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Dunedin – N.Z.’s Emerging Rockstar City?

28 August, 2018

I believe that Dunedin is N.Z.’s emerging ‘rockstar’ city. Sure I’m biased. I’ve lived in Dunedin on and off for most of my life – over 50 years. Dunedin is New Zealand’s first city – currently with the fastest broadband services in the Southern Hemisphere. Dunedin…an official UNESCO City of Literature, joining the likes of Edinburgh, Melbourne and Dublin. Dunedin…”one of the world’s great small cities”.

Dunedin logo on beach

For many years it didn’t feel great living in Dunedin. As someone born in the region and with strong family ties I felt like a captive. With a reputation for being highly conservative, perhaps alluding to its strongly Scottish heritage, and apparently unfriendly towards business and development, the city seemed to stagnate while much of N.Z. prospered. My late father, a proud high-achiever (particularly on the sports field) with a “can-do” attitude often reminded me that “change is a dirty word in Dunedin” and “its the only city in N.Z. where the dead still walk the streets”. I think that as someone who wanted to advance progress and could envision Dunedin’s huge potential, Dad felt oppressed and ultimately defeated by the seemingly entrenched local attitudes.

Good things do come to those who wait. Now in 2018 the city is the most positive that I can ever recall. It is literally buzzing with excitement with perhaps the unspoken sentiment that finally the city is on the verge of something truly special. After all – how many other cities could sell out four Ed Sheeran concerts over an Easter holiday? Maybe that had something to do with the contentious mural in Bath Street or more aptly the wonderful multi-purpose Forsyth Barr covered stadium! There really is something great in the air…and its not all hot air! Some incredibly positive, tangible things are occuring that could very well help catapult Dunedin into genuine Rock-Star status.

Dunedin has traditionally been a University city. In my humble opinion it is New Zealand’s only genuine University! Most of the over 20,000 students, 85% of whom come from outside Dunedin, live in close proximity on what was recognised as one of the 16 most beautiful campuses in the world (Huffington Post 2013). It is ranked in the top 3% of universities in the world… and in the top 100 in 12 subject areas. It has recently embarked on a progressive development plan – spending $650m over several years upgrading its campuses. And we shouldn’t overlook Otago Polytechnic – which is leading the pack among N.Z.’s institutes of technology and/or polytechnic and is investing considerable amounts in ongoing development.

Otago University clocktower

Prof Harlene Hayne, the University of Otago Vice Chancellor, recently suggested that Dunedin was one of New Zealand’s best kept secrets, adding “…there has been a palpable change of public mood here in recent years” and “…the university, and Dunedin along with it, is going ahead…With the world in such a state of flux, Dunedin’s geographical distance and southern location has become a major advantage.”  She also noted that “People from around the world and within New Zealand are starting to find our best-kept-secret, and realise the big-city benefits of living here; the many great restaurants, shops, cafes, theatre, parks and recreational facilities – not to mention the natural beauty of this part of the world.”

You don’t need to go too far to encounter “the local buzz“. Talk to most accommodation providers and they will tell you about record occupancy rates. Cafes are humming with business-people conducting their off-site meetings and restaurants are busy even on traditionally quiet nights. Take a drive to the ‘green-field’ areas on the outskirts of the city and note the huge numbers of new homes springing up like mushrooms in every available space. And one of the biggest issues seems to be that there is not enough land for new development – demand for quality property is out-stripping supply. The residential real estate agents have never had it so good! Despite this the average price of a Dunedin house is still relatively affordable at just over $400,000 compared to Auckland and Queenstown at over $1M.

With much of New Zealand, notably Auckland, faced with increasing congestion, social issues and crime rates, Dunedin remains relatively relaxed. The claim of being “the ten-minute city” is still very apt. A ‘traffic jam’ is when you are held up for more than one change of the lights but even at the busiest times of day you can generally get to most central places in “around 10 minutes”. It is not uncommon for people to take a long lunch-hour and go for a leisurely walk or perhaps a mountain-bike or a surf. There are so many things on offer within easy reach. Finish work at midday Friday and head up to the Central Otago playground for a weekend skiing or adventure pursuits. This city literally oozes lifestyle!! Did I almost forget to mention that the city has a thriving arts and culture scene? It isn’t known for “the Dunedin sound” for nothing!

As a place to raise a family Dunedin is unrivalled. With an abundance of quality schools all with easy proximity and many associated family activities and services children have ample opportunity to flourish whatever their talents. And Dunedin is still a relatively safe place to be. Kids can walk or bus to school with comparative ease. It is simply a “hassle-free” environment.

A “Drawn-out Boom” – Perhaps the icing on the cake is the recent announcement of a $1.4B rebuild of Dunedin Hospital – due to commence around 2020. Early indications are that around 1,000 people will be needed in the city to assist in this project.It is anticipated that there will be about 800 or 850 people working on the project for four or five years, most of whom will have a trade qualification of some sort. Maybe another 200 staff will be involved in ancillary work such as security services, truck driving or offsite construction. Local Advisory Group convenor and former MP Pete Hodgson said the boom in the construction industry would not stop in 2026 when the hospital was completed. The University of Otago, Otago Polytechnic and the Dunedin City Council would be deliberately scheduling work for the years after the hospital build. “All this means that Dunedin’s construction sector is moving from a lower level of activity historically to a somewhat higher one for the next 12 or 15 years. “It isn’t going to be a boom and bust so much as one long and drawn-out boom.” (Source: www.odt.co.nz 18th July 2018)

Signalling a progressive and ambitious vision Dunedin city councillors recently gave the green light for a $20million architecturally designed bridge that some say will be a game-changer for the city. It is expected to be the spark that will light a distinctive Architecture Van Brandenburg proposal for exciting harborside development of the Steamer Basin area.

Harbourside bridge

Tourism is booming! Visitor arrivals to New Zealand are expected to grow 4.6 per cent a year, reaching 5.1 million visitors in 2024 from 3.7 million in 2017 and total international spend is expected to reach $14.8 billion in 2024, up 40 per cent from 2017 (source: http://www.mbie.govt.nz). Dunedin is now a significant tourist destination with a reputation for outstanding landscapes, wildlife and distinctive heritage architecture. All indications are that tourism will continue to help drive the city’s momentum.

dunedin wildlife montage

Dunedin’s growth is underpinned by genuine business confidence, whether this is within the tertiary institutions, existing industry, the tourism sector or new start-ups. Confidence drives the willingness of industries to invest, remain, grow and innovate in the city. Confidence has never been greater. My late Dad would be stoked that the Dunedin is finally embracing change and progress. It can quite rightly lay claim to being N.Z.’s emerging rock-star city!!

One Comment leave one →
  1. Jason permalink
    4 September, 2018 5:00 pm

    Your dad was 100% right and thus is still very much the case as of September 2018.

    ““change is a dirty word in Dunedin” and “its the only city in N.Z. where the dead still walk the streets”. I think that as someone who wanted to advance progress and could envision Dunedin’s huge potential, Dad felt oppressed and ultimately defeated by the seemingly entrenched local attitudes”

    Still very much run by a select, conservative, nepotistic few. I love Dunedin and have chosen to fight to make it my home. But I have had nothing but brick walls, greed and selfishness to battle against as I applied for well over 250 jobs in the two and a bit years I have been here. Some in the fields I have good experience in like film, tv, live sound production and architecture. Others with transferrable skill sets but to no avail. The unwillingness to give someone a go and constantly told I was too old or over qualified, as well as having to be paid peanuts (most qualified roles were at least 30% underpaying in Dunedin) has been demoralising to say the least. Not to mention being up against the mentality that still exists where employers of almost all jobs I applied for were more interested in paying barely minimum wage to 18yr olds. As well as dealing with the immoral and I believe illegal temping agency’s that seem to dictate the Dunedin job market and add to the challenges for any chance of full time permanent employment.

    I do hold out hope that change will come but it not coming easy as the Dunedin oligarchs cling to their land grabbing and stranglehold on infrastructure, housing and business development.

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