It's harder to define where a city's limits end than it is a region's, yet reasonably easy to define a local community both in terms of geography and interest. So why do we persist in trying to qualify the former while neglecting any robust empowerment of the latter?

Especially when, with multiple global crises to confront - climate change, overpopulation, resource depletion, water scarcity, sea-level rise, loss of biodiversity - community will become far more important over the next few decades than anything ostensibly grander.

Having made a hash of this topic in speaking to a Rotary Club meeting this week, I'll try to straighten the argument out here in case the Rotarians are wondering what struck them.

The amalgamation debate is predicated on the premise that defining a regional identity somehow gives more strength to the bits within it.


The bigger must trickle down ideology.

But most people's lives are bordered by the shops, the school, the local park, where they work.

The small domain which forms their community.

Over the breadth of Hawke's Bay, there are a hundred such communities.

Outside of family, that's the most precious bit. Yet those hundred bits stand to lose most in a unitary authority: their voice, their connections with governance, their identity.

This at the very time when, because of the global crises starting to assail us, strength of community may make the difference between meaningful survival and ignominious poverty.

Right now, we can't tell quite what impacts there will be, or exactly where. But we can uncomfortably predict the combined impact of global factors will be severe, at both the macro and the micro level.

And no-one mature today is adequately capable of dealing with those problems, because they require radical new ways of thinking and acting and we are not wired for it, neither by education nor societal mores nor experience.

Yet we don't have time to wait for new generations with new ways of thinking to take over and save us.

That's the conundrum.

The point in terms of amalgamation or the Ruataniwha water storage scheme or any other "think big" proposal is that thinking big is no longer what is required. What we need to do is to think small.

Think global, act local has been a catch-cry of the environmental movement for some time, yet the full ramifications of that message have yet to sink in.

That as contradictory as it may sound, real solutions start small in scale, designed to be implemented at a community level - so we must nurture our communities to be as resilient and responsive as possible in order to carry out the tasks ahead.

Crises such as climate change will not be satisfactorily dealt with by cities or regions or countries - though of course each level must play its part - but by the million communities that, like a giant jigsaw puzzle, must produce their own solutions to then fit into a whole.

In short we have to turn the current ideas about what "strength" in our society is on their head. Build from the bottom up, not look to "solve" at the top and hope it trickles down.

Perhaps the best way to put it is to replace "corporate" with "community" in the way we work the world.

That's a tall order, and it needs people who, as I say, are wired very differently from those in charge today.

The house of change is built with many bricks, so it's time to start thinking brick-size. Smaller is smarter. That's the right of it.

Bruce Bisset is a freelance writer and poet.