In the past week I have attended two of our smallest communities - Chatham Islands and Whataroa. These communities would never say they struggle for relevance. Their identities are in themselves, they are totally relevant to the people they matter most to - their residents. Yet they struggle for services in the way outlying communities always seem to.
Many New Zealanders call the syndrome "south of the Bombay Hills", while in South Taranaki we call it "south of Burgess Park". This lack of recognition doesn't apply just to services, but also to column inches in the newspaper, business interest, some government agencies, broadcast air time and public transport.
Waiting times for appointments, surgery, emergency services, delivery of goods and services seem to grow the further away from main centres you live. The only answer anybody ever gets if the issue is raised is: "You want to live way out there, what can you expect?"
"Regional responsibilities" have been interpreted by providers as extending to city boundaries. Recent examples of this mind-set are polytech initiatives based in New Plymouth and Palmerston North, which have reduced services to neighbouring centres within their catchment. Public statements show little inclusion of the extent of their regions.
Now we see proposed amalgamations of local authorities, such as a Taranaki-wide district council and others around the country. The imperative is reducing rates for city dwellers, yet anyone looking at such proposals can see the losers would be the rural districts. They would not only lose influence, but also the provision of services and amenities that their new-found townie mates would have no reason to visit, support, acknowledge or fund.
New Zealand's reliance on a strong rural economy and productive sector has been its strength and will be forever. Question: How many roads and schools can you build, health and police services can we afford, city jobs and businesses can we create without farming, forestry, and other primary industries? Answer: Not many.
By the same token, and for the meantime (because technology makes change constant), cities can provide the infrastructure and dynamism to support marketing, growth, and administration which surpasses that of more rural-based enterprises.
Governors and managers will always make decisions about the provision of services, but as many minorities say, "nothing about us without us".
Those decisions are to be based on the best interests of those they serve and not the self-interest of the decision-makers, who never go off the asphalt in search of a good idea.