Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Strange Bedfellows: Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel & the Rockefeller Foundation

Guest post by Hugh Pavletich

Former Mayor Bob Parker Goes … A Great Start …
Former Mayor Bob Parker threw in the towel mid-2013 (knighted thereafter for his services to public relations and for bending the knee to central government), and in the subsequent election nine of the 13 members of the Christchurch City Council were either replaced or withdrew themselves. Since then however new Mayor Lianne Dalziel has struggled in the job.

The Peoples Protest .. Clear Direction Forward …
The clean-out of the Council had its foundations in the 4,000+ strong Peoples Protest on 1 February 2012, with its demands clearly set out within their Christchurch Protest Committee letter to Nick Smith . These was later amplified with the op-ed ‘Christchurch: The Way Forward.’

In essence they  were at the time …

  • a fresh mid-term election
  • a replacement for the Chief Executive
  • restructure council from a centralised top-down agency to a “One City – Many Communities” model
  • affordable land for housing and business
  • affordable rates

It was clear to the citizens of Christchurch, if not to the new Mayor, that the “top down” layered bureaucratic approach to the recovery has been a total failure.  It was also clear that if a sound recovery was ever to get underway then a focused approach restoring control back to the people and their communities would be essential.

International Research Clear … Top Down Doesn’t Work …
There was already abundant international evidence that the “bottom-up” approach is the only way to go. For a recent illustration, see: Beito and Smith: Tornado Recovery—How Joplin Is Beating Tuscaloosa.

Strangely, the biggest disaster has not been the earthquakes themselves but the political and bureaucratic response. It still is. A series of earthquake events that should have cost around $15 billion will now be seeing costs upward of $40 billion, with delays commensurate with that magnitude (refer ‘Christchurch earthquakes: Council stalled recovery’).

With the capitulation of former Mayor Bob Parker last year, the resignation of then Chief Executive Tony Marratt and the unravelling of the team around them, a political vacuum was created into which Dalziel has been drawn.

No Consensus Pre-Election …
Polling by local newspaper The Press mid-2013 had shown that public opinion in Christchurch had moved significantly to the right.

The citizens of Christchurch had by that stage seen more than enough of political and bureaucratic failure ( Suffocating Bureucracy & Failed Institutions and  The Great Inertia Sector ... UK Daily Mail ), to cure them of any romantic notions they may have had about the abilities of government to perform… particularly under pressure.

Despite the urgency and apparent support however, there was no consensus at the time for a credible centre-right candidate or team to replace them.

Labour has historically taken local government seriously, correctly viewing it as a training ground for people aspiring to elected office at national level, and a stage for involvement in local communities.

Tragically, the centre-right with its elitist “born to rule” culture sees Local Government as simply an inferior model of themselves, best seen and not heard. To compound the problem, it routinely places non-entities in the role of Minister for Local Government. (I invite you to name the current Minister without Googling first.)

The result …

Lianne Dalziel Was Elected By Default
Although Ms Dalziel and the new Councillors who joined her with the October 2013 election had no part to play in the early 2012 protest, they were the only ones prepared to stand, bringing with them the surprising support of a number of business interests. These business interests had no part to play in the early 2012 People Protest either.

There was no election campaign as such, no debate about issues desperately needing comprehensive debate.

So instead, sadly, the debate is currently going on internally within the Council, and around commentary and blogs like this one. And while the new elected representatives are still floundering and figuring out what to do, the Council is still very much controlled by the same inept bureaucracy that’s been there all along.

Near 6 months since the election, absolutely nothing has been achieved.

Ms Dalziel’s great strength as a politician is that she excels on the “meeting and greeting” fronts and empathises exceptionally well with people.

But with her background as a lawyer ( where decisiveness, clarity and expeditious action are not encouraged ), and as a union official and central government elected representative and Minister (where decisiveness, clarity and expeditious action are positively discouraged), she has little knowledge of local government and lacks the “change management” skills.

Inept Bureaucrats Still Run Council …

Six months on Christchurch’s council  is still all one big talk-fest, lacking the essential consensus and clarity on any way forward.

Remarkably, Dalziel’s first move was to set up a new bureaucracy around her. Just another unwelcome  layer to create internal and external conflict.

And still, there has been no new Chief Executive with the essential change management skills appointed. Truly remarkable.

Soon after the election, the Council appointed the accounting firm Korda Mentha to complete a forensic examination of the Council finances, with report expected (they said) early March. This has yet to see the light of day. A Housing Accord announcement between the Government and the Council was to be announced soon after the Christmas break. Nothing extant on that either.

Neither Ms Dalzel nor most of her new Councillors are dumb. They’re well aware the council needs to be restructured (as outlined above), but they appear to still be floundering about how best way to handle it.

No skilled Chief Executive in place doesn’t help either.

Peoples Protest Messages Forgotten By Mayor Dalziel … Up Pops The Rockefeller Foundation ! …
As though the clear messages from the 2012 Peoples Protest and the discussions that followed were not enough, rather remarkably, it appears Ms Dalziel (and more likely the bureaucrats still running the show) see the New York based Rockefeller Foundation as their “saviour”!

Lois Cairns, a senior reporter with The Press outlines this strange outcome in her 26 March article: City embarks on building resilience, reporting

The New York-based Rockefeller Foundation is pledging international resources to help Christchurch become more resilient to future disaster…
    As a result of Christchurch's inclusion in the Resilient Cities network, the Rockefeller Foundation will fund the appointment of a chief resilience officer and provide support to create a resilience plan that reflects the city's needs.
    The Resilient Cities platform partners, who include SwissRe, Palantir, Sandir and AECOM, will chip in with tools and resources to help implement the plan.
    Resilient Cities vice-president Bryna Lipper said those partners would be able to help Christchurch along every step of its resilience journey by providing everything from technical assistance through to helping implement large capital projects.
    A coalition of "resilience professionals" would be built so that Christchurch could learn from other places who have gone through similar experiences…

The article makes no mention of how the Rockefeller Foundation involvement came about, nor of which Council individuals made the application to the Foundation, the processes followed or the financial aspects of it. Essential information the Christchurch public needs to know.

What the Rockefeller Foundation can tell us that we don’t already know, through their coalitions of "resilience professionals" taking us on a “resilience journey,” is very much a mystery too.

If the jargon and the Rockefeller Foundation - Resilient Cities website is any guide, the answer is a resounding  “nothing.”

It is simply just another American Foundation peddling the usual vacuous planning platitudes – very much an unwelcome distraction for a council already awash with them.

Focus On Affordability And Mobility … Alain Bertaud …
What makes a truly resilient city is actually very clear indeed, as former Principal Urban Planner with the World Bank Alain Bertaud makes clear in his Introduction to this year’s 10th Annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey.

It is, in four words, affordability and urban mobility.

That’s where the focus must be. Especially since Christchurch has neither, and a council dedicated to contrary propositions.

As the Demographia  Survey makes clear, Christchurch is already “severely unaffordable” at 5.8 Median Multiple, in a country with the worst urban mobility in the developed world ( New Zealand Has Worst Traffic: International Data | Wendell Cox | ). Truly remarkable for a city on a an abundant flat plain with a tiny population of just 370,000.

Talk about “institutional failure” over the long haul. The reasons for failure are well known.

Central Government has made itself abundantly clear on the housing affordability issue … not that the Christchurch Council has noticed yet ( “Unblocking Constipated Planning” in New Zealand | ). Prime Minister Key made it clear last October too … Action-on-affordable-housing .

And too the Reserve Bank of New Zealand, which, on top of the LVR restrictions, has made it clear it will keep lifting interest rates until Local Authorities decide to release affordable land.

Within this year’s Demographia Survey, Alain Bertaud had this to say …

Urban planners have been inventing all sorts of abstractly worded objectives to justify their plans for our future cities – smart growth, liveability, sustainability, are among the most recent fads. [Resilience is just another in a long line.]
    There is nothing wrong, of course, for a city to try to be smart, liveable, [resilient] or sustainable.
    But for some reasons these vague and benign sounding objectives usually become a proxy for imposing planning regulations that severely limit the supply of buildable land and the number of housing units built, resulting in ever higher housing prices. In the name of smart growth or sustainability, planners decide that densities should be lower in some places and higher in others.
    Population densities are not a design parameter whose value depends on the whim of planners, but are consumption indicators which are set by markets.
    Even the Communist Party of China recently declared that resource allocation is best achieved through markets; why can’t urban planners in so-called market economies reach the same conclusions and let markets decide how much land and floor space households and firms will consume in different locations?
    It is time for planners to abandon abstract objectives and to focus their efforts on two measurable outcomes that have always mattered since the growth of large cities during the 19th century’s industrial revolution: workers’ spatial mobility and housing affordability.
    As a city develops, nothing is more important than maintaining mobility and housing affordability.

Nothing is further from this council’s mind.

Please Get Focused Mayor Lianne …
Mayor Lianne Dalziel is to be applauded for her sound and constructive comments to return control to local people and their communities.

She does however need to stop talking “planning puffery” and tell the Rockefeller Foundation to pack it’s bags and go back to New York.

And then get focussed on mobility and housing affordability – and letting the market talk.

_hugh-pavletich-smlHugh Pavletich is a Christchurch entrepreneur, the owner of website Performance Urban Planning and co-author of the Annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey, 2011.
Read his previous Guest Posts here.


  1. Has the meeting between the Rockefeller Foundation and our local body government had enough coverage in our media?

    The role of the organisation is to "help" Christchurch become more "resilient to future disaster" and provide "international resources"...

    So I take it this means the organisations 'expert advisors' will be let 'through the door' to give 'expert direction' on what infrastructure the council should spend rate payers money on?

    Of course the organisation will first donate some resources kind of like Telecom provides a free modem if you sign up on a two year contract...

  2. Great article Hugh. This really needs to be widely published.

  3. Brian Anderson23 Nov 2014, 16:34:00

    I find myself in violent agreement with everything you say. The earthquakes damaged the city centre and its business life; government and bureaucracy extirpated it.
    More than anything the city needs to be set free. Let anyone with a half decent idea and the get up and go to make it happen, get on with it. We'll make a few mistakes, but we'll also build a city that no bureaucrat can ever imagine, and what's more it will be an interesting city built for real human beings !!!
    I remember a former City Engineer, (Harold Surtees) kept a cartoon on his wall that showed a couple of people walking in a park with the skyline of a futuristic city in the background. Said one to the other, "Well, now we've built the perfect city, where are we going to get the perfect people to live in it".
    Let's stop fooling ourselves that everything can and should be planned. The clear message to government and bureaucracy in all its forms is "Get out of the way and let real people get on with it".


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