Dunedin is the second largest city in the South Island of New Zealand, and is considered to be one of the main urban centres of New Zealand for historic, cultural, and geographic reasons. With all this going for it, the mayor and the chief executive of the city council see big things for what they call a “small city.”
Mayor David Cull says there a few things that make the City of Dunedin special, but he narrows the list down to a tripartite of factors. “It’s a combination that makes us unique amd there are three legs that make up this combination,” he says. “The first thing is education. We have a strong tertiary education centre, we have the best university in the country and arguably the best polytechnic. The quality of the education stems right through the high schools and primary schools.”
“Heritage is another big point. We are the oldest city in New Zealand by European standards. We have some very good physical heritage here, in the terms of old buildings,” he continues. “These where built from the proceeds from the gold rush in the 1860s and 70s.”
“The last thing we have is wildlife. We see ourselves as the wildlife capital of the country. Within the city limits there is the only mainland rural Albatross breeding colony in the world. That’s our three legged stool.” The Mayor is obviously excited to talk about his city and his enthusiasm is infectious.
The way forward
“We have a vision, and it’s really about Dunedin to become one of the world’s great small cities,” says Paul Orders, the Dunedin City Council’s Chief Executive. He points to a number of cities in Europe and the Americas, saying that “a city’s success depends on having access that you can capitalise on and make work. What Dunedin has is assets that form the basis of world class performance.”
Orders has maintained this opinion since he took his position last year, and it has been remarked in other news and media that he has the optimism and the drive to make these things happen for the city.
“The university, for instance, is one of the more significant clusters of intellectual fire power in all of Australasia,” he explains. “The natural backdrop of the city is stunning, culturally, and its infrastructure is something you would associate with a much larger city. Those elements form the foundations of a potentially very successful city.”
Meet the city
Cities have a personality, and Mayor Cull says the best way to sum up the character of his city is to call the citizens “very friendly.” He says that there is a belief in this part of the world that they are some of the most personable people you can find. “You can’t really get friendlier then they are here – we are as friendly as they come in the country. One of the more interesting things that is happening with the populace is that we are becoming more culturally diverse in the city than was the case before.”
Cull says that the top-down perspective he gets as mayor has provided him with a particular view point that you might not have gotten otherwise. “With staff at the university, lectures and professors, we have always attracted individuals from all over the world. There has always been a readiness to accept people from different cultures and different places,” he says.
On the tourism side, both the Mayor and the CEO agree that by building on the assets that they already have, they have a lot to offer visitors. “Lifestyle wise you have a lot of opportunities because we have all the benefits of a larger city but without any of the downsides,” says Mayor Cull. “For instance it is very easy to drive across Dunedin in less than half an hour. So if you are visiting, there are not a lot of places you can’t go within 15 minutes by car.”
This extends to those who choose to stay and work in the area. With transportation as it is, it is very easy to get to the downtown business core from the suburbs within 20 minutes. This is very appealing to those who are very used to traffic and travel in other areas taking anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour to reach their final destinations.
Compacting the experience
“We have a compact, easy to get around city that has fantastic recreational offerings,” Mayor Cull adds. “On the top of it we have scenery and mountain bike trails, and a lot of other support for other recreational pursuits. It’s the only place in Australasia that within the city limits you can surf in the sea and ski in the snow on the very same day.”
Orders points out that his status as a migrant to the area makes him a bit of an authority on why people come to Dunedin. “It’s really the lifestyle, it really is exceptional – both in terms of the recreation, and the way in which the city is so intimate. You also have all the resources you would need to run a successful business from.”
“You have an education system where the primary, secondary and tertiary levels – I would argue – compare to anywhere in world in terms of their ability to produce rounded well-educated individuals,” Orders adds. The university level also provides the area with both training and research elements that businesses and development companies should be able to take ready advantage of.
“The business community here is partly linked to the university,” continues Orders. “But it has strength unto itself. It is very dynamic and diverse. We have seen some real strength in areas like engineering, design and technology or even the creative spaces. We have a very good spread of a range of industries in a range of sectors.”
“You also have a city here that is a focal point of a much larger regional hinterland,” he says, pointing to the fact that the area boasts an agricultural services industry that integrates the city with the wider region. He says that the friendliness of the area also figures into the trust and partnerships that the businesses create in the area. This means that many of their business relationships are community based ones that lets the entire area respond quickly to challenges that present themselves.
Throughout the conversation both Mayor Cull and Order point to the community as the foundation of the success of the city. It is through the fostering and stimulation of this that they hope to make Dunedin one of the Great Little Cities.