Window on a sustainable future is still open – just


Possibility decreases in direct inverse proportion to age.

When we are born, all things are possible. In childhood we are encouraged to dream big, anything is possible!

By adolescence, we are warned to choose wisely, that decisions made now will irrevocably define future opportunities.

Arriving finally into fully-fledged adulthood, we come to recognise that although many things are possible, the window of opportunity to become an astronaut, Nobel Prize winner or Olympic medallist has passed us by.

Queenstown is at the height of its adolescence. We are eager to grow, to see what is around the next corner, yet there is a lingering fear of what the future may look like when we emerge from this period of unprecedented growth as the South Island’s second-largest centre and main visitor hub.

It’s an exciting time, perhaps the last time the course of our future can be truly defined, so we must choose wisely.

Housing is one of the most pressing issues. It is also an issue I have deliberately not addressed in this column over the past year. Why? Because there is no easy solution and to highlight a problem without offering suggestions or supporting solutions smacks of self-indulgent hand-wringing.

Debating the issue and its attendant factors with a friend recently, there was a litany of cautionary tales that marched through our dialogue. Unsurprisingly, people want to live in places that sit within outstanding natural landscapes and access top-quality infrastructure.

Those who can afford it want the luxury of owning a piece of paradise. Aspen, Boulder, Jackson Hole and Vancouver have all suffered from absentee owners, foreign investment, Airbnb, hyper-inflation and unaffordability. None of them offer a case-study in comprehensive solutions, they only serve to show the end-game and just how ineffective too little too late is.

The factors that contribute to the problem can only be mitigated, not eradicated. Recognising that will go a long way towards creating a realistic solution.

Against this backdrop, Mayor Jim Boult’s housing affordability taskforce is a reassuring initiative. It’s life coaching and career counselling all rolled into one for this pubescent town of ours. In case you missed it, their goal is: “All of our workforce will be able to own or occupy a home in our district at a cost that allows them to live within their means by 2048, with an initial target of 1000 community affordable homes with secure tenure by 2028.”

That’s a lofty ambition, and one that should be deeply comforting to local residents. I re-read the report in its entirety recently. It received some press when it first came out and perhaps not enough since.

If you haven’t read it and are worried about housing, then read it –online. It’s a visionary document and one that is refreshing for its innovative approach and cross-sector stakeholder engagement. The sooner the recommendations are acted upon the better.

We have one key advantage over other overseas towns that have encountered the same issues: we are small enough to effect rapid change, and we have identified future-focussed solutions.

Growing up in a small town has advantages. There is a sense of community, collective responsibility and an ability to respond with agility and rapidity to small problems before they become big ones.

Our window to make the right decisions, to act decisively to define a sustainable future, is still open, but closing rapidly. Let’s become a poster child for solutions rather than yet another cautionary tale.

If we get it right, our possibilities will remain open, we will be able to attract and retain the best key service industry workers, preserve our community and, ultimately, come of age with our potential fully realised.

Poppie Johnson is a Wakatipu High School English teacher