The Canterbury Region offers extraordinary opportunities for sustainable prosperity which can only be realised through appropriate policies and thoughtful management. Our goal should be “sustainable prosperity” – a community where cultural, social, environmental and economic objectives can be achieved together, over time, for the benefit of current and future generations.
Cantabrians are endowed with land, water and renewable energy. We live in a stable, educated, participatory democracy. The endowment comes with the obligation to use these natural and institutional resources wisely – to cultivate not plunder, to conserve not waste, to develop not exploit and to enhance not degrade – so that the children of our children and their children, for generations to come, are proud and grateful for the actions of those who came before them.
We will be judged not for how far ahead the winners get but by how far behind the less well-off are left. The less well-off include those not only with less resources at their command, but those who are isolated, vulnerable, alienated and frustrated by their circumstances. That is why a diverse and inclusive society and a well-educated, healthy and adequately housed population are critical to sustainable prosperity. Social security and sustainable prosperity are mutually dependent.
As the post industrial age is upon us we should not be confused that rapid changes in the structure of jobs, and the role of the labour market in distributing claims on resources, means there is a reduction in the need for work to be done. There is work to be done and it is that need that drives to the conclusion that there is a growing need for people to do the work.
Learning how to not only survive but thrive in the world as it evolves around us ensures there is more, not less, work to be done in the coming decades. In particular we must consider:
- Caring for an ageing population
- feeding an exponentially growing world population
- responding to the impact of climate change on local infrastructure
- deploying known technology for the benefit of humanity
- using our innate curiosity and creativity to develop new solutions to old and emerging challenges,
Canterbury has more opportunity and work to be done than it has people to do the work. The demographics are compelling – an ageing population, stable if not declining birth rates and a continuing trend for diversification and specialisation to lead to agglomeration in mega cities means Canterbury needs a population strategy – a strategy to retain and grow the number and diversity of the people who live in the region. What is needed is not a Christchurch strategy, what is needed is a strategy to grow the population in the entire region. The settlements and towns of the Canterbury region all have more work that needs to be done than there are people to do it. Building those communities and connecting them requires policies that reflect the resources and opportunities of the region and its local communities. The unemployment rate in Canterbury, excluding Christchurch, is around 2% of the working age population. There is not just a shortage of skills, there is a shortage of people. House prices are stable and rents in Christchurch are falling. Immigration policy, set to address issues facing Aucklanders threatens to deny Cantabrians opportunities for sustainable prosperity. Monetary policy and bank regulation responding to circumstances not prevalent in the Canterbury region threaten to deny Cantabrians opportunities for sustainable prosperity.
Unplanned, unmanaged movement of people en masse is likely to create disruption to established communities. A well planned and adequately resourced multi decade commitment to retain and attract people to the Canterbury region will not only underpin social security but also ensure sustainable prosperity. There is no shortage of people in the world, only a looming shortage of people in the Canterbury region relative to the work that needs to be done and the opportunities that exist.
What are some key things to think about in developing a strategy to retain and accelerate the rate of growth in the population of Canterbury?
- Accept that both exploiting and protecting the environment is both an opportunity and a cost in resources that must be paid now and into the future. A commitment to using natural resources in ways that are sustainable and do not pass a liability to future generations is essential.
- Observe that a diverse community is likely to be more creative, less vulnerable, more vibrant and more resilient than a mono-cultural society and that diversity does not mean clusters of mono cultures but an interwoven fabric of engaged and interested people with different backgrounds and world views. It takes work and the commitment of time and resources to overcome our natural predisposition to hang out with familiar people who hold familiar ideas about the world.
- Understand that there is an optimal rate of new arrivals into an established community. That rate may change over time but is likely to reflect the host community’s past experience, the availability of resources and opportunities and support systems.
- Family groups add to community stability and resilience over time but require additional resources initially compared to single working age arrivals.
- School age children place demands for resources on the community but create meaning and purpose for the work we do.
- Age is as much a state of mind as a state of body and will become even more so in the coming decades. Combining the experience and skill of older people with the energy and risk taking predisposition of youth means making communities attractive to all ages. However, making them attractive to younger people is essential in particular, if the population is not to lose its diverse age profile over time.
In the absence of a strategy, a plan, milestones and measures of success we can wander into the future dealing with things as they turn up. In an unknowable world being well prepared to respond – well resourced, mentally and physically fit, well-educated and resourceful, well connected and supported – is a good strategy for each of us individually but it accepts our circumstances from day to day are largely outside our control and to be taken as given. As a collection of individuals, a community, we can take control over some aspects of the future state we will find ourselves in. We can lay out a strategy, make a plan, set milestones, coordinate our efforts, measure our progress, change our actions and rely less on chance and create opportunities.
The population of the Canterbury region can be what it will be or we can seek to make it what we want it to be. If we want the population to be more diverse in age, more resilient, more creative, use natural resources more sustainably, than it is projected to be, then we, the people of Canterbury, need a population strategy that is not just the chance outcome of national policies designed to deal with issues confronting other population centres in New Zealand.
The time has come to recognise that national prosperity is built of strong regions and strong regions need policies appropriate to their needs and opportunities. This is not a case for regional welfare, to help regions because they are failing, but to recognise that in some cases national policies are causing regions to fail and failing regions threaten national prosperity.
In my opinion, the discussion should move to firstly confirm the case for a regional population strategy for Canterbury. We should then articulate what that strategy should include and measures of progress toward the goal of sustainable prosperity, where prosperity is measured not only in averages but in distributions of impacts and outcomes. Where prosperity is measured not only in money but in social, cultural and environmental terms. Where prosperity is measured not only in the short term but looking forward to future generations whose options, prospects and opportunities are not discounted so as to be worthless in decision making today. It is not for us to say that the life of a child born in 2020 is of higher value than that of a child born in 2050 or 2100.
Dr Rod Carr
Vice-Chancellor of the University of Canterbury
Dr Rod Carr is Vice-Chancellor of the University of Canterbury. Prior to this, he was managing director of Jade Software Corporation Ltd and spent five years at the Reserve Bank of New Zealand as a director and deputy governor.