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Dear New Zealand, I Miss You

by Milenko Matanovic

It’s been two months since my return from an intensive trip to New Zealand. Several projects instantly occupied my life after the return, but my subconscious mind is still visiting your wonderful country. In my dreams I explore emerald caves under the volcanic hills of Auckland. Pohutukawa trees, tui birds and pukekos are featured regularly. I am sure that these dreams are influenced by our all too short visits to Akaroa, Waiheke and Rangitoto islands. I dreamed of a gathering of people in a circular building, an architecture that was a blend of native art and the latest modern technology: timeless carvings coexisting with the latest display screens that instantly translated our conversations into information. (I awoke wishing I was an architect!) I am certain these dreams are influenced by our many encounters with the people in Christchurch and Auckland.  Clearly New Zealand’s nature and people left a deep impression.

With Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel
Milenko with Christchurch Mayor, Lianne Dalziel

The initial invitation for my visit came from Christchurch Mayor Lianne Danziel and she coordinated with the non-profit Beacon Pathway (Nick Collins, Denise Bijoux, Glenda Lock and Verney Ryan) who organized my trip, arranged details of my schedule and helped raise funds to make it all possible. Port Blakely and IAG must be recognized for their financial support.

I had an intense schedule of work, one week in Christchurch and one week in Auckland and met many individuals willing to engage with Pomegranate Center’s ideas: elected Council members and Council staff who spent a day with me (thank you Cissy Rock for the opportunity), well-attended talks sponsored by Christchurch and Auckland City Councils, the 25 participants in Christchurch and 35 in Auckland who spent two full days with me exploring the finer points of community engagement and collaboration.

In conversation with leaders of the celebrated Gap Filler group
Discussion with leaders of the celebrated Gap Filler group

Three leaders from the celebrated Gap Filler attended my workshop in Christchurch. Gap Filler is a highly respected non-profit that temporarily activates empty sites with creativity and fun. We had interesting conversations about the merits of temporary vs. more permanent gathering places. These conversations will continue.

I was impressed by the dedication of City Council members eager to find effective and productive ways to work with communities. Everyone I met indicated that the alignment between government and communities must be improved. I was grateful that Pomegranate Center methods were embraced as a possible way to accomplish this goal.

NZ Training Session

In each city I spent a day working with community members in envisioning a new gathering place. In Woolston neighborhood in Christchurch I spent a day with community and Council members developing a conceptual plan for a site previously occupied by a small neighborhood library that was demolished in the 2011 earthquake. In the Riverhead neighborhood in Auckland we utilized our community-engagement method to envision a future park. It was gratifying to work with forward-looking community and Council members who understand that future cities will need to respond to environmental and social imperatives. We had good conversations about density, transit, land use and social capital that served as backdrops to our project planning.

 IAG workshop

I had an interesting conversation with Craig Dowling from IAG (Insurance Australia Group Limited) who organized gatherings, one in Christchurch and one in Auckland, inviting community leaders to meet with me and explore how government, businesses and non-profits can collaborate to create truly livable cities. Craig realized that community members were the best first-responders when earthquake devastated Christchurch in 2011 and that better collaboration between all sectors is a necessary first step in creating resilient society. We are now exploring how Pomegranate Center can help realize this goal.

I had conversations about future collaborations. We discussed the possibility of a deeper training that is complimented by a community-built gathering place in the style of Pomegranate Center. We know that when classroom time is complemented with a hands-on project, learning is faster and deeper. We also talked about creating pilot collaborative projects that demonstrate strong alignment between community and government is not only possible, but is the way of the future. I hope these ideas come to fruition and will keep you posted on future developments.