When you talk to the protagonists behind Queenstown’s Shaping Our Future, John Lennon’s hit Power to the People springs to mind.
But not in a 1970s revolutionary kind-of-way.
Nevertheless, the idea of creating a place where locals can effect change throughout all aspects of life in the Wakatipu has a nice ring to it.
Shaping Our Future is a community-driven initiative that aims to “find creative ways to build better lives for now and for generations to come”.
Its priorities are to: preserve and enhance the environment, remove barriers to engaging in governance, improve community development, create a strong economy, provide innovative education, high-performance facilities and infrastructure, build local self-sufficiency, improve connectivity, build high-value, contributing tourism, an environmental approach to town development and preserving local heritage.
Sounds too utopian?
Not when you consider the 1000 residents who offered their opinions about the future and the subsequent hundreds of volunteer hours put in by a dozen locals during the past two years.
The key to achieving the goals is community involvement – starting with public forums and online interaction, which leads to discussion of options for set priorities. Taskforces made up of local volunteers work through the issues and eventually recommendations get presented to council or national agencies.
Mayor and steering group chair Vanessa van Uden says the idea is about shifting away from traditional consultation and moving towards engagement.
“Engagement is going out and saying ‘What is important to our community, what are the priority areas and let’s come up with some answers’,” she explains.
“At the moment, with consultation, we come up with the plan and ask people if they like the idea but there isn’t a lot of flexibility to say ‘Do you have a better idea?’”
Shaping Our Future was triggered by Van Uden’s 2010 election campaign – wanting to cut consultant costs by calling on home-based talent and skills.
But it’s not a council-led initiative. With the help of Otago Polytechnic’s Centre for Sustainable Practice and behind-the-scenes work by the steering group, it has been slowly gaining momentum.
This week, the official website was launched and the latest discussion document – available online and via social media – unveiled.
There was also the announcement of the district’s first Events Office and appointment of events facilitator Simon Green.
Green’s position sprang from an events taskforce, which considered the issues of attracting and retaining events to the area. Their recommendation was that an events office was needed, and $100,000 was subsequently secured.
Open discussion has also been held with the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, to ensure agency support.
Meanwhile, a report by the taskforce focusing on economic development is due out next month.
The Shaping Our Future steering group will also be dissolved and an incorporated society will be formed at the inaugural AGM next February.
Spokesman David Kennedy admits it’s a huge job and steps are small and slow, but progress is being made.
“We are starting to get the sort of change that will improve our situation,” he says.
“But the key is collaboration – it’s about we collectively think. So this is just the start.”
The initiative – an extension of Wanaka 2020 and Tomorrow’s Queenstown documents – will be constantly evolving but steering group coordinator Alexa Forbes says at its heart will be the community’s needs.
“We want to design a better future for this area, given we live in a resource-constrained environment.
“We want a community where we can give birth, live, grow old and die in, and at the moment you have to go away for the first one and last two.
“That came up time and time again in community consultation,” Forbes says.
Much of the hard work has been done, but it’s far from complete, the group says.
“It’s now up to the community to step up,” Van Uden says.
“It’s a two-way street – if you want to moan and groan about what’s happened in consultation, when you’re provided an opportunity to be involved from the beginning you need to commit to it.”
Power to the people, right on.