How Animal Crossing saved my (everyday) life

You’re probably not one of the estimated 11 million people playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons (ACNH). This cute little time-waster has been called the game we all need right now – it hit the e-shelves on March 20th, just at the right time to occupy millions of kids and adults stuck at home with a Nintendo Switch and nowhere to go….including me.

I jumped on the ACNH bandwagon on March 29th, to give me something to do in the vast span of time between finishing work at 4.30pm and bedtime. This time used to be allocated to community work – meetings, admin etc. In lockdown, early evening was the hardest for me. I’m used to leaving work and racing around doing stuff – now I move from the study to the living room (four steps), and then what? After the first week in Alert Level 4, I was all caught up on my TV watching and podcast listening and wasn’t sure what to do next. ACNH was the perfect gap filler.

It’s a life-making game. You create your character and then find yourself on a small island with a few supplies and Tom Nook to help you find your way. The goal of the game is to decorate your island by planting flowers and trees, upgrade from a tent to a house (and then a bigger house) and make furniture. Once your island is looking sufficiently lush, you’ll get villagers come join you – up to ten little animal characters with their own interesting quirks (randomly selected from hundreds of possible animals). Your job is to make friends with them by spending time with them and giving them items so they can also live their best island life.

It’s really hard to explain why I love this game so much. It’s slow, there is nothing much going on, and no pressure to do much of anything. Most days when I’m playing, I potter around – fishing, tending my gardens, taking to my islanders. In fact, that’s exactly why I love it.

The whole family was playing the game during lockdown – me, Megan, Antony, Bronwen, Isaac and eventually Stephen. The game has a feature where you can fly to another player’s island for a visit, and trade items. It became a nice way to connect when we couldn’t see each other in person. Once we finished lockdown, the kids went back to regular life, but I am still playing daily. I find it relaxing, and I’ve grown fond of my little islanders on Taimoana (the name of my island).

A huge online world has opened up around the game too – it’s amazing! There are several YouTube and Twitch channels where people stream their playtime. There are Discord servers where you can share items and ideas. I’m sure it will come and go just like other fads have, but right now it’s a cultural phenomenon – maybe it will be studied one day!

How did I get here?

The last couple of months has been a wild ride. The world (and I mean the whole actual world) has been turned upside-down by Covid-19.

I’ve been trying to write this post for a while, and I just haven’t known where to start…

I’m in my seventh week of working from home – since March 23rd. What started as a small viral outbreak in China in December has swept the world and was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation on March 12th. Today, the stats look like this:

  • Worldwide cases: 3, 525, 116
  • Worldwide deaths: 243, 540
  • Highest deaths: USA 61,906; Italy 29,079; UK 28,734

It’s mind boggling, sad, and not about to end any time soon (although death rates are now slowing in most countries as they restrict movement of citizens).

New words and phrases have entered the lexicon – lockdown, bubble, flattening the curve, Zooming.

Lockdown

The New Zealand government put the country in full lockdown – Alert Level 4 – on March 25th. All but essential workers were expected to stay at home except for food shopping or exercising in our local area. All shops were closed except groceries and petrol stations. This ended on April 27th.

New Zealand is currently in Alert Level 3. This means that everyone who can work from home should do so, and everyone is expected to stay at home unless they are travelling for work, exercise or shopping. I’ve only left the house for walking/running and grocery shopping since March 20th. It’s the complete polar opposite of my regular life!

I’m looking forward to Alert Level 2 where we may be able to go out a little more often – businesses can open as long as they can follow some rules around maintaining physical distance (1 metre) and contact tracing.

At the moment, Alert Level 1 seems a long way off. That would mean the resumption of ‘normal’ life within New Zealand, but no travel outside of New Zealand.

The Bubble

My Level 4 bubble has been me, Stephen and Bronwen. We were excited to extend our Level 3 bubble to include Megan, Isaac, Antony, Wyatt and Arlia. These are the only people I get to have close contact with until Level 1.

Flattening the Curve

New Zealand, along with many other countries, has been focussed slowly the rate of transmission of the virus so that the health system is not overwhelmed with cases. New Zealand has been very successful at this – I think amongst the best in the world. We locked down early, stayed that way for a long time, and most people complied with the rules. That meant that we had a spike of cases followed by a gradual reduction over the last few weeks. It looks like this:

Zooming

Weirdly and suddenly, Zoom has been part of my everyday life. When we first started working from home, my team was using Skype. Then out of nowhere, Zoom appeared. Now I’m using it to connect with all kinds of people – colleagues, friends, family, community groups. I admit, I’m pretty Zoomed-out at the end of most days.

What my everyday looks like

I’m working from home, playing at home, everything at home.
Some days it’s a grind – I find it hard to stay focused and just want to get up and walk away. Lots of micro-pauses is the key – I take small breaks to have cups of tea, do a bit of crochet, watch a YouTube clip, or just sit in a chair in another room for five minutes.

I haven’t been able to go to the gym, go shopping (except for groceries and a bit online), or do any community work. This last one is hard! I’ve been a community busy-body for so long I hardly know what to do with myself!

But there is also a peace in staying at home – I’m safe and warm and being (fairly) productive. It’s starting to feel normal.

Making ethical choices is hard!

Six month ago, I started making changes to reduce the amount of plastic I use. My first focus was on my hair and beauty products. You can read more about that HERE. I thought I’d give an update on how it’s been going.

Shampoo and conditioner

I tried the Ethique mini conditioner bar and then I decided I just didn’t need it. I have naturally oily hair and conditioner just makes it oilier. My hair seems fine without it.

Shampoo was trickier. I started with the Ethique oily hair shampoo bar (St Clements). It was great – my hair was a bit dry, but it worked well. I didn’t have any issues bringing it to the gym – I just used a plastic container I had at home to put it in, and dried it out each night. But then after about four months I noticed my head getting itchy. And then my scalp started burning after using the shampoo. And then I got a rash on my back! So I switched to Ethique’s normal hair shampoo (Pinkalicious). That didn’t help at all, so I stopped using the bars and have been using my husband’s shampoo for the last couple of weeks while I decided what to do next.

This weekend I got some Ecostore shampoo for normal hair from Good For. You can buy glass bottles from them or refill using any container you want. The plastic containers the Ecostore products come in are made from 90% sugar plastic (it’s a thing!). So this seems like a good option while I regroup and think about trying another shampoo bar. Maybe I’ll stick with EcoStore depending on how it treats my poor head! I like their ethics, and that they are a New Zealand brand. And the bonus is that my husband will use it too, less bottles!

Body wash

I initially ditched my Body Shop body wash for an Ethique soap bar, but I really didn’t like the feel of it, and it left a film in my shower. I’ve tried a few different bars since then, and have settled on a Trade Aid soap from India for now. I feel torn that it’s travelled a long way to get to me, but it’s also made in an ethical way, and buying Trade Aid products supports local industry in the country of origin. I may still switch to Ecostore body wash. The sugar plastic still gives me pause…

Face wash and moisturiser

I have not changed these yet – still using Body Shop seaweed range. They are the hardest thing to wean myself off. Body Shop has said that it intends to move its packaging to 75% post consumer recycled plastics, but they have given themselves until 2022. Not really good enough, especially with all the alternatives available that are using sustainable packaging.

Toothbrush and toothpaste

Switched to a wooden toothbrush – easy! Next step, toothpaste tabs.

Deodorant

I switched to Aotearoad Natural Deodorant and OMG I love it! It’s better than the Nivea one I was using by a long way!

Summary

I’m exhausted! Trying to be ethical is hard! Well, not really but it has taken some effort to make changes. I feel much happier as a result though. The hardest thing for me has been to traverse the minefield of ethical choices to make – do I reduce travel miles or the amount of packaging? Buying only NZ made products is great, but it means that I am not supporting small production in developing countries – I want to be able do this also! So I’ve gone with a combo of options.

Other stuff

I’ve also been working on less packaging in the kitchen. I’ve been doing more home cooking (omg using my kitchen for actually cooking!), and getting whole foods from bulk bins rather than in packets. Good For is amazing for organic, sustainably sourced products.

I joined my local community garden and have been getting some produce in exchange for some lovely community time on Saturday mornings – weeding and chatting, what could be better!? And I’ve been buying fresh produce from Dan’s on Stanmore Road – buying in season and from Canterbury growers as much as possible.

And going mostly plant-based has been a huge change. I have found that some vegan products are high in fat and salt and have a lot of packaging, so I’ve been working on cooking my own food with basic ingredients.

So that’s the update. I’ve changed heaps of small things in six months and I’ve reduced my plastic use so much. There is a lot more I can do, and I will keep working on ways to change. I’m loving the challenge of finding great stuff that doesn’t have a big impact on the world.

Why so many castles?

Stephen and I have travelled around the UK on holiday three times now, and each time we have structured our trip around visits to castles, abbeys and other ancient monuments.

The main reason for this is simply that we both love history and get immense enjoyment from being physically present in this history. It’s just magic being able to walk around a castle and imagine what it would have been like to be a labourer carefully placing stones. We marvel at walking in the same rooms as Kings and Queens and heroes from the past.

There are also side-benefits of this approach to travel.

Culture: we are often visiting sites that are off the beaten track and out of the way. We go through (and stay in) small villages as well as big cities, which we find is slower, less stressful and more likely to lead to interactions with locals. There is nothing like popping into the local establishment, sitting down with a baked potato and eavesdropping.

Exercise: visiting castles means climbing, since fortifications are typically on top of hills. It’s great to break a 2-3 hour drive with a good trek up a hill, usually combined with hundreds of spiralling steps.

Nature: a lot of the locations we visited are out on peninsulas or in out of the way places. We get to walk through some beautiful countryside and enjoy amazing views. And because it’s winter, some lovely sunsets (at 4.15pm!).

History: we get to learn a lot about a place by reading about the sites we visit. The UK historical societies provide really good interpretative guides and panels, and we do some of our own research on the areas we visit. We’ve learned a lot about the history of the region, and it’s really brought to life when you are standing on a city wall, walking through a cobbled street, viewing a village from a castle tower.

Connecting the dots: visiting one important site teaches you about that place, but visiting lots of places all over the UK, Ireland and Iceland has allowed us to connect the stories together. The same people appear in the stories but from different points of view – the invader and the invaded.

Slowing down: It’s not a fast way to travel – we have been here almost 5 weeks and needed every minute! We’ve covered a lot of ground – by car, bus, train and plane. it’s quite slow (veering off on side quests constantly) but it’s a lot of fun to be spontaneous.

The good news is that after three visits (technically six for me), I feel like seen everything I need to in the UK. Now I’m thinking about the next round of trips … maybe Scandinavia to connect up the Viking part of the story. Better start saving!

Impressions of Iceland

When we travelled in 2015, I wrote a daily blog about our trip. It was a lot of effort, and I didn’t feel like repeating this time. Instead, I’m doing a quick top five each day on Instagram. Much easier! But I felt compelled to write down my thoughts about Iceland. It was a “bucket-list” country for both Stephen and I – on our must-see list. In the back of my mind, I was a bit worried I might be disappointed. I was not…

What a place! We arrived from Edinburgh via London-Birmingham-Manchester, so immediately experienced the culture shock of being in a country about the same size as the South Island, but with only 360,000 residents. We jumped off the airport bus in the mid-afternoon to a quiet, clean and empty village square. 

In many ways, Iceland has a European vibe, but it also looks and feels a lot like New Zealand – it’s a small, remote island. And like New Zealand, Iceland sits between two tectonic plates that are slowly moving away from each other. Volcanoes, hot springs, mud pools, geysers and earthquakes are the norm here. 

We based ourselves in Reykjavík, and had four days to really take it all in. It was nice to be able to wander around and really absorb the place. Lots of things stood out…

  • At this time of year, the sun rises at about 9am and sets around 5pm. It’s really weird to be eating breakfast at 8am with the sun still firmly asleep. To compensate, the streets and buildings are brightly lit – it makes for a pretty morning stroll. 
  • The days were pleasantly sunny, but still cold of course. The sun had no warmth, and at midday, was barely over the horizon. By the middle of winter, there will be only four hours of daylight each day. 
  • Everyone speaks English in Iceland. Like, everyone. We didn’t come across anyone who didn’t have perfect English, and with very little accent. And most of the street and shop signs are also in English – they are effectively a bilingual country. 
  • This might be in part due to the vast number of tourists visiting  each year. This year, they’ve had two million guests – imagine that! That’s the equivalent of New Zealand having 25 million visitors every year (we had 3.8 million in 2018).
  • Although they are inundated with tourists every year, the locals don’t seem annoyed about sharing their resources with the visitors – everyone we met was super helpful and friendly. 
  • They have fairly good infrastructure to support the influx of guests from what we could see. The public transport is really good – heaps of buses going all over the island, and the government is considering putting in electric trains. There is a lot of building underway – mostly high density hotels to support the growing demand.
  • While we were there we saw workers laying pipes on the roads and a quick google told us that they are under-road heating pipes. They have had these for around 10 years – the heated roads and footpaths means they don’t need to clear the roads when it snows, and makes it safe when it’s frosty. What a genius idea! And it’s eco-friendly too, since Iceland uses 100% renewable energy. 
  • It certainly isn’t a cheap country to visit, with food and accommodation being very expensive compared with European countries. Understandable though, when you think about how remote it is.
  • They grow fruits and vegetables all year round, in glasshouses kept warm with geothermal energy, which also enriches the soil. Smart people!

I was completely charmed by Iceland, – like I said, it certainly did not disappoint.

And just because I found them interesting, here are a few fun facts we learned along the way:

  • Before the tourism boom started in 2010, Iceland was having a tough time – it was hit hard by the global financial crisis and its banking system collapsed in 2008, necessitating an IMF-funded bailout. 
  • The reason for the tourism boom seems to be the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, which disrupted air traffic all over Europe closing air traffic in 20 countries and affecting 10 million people. The Icelandic tourism office swung into action, and the charm offensive paid off, with tourist numbers increasing every year since 2011 (from less than 500,000 to over 2 million last year).  
  • If you want to know how to pronounce Eyjafjallajökull, just say “hey you forgot your yoghurt” really quickly and you’ll be close. Apparently.
  • Iceland was settled by Vikings almost 1000 years ago, and they have the oldest legislature in the world – founded in 930. 
  • The Icelandic language has had very little influence from other languages over the past 1000 years, because of the remoteness of the country. Modern Icelanders can read ancient Norse texts more readily than people from Norway or Denmark.
  • The remoteness also makes Icelanders one of the most genetically homogeneous populations in the world, since they haven’t had the same co-mingling as the rest of us. Everyone’s your cousin!
  • A recent genetic survey found that 80% of men are of Norse origin, but only 40% of the woman – the remainder are Gaelic. The probable explanation for this is that when they were settling the country, the Vikings stopped in Ireland and picked up slaves – mostly women. So the majority of Icelandic women are descendants of Irish slaves. 

Next stop, Ireland…

Why I’m the People’s Choice

The People’s Choice is the left-leaning political grouping, organised locally for local people. It is not the specifically aligned to the Labour Party, but includes candidates who are members of the Labour Party (and other left-aligned political parties).

I chose to run under the People’s Choice banner for a number of reasons:

  1. The People’s Choice policies align with my own views on how Council should engage with community, youth, iwi; and its approach to housing, transport, and the environment
  2. Having the support of a collective has been invaluable to me as an aspiring politician – I have had amazing encouragement and mentoring from my team. I am not sure how I would have navigated the whole process without my buddies there to help me along the way – particularly my running mates Glenn Livingstone (current Burwood Councillor) and Greg Sugrue (newbie candidate for Burwood like me)
  3. I went through a rigorous selection process for People’s Choice, as did my fellow candidates – we were put through our paces, and as a result we have a group of high-quality candidates who know their stuff, and know how to engage with their communities
  4. I am a member of the Labour Party, and I want to be really clear about that as a candidate – Labour’s values are my values

As the campaign has progressed, my opponents have specifically called out that they are “independent” and I am not, which in their minds makes them better candidates. But let’s work through the logic of that argument.

My politics are clear – you can go to the People’s Choice website and see what my policies on the various important local issues are. This doesn’t mean that I would blindly follow these policies without consideration for what is best for my Ward. They are a framework of principles that I can use to make good decisions, not a prescriptive list of “musts” to be rigidly adhered to.

The other argument I’ve heard from my opponents is that “politics should be kept out of the Community Board”. This baffles me. I am standing for political office, via an election. This is the definition of politics. I can only assume that what my opponents really mean is that central and local government politics should be kept separate. But the reality is that most candidates are aligned to a political party – we all vote in central government elections (I assume so anyway!). And I also know that some are members of other political parties. I just chose to be more upfront about my politics.

What surprises me the most is that my opponents have spent as much time complaining about the People’s Choice as they have explaining their own policies. To my opponents running for Community Board I say – read the People’s Choice policies and tell me (and your community) which of these you disagree with and why. Then we can talk.

Don’t just go home, go home and do something!

I’m sitting in the Hamish Hay Theatre listening to a 12 year old asking me to take action on the climate crisis. It reminds me of something.

In 1982 when I was 10 years old, I wrote a letter to the Mayor of Christchurch asking him to step in and help with the nuclear arms crisis. The possibility of global nuclear war kept me awake at night. But rather than just worrying about it, I chose the highest political authority could think of and asked for Hamish Hay’s help.

There is a lot of talk at the moment of the role of children as activists in the global climate crisis. People marvel at their precociousness, and they truly are inspiring. But there is an element of surprise in why children are getting involved in these issues. I’m not surprised. If we take time to educate our kids about what’s going in the world around them, many of them are ready and willing to wade into the debate, and to do something about the issues we are facing.

As a child, I remember feeling frustrated that I couldn’t do more. Writing letters, painting protest banners and marching in the street was the most I could do. I was a kid, it was the 80s and no one was listening to me. Now I am an adult and I have the power to do more. You can read my last blog post about one of the things I’m doing to reduce my ecological footprint.

Tonight, I realise there is one more thing that I can do to help – empower the children around me to be informed and actively involved in the issues and their solutions. Watch out grandkids, I feel a lecture coming on!

Plastic-free July

Sometimes I think about all the plastic items I have used and thrown away – how most of them still exist and will still be around for hundreds of years to come. All those toys, take away containers, shampoo bottles, toothbrushes, disposable forks, plastic bags. Just my own personal pile of used-and-not-recycled plastic must be a mountain by now! It weighs on my mind.

I’ve been trying to reduce my use of plastic as much as I can. Last year I tried my best to do plastic-free July and realised just how many of my everyday items are plastic, or wrapped in plastic. It’s really hard to eat a variety of food without buying plastics – it pretty much just leaves fresh fruits and veggies or bulk bin items. Since then, I’ve aimed to reduce my incidental plastic use, particularly for single-use items like water bottles, take away containers and cutlery, coffee cups etc. I’ve started carrying around a take away coffee cup and my own utensils. When I know I’m going somewhere that only has take away food options, I try and remember to bring my own container.

I’ve also been considering my packaging more carefully when supermarket shopping. I’ve been using the bulk bins and refill station at New World in Durham Street. I figure a small changes are better than nothing.

This year for plastic-free July I’ve decided to target a specific plastic product category – toiletries. I’ve taken an inventory of all my products that come in plastic and have considered how I can reduce the amount of plastic I consume. Here’s my summary of everything I use and some notes about what I intend to change.

Shampoo and conditioner
The Body Shop shampoo and conditioner bottles I’m using are almost empty, so I’ve purchased shampoo and conditioner bars from Ethique. I’ve talked to a few people who use these products and they rave about them, so I’m dipping my toe by buying small bars of shampoo and conditioner. It’s also a real plus that all their products are vegan, ethically sourced and cruelty-free.

Body wash
I have a full bottle of the current Body Shop wash that I use, so once that’s all gone (and the bottle recycled) I will consider purchasing a wash bar. I’ll see how the shampoo and conditioner goes. I have some concerns about how well they travel, and I shower at the gym 3-4 days a week, so my toiletries need to be portable. Again, Ethique has a really nice range…

Face wash and moisturiser
I’ve got very oily skin (this is the secret of my youthful complexion!), and I’ve finally found a face wash and a moisturiser with SPF that work for me, so I am loathe to change these. These plastic-encased items are in the too-hard basket for now.

Toner
I’ve decided this one can go. What is it even for? I’ve never really known, but used it for years. I’ll see what happens when I ditch it.

Body moisturiser
I probably don’t really need this either if I’m honest. I think it’s just a habit. I’m going to give this one a miss too and see what happens. If my skin doesn’t cope, then maybe I will consider the Ethique moisture bar. This one sounds yum.

Toothbrush and toothpaste
As a kid, I remember having tooth powder (thanks hippy mother). I don’t know where it came from, and I’ve never seen it anywhere since. So I googled…Did you know that you can buy tooth tablets? Me either, but you can. I liked the look of the ones that Lush sell, but they come in a plastic bottles! The ones from Eco Easy come in cardboard packaging, but I don’t know if you can buy them locally (trying to avoid the air miles!). I reckon I might find a good solution at Piko for my toothpaste, and I know they sell bamboo toothbrushes too.

Deodorant
The one I use comes in a glass bottle so I am going to stick with it for now. If the Ethique experiment goes well, this will probably be the next target for a bar option.

Summary
I’ve really enjoyed doing the research and planning for this activity. I’ve learned a lot about the different plastic-free alternatives out there, including the fact that some of them are cheaper and (I hope!) better than what I currently use.

Some companies clearly put a lot of effort into creating plastic-free packaging. Lush has a whole section on its website dedicated to package-free products. They sell lipstick refills. Who knew!

I was pretty disappointed when I did my inventory and realised that all of my beloved Body Shop products are plastic-wrapped. There is no mention of plastic-free packaging on their website. I was surprise that they weren’t on the cutting edge of this plastic-free movement, so I did a bit of googling. I found out that Body Shop intends to reduce its plastic use 70% by 2020. This Metro article has the details.

And apparently you can make plastic out of pollution nowadays. Two birds, one stone…

Have you thought about what small contribution you might make to save us from a world awash with plastic?

Never one to sit idle…

Somehow I decided earlier this year that I wasn’t quite busy enough, so along with starting a new job, I put my hand up as a candidate for our local community board. It was officially announced in the local paper today.

So…why did I do it? and what does this mean? Let me explain.

Stephen and I purchased our home in Dallington in February 2011, the day after the earthquake that changed everything – so not the best of timing. Living in Dallington after the earthquakes was really hard. In the days and weeks afterward, people rallied. But as weeks turned into months and years it felt like nothing would change. After the red zone was announced, it was heartbreaking to watch our community being dismantled one home at a time. A breaking point for me was driving over the Dallington bridge one day and realising that the newly paved road no longer had driveway gaps for the houses that were slowly being removed.

It took me a some time to get my head above water, to look around and think about what I could do to help my community – it just seemed too big and overwhelming. Where to start? The issues seemed big, but the solutions might start with me and my neighbours – I wanted to follow the principle of “think global, act local”. So I got as local as I could, and joined the Dallington Residents Association. One of its objectives is to advocate for residents of Dallington, so the committee has put a lot of effort into understanding what our community’s needs are. In the two years since I’ve been Chair, we’ve run events, workshops, information sessions and drop in days – all to gather ideas from the community about what their big ideas and big issues are. It’s been a hugely rewarding role – I’ve met a lot of really great people and have a renewed love for the place I live.

I’ve also developed an appreciation for some of the big issues we face. Our people are feeling the loss of community assets – our schools and church, but we’ve also gained the beautiful asset of our red zone, and people have some big ideas about this. Annette, a member of the residents association committee lived in Dallington all her life before the earthquakes. Her grandmother grew up in Dallington, and so did her mother. Up until the clearances, Annette was living on the land passed down from her grandmother and mother. She was devastated to be forced to leave, and still comes back almost every day to tend the her former family garden. Last year, Annette and I applied to the land owner (LINZ) to take over this piece of land so that Annette can be recognised as the custodian of it. LINZ recently approved our Glenarm Gardens transitional project. It was a small thing that I did – submit an application and sign a contract, but it is huge for Annette – she’s been given back some of what she lost.

Something else that’s come up from listening to the community is that we don’t have a community meeting space. So we’ve joined with groups from Avondale and Burwood to form the Riverside Community Network and collectively we’ve been working on how we can get a community centre for our people. Working with people across the whole Burwood Ward has helped me better understand the needs of the wider East Christchurch. I love where I live and I want to see it thrive.

So that’s the why. Here’s the what…

Dallington sits within the Burwood Ward, and is represented by the Coastal-Burwood Community Board. The Board is made up of six elected members – two city Councillors (one each for Burwood and Coastal) and four community representatives (two each for Burwood and Coastal). The community board members are elected by the community to represent its interests, and to advocate for our community needs with the Christchurch City Council.

The Dallington Residents Association has worked closely with the elected members for Burwood to make sure they know about the things that matter to us. So I’ve been able to see up close how this system works, and how I can contribute to the decision-making that happens at the Board.

Here’s the thing. The current Burwood community board representative is not a local, and hasn’t been for a long time. I think that’s not good enough. It has been by walking, running, driving, shopping, living in my community that I have truly understood it. I’ve been through the same trials and tribulations as everyone around me, and I know how I can best be of service to them.

The election is in October. My job between now and then is to listen the needs of the Ward, and to introduce myself to them so that they understand why they would want to vote for me.

That bloody lake again

Last night I stayed up past midnight (very late for me!) watching the Governance and Administration Select Committee submissions from East Lake Trust and Regenerate Christchurch on the issue of the inclusion of a flat water facility (technical speak for a massive rowing lake) in the Otakaro-Avon River Corridor Regeneration Plan. You can watch that HERE.

The background to this hearing is long and convoluted, but the short version is that when Regenerate Christchurch was first established by Gerry Brownlee at the closure of CERA, East Lake Trust was encouraged to believe that a 2km lake would be a likely contender for inclusion in the Regeneration Plan. In the two years following, it became clear that this wasn’t going to happen, and they were not happy. The hearing is the outcome of the ongoing fight they’ve been having.

Here’s my take. I can understand the argument that some are making, which goes something like this:

The lake is good for east Christchurch – it provides a regeneration opportunity that we desperately need. It’s good for rowing. The community want it. There is only a moderate risk that it won’t be swimmable. It will only cost about $160 million dollars to build, and only take three years.

I don’t agree with any of this. I can see that there is a potential economic benefit to the lake, but I think the bad outweighs the good by a long way. If economics was the main driver for our decision making, then we should pave over Hagley Park, and close all our libraries. But from where I stand, it looks like the ecological and social benefits of NOT building a lake vastly outweigh the economic ones of having it there. I am not sure most people truly understand how big the proposed lake is, and the impact the lake will have on the people of East Christchurch. And not just my little suburb of Dallington. The proposed lake would close New Brighton Road, which is a main through-route from the Inner East to New Brighton. This would be hugely detrimental to communities that are already struggling with the loss of large parts of their suburb, and just beginning to adjust to having a green zone right through the middle of them. A gigantic lake is only going to exacerbate already existing issues of social isolation and feelings of being cut off from the rest of Christchurch.

Just to understand the scale of what is being proposed, here is my very crude attempt to fit the proposed 2.2km lake into Hagley Park – it’s a green space most people in Christchurch can bring to their minds eye.

The blue blob is HUGE! I get the impression that a lot of people in Christchurch think of the Red Zone as a vast empty space that they can do anything with, and forget that it’s surrounded by communities that need to live with whatever is built. Not to mention that the lake proposal would necessitate the removal of MORE housing in Dallington to accommodate it. If you lived in Merivale, how would you feel about this? It would be massively impactful, as will this proposed lake for the east.

Why has no one asked if there has been a social impact assessment to go with the ecological and economic ones? Why is social benefit not given the same weight as other benefits? I am skeptical of those that argue that the lake will be beneficial for the east – that’s what we were told when they closed our local high schools and moved them. It hasn’t worked out well for us – we now have NO schools in Dallington. It was a sneaky trick, and I suspect this would be too.

And don’t even get me started on the idea that a small group of rowing enthusiasts can waste many thousands of dollars of public money arguing about this, and casually note that the lake will “only” cost $160 million, give or take 10%. Putting aside the estimate of $200m+ from Regenerate Christchurch, do we really want to spend this much on ANOTHER sporting facility for our city. We have Metro sports, we already have a rowing lake, and now we need another one? Can we rebuild our lost social housing first? The Christchurch City Council has run out of money to replace the housing stock that was lost in the earthquake, much of it in east Christchurch. I would like us to focus on the basics before we build more monuments.

And finally, if you’ve made it this far through the rant, Garry Moore recently posted about this in his Tuesday Club – he sums up the issue quite well I think:

During the week I made a submission to the Christchurch City Council’s Annual Plan. I sat through Annual Plans and Long-Term Plans 15 times as a Councillor, and then as Mayor. I always enjoyed the exercise. It goes like this; the staff produce a budget which more or less is around what the Council table finds acceptable; then submissions are called for; then every person/group come to the table and ask for the earth, without suggesting what should be replaced to pay for their excessive demands; then the Council finds that the staff have discovered additional costs which were not known when the budget was proposed; then prima donna Councillors play to whoever they think would be impressed with their excellent understanding of finances, adding items to the budget and standing strong that they would not support any rates increases which are above the rate of inflation; then the horse trading begins, and somehow the rates increase is around what was announced in the first place.
As I sat at the end of the table on Friday I wondered if we have the wrong process, and that the exercise is a complete waste of time. The Council politely listens to all sorts of decent people who care about the City and the groups they work with, and for. People are not challenged to see where their demands fit into the grand scheme of things. They are not asked to consider that there might be other groups with a better call on the resources of the City. Instead they present in good faith what they expect, and then get disappointed when nothing arrives in the mail confirming that they have got everything they demand.
I’ll give an example. One group before me was the East Lakes Trust. This group want us to fund a lake for them to enjoy rowing, at our expense. I have heard the most preposterous claims from these guys. “It will enable schools like Aranui to participate in rowing” etc.  Yeh right. Look who these low decile schools are up against. Christ College, St Andrews, Villa Maria, St Bedes. All schools with bottomless pits of money. I listened, when they presented their case to the Tuesday Club, to one of their prominent promoters (
where are these guys when a group want to promote sporting facilities at Aranui, or Hornby?) advocating that the course could be built “within existing Council resources”. I rang up a Council engineer I trusted, and asked him was this possible. His response was not polite but he suggested that some of the major infrastructure of the City passes through the area where this lot propose us to construct their play pool. The cost of shifting it would be eye watering. It took one phone call to find a major hole in the East Lake Trust’s argument. Regenerate Christchurch did an excellent job in sinking this proposal. Despite this, here were these guys in front of the elected reps last Friday pleading for more public welfare for their expensive sport which already has two world class rowing courses in the South Island.