University readings resonate with life Vol. 2

In July I mentioned that I had gone back to university and was doing postgraduate planning via distance learning at Massey University. I decided to mention it because the readings for the course discuss planning in ways the vast majority of us probably have not thought about. Whether it is a resource consent application so one can build a new house, or they are negatively affected by something like losing land that will be flooded when a new dam is built, at some point or another New Zealanders will have to deal with the effects of council planning.

I want to come back to this briefly to acknowledge two more noteworthy papers that were part of the readings for 132.732: Planning Theory. In the first article in July I mentioned papers by Marcus Lane (2005) who looked at public participation in planning and Joe Painter (2006) who looks at the roles of ordinary people in positions of power and the effects of their mundane everyday actions.

The reading by Jago Dodson The Global Infrastructure Turn and Global Practice (2016) looks at the rise of infrastructure and the need for urban scholars to take note of this change at national and global level in the context of international frameworks. Notably, as this was written shortly after Donald Trump won the 2016 election, Dodson notes a nationalist dimension to Mr Trump’s emphasis on American infrastructure. His was a response to the need for massive investment in crumbling roads, bridges, derelict dams, water, sewerage and electricity infrastructure. But Mr Trump was merely following a trend that had developed in Canada, Australia and to a lesser extent here in New Zealand that infrastructure development should be a priority issue. An interesting point raised in the Dodson paper was that to avoid the over accumulation of capital, diverting the excess into developing infrastructure should be an acceptable alternative.

The Dodson paper will not resonate so much with the ordinary New Zealander, so much as it will with the economic policy maker. I am talking about the people trying to set a 21st Century course to match the challenges from issues such as sustainability and climate change, diversifying the job market and improve resilience to international shocks.

Perhaps it was the paper by Ambe Njoh Urban planning as a tool of power and social control in colonial Africa (2008) that I found the most striking of the ones in the second half of the course. In reading the paper around the same time as I started an assignment that examined power and social control through urban planning in a local context, I found it striking that Cathedral Square in Christchurch, despite the acknowledgement of Ngai Tahu as local tangata whenua, the Square still has a very English feel and appearance to it. Despite post-earthquake buildings nearby such as the Christchurch public library (Turanga) and the yet to open Convention Centre (Te Pae) having names in Te Reo Maori, those buildings bear little obvious relation or connectedness to Waitaha (Canterbury) or Otautahi (Christchurch). The imposing facade of the old Chief Post Office in Christchurch.

Cathedral Square has battleship grey tiles that in summer have a reflective glare that those with vision problems or those sensitive to bright light find challenging. In writing my last assignment I happened upon a submission to Christchurch City Council from the disabled community for improvements to Cathedral Square. I am not sure how many have happened, but it made me wonder just how accessible this supposedly public place really is. Despite being a public place with trees in built up boxes and temporary installations to offset the unkempt mess behind the fence around the Cathedral, I have on occasion wondered what Ngai Tahu would have wanted had it been given a better say.

As we here in New Zealand look to the future, I can agree with Dodson that there will need to be significant infrastructure investment in the near future. But I can also agree with Njoh, that perhaps unintentionally New Zealand is really no better than other countries in terms of the use of planning for purposes of expressing power and social control.

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