From disaster to opportunity

By Rod Trott, Dave Feickert

Oour wish for the New Year:

We wish people would start looking at national earthquake recovery after the devastating Christchurch experience and the subsequent royal commission and other inquiries as an opportunity rather than as a cost.

May we start thinking Napier-style regeneration, using all our artistic, architectural and under-used building skills to do it, over a sustained period. We don't have to lose our heritage buildings en masse, but stage their recovery in an affordable manner, which can create jobs. It is not even so much a question of finding a huge pot of money to do it, as the investment would be unlocked from local investors and investors from wider afield. We could build a vision that was inspiring, creating and recreating our attractive environment, creating skilled training schemes and jobs for the youth and unemployed builders, as well as for building and related professionals. Our citizens, gone away for work, could come home.

Local iwi have their own powerful story of the creation of the Whanganui region, the role of our volcanoes and rivers in that. Aotearoa New Zealand was a land created by tremendous, seismic upheaval and the continuity of nature's forces running through our own time calls on us to adapt to this power, which has millions of years to play yet.

The fertile plateaus in the Whanganui basin are the former ocean floor, providing an attractive location for hundreds of years and more recently, nearly two centuries ago, for a farming area originally designed to feed Wellington, with coastal shipments.

We acknowledge that we are not starting from scratch. Millions of dollars have been raised and spent on the Old Town in the past. A lot of work has already been done by the council and by the group chaired by Richard Thompson. Others have been involved in earthquake strengthening work and have important experience to share. We have Whanganui builders working in Christchurch on the rebuild there.

What we wish for our community in 2013 is the development of a new sense of perspective, rooted in the past but with a sense of flow through into the future. All of us are the guardians of our space for but the twinkling of an eye and moreover we are part of an unbroken chain of being stretching from the past into the distant future. How will we pass our shared responsibility on to future generations?

As a community, we could, of course, do it the painful, complaining and hesitant way, rather than be an inspiration for the country and provincial NZ in particular, let alone generations to come. We can be practical as well as visionary. Certainly, we can make individual donations to the gallery and other projects. Larger funders may also be found, even apart from government. Private investors are attracted to practical visions that bring not only financial gain to themselves, but add to their sense of where they can find a meaningful place in the world.

We are sure we could get some Chinese and other overseas money behind such a vision, if it created opportunities for those companies which already have an interest in what our region produces. Maybe we could even get some Japanese building strengthening skills via our twin city in Japan. Such a vision would pull in the local forestry industry, as wood is such a strong and flexible material which can be used to build multi-storey earthquake-proof buildings. The Chinese and Japanese would love that industry to help them repair their own earthquake-devastated regions; for they, like us, will face more earthquake devastation. These would be value-added timber systems that could be exported, not mere logs sold at an internationally determined price.

As a first step to attract Asian investors, our wish includes, therefore, an Asian-themed park, within one of the excellent reserves, near the river if possible, with water features, incorporating Chinese, Japanese, Indian and Southeast Asian themes.

Other ideas:

  • While building work is being done in the museum, gallery and Alexander Library, housing mobile displays in the community - starting with parts of the Memorial Hall and local cafes and schools

  • For the Queen's Park buildings, investigate the use of photo-voltaic electricity generation systems for the north-facing roofs of the buildings, to supply their own power and feed surplus into the grid

  • Housing the museum waka in a glass display at the front of the museum, as suggested earlier by Michael Payne, with a line of view to Majestic Square and Victoria Ave

  • Designating Queen's Park as a "park for peace" after consulting the Handspan movement and the RSA

  • Holding an annual criterium bike race with a finish in Queen's Park, after circuits on and around on the hill

  • Ideally, a special vehicle should be created for this practical vision - a partnership company fit for the purpose.


Dave Feickert is chair and Rod Trott secretary of the Whanganui River Institute.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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