A social rebuild


Laura Taylor

I love seeing our city rise again. But our physical rebuild and our social rebuild are not the same. Just because one is in hand doesn’t mean the other is.

It is so important that we do what we can to ensure the places we build - where we spend so many hours of our lives - are part of our community, and not just part of the map. Otherwise, we risk a scenario where the businesses or residents in areas emerging today may still be only a collection of strangers with similar addresses ten years from now. How can that lead to a more resourceful and caring society, better able to care for each other and our planet? It certainly won’t help us get any closer to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030!

Fortunately, the global trend is clear. What people want, even in cities, is good old-fashioned neighbourhood. We need connection to each other as well as a sense of belonging to a place.

If you’re curious about how to make change happen, here are two things you could look up. One is the Town Team Movement. It’s an award-winning approach to place governance at the community level that brings together anyone who wants to be part of making the area they care about into the best it can be.

The other is SALT District. It’s the area around St Asaph, Lichfield and Tuam Streets (where Little High is). SALT District is significant because it is the first neighbourhood in New Zealand to adopt the Town Team way. Here, locals set the intention to become a neighbourhood now and not wait 10 years for magic to happen. SALT District’s choice shifted them from the realm of tactical thinking to strategic thinking.

Did it matter? Absolutely. As physicist Max Planck is supposed to have said, “when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change”. For SALT, considering what builds community and benefits the area as well as the city changed the way they might have otherwise done things, and changed outcomes.

That choice to think about the bigger picture instead of just the individual bits is one any fragmented neighbourhood can make, but I do think it helps to have some facilitation and a little leg-up.

SALT District are doing it. After only a couple of years building on local assets and the smallest amount of public funds, they’ve used an impressive bunch of collaborations to develop their community, identity and destinations. They’ve become award-winning placemakers. Many involved think if the central city had up to 10 walkable little 5-minute neighbourhoods, each built around what makes them special and unique, the whole city would be pretty unique and amazing.

Based on my experience facilitating SALT District, I know that putting resources around neighbourhood development is crucial. It amplifies everyone’s impact.

I imagine a future where each neighbourhood wishing to develop as such receives three years of part-time facilitation by a dedicated community development advisor, and, as you can’t build something from nothing, each can access ongoing support of up to $20K per year to support hyperlocal organising strength and provide a small financial platform to amplify value from. We’d no longer be trying to whistle that symphony alone; we’d be playing together. Now that’s a social rebuild.

Laura Taylor is Principal Placemaking Advisor at Ōtākaro Ltd, a Crown-owned development company based in Ōtautahi Christchurch.