What will Whanganui 2020 look like?

The time machine is in for repairs at the moment and we all know quantum mechanics — "Come back tomorrow," they say.

"You can pick up your time machine from the workshop the day before yesterday if we get the settings right."

My guess is that Whanganui will be booming in 2020.


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You may have heard of the Goldilocks effect — that's us. Not too big but bigger than a town, and not too small but smaller than a city – just the right size for people to feel they belong.

The Goldilocks effect is already starting to work. We have become a creative hub — the mix of art, music, writing and industry is combining with a strong sense of place and, like the Awa, the energy undercurrent here is stronger than it appears to the casual observer.

Technology enables our talented people to reach across time and space while allowing us to be the centre of our own little corner of the world.

It is possible to pitch an idea — an art or music project — across the world from here. We can feel that we are global and local.

I followed Fred Frederikse's millispheres columns with great interest as they were always thought-provoking, and I feel that Whanganui would qualify as a mini-sphere.

We have a sense of community that feels bigger that the sum of our parts. The diversity brings something that strengthens us all.

This can be seen in the way small ideas grow and are picked up and supported. This means things happen.


Right now, there is so much going on it is hard to keep up — the Musician's Club, the Jazz Club, Opera House, Lucky Bar, art galleries, shops, cafes and restaurants all offer great places to go.

There is a buzz and a flow of young people moving back here because of the place, the pace, affordable housing and opportunities.

Alongside this we also have the hard evidence of inequality and the subtle threat of gentrification. This phenomenon is normally regarded as an urban/city problem or developers dream depending, on which side of the divide you stand.

Gentrification occurs when a rundown suburb with cheap housing and low rent is populated by artists, musicians and writers for whom the creative space is ideal.

Gradually the area becomes hip as the creative energy builds, and it becomes attractive to those who like to be associated with such communities because it makes them appear hip.

But they have access to financial resources that struggling artists don't and they use this to buy up properties. This drives up the house prices and rent until it is beyond the means of the artists and they leave, resulting in a hollowing out of the creative energy.

This effect is pushed even further as developers seize the potential for profits and snap up buildings to either renovate or demolish to make way for new ones.

Meanwhile the creative people, whose imagination began the cycle of rejuvenation, exodus to the next low-rent suburb where the pattern is often repeated.

We must be wary not to get caught in the grip of gentrification — firstly, because it would damage the families and children of those on low incomes by making good housing unaffordable; secondly, it would demolish the creative forces that bring the arts into our community. Both of those are linked.

It is creativity that finds and grows potential, whether it is a child or young person from a low-income family or our community's understanding of identity and where we live.

*Terry Sarten (aka Tel) is a writer, musician and social worker — feedback: tgs@inspire.net.nz