City must become able to fulfil our aspirations

By James Penn

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At the beginning of next year I will be one of many from my secondary school leaving Wanganui to pursue further education or career prospects elsewhere.

As such, I am undeniably part of the much-discussed decline in Wanganui's population and the rise in the population of the city that already accounts for more than a third of New Zealand's population.

While this trend is regrettable for Wanganui, it is palpable and must prompt action from local leaders. As has been well documented, the main age group driving this exodus is young people - "Generation Y".

Wanganui, along with a large number of other New Zealand cities noting similar trends, has reacted by searching for causes of this problem and set about finding solutions promptly.

This newspaper's editor, Ross Pringle, focused on the lack of jobs and investment in the city as the primary factor. Our Mayor, Annette Main, stated that "the reputation of Wanganui is the most important factor, about increasing our population". And the Wanganui District Council economic development manager has pointed to the natural dynamic of how young people, like myself, choose to live their lives, travel and explore today's world.

These are all causes of population decline that make sense. But what matters most is whether Wanganui can provide the potential for growth that young people desire. Our generation leaves school with aspirations.

That may well come across as a vague, flowery term, but it is one that encapsulates exactly the feeling that exists within my generation. On a more tangible level, it equates to jobs, certainly. But it is about more than just the existence of those jobs. It is about their nature, too - potential for promotion, for advancement within a company, or a transition into a bigger or more prestigious company as well.

Certainly attracting "large-scale employers" is important as a base for Wanganui as a community. More important, though, particularly in terms of ensuring skilled and innovative young people remain in our city, is providing the environment and the types of jobs that can match the aspiration many young adults share.

We should also look to encourage enterprise and the establishment of small but innovative businesses.

Wanganui should be marketed to young people as a place to come and employ the best young designers in New Zealand, or as a place to create products or services which are not just consumable locally, but which create excitement nationally and world-wide.

Doing this may require financial enticement on the part of our council, or it may require that our MP, Chester Borrows, pushes for such development through the support of Parliament. It may require, for example, that the council lowers rates on central city commercial property, or it may need the tearing away of the red tape such as the Resource Management Act in its current entrepreneurially oppressive state, as well as the barriers to enterprise erected by local government over the past few decades.

Finally, it is important that we remember that a number of our young people are going to leave Wanganui to pursue higher education elsewhere. That's natural, and is something largely out of our control.

What is most important, though, is that we leave with a view of a Wanganui that welcomes our skills soon after we complete this education; we need to exit a Wanganui that we want to re-enter five or 10 years down the track, rather than 20 or 30, or worse still, never at all.

James Penn is deputy head boy at Wanganui High School and captain of the New Zealand secondary schools debating team.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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