using political economy probably coming from it from its Marxist roots rather than thinking about it as the political system is, at the moment, which is embedded within neo-liberalism. I guess the broader idea behind political ecology is to demonstrate that those broader economic drivers have a fundamental shaping effect on the decisions that are made and how we interact with environments.

Shane:                  The last thing was discourse theory, so could you explain what discourse theory is?

Sophie:                 Discourse theory is,  a specific analytical tool that actually comes from a group of scholars from the University of Essex in the school of government. It was initially developed by, primarily by two people, Chantal Mouffe and Ernesto Laclau, who were pretty famous for a book they wrote in 1985. They’ve been described as sort of post-Marxist thinkers. They’re really talking about ideas about democracy, very broadly conceived and how power shapes what people can say in particular situations. Discourse theory draws on this idea, sort of a [DeCodian 00:15:12] idea of discourse, discourse as a set of ideas that shape how things are understood in the world and how meanings are made. How this then becomes hegemonic or dominant and normalized, so that we don’t actually see outside it. This is the case, many would argue, in terms of neo-liberalism. Unless you’re really critical of it, you probably don’t call it neo-liberalism. You also don’t see beyond the role of the market or creating jobs as a good thing. Those sorts of things that are embedded within the sort of contemporary,  business as usual, model of capitalism. What discourse theory allows is a kind of way of thinking about and picking how particular sets of ideas coalesce around a key idea or key concept and then they  are perpetuated and continued through a whole series of power relations in society.

Those power relations go from things that have happened in the media in a way that media perpetuates it as a way of understanding the world all the way down to our individual actions. How we’re shaped by the meanings that are made and represented to us so we continually perform them and re-perform them and reproduce them through those performances as well.

Shane:                  One of the interesting things that I’ve been thinking about is that in the Great Depression during the 1920s, there was a huge amount of discussion about capitalism and the nature of capitalism. Then, we had the 2008 global financial crisis and there was some discussion. There were many movements, like the Occupy movement, [inaudible 00:16:56]. The Arab Spring was a direct result of the repercussions of the GFC. Do we have any handle or any understanding of why those movements haven’t flourished or why they’re … That they haven’t quite succeed in the way that … You can look at 1930s Europe and America, there was a huge foment of different ideas and new concepts and debate. Which had some very aspects as well, nervous if that happens. We seem to just have fallen back into the pre-2008 time, mind frame. Is there anything like … You talk about alternative responses and social responses, that was a big alternative of social response so what happened to it?[crosstalk 00:18:02].

Sophie:                 It’s such a hard question. It’s big, it’s huge. I’ve got some ideas, a lot of it’s embedded within the way that … I’m going to come down hard on neo-liberalism again. The way that neo-liberalism is so dominant and hegemonic. I think I’ve done a little bit of digging  around some of those earlier ideas or those early thinkers in relation to neo-liberalism ,a guy called Mirowski, who is a leftist economist, has written a book and done quite a lot of work. He talks about the neo-liberal thought collective. You know those early thinkers, Hayek and Friedman and so on. They have created this collective, who were very tightly knit. They were trying to create this ideology and get it going. They were really forceful, really strategic, and really clever in the way that they did that. It took them until the 1980s before it started being rolled out in different places around the world, the States and in Britain under Thatcher and here.

One of the things that they did, this is something that Mirowski writes about, they had this idea that actually in order to have neo-liberalism work, you’ve got to have a really strong state. Which is counter to the neo-liberal mantra of a de-evolved state and de-evolution and de-centralization. They knew that to have a really strong state, particularly in the context of the time that they were talking about this and  building this momentum, which was 1940s, 1950s was really unpalatable. They also saw that in order to have this strong state, you couldn’t have … democracy was the antithesis of being able to roll out neo-liberalism in the way they wanted to. There was this disconnect between the power of the people and rolling out this project of neo-liberalism. They knew that was really unpalatable so they hid it. They turned the ideas of democracy into freedom of choice and freedom of consumption. It was a kind of a really clever kind of move, now our political practitioners and political scientists could perhaps have done some work on this. He has said, he’s done some work where he’s talked to governance practitioners, people who are working in the governance and the ministries and in government and local government.

There’s this idea that actually real democracy doesn’t give democratic outcomes, doesn’t give good policy. Our practitioners in government don’t believe that full participatory democracy or debating issues or discussing issues is actually going to produce good policies. This has become this kind of  entrenched idea I think within our governance practitioners. How do we create change when the people who are supposed to be the people who are leading us in democratic forms in democracies, don’t believe in it.

Sam:                  What would a full participatory democracy look like, then?

Sophie:                 I don’t know. No, I don’t know. I guess an ideal that would certainly be better than what we have at the moment is spaces for robust debate about issues. Whereas, at the moment, we get closed down by any thing that kind of is dissenting against the sort of business as usual. There’s debate about stuff round about the middle, straight down the middle, that doesn’t really go against the main system. Anything that goes against it or outside it is “you’re just a leftie,” or a hippie or a greenie, so we don’t need to worry about you. There’s a kind of like this de-legitimization, a systematic de-legitimization of anyone who’s outside that mainstream, straight down the middle.

Shane:                  This is incredibly topical because right now there’s a protest in town about the TPPA, which is the TransPacific Partnership Agreement, which is being sold as a free trade agreement, but it isn’t. Because the stuff that’s been leaked we can see it’s all about corporate control and investor state disputes. There’s been a power grab by the corporations so this obviously  involves a lot of double think. To borrow George Orwell’s brilliant term. TPPA is like another step in that process of de-democratization and grabbing power.

Sophie:                 Absolutely. It’s a classic example of it. Yes, it’s quite scary.

Shane:                  I didn’t realize … I knew there was a TPPA or a TPIP or PPI in Europe so there’s a previous one between the US and Europe. There’s also the TSA one as well, which is the trade and services agreement. TSA is also being negotiated. There’s three negotiations at the same time, kind of roughly overlapping, kind of doing the same kind of stuff. Where we’re giving up our power as democracies to set our laws to corporations. People are dismissing the protesters in exactly the same way as you’ve described. Some people are angry protesting and re-route the protest, but what about the mainstream people. Do you have insight why people just aren’t kind of … Is it complex? Is it too complicated?

Sophie:                 It’s complicated. There’s not very much information about it. The information out there is leaked before it can be dismissed because it’s just leaked, it’s not official. I think that’s another big thing. There’s no open debate or discussion about it, you know. I think that there’s a lot of anger about it. I think there’s a sense of they’re going to do it anyway. We can’t necessarily do anything about it. I think what is positive is the number of people who were out the other weekend, all across the country

I had to have a wee chuckle at John Key’s responses to that where he started labeling. A third of them were Green … He didn’t actually say Green Peace fringe crowd. He did say fringe crowd. Another third were … He has these ways of basically de-legitimizing any protest. He did the same sort of thing with oil-free protests that were going on a few years back where there were 5,000 people on North Island beaches doing a banners on the beach type protest. He described them as a Green Peace fringe crowd. He has these one-liners and other ministers do too. The media picks up on those rather than going with reporting on the number of people who were there and the range of different people from all sectors of the community who were there as well. I think there’s a whole …

Sam:                  Sustainable future is going to need a system change. Is it going to need the system to change to deliver it?

Sophie:                 It is too hard. I agree a sustainable future does need a system change. I don’t know how we get there. I think, you know, we just got to keep trying to create change and create spaces where people feel empowered to speak out.

Shane:                  You discuss communities of change and how people come together, it is quite difficult to do that when you feel officialdom,  the official society, is opposed to you or doesn’t agree with you. How communities get the courage to step up and …

Sophie:                 That’s a really hard question too because all of those systematic methods of closure and this is part of some research that I’m doing at the moment is talking to people who are actively engaged in trying to create spaces of debate, dissent, and  of action. Trying to work out how they deal with those constant negotiations that they have to deal with every day of being sneered at in the tea room when they have to get a cup of tea. Because they happen to be on the front page of a paper in a protest and they were seen there. They are like, “You were over there at the weekend you know.” Or “Are you happy?” Something like that. Which is seeing it in a really negative way, rather than something …

Shane:                  A celebration, yes you’re great to participate in democracy, You’re a great citizen.

Sophie:                 Yes. Why doesn’t that happen more? I don’t know what the answer to that is. I think there’s a whole lot of pressures on us every day, as well as just being super busy and struggling to just  keep going. It requires energy and motivation and the ability to counter that constant de-legitimization of what you believe in.

Sam:                  We went to Oamaru and did six interviews with  various people from the transition town movement. In fact this trip of ours was prompted by you going the month before with the third year geographers – including my daughter.

Sophie:                 Yes.

Sam:                  One of the things that was apparent to us was that there’s a really small group of people actually making a change on behalf of and taking the rest of the town with them. W interviewed six, there’s probably another 20 or so out of a town, I don’t know what it is, 10,000.

Shane:                      10,000 yeah, 12,000.

Sam:                  Some of them had very much this attitude of yeah we’re taking the whole town with us, everyone thinks we’re great. Other people came in and said Hold on, most of the town thinks we’re loonies, but they’re recycling their rubbish. They’re visiting the community garden. Despite the fact that a whole lot of the town doesn’t think they’re a good job, they are actually reaching that tipping point. Is there a model that we can learn from in places like Oamaru, a Transition Town, for how we can make change without needing to convince absolutely everybody.

Sophie:                 Absolutely. I think those small scale, local community responses that are creating opportunities and different kinds of relating to each other and relating to place and doing things differently are just absolutely vital. I think they do really, really important social stuff as well as really important environmental stuff in terms of building resilience for want of a better word. Creating connections between people that wouldn’t otherwise exist because people are too busy jumping in their car and going to work rather than walking down the road and chatting to people, or buying locally or whatever.

I think those things are really important. Actually, I think that’s one of the things that a group of scholars are doing in Australia. They’re called alternative economies network. They’ve done a huge amount of work on trying to understand both the social and environmental sort of ethics of these kinds of groups that create change from the ground up.

Sam:                  Marion Shaw, who runs the resource recovery park in Oamaru had a very clever line, which I can’t remember exactly what is was, but it was something like, “We’re in the business of recovering people, we just happen to be sorting the rubbish.” For me, it really brought home that community as the centre of the sustainability message. What’s your take on the relationship between community and sustainability?

Sophie:                 I think it’s fundamental. I don’t think you can have environmental sustainability without having communities who are  embracing social sustainability or embracing and relating and working together to achieve it. It’s never going to be a top down thing. People aren’t going to respond to  [inaudible 00:30:30], though they would be helpful in some contexts. I think, you know, encouraging people to work together to create change is one of the best ways to achieve the kinds of things we need to start achieving.

Shane:                  Why do we value some work over other work? This probably comes back to feminism and in fact I’m absolutely positive that it comes back to feminism because most of the highly paying jobs are done by men and not by women. I don’t think that was a coincidence, or that there’s any reason for it. How do we establish these value systems and why …

Sophie:                 There’s messes. I don’t know. I don’t know. I guess one thing to hold onto is that these value systems get created, but they’re not absolute. They can be changed. I think it’s the sort of thing to keep holding onto. It’s just like, there’s definitely something to be said …

Shane:                  As far as when you look at alternative economies, are there other systems or other systems of economies that we can look to. For instance, as an example, the Iroquois Nation had a completely different economy to Western Europe. When people arrived there, they shared resources and a women’s council basically divvied out all the resources according to whatever system they had. That was a completely different system to what was happening in Western Europe at the time when Westerners arrived in North America. Are there other alternative economies out there that maybe we can look to as maybe positive examples. Have you come across any?

Sophie:                 I haven’t really. It’s an area I would like to look into more. I mean there’s all sorts of models all over the show that wold be really useful to tap into. I guess it’s again about creating the spaces to experiment and try out different forms of economic exchange that don’t involve the [inaudible 00:32:49] economy. To value those kinds of labors as you suggested before in different ways.

Shane:                  We’re almost doing that. We’re doing that in transition towns. Oamaru is doing it. There’s this alternative economy going on. Which is not about money exchange, it’s about exchange of skills, food.

Sophie:                 Time banks.

Shane:                  Time banks as well. That stuff all. It’s happening …

Sam:                      Time banks. I was talking to students about it today. Time banks is just about how much time it takes you, isn’t it? If you’re a brain surgeon or baking a cake, it’s an hour’s worth of time.

Sophie:                 Yeah, the media is time. Yeah, the market is based on time.

Sam:                      Do those hold up over the long-term?

Sophie:                 It depends, to some extent,  on the nature of the group who are involved in the time bank, I think. People who are willing to engage in that exchange on that basis will do so. People who aren’t won’t. I guess, in a way, it’s a kind of flattening out, a kind of radical form of equality in terms of valuing time in a completely sort of flat way. There’s no hierarchy involved anymore. Perhaps there is a hierarchy but it’s reversed because those task that people don’t want to do are the tasks that people want done, so they’re actually valued more highly than are the highly skilled jobs. Actually, maybe it changes those hierarchies quite nicely. Time banks operate on different bases, I think as well, it depends on how they’re set up and that sort of thing.

Sam:                      What’s your go-to definition of sustainability?

Sophie:                 I don’t really have a go-to definition of sustainability. I think it encompasses ideas of that sort of nexus between social and environmental sustainability. I don’t think you can have one without the other. It’s about creating some kind of, I was going to say, equilibrium,  but it’s probably not quite what I mean. Something that’s just more, something that’s just more caring in long term.

Sam:                      You keep saying social and environmental sustainability, as if they’re two different things. Are they?

Sophie:                 No, no, no they’re not. It’s probably because when I was reading sustainability literature, that’s exactly what they were treated as. I think the other thing is the whole … Sustainability is not actually a term I use very often. The reason is because often it just ends up meaning economic sustainability, which is not where we’re coming from at all.

Shane:                  What do you use instead? I’m here with my pencil ready to write it down.

Sophie:                 I talk about alternative futures, probably.

Shane:                  That’s funny because no one knows what that definition is. Thank you for asking.

Sophie:                 Nobody has one, that’s a relief.

Shane:                  What about resilience, we’ve got that in the title as well.

Sophie:                 Yeah, resilience is another one that’s going the same way as sustainability. It gets co-opted in all sorts of ways where it loses it’s sort of critical egalitarian purchase.

Shane:                  Is it radical enough?

Sophie:                 Exactly, I think the way it’s often used, it’s not. It doesn’t, I don’t think it does enough.

Sam:                  I think it is used because it is more appealing. We don’t actually have to change anything, it’s just about a few community gatherings. We’ll be all right.

Sophie:                 Yeah, that’s right.  It’s about adapting to change, not creating change, yeah.

Shane:                  What successes have you had in the last couple of years?

Sophie:                 Actually kind of bring together the stuff that I’m researching with the stuff that I’m teaching. Trying to create change through those things I think is kind of the main thing. For example, Doug Hill and I created a course in geography and taught it for the first time this semester last year. It was about creating spaces of contestation within the context of neo-liberal New Zealand. It was about drawing together some of the things we were talking about before. How democracy is shifted so radically and try to bring it back. That’s sort of where a lot of my research is at the moment as well. That’s probably … It feels very modest. I’ve been here for two years, I haven’t been away for quite a long time and I’m just still finding my feet. Working on creating other opportunities.

Sam:                  You say that you’re not an autonomous geographer despite the fact they have activist scholarship. Do you consider yourself to be an activist?

Sophie:                 Not really. I would probably say that I’m probably a want to be.   I do research with groups who are activists, but I wouldn’t call myself one. I haven’t quite managed to work out how to commit the time to it and balance it with all the other time commitments at the moment.

Sam:                  It’s a time issue, not a philosophical position?

Sophie:               It’s a time issue, not a philosophical position.

Sam:                  What would have to change?

Sophie:                Academia being slightly less demanding on my time. That’s probably the main thing that would have to change.

Sam:                  They do pay you.

Sophie:                 They do pay me. Yes, they do. They pay me well. I like to know that.

Sam:                  Following up from that then, I’m going to dismiss that as a motivation, what motivates you?

Sophie:                 Issues of injustice.

Shane:                  That was quick.

Sophie:                 It’s the biggest motivator.

Sam:                  Has that always been a driver?

Sophie:                 Yes, it has. That’s probably what I should have said when you asked me right at the beginning about sustainability, issues of injustice. That probably actually started from when I had a trip to South Africa in 1983, or 4. Pre-the end of apartheid, and  it was quite an eye opener for an early teen.

Sam:                  What challenges do you have in the next couple of years?

Sophie:                 The biggest challenge is probably actually  being able to do what I want to achieve in the time constraints that I have. Time’s quite a big factor at the moment. I think trying to create a balance between being able to create opportunities for change and actually keep sort of doing the work that I’m doing in my day job in balance. Because I’m really not good at balancing at the moment. I struggle.

Sam:                  Okay to do less things, create opportunities for change. Lets start with  what changes? What kind of changes do you want to see?

Sophie:                 The biggest change actually I want to see is coming back to those ideas about democracy. People feeling empowered to speak out and not de-legitimized for doing so. Not struggling with negotiating, constantly being harassed for doing so. Those are the kinds of things that I would really like to see shift. Because I think that would make a big difference.

Sam:                  In any particular community or just in general?

Sophie:                 In general, I think.

Sam:                  Starting with the whole world.

Sophie:                 No, no, no obviously. Starting with local communities in terms of working with local communities to try and  achieve those sorts of goals. Or just actually working with local communities to identify the barriers that stop people from achieving those goals, as a first step. Then, trying to work out strategies for dealing with it.

Shane:                  If you start with any old community, as one of the ones living down on the harbour, you can have Carey’s Bay, if you like.

Sophie:                 Thank you

Sam:                  What would you see actively happen differently?

Sophie:                 I’m sure that there are really strong connections between many of those communities. I don’t want to sort of label anyone in particular. I think what you were talking about in terms of Oamaru and Transition Town stuff, creating connections and getting people talking about stuff actually is a huge motivator for people actually taking action. It starts with talking and it starts with doing things ever so slightly differently. Those sort of little incremental changes allow people to start just even just shifting the way they’re thinking and making space for doing things differently.

Shane:                  You say incremental changes. One of the things I’m questioning is whether incremental changes are going to get us there. If enough of us change the light bulbs, actually that’s not going to help.

Sophie:                 I agree with you. They still got to change. People can’t, I don’t think people can change fast in the current situation, which is kind of depressing.  I think people are so sort of… within the way we live our lives. The way we’re structured to continue to live our lives. There are so few people who have choices to be able to do things radically differently. A lot of people who do, do, which is great. You know people still have to go to work and do all that stuff and that’s just,  you know. I think that there’s …

Sam:                  Is radical change some sort of luxury then?

Sophie:                 I think it is a privileged position, at the moment, absolutely.

Sam:                  It’s a privileged position that lots of people are happy being n that privileged position.

Sophie:                 Yeah, that’s right. It ‘s a bit of a problem there.

Shane:                  What do we do about that?

Sophie:                 I don’t know, re-distribute wealth.

Shane:                  That’s not going to happen.

Sophie:                 I know.

Shane:                  That’s why I was saying a particular community. You’re not suggesting going and breaking down the doors of the manor house.

Sophie:                 No, no because, yeah, I don’t know what the answer to that is.

Sam:                  Okay, if you could wave a magic wand and  have a miracle occur by the time you wake up tomorrow morning, what would that miracle be?

Sophie:                 Can I have two?

Sam:                 Yeah.

Sophie:                 The first one would be that governments would divorce themselves from the corporate … That would be one that I think would make a very big difference and start looking beyond those three years …

Shane:                  They might pretend, but they’re not.

Sophie:                 Yeah, but they are. Actually start looking beyond three year terms and exponential economic growth. That would be my first one. The other one, as we were just talking about …

Shane:                  That was already three, not two.

Sam:                      that’s actually …

Shane:                  No, that’s just one, okay.

Sophie:                 That’s just one big one, one big miracle. Then the other one is those community responses where people have the time and the energy to do all that fantastic stuff that people in transition towns are making happen.

Sam:                  Okay for the first one and the second one then, what’s the smallest thing that you could possibly do that would make the biggest difference in making that happen?

Sophie:                 Say that again.

Sam:                  What’s the tiniest thing that you could that would have the biggest impact in terms of actually getting governments to divorce themselves from corporates looking beyond year three exponential growth? Sounds like three to me. What could we actually do to make that happen? … No, okay, it might be easier for the other one. What can we do to encourage community responses?

Sophie:                 Talk to your neighbor.

Shane:                  How can we scale up what they’re doing in Oamaru and places like it? Can it scale?

Sophie:                 I think it can replicate. I think as soon as those communities get too big, it starts to get really difficult to manage the sort of local dynamics that go on within any of those kinds of groups. Lots of groups scattered around that are working together. Lots of little communities, transition towns, or whatever they are. Yeah, I think it’s about understanding how they do things and working with that to create visions for possible alternatives.

Shane:                  Lastly, I have a list here you see. Lastly, do you have any advice for our listeners?

Sophie:                 Be the change you want to see in the world.

Shane:                      That’s great, be the change.

 

Categories
community

Altogether community

Marie Laufiso

The key is relationships. Everyone has a story about everyone else – you have to get past those stories and talk real.

Marie Laufiso is a Dunedin-born Samoan who has contributed a lifetime of community support and activism. She tells us how her family upbringing in Brockville brought a sense of obligation and a “from the margins” thinking that brings both challenges and innovation to the wider city.

Talking points

Poverty and lack of access to resources is inter-generational – it builds up.

My mother said, Brockville is our village – we take care of the needs of the village – its people and its place.

We watched Cowboy and Indian movies – rooting for the Indians of course.

We felt a strong sense of place but also a dislocation, of being born in someone else’s country.

The key is relationships. Everyone has a story about everyone else – you have to get past those stories and talk real.

We have to figure out ways to invest in our own children

Dunedin as a community means being serious about supporting whanau. It means not imposing what we think are the best solutions without having first had meaningful conversations

Key volunteers are tired, worried about the future – they need our support.

When I think of a compassionate economy, I think about people who actually care. A society that is just and peaceful.

(Sustainability) A society that takes care of all of our people, then the people would take care of the planet.

(Superpower) Listening

(Success) My family together supporting my brother through his illness.

(Activist) Yes. A community worker.

(Motivation) Obligation. I said I would, so I’d better.

Challenges) Being really clear about legacy we’re leaving children.

(Advice) Keep it real.

The show was first broadcast on the 11th August 2016.

Categories
communication community computing participation

Empowering communities

robComber

Working with communities to empower them rather than to change them.

Rob Comber is a a Lecturer in Computer Mediated Communication based at Newcastle University’s Open Lab. With training in psychology, Rob has worked on the role of online communities and now is focussed on food, activism, urban space, and sustainability – all through a lens of civic engagement.

Talking points

How people construct, create, and maintain relationships with each other through some of the mechanisms of pressing buttons and friending each other

How can you create a community when all you can really say is “I like this person” or “I like this thing that they’ve said”?

“Do online communities have the same characteristics as real communities?” is where I started, but I found there’s no real difference between them – same values, people commit to them, spend time building relationships and doing things.

Online, digital, virtual isn’t replacing but augmenting what we are doing in our everyday lives.

Yes it is easier to press like…but you’ve done a lot of work to construct that community around you – so saying it is easier to press like is a bit like saying that if you are already a member of that club then it is easier for you to open the door and walk in.

So the idea that “slacktivism” is easy hides the work people have to do beforehand. It’s public too – you have to make a real commitment to say this is who I am. People can use that quite carefully to construct an image of themselves – this is the person who I am, and this statement is of value because I am making that commitment in front of other people

A challenge of looking at online communities is the romanticisation of offline communities.

Being exposed to poly-vocality, multiple voices and perspectives really enriches the way that we think about the world.

Why do we buy two to get one free, when we only need half?

Trying to find ways to connect communities together to improve the sharing of knowledge and expertise that they already have…inclusion and social sustainability.

Issues of resilience – looking at unrealised and under-realised capital that’s already there

We found a focus on behaviour change was quite useful if you wanted to stop someone from doing something, but very difficult to do if you wanted someone to try something new and to keep doing it.

Civic engagement: not saying “we know best we can tell you what to do and here’s how you can make your city better”, instead it’s “we know you know how to make your city better, we want you to tell us so we can help you do it”.

Working with communities to empower them rather than to change them.

Realise that we don’t have that power to magically change a community, it’s much more beneficial to work together with them.

Role of a Civic University means the local community is not just the place where we are, but it is the place that we are.

We have to engage with the issues that arise here, partly because it is a disadvantaged area, but also because it is fundamental to what a university should be doing.

We have to be really able to demonstrate value and if we can show that it is intertwined and embedded in the lives of the people around the university then you don’t have to struggle to find why you are doing what you are doing, it comes from the people who are there already.

Water, energy and food nexus – trying to understand how these resources come together…how they are connected as systems.

How do you know if engagement is doing good? You get a sense of it, do the people I engage with see value in that engagement? Do they see outcomes they might have otherwise not anticipated? Unlike behaviour change work where we decide what we will change and therefore can evaluate it…but with engagement…what has changed for you?

We try to activate the activists. Find people who will take on that engagement and take on the role of saying “we need something more here, we need something better here” –whatever they decide. It’s being able to say that when we have to leave, that it becomes sustained by the community.

What a community should be…agonism…continually questioning the world around us.

We’re good at looking at ourselves and asking “is it good now”, we’re not so good at asking “will we still be happy with this situation in 5, 10, 50 years?”

A sense of questioning the status quo, but also questioning the future of that

Questioning across scales, but identifying other communities where you might be having an impact is a significant challenge even before you think about what that impact might be.

A sense of belonging is important, place tied to history, but we rarely think of a sense of belonging in terms of future generations.

In the same way that we look to previous generations for our sense of place, future generations belong to us in that way.

People think of technology as the future, so let’s use technology to represent the future back to us now.

Engagement: there’s no simple message of how to convince people to change behaviour, the point is that you’re not really convincing them, they have to convince themselves.

The long term element of engagement is a time scale of 3, 10 or 50 years – compared to nice results after a year or six months or a year for publishing “this is what we did it was amazing”.

We recognise the easy life, but if that was an amazing future then we wouldn’t need to be subversive.

The questioning itself is an important part – we need to take this critical stance in designing technology, even if the response is that we won’t design technology. This is different from a basis (of computing) of selling more new stuff

It is important to say can we sell less stuff? Can we even ask that question?

(Sustainable Superpower): People to be able to see connections between the things that they do – spatially, temporally, socially.

(Success): Being and to work in a research lab that values engagement and in ten years time we might be able to say that we did some good in hat engagement.

(Activist): I wouldn’t see myself as an activist. I wouldn’t see myself as the person who has the responsibility as the person in the community who knows and who knows which action is best. Academic research, when it’s well intentioned, when it’s working best through engagement is facilitative – is the aim of that to facilitate activism? I think so. Am I a facilitator? I hope so.

(Motivation): People. Above all else, taking a humanist perspective, and saying people are good, we need to work from that as a basic principle of what we are doing.

(Challenge): Engagement – being able to demonstrate that engagement is useful.

(Miracle): 100% turn out in every bit of local, national government – for people to wake up in the morning and really think about the society around them and something that they are involved and not to just take the easy life of sailing through it.

(Advice): Think about the world around you, and the people that are in it, and work with those people.

This conversation was recorded at Open Lab in Newcastle in September 2015.

Categories
community creative

Creative conversations

Jillian de Beer

Create new conversations

Jillian de Beer is a creative strategist who specialises in strategy for innovation and growth, enterprise development, business and economic transformation, cultural brand identity and market development. Amongst many other achievements, she founded Incredible Edge. In this wide-ranging discussion we talk about the role of creativity in the sustainable conversation.

Talking points

The type of businesses, the type of technology based applications that we need to survive in the next era

if you have a big idea, how are you going to pull off the big idea? the way you do it is getting people around the table…and saying how can we collaborate to pull off this big idea.

It’s in my DNA: making, crafting – that’s bigger than the idea.

Sensorially rich environments

When things get taken away, it’s the artists and creatives who move in and remake and reclaim that space to leave a legacy for the community to follow.

It’s extraordinary when New Zealanders stand up and are counted on their values. And they speak with true conviction about the world and its well-being, and how the people of the plant needing to take notice of change that will affect us all.

(Growing up in NZ’s rural South Island)…The vista is borderless. You grow up thinking beyond the horizon with no construct.

That’s been my life – looking beyond the office door. Looking to what I don’t see. Looking beyond to who I don’t see.

You can have paper in the in tray, and you can move it to the out tray – but what difference have you made everyday?

It’s about not just creating value, but creating change in what you are doing – that’s adding real value.

It’s also about asking who are the beneficiaries? who is this for? what is the purpose? what’s the legacy you are going to leave?

Profound shift from hierarchical to horizontal landscape.

We have a world of order and a world of disorder…and they’re all connected.

Intergenerational equity will best come from a whole of community approach. We need to learn from saying – “an apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”. The older people have all this wisdom and the young people are the eyes of the future. We need to take advantage of this lineage and close this gap.

People need to come together around shared values.

Sometimes you have to drop a bombshell because the future is now. We have to together, now, say what is important to us and the next generations.

Everybody has to make some action to shift the goal posts into a more positive zone. And take responsibility for what they see around them – we all have to do our part.

I don’t think some of the facts of change are really brought out, and we need to be honest about that.

Change has to come from the grassroots community. Governments are risk averse – but innovation, entrepreneurship, initiative needs community.

We need to stand up and comment on policy.

We need to celebrate roles that can make a difference.

In a resource constrained future we need to be making with a different set of resources as a choice.

If we keep thinking of things as resources, we use and use and use until it’s all gone – but if it’s an asset we might think differently.

A creative ecology is the ecosystem of people and all living things that it takes to pull off a movement.

The way of the world now is a shared collaborative experience of people who together can pull off something special.

Sometimes its change by evolution, sometimes it’s revolution.

We have to make our own communities, our own business networks resilient – be proactive

(Activist?) Yes. I think if something is wrong I do something about it. I’m pretty strong on values. I’m pretty strong on openness, transparency and honesty.

I’ve learnt if you see something really wrong, do something about it. It’s very sad when people don’t, and it doesn’t have very good consequences.

(Motivation?) The challenge to make a difference outside of my house.

(Challenges?) Continue to work further south – a journey really.

(Miracle?) Eradicate child poverty.

(Advice for listeners?) Talk to people who you’ve never met before, go outside your comfort zone, cross the line to meet people from other groups, create new conversations, get out of your bubble.

Categories
agriculture community community garden food tourism transition towns

Strengthening community

Anisha Lee

My miracle would be a very big thing, but would require a lot of small things.

Anisha Lee is involved in community development in Oamaru. We talk about her experiences in farming, geology, botany, tourism, environmental farm plans and community gardens. we talk about all of these things, along with plans to bring Ooooby to Oamaru.

Talking points

From a personal responsibility level there seems to be a change in the dairy industry – this is beneficial for everybody if we take responsibility for the decisions you take.

The environment will win in the end if you destroy the thing that is feeding your business – the soil – but it will take casualties on the way through.

No one wants to do bad. But they only know how to do good in the context of what they know is good. People do listen to their managers, but it’s an apprenticeship system without regulation – they think they’re doing good, but they’ve been taught by people who didn’t know either. All genuine people who believe they are doing the right thing.

The best way to bring about change is to get farmers who are doing a great job to run groups – to build a sense of community people who know and are doing a good job of environmental management.

International visitors hear “clean and green” don’t realise that it is provided by an irrigator – it’s not naturally green around here. They realise we have a genuine problem, that we’re not as environmentally friendly as we look on a postcard. It is definitely going to damage tourism is we don’t stop saying something we’re not.

They see environmental mayhem with a small reserve on the edge and are appalled at we call a clean green country.

If we take care with what we do to meet our animalistic desires and requirements, then the other stuff might come a bit easier

Making sure we’re not polluting and are supporting an environment that will keep producing food and preventing poverty and assisting in communities being healthy, more rounded people as well as looking after the facilities around us that provide us with food.

Seeing beginning of the tipping point.

But we’ve been removed as society from understanding what is really important to us.

People are starting to realise that what we eat – where it comes from is really important. It is easier to drive to the supermarket, but in the long run that is not better for everyone.

Helping people have more connections within the community.

(Success?) Graduating. Being involved in the fantastic and enriching Summer School

(Activist?) If it means someone who screams and yells outside and doesn’t do much else, then not really. If it means someone who takes action, then yes.

(Motivation?) I like helping people, being around people, seeing people happy. I see a lot of non-happiness in the world, and I try my best to change that.

(Challenges?) OOOOBY, Education material for the cape re-vegetation project.

(Miracle?) My miracle would be a very big thing, but would require a lot of small things. Happy people, that don’t have to deal with poverty and an unhappy environment around them. Coming up with a solution that means we’re not reliant on petroleum for everything. And getting back to our roots without having to lose too much of that comfort that we’ve managed to acquire.

The smallest thing that anyone could do that would make the biggest impact is to go and talk to your neighbours. Get to know the person who lives next door and be pleasant to them. We’ve all got to live together, whether we like it or not.

(Advice?) Be nice to everybody. Have some compassion, everybody has their struggles. They might tell you what they need and you might be able to help if you’re just prepared to listen.

This series of conversations in Oamaru was prompted by discussions with Phoebe Eden-Mann following her OU Geography field trip to explore Oamaru as a transition town.

We are very grateful to the helpful folks from 45 South Television for the use of their studio.

Categories
author communication community

Stories of community transition

Nathalie Brown

We have a lot of fun in what we do in trying to save the world.

Nathalie Brown is a journalist living in Oamaru. She tells us how she first found Oamaru a “wondrous place”, and on returning decades later, an influx of artists and artisans had breathed new life into the town. She is involved in the Natural Heritage Society and is busily unearthing stories of people doing their bit to create a positive future.

Talking points

Oamaru became home 11 or 12 years ago, it really is the most extraordinary and remarkable place, I just love it.

I came back to Oamaru and found people in fabulous tartan kilts, with feathers in their hair…extraordinary people with wonderful life and I thought this is for me.

There’s something about the energy of the place that you don’t find in other places.

I don’t know if the people created the spirit, or the spirit created the people. I think the first thing was the built heritage. The establishment of the Whitestone Civic Trust in 1989 brought new blood into the town.

It was resisted strongly by some of the local people – you’re used to living in a certain way…”all these people dressed up in fancy costumes, who do they think they are?”

I was always socially aware, leftie, greenie, but I didn’t really have anything to pin it to.

The implications of climate change and peak oil…something’s not right, what can we do about it? what can anyone do about it other than throw your hands in the air and being in despair?

We have a lot of fun in what we do in trying to save the world…

There’s more than a lifetime’s exploring to do here.

I love encountering people in their workplaces and their homes, and talking to them about what gets them out of bed in the morning.

You have to be curious. You find unusual people doing extraordinary things.

What have we got, how can we make the most of it for everyone?

(Success in last couple of years?) Being here for my aged parents, and being at my mother’s bedside while she was dying – the most extraordinary, magnificent, wonderful , phenomenal experience I’ve every had.

(Activist?) Yes. In terms of getting involved in groups and committees. If something really gets me going then I’m going to pursue it – seeing where I can take this social justice issue of the workers in the residential care social places – I will be pursuing that.

(Motivation?) Compassion.

(Challenges?) Learning how to earn a living.

(Miracle? or smallest thing that would make the biggest impact?) Some kind of universal will to do something about the effects of climate change.

The nuns taught us, if you have a sense of moral outrage, then you can do something.

Who would have thought that apartheid would collapse? it was just one of those things that is. If we could get a political will at the next climate change meeting – we’ve stuffed it up, what can we do to keep it under two degrees? What can we do? Let’s do it. It would be a miracle, but it could happen.

What’s Oamaru going to be like in 20 years time? What’s the world going to be like in 20 years time – it could be fabulous. But on the other hand it could be absolutely dreadful.

(Advice for listeners?) Learn to meditate.

This series of conversations in Oamaru was prompted by discussions with Phoebe Eden-Mann following her OU Geography field trip to explore Oamaru as a transition town.

We are very grateful to the helpful folks from 45 South Television for the use of their studio.

Categories
community community garden food

Community gardens community hub

Sophia Leon de la Barra

The single most powerful thing we can share with kids – they’re the custodians of the land – they have to take care of it, and here are some ways how.

Sophia Leon de la Barra is the coordinator for the Waitaki Community Gardens in Oamaru. Trained as a statistician in public health, she now runs the community gardens as a community, education and social hub.

Talking points

A glossy magazine for a sustainability strategy didn’t really feel like sustainability in action or practice.

I feel like a contemporary custodian of the land.

I found Oamaru and was fascinated that these eccentric people could be celebrated, and work together.

Our philosophy is around sharing life skills.

Gardening has skipped a generation, an effect of the commercialisation of supermarkets and urbanisation.

The knowledge is there, we just need to tap into that wisdom.

My job is really about people.

Community gardening is about food production, but also valuable learning opportunity and social experience.

Plant a seed, pull a weed, harvest a vege.

(On community gardens and time banking in Lyttleton) Sometimes you need a bit of a crisis to drive you to into an alternative economy. Adversity reveals character and reliance on neighbours.

Food is one of those integral things.

It is all too easy in a globalised economy to eat food from all over the world, but the environmental cost is not really factored in…how can a Korean ice-cream be cheaper than a local one? When people start looking at the logistics of global systems – this is crazy.

Growing food connects people to their environment.

Growing your own food is an empowering experience – it just tastes better.

If people want to engage it can scale up.

I measure our success by how well we are doing in sharing knowledge with the next generation. We’re reconnecting kids wit the process of food, with cycles of nature.

(Success?) Oamaru food forest.

Everybody’s got this about collaboration and making things happen.

A can do attitude – everybody’s got their own projects – so they totally get it, they get you want to do something new and want to help you.

The community garden, community hands in soil – truly intergenerational.

The single most powerful thing we can share with kids – they’re the custodians of the land – they have to take care of it, and here’s some ways how.

(Activist?) Yes. Activists are people who just do things really. If you get something done and it creates a positive change for someone else, then you’re acting on your principles, implementing – activism.

(Motivation?) Well-being of people, health is our greatest wealth, and the more we can do to share that the stronger we’ll be as a whole.

(Challenges?) Get more involved in Council – I’m standing for election next year.

(Miracle?) Make everybody more time rich, so they can engage in community projects.

(Advice?) If you’ve got something you’re passionate about, dig it, do it.

This series of conversations in Oamaru was prompted by discussions with Phoebe Eden-Mann following her OU Geography field trip to explore Oamaru as a transition town.

We are very grateful to the helpful folks from 45 South Television for the use of their studio.

Categories
community transition towns

Transition Oamaru

Gail May-Sherman

I would like to do the sorts of projects that 30 years down the line, if the world has gone to hell, people will say “thank god we did this”, and if 30 years down the line nothing has gone to hell and everything is fine then people will say “oh my god, I’m so glad we did this”.

Gail May-Sherman is chair of the Natural Heritage Society – the group behind Transition Oamaru and Waitaki District.

Talking points

There’s a group of people here who shared our ideals and really wanted to make a difference.

We need to interact with people – we need to be unified in times to come.

We are preparing out community for changes

Trying to get people to understand that lifestyles need to change and it needs to change pretty rapidly

Realisation that just organic farming wasn’t enough – we need skills

We don’t expect everyone to stand up and be warriors

Whether these changes happen or not, I’m want to able to say I’m so glad we did this.

Our criteria for a course in the Summer School is that it has to help our community either by keeping certain skills in the community, or by helping people reach out and become more connected to each other.

Music brings people together

in the Summer School, we’re not trying to convince anybody of anything, we’re trying to offer things to make sure our community has these skills. Whether these bad things happen in the community or not, it will still make our community a better place.

I would like to do something positive, regardless of what the future holds.

I grew up in Colorado – changes in the climate are much more obvious there than in New Zealand. When I was a little girl, if you planted a garden before the 1st of June, there was a really high probability that you would lose everything to the last frost at the end of May. By the time I left, if I hadn’t planted by garden by the end of April, I wouldn’t get a harvest. Because not only had the frosts left by the middle of April, but by the middle of June temperatures would be 37-40 degrees C, and they would stay that way for three months, with effectively no rain – and watering restrictions because of droughts, extreme droughts. Gardening became an entirely different thing. I have two children. I saw these changes happening to where I grew up. I used to read the newspaper…I saw what was happening with politics and finances, and I saw people around me becoming desperate, living amongst relatively affluent home owners, but still people were struggling, yet the prices of everything were increasing, and there was this tremendous pressure to keep buying. And then we learned about Peak Oil, and the US without cheap oil will be a disaster. So I slowly but surely felt like a person chained to the rail-road tracks and saw the train coming. I felt like myself, and my family, and everyone I loved was in terrible peril, because I couldn’t see any way of making where we lived a place that could survive the kinds of changes that seem to be coming on us. So when we decided to leave, I promised myself that wherever we went I didn’t ever find myself in that position – that I felt totally helpless.

The US is a place that’s on a track and I don’t see it going off – it’s going where it’s going, and I don’t think you can change it – I’d be delighted for someone to prove me wrong. But here you can make a difference.

Anywhere you go, you find the same mix – people who see what is happening and who are afraid and want to do something about it, and people who either don’t see it at all or see it and are afraid and therefore want to pretend it doesn’t exist. I wouldn’t want to speak for anyone, but I do believe that that there are a large number of people who simply choose not to believe it because believing it is too hard, too scary.

We can complain, or we can see opportunities. It behoves us to make the best of the opportunity, because that’s the way it is. Turn challenges into community vision and do something really valuable.

I would like to see Oamaru become a city where community members are connected, and know each other and take care of each another. Where we can supply our own basic needs – our food, shelter and clothing. Where our energy requirements can come from non-polluting – or at least, less polluting – more long term sources.

There are all these challenges about reducing our fossil fuel consumption, while not forcing people to go live in caves – a phrase I hear a lot “you guys just want us to go live in caves” – but that’s exactly what we don’t want. So we would like to see Oamaru use a lot of solar and wind power.

A town like Oamaru has very few energy needs that cannot be met through alternative energy sources if we put our minds to it.

The biggest factor is getting people to remember how to take care of each other – to me that’s the biggest goal, to get rid of that social isolation that is such a part of modern life.

Being old isn’t such a tragedy if you are surrounded by a community that cares for you. being young having children isn’t so difficult if you are surrounded by a community that cares for you.

Pick one project, Get people together even if only half a dozen, and get that project working and visible and strong, and you will get more people interested and eventually you will be able to spread your fingers into other pies. The school connected us to a wide variety of people with a wide variety of skills that have now taken off with other projects – so it helps if your project connects a whole lot of community members to begin with.

(Success?) Summer School, community garden propagation, food forest project. In the last few months we’ve taken on at least five new projects.

(Activist?) Kind of. When I think of activist I think of people who go with signs and protesting – and I do that from time to time. I guess I’m an activist but I do it more with an idea of cooperation. When I think of activist I think of people who are trying to make conflict with a particular source that aggravates them – I am not a very conflict oriented individual….I am activist that works through cooperation rather than conflict.

(Motivation?) the future I see my children having. I watched the Soylent Green dystopian vision when my son was about six months old. In the movie one of the characters is an old man who remembers life back when energy was plentiful and food was plentiful and there was flowers and trees, and it suddenly occurred to me that my son was that old man – he was the generation that was was very likely to be the last ones that would remember that kind of world. Unless we change something dramatically, by the time my son is an old man things could be very much worse. And now my daughter is about to have her first baby. Not only would I like my old age to be relatively pleasant, I would like their old ages to be relatively pleasant too. That’s probably the biggest thing that motivates me.

(Challenges?) Getting our community to recognise a need for a change in the way the economy works. We need to start realising that the emphasis on stuff has to go away. We need to learn to live without growing – you have to learn to live with what you have. The last 150 years of growth brought to us by the fossil fuel industry has been fabulous, but we can’t do that any more. We need to change our priorities so that rather than having more and more and getting bigger and bigger, we can live comfortably with where we are.

(Miracle?) Change in attitude. Having people recognise that we can’t keep exploiting things – we have to live in balance. If I could make the fossil fuels go away in a single whoosh then I would, but only if I could be sure it wouldn’t make everyone’s lives hell. That’s the problem with magic wands – you never know what the consequences are going to be. So I don’t want to say there’s one little thing, but if I could just make people see that we can still live wonderful happy lives, they don’t have to be tarred and horrible and miserable…without constantly getting more stuff. If I could get everyone to see that could be not just as nice but could quite easily be preferable as a lifestyle, that would be the wand that I would wave.

(Advice?) If you think that these issues are a problem then you need to start acting on that, it is time for everyone to act. You don’t have to start whole movements, but you need to start making changes, and you need to start supporting other people in making those changes.

This series of conversations in Oamaru was prompted by discussions with Phoebe Eden-Mann following her OU Geography field trip to explore Oamaru as a transition town.

We are very grateful to the helpful folks from 45 South Television for the use of their studio.

Categories
community geography

Communities at scale

Sean Connelly

The real challenge, no matter what scale you are taking action, is to be aware and responsive to what’s going on at other scales.

Dr Sean Connelly is a lecturer in Geography at University of Otago. We talk about how sustainability at a global scale is made of sustainable local communities – but that there’s a long way to go before those two are in harmony.

Talking points

Local populations get caught up in global environmental movement

If we are concerned with building and scaling up our actions, it’s hard to imagine what things look like at the global level, whereas we can easily talk about what happens in our own back yard.

My entry point is the unequal relations between the local and the global – local populations impacted by decisions made at much larger scales, often with very little thought given to their needs, or what control they have over their own environment, lifestyle and social well-being.

The real challenge, no matter what scale you are taking action, is to be aware and responsive to what’s going on at other scales.

Everything is interrelated, everything is complex, we live in one global system – with all kinds of subsystems but they are all interrelated.

Being aware of those interrelationships is really difficult, and in some ways being aware of the local offers some appeal. It can be romanticised as the wonderful place – everything’s fine, we can do things in our locality and forget about the challenges of making the connections beyond this place. but how do we connect a whole bunch of different localities around similar kinds of issues?

Human geography, people and environment – where do we place our emphasis.

(Human relationship with nature?) Challenging. Look at the state of the environment, locally, nationally and globally – there’s a lot to be concerned about, enough to suggest that our relationship to the environment should be rethought. We should be thinking about that relationship differently.

There are exciting and inspiring stories of people rethinking practices.

(On introducing sustainability in education) Start with state of the environment – why is this stuff critically important. But is is challenging to start with doom and gloom, it can be disempowering, the last thing you want to do is start by saying the future is pretty bleak. So the challenge it to tell it like it is, this is the state of the environment, but also to tell inspiring stories. This is the case of the present, our future is not locked in. We have complete control over our future – this is something only we can decide.

The term sustainability can be a quagmire…but this notion of, I don’t want to say balancing because I think that is where a lot of the discourse around sustainable development falls down, this notion of balancing and making trade-offs between the economy and society and the environment – but rather it is about how do we view those things as mutually reinforcing and integrating them, thinking about them much more holistically.

How do we embark on initiatives that don’t trade off any of these things against the other?

It is hugely problematic to put a dollar value on nature – it reinforces the very things that we don’t want to be doing – the whole problem is that setting a dollar value means it is expendable, we can use it and abuse it and just trade it for something else.

Engaging in food as a community, not just a commodity.

The scale issue is the critical challenge. Whether talking about food or energy, we can point to innovative examples, but they are still quite small – they don’t have huge impact on the way the majority of us go about our daily lives.

A lot of the food system infrastructure is social infrastructure. The real value of farmers markets, is the social relationships.

(Activist?) Yes. And that is particularly touchy for a Canadian at this point. Interesting things going on right now around the tar sands, the RCMP spying on environmental organisations concerned about blocking pipelines…claims of environmental radicals attempting to highjack the regulatory process…so this can be seen as a threat or source of pride – yes I am a radical. We’ve seen all kinds of people, grandmothers, people with children in the streets saying “you know what, I am a radical” We should all be radicals.

(Motivation?) All kinds of possibilities, for me this area of sustainability is so fascinating, there’s so many different aspects and entry points, and it is absolutely critical, the most important issue we’re facing, not just as individuals but as a species. And there are all kinds of inspiring activities that are going on.

(Advice?) If you are concerned with issues of the environment and sustainability, then follow your passion, no matter what it is that motivates you, there’s a sustainability angle to it.

Categories
community democracy development

Empowering communities

SteveClare_N-01

If you believe you can make a difference then you can make a difference.

Steve Clare is Deputy Chief Executive of Locality. Locality is the UK’s leading network of development trusts, community enterprises, settlements and social action centres. Steve describes how community asset ownership is a route to sustainability.

Talking points

Community organisations making a difference

Board drawn exclusively from an area of social housing runs successfully with a turn-over of £8-10M, assets of £30-40M.

Really entrepreneurial and yet they are community owned, community run, open to everybody within the community. It’s about having more say, more control about what happens, in their community.

Enterprise and community asset ownership is a route to transforming communities, and a route to sustainability.

We would argue that transferring assets to community ownership is a better long term bet in terms of the future prosperity of the community – rather than just selling them off for a quick buck.

The world is moving to a sharing economy.

The very local and the global are more than ever, two sides of the same coin.

The next door community doesn’t have to be physically next door.

We’re seeing a fundamental change in the economic paradigm

…based on a model of an ever growing economy, an ever expanding tax income, and an ever increasing spend on public services…that’s changed, the economic crisis has led Europe to austerity policies…some people think ‘oh well, eventually it will get back, get better, the economy will grow and we’ll get back to the way it was’, I think that’s a mistake – it’s never going back to the way it was.

The post-war model of ever increasing economy, ever increasing tax income, ever increasing spend on public services – it’s broken, much as we might regret it, it’s broken. That has led to fundamental questions being asked about the relationship between state and citizen, state and communities, and who does what, and who is responsible for what.

People taking control of their lives.

Local people understand local problems, local challenges and local opportunities better than some faceless bureaucrat no matter how well meaning they may be.

Dis-economies of scale

People aren’t widgets.

Local solutions are best driven, best decided upon at a local level.

A cross in a box every five years in an election is not democracy. Local ownership, local control starts to ask questions about whether there are other things we should be making decisions about locally.

The options and opportunities that digital technology brings, I think there is scope for a different sort of politics.

We have a 21st Century society, we have a 21st Century population, we have a 21st Century economy, but we still have a 19th Century political system which is no longer fit for purpose.

People will mobilise in response to closing a hospital or library, the challenge is to then get people to start asking deeper questions.

Libraries are being decimated by public spending cuts…that’s caused a lot of controversy. Some people have responded ‘we”l take over the library and run it as a volunteer service’, well meaning but personally I would query how sustainable that is. The other approach…is saying many libraries as they are at the moment, are 19th Century institutions that are no longer fit for purpose. What we need to do is reinvent the library as a 21st Century – it isn’t about a place where you store large lumps of paper ie books, it isn’t a place where you deal with ebooks either that’s a dead end… what you can make a library into is a real community hub, a store of local knowledge, a place of empowerment, a place where people can learn, share, swap ideas and skills, linking to technology, linking to the maker-hacker movement for example. The 21st Century library for me can, and should be a vibrant essential part of any community.

If nothing else changes, changing ownership is not going to work.

A service or building that isn’t working, is still not going to work if all you change is who owns it.

Getting local people involved

Government policy tends to be focussed on deprivation – what’s wrong with a community – a deficit gap model. I think we need to turn that around to asset based community development (ABCD). The starting point has got to be what are the assets within the community – the people, the skills, the networks.

In my experience, every community, no matter how challenged or deprived, always has a huge rich seam of potential and creativity. If you keep telling people that they’re a waste of space, if you keep telling people that they have nothing to offer, if you keep telling people that they’re a failure it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Once people start recognising that they can do something about their lives, that they do have choices, that you always have choices, sometimes the transformation is remarkable, you can almost see someone growing like a flower bursting into bloom. I think the same thing applies to communities.

If people think don’t think can do something then they won’t try. If people think they can do something then they will.

Many of our members are extraordinary people, but they were ordinary people until they became extraordinary by doing something, by taking action. By refusing to accept no as an answer.

It’s about working together, genuine partnerships…I don’t think any one sector has the answer. But what I do think is that the paternalistic, top down, system drive, scale approach that the public sector has is no longer fit for purpose.

Creating situations where people can do things for themselves, then stepping back and letting people get on with it.

People don’t want to live in a place that’s the same as everywhere else.

(Motivation) I hate with a vengeance oppression, inequality, seeing human lives wasted. I love with a passion seeing what people can become, the changes that they can make to their own lives, their children’s lives, to their communities.

The perception that people are fundamentally selfish is completely wrong. Anyone who understands history understands the role of the commons, of sharing, the fact that as a species we’ve moved forward through cooperation.

The idea that we act as rational economic beings is demonstrably nonsense, that we’re driven by indviduals needs is demonstrably nonsense, that you get jobs growth through increased productivity is demonstrably nonsense, – much of the current science of economics belongs in Harry Potter.

The established political system is the problem not the solution.

(Activist?) Yes. My work is my life. I don’t go on demos as much nowadays, but I hope I work in different ways.

I’m much more cynical nowadays days about gesture politics. If you’re going to do something, as far as I’m concerned, you damn well do it properly, you do not give up. I’m less keen about people who say “we want this, we’ll go out and fight for this, oh, it’s hard, we’ll give up”.

The collaborative economy is a game changer.

I saw a great quote the other day: “Social entrepreneurship used to be an oxymoron, now it’s a tautology”.

(Advice) I like Ford’s quote: “If you believe you can, or you believe you can, you’re probably right”, I think that’s such a powerful thing

If you believe you can make a difference then you can make a difference.

Opening people’s eyes to the possible, to the wonderful things happening out there by people just like them.

Categories
community development

Thinking small for big change

BobNeville-01

(on Regional development chasing big business) That’s very prestigious for an economic development officer. The idea of working with a couple of loonies out the back of a real community somewhere, who can’t even articulate what they want, and they’ve got no money – no one wants to do that, but that’s where it’s all at, that’s where the seed is, and when you realise how much there is, and if you’ve got a way of sorting that seed out, you regenerate your community.

Bob Neville founded Community Regeneration. Bob has extensive experience in Regional and Community/Economic/Social Development with Local Government and Community Development Organisations, with a focus on and passion for small rural communities. He is the author of author of Think BIG…focus SMALL – an introduction to the Natural Science of Small Community Regeneration.

Talking points

Communities are just like gardens.

We’ve become very government dependent, but they don’t have the resources needed

If you are consistently regenerating your backyard garden, it’s going to give back to you. But if you just sit and look at it, it’s going to die – well communities are exactly the same. They are a multiplicity of different people, and services and infrastructure, and when they are established – just like the garden, they need to be continually regenerated at every level.

If the community waits for government to do the regeneration, it won’t happen and as a result the community will start to decline.

Communities are defined by the people that live there – parochial boundaries.

The objective we get a core of people who are interested in and concerned – before it reaches the frog in the saucepan syndrome – people who love their community and want to see it sustained.

There’s a big difference between regeneration and development, we’re not talking about development, we’re talking about sustainable regeneration.

Do you want a way to progress the things you want to do?

Community regeneration is the bridge across the canyon.

Every individual community is totally different – no two are the same.

A process is needed to get past the challenges of community groups.

Of 100 community groups, about five or six were really functioning effectively. The rest were groups by name.

The pace at which you move is determined by the collective capacity of that group.

Ideas are the seed that established every community

Business ideas…exist in a stable community at about a rate of 20 per 1000 population per year…and a similar number for community development projects…but most of those ideas go nowhere – those seeds are not taken seriously and they don’t have a process to take them forward.

The number of ideas is determined by the degree of social challenge already existing in the community.

The one thing that surprises me the most, is not so much the idea, as individuals’ conviction that their idea is unique and uniquely able to work, even if all the evidence points the other way. But as a facilitator you can’t tell them that, they have to see it themselves.

You have to respect people’s ideas and let the mirror try and tell them. They have to make the decision.

Most struggling small communities don’t have the capacity for capacity building.

Fly-by night gurus come in with a cocaine-like fix, they all goes out on a high, but then a couple of days later they’re thinking ‘how the hell are we going to do that?’. Once the fix wears off the community is back where they started. They were made to feel good for a while, but they have no process, no capacity, to make it happen.

Building an inclusive community.

Top down of community is not really thinking of what future will hold.

Debt is OK, but I’m anti continual economic development fuelled by debt

The idea of continual economic development founded on debt is economic disaster.

There has to be a way of doing a business that works

Natural Science of Small Community Regeneration.

It is difficult to get communities to see below the radar – to value micro enterprise.

(on Regional development chasing big business) That’s very prestigious for an economic development officer. The idea of working with a couple of loonies out the back of a real community somewhere, who can’t even articulate what they want, and they’ve got no money – no one wants to do that, but that’s where it’s all at, that’s where the seed is, and when you realise how much there is, and if you’ve got a way of sorting that seed out, you regenerate your community.

We’re only at the beginning of this industry. Those communities that capture this vision and come on board now, will become pioneers in this industry.

(Motivation?) I’ve got a passion for what I’m doing, that developed into a obsession, now it’s tempered back to a passionate obsession.

(Activist?) No, I’m a thinker and a doer.

(Challenges?) People accepting new ideas.

(Miracle?) For individuals to realise that they are responsible for destiny of their own lives, their own families, and their own community. And they need to be regenerating their patch, whatever it is.

Identify what piece of the puzzle you can fill.

(Advice?) Remember New Zealand and Australia are the best countries in the world.

Life is not about what you can get, life isn’t about accumulating things and wealth, it’s about fulfilling that seed that’s inside you that is trying to get out.

Find that seed that is within you and let it grow.