Small towns with big ideas

One of the small town successes researcher Harvey Perkins has logged in Ashburton is the Multi-cultural Bite festival.
Photo Robyn Hood

Ashburton has earned itself a slot as one of the key towns in a project that is aimed to build New Zealand’s economic and social strength through its smaller towns and cities.

Spearheading this section of a national science challenge aimed at building better homes, towns and cities, is Harvey Perkins and his team.

They’re Christchurch based, but a large part of their work takes place in the communities they’re studying – Ashburton, Timaru and Oamaru.

“The objective is to understand the situation with regard to each of these, to talk to people across a range of areas about their priorities and what’s happening in their settlements.

“It’s across economic, environmental, societal and cultural issues,” Perkins said.

His aim is to find out what makes each of the towns in the study special, what works for them and what ideas could be used equally successfully in other towns.

One of the successes Perkins has logged in Ashburton is the Multi-cultural Bite festival.

“It’s well established and it reflects the significant change in the district. I’m interested across these sorts of initiatives to see how successful they are and why they’re so successful,” he said.

The project wanted to work out how lessons from one town could be reshaped and reused equally as successfully in others, Perkins said.

It is also about identifying gaps in communities and working out how these can be bridged.

Ashburton was unique in some ways in that it had a lot of good initiatives, he said.

“There are so many interesting things going on and its proximity to Christchurch is interesting.

“It’s not like Oamaru and Timaru that are a bit more isolated.

Each of the towns are very different with quite different histories.

“Ashburton has its agricultural base and a significant number of wealthy people who’re prepared to invest back into the community.”

“We’re talking about building communities of interest across the country; we’re interested in urban regeneration projects.

“It’s about making these towns more attractive places to live.”

Building better homes, towns and cities is Government funded. It is part of a national science challenge that covers 11 priority areas for research.

The challenge is funded for 10 years, with the better homes project guaranteed three years’ worth of funding.

It has just wrapped up its first year.

It is based on the premise that smaller settlements were variable successful and that while there was strong local and central government drive to support regional regeneration this needed to be underpinned by strong science.

– By Sue Newman