The people are mobilising – finally.
And it was the airport that did it.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a groundswell in Queenstown in the 20-odd years I’ve called this place my home.
Living here in those early days, there was a sense of cohesiveness.
The town was small, 10,000 people.
There was a deep sense of ownership.
To the outsider it looked liked arrogance, but it was pride.
We were Queenstowners.
This was our home and you were most welcome to come and be part of it for a few days, a week, a month or more.
The ratio of visitors to locals was more equal then.
Then the tsunami hit us.
It burst out of the arrivals hall, and washed across the landscape, overwhelming every-thing in its path and we were swamped.
Our community connections broke apart.
The town became fractured and the people living here withdrew into a place of resentment and worry.
The clean-up will be expensive and require resolve.
It will call on us all to be united and dedicated, and take back that ownership we used to enjoy.
What once we took for granted, now we must fight for.
A few days ago I dug out an old document.
Named ‘Tomorrow’s Queenstown’, it was a mammoth community effort, completed in the early 2000s.
It asked our residents what their vision would be for Queenstown in the year 2020.
I read it slack-jawed, and with sadness.
All the worst outcomes of growth, predicted at that time, have come to pass.
The mechanisms for mitigating those bad effects, a framework for a community that could co-exist with tourism and not be crushed by it all, were largely ignored.
Tomorrow’s Queenstown, a costly public exercise at the time, has presumably lain in a dusty bottom drawer, untouched and never referenced since.
Its vision forgotten.
Its foreboding never consulted.
To make a mistake once is sometimes OK.
But to make it twice, that is inexcusable.
And maybe now we have a chance to put it right.
Our mayor, Jim Boult, is in the beginnings of creating a new community vision.
This time the future date is 2050.
However, this time I hope matters will be different.
I have no doubt our fellow citizens can eloquently lay down a future vision that will work (we’ve done it before).
What I wish to see this time is a document that has teeth.
A document that carries legal status, which can stand beside our district plan and which can never be thrown in a bottom drawer.
Let’s create a template for a future that transcends the political cycle and is binding.
Can we do it?
But it will require all of us to unite behind it.
Maybe we’ve all just taken the first step.
Steve Wilde is a long-term local and man about town