“Plans are nothing, Planning is everything” Dwight Eisenhower 1957

My 21-year-old daughter came home a few months ago and proceeded to abuse me as follows: “I think you guys are all a bunch of assholes.  You have raped the planet and are now leaving it for us to clean up.  Nice work.”

There is a lot to ponder in this short, but accurate, tirade:

  1. Our ability to plan for a world that can sustain all of us is ineffective, and is proven so on a daily basis.
  2. Similarly, our ability to manage our own population is poor, at best.
  3. She is right in that we have used vast natural resources and trashed the planet in the most brutal way. The true downstream consequences are only now manifesting themselves.  We are not changing behaviour fast enough.
  4. Yet she still wants a new Mac, which obviously continues the chain of consumer demand and fuels the cycle.
  5. Our ability to learn to plan for the future is limited by our personal greed. Of course, that will change when we reach the point of crisis – and we are very nearly there.
  6. We desperately need to face the real issues and then plan to work with nature to co-exist, or we won’t exist.

Canterbury and the planet must, at some stage, confront the question of just how many humans we can sustain.  Not only sustain, but sustain in a way that means quality of life is maximised for those who choose to live here.  Otherwise, why are we here?  Simple existence is surely not the goal in and of itself?

We need to study and learn from the big cities; cities like Auckland, where population growth is impinging on the quality of human life. Then we need to decide what a fulfilling, sustainable existence in Canterbury looks like. We need to set KPIs. And then we need to develop robust plans, sound laws and effective strategies to drive behaviour change and make that vision a reality.

Electoral and financial reporting cycles impede people’s ability to plan for the long-term.  I suggest there needs to be a complete rethink of our political process and structures to embed long-term planning in our system.  Perhaps a ‘Planning House’ – which has a totally new set of rules and powers – to have a focus on the long-term outcomes, rather than just the short-term gains.  The current process is obviously failing us. And, most importantly, failing those who will follow us.

I saw the CEO of Greenpeace speak many years ago in Wellington.

“Pollution is not the problem, it is the symptom……we are the problem.  Until we can learn how to control ‘us’, we are in deep trouble.”

What are the KPIs for quality of life?  Surely they must start with basic human needs. Water, followed by food supply and safety, followed by protection of the natural environment where humans are not.  But wait, what about the economy? And personal development? And education? And everything else in the human dynamic?

The most critical part of the future planning process revolves around establishing the KPIs on which we will measure success.  Nick Smith changed the water quality KPIs recently.  Surely the goal must be rivers our kids can swim in; nothing less.  The KPI is wrong.


Canterbury has great, wide open spaces.  This is a true asset and one which must be protected.  Of course, the better it becomes, the more people will crowd the space and detract from the quality of life on offer.  If we start with the current population and say that is OK, then when does it become ‘not OK’?  At double the population for our region? Triple? More?

There is an optimum; a bell curve… too few people and the economy will struggle.  Too many and the wonderful space that we enjoy will be lost.  It’s greater than the current population. But it’s not 10 million, or anything like that. So let’s pick a number and shoot for that.  It is like a ‘taboo’ topic, but it must be done!


Canterbury is great at growing food.  We must reduce the cows and reduce the lifestyle blocks that are eating up vast tracts of useful land. Instead, we should use that land to produce high quality, sustainable, high value food that we can sell to the world, adding to our economy in the process.  Likely this will be plant weighted, rather than animal long term.

Canterbury has vast quantities of clean fresh water.  We all know that this is a battleground in its own right.  The water must be protected at all costs.  Farm use is good to a point, but not at the expense of the waterways and wildlife.  There has to be a long-term acceptable level and type of water use.

The City

Now to Christchurch.  Firstly, the damage caused by the earthquakes and the trauma felt by everyone was on a scale never seen before.  It is easy to criticize, but my intention is purely to have a better outcome for the city and the region.

“Make no little plans: they have no magic to stir men’s blood”

Daniel Burnham, the architect whose vision recreated Chicago after the great fire of 1871

Ultimately, I believe, humans are defined by their creativity – in architecture, writing, design, business, arts, conservation among other things.  Canterbury has a wonderful mix of town and country, and a critical mass for cultural endeavours.  The earthquakes created a myriad of challenges, but just as many opportunities.

One such opportunity was the chance to redesign the city.  To really think ‘outside the square’ and create something everyone would love to live in or visit; unexpected, stimulating, dynamic, and efficient.  I believe, due to pure exhaustion and stress at every level, we have arrived at a good place, not an amazing place.  We now have to work hard to bring the ‘brilliant’ to the city.  The East Lake is an example of ‘the brilliant’.  As one of our clients said – “Just bloody dig the hole!  Get on with it”.  And he is right.

Think Differently

Long a stalwart for using local resources and skills, I think we could have brought some more ‘creative thinkers’ to town to stimulate, motivate and drive us on when most were so drained, both physically and emotionally.  That type of work was just a step too far.  In my own position, I could have organised all of the best creative minds from the advertising and communications business to come to town to challenge us.  It may still be an option as the city gets traction… which continues to happen each and every day.

We really do want Christchurch and Canterbury to be a city, and a region, to ‘stir men’s blood’!


Humans are defined by family and whanau.  When it comes to the reason for us to be here, family is at the top of the pyramid.  Family is vital for the sustenance of the human species.  Family is the core unit for human life, however we might define family.  Hence one of the KPIs must be to create an environment where family and wellbeing are treasured and protected at the highest level.  Canterbury is a wonderful place to raise a family and must continue to be so.  We must decide how that ‘place of families’ should look and work, and then plan towards that goal.

To me, Canterbury is already the best place in the world to raise a family. Now let’s make sure everyone else knows it too; to a point.


We must work hard to change behaviours.  Use the clever people we have in our midst, the global reach of the web and any other tools we can find, to start to change behaviour and move towards the sustainable world we all know is right.  Changing behaviour, as we all know, is not an easy thing.  Often we need to see ‘better’ before we shift; a simple directive will not do it, especially if it means a major change.

Michael Mayell, co-founder of Cookie Time, has launched a new business and social enterprise to help change behaviours.  I confess to having a small financial interest in this venture; because I believe!  With his food background, Michael has created Nutrient Rescue, a business which produces vegetable and berry powders and is soon to be involved in the hemp business. The hemp business represents a huge opportunity for New Zealand farming.  Hemp is not pot.  It is a brilliant nutritional crop, hindered by archaic legislation which has now been removed.

Nutrient Rescue wants all humans to have better plant-based, and less animal-based, nutrition.  We all know this to be right, but there has to be a reason to change behaviour.  If farmers can grow sustainable vegetable and berry crops, and earn the same (or more) as dairy, they will change.  We will have a wonderful export opportunity.  There will be less cows, less pollution and people getting their 5+, or even 10+, serves of fruit and vege per day.  Better nutrition, better farming, better incomes……win-win-win!!  We need more of these types of businesses.  Businesses that provide an incentive to change behaviour for the greater good.

So where do we start? 

We must ensure that we have great young leaders for the future.  Well trained to get the best possible outcome for the region.  We must identify them now, invest in them and challenge them to take us to the best place.  The Cathedral situation is symbolic of leadership paralysis.  Totally understandable, but holding the city back nevertheless.  We must avoid a repeat at all costs.

The Committee for Canterbury is an organisation that embraces many of these views and has an excellent hands-on Leadership Programme.  It’s fundamental purpose is to generate debate around the most important issues, and develop long-term plans for the future of our region. It’s a non-governmental attempt to look beyond the short-term and focus on brilliant outcomes for all Cantabrians. I would urge each and every one of you to learn more, and to become involved.



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Neil Cameron

Neil Cameron

Managing Partner Harvey Cameron & Trustee for Committee for Canterbury Christchurch

Neil is Managing Director of Harvey Cameron, one of New Zealand’s largest independent advertising and communications businesses. Neil came to the University of Canterbury from Hawkes Bay, graduated with a B.Com; and ‘never left’.