A resilient city is a resourceful city and waste is its opposite

Juliet Arnott was the founder of the Whole House Reuse project, where a red zoned house was recycled into 400 different ...
DEAN KOZANIC/FAIRFAX NZ

Juliet Arnott was the founder of the Whole House Reuse project, where a red zoned house was recycled into 400 different objects, at Canterbury Museum. She is holding a scale model of the original house made with wallpaper.

OPINION: Resilience is the buzzword of our times. And it is especially beloved by local governments, with towns around New Zealand all pledging to become more resilient.

Mayor Lianne Dalziel has recently signed the Resilient Greater Christchurch plan, which commits the city council to spend at least 10 per cent of its annual budget on building the city's resilience.

The plan reflects deep thought and commitment to a thriving Greater Christchurch. The authors describe resilience as "understanding the risks and challenges we face and developing ways to adapt and co-create a new normal. The strength of our resilience lies in us, not just as individuals, but as communities and whanau."

Local hazel wood panels woven by Ara students to be used for a temporary architectural installation at the headline ...
Festa

Local hazel wood panels woven by Ara students to be used for a temporary architectural installation at the headline event Lean Means of this weekend's FESTA.

But what does a resilient city look like in terms of waste?  The plan involves conducting research that will "encourage smart choices and avoid wasteful duplication or inefficiencies in resource use."

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In my work for Rekindle, with Whole House Reuse and other projects that look at waste in other cities in New Zealand, I have come to understand inefficiencies in resource use intimately.

I am increasingly sure that the ultimate state of efficient resource use, and the antithesis of wastefulness, is resourcefulness. This definition of resourcefulness takes a broader meaning, referring back to the origins of the word "resource" as a "means of supplying a want or deficiency," from the Latin resurgere – "rise again".

In order to develop resilience I would suggest it is valuable, if not fundamental, to closely consider our relationship with resources – all resources – including our inner resources as people and communities.

Cities are entirely reliant on the resources of the natural world so it is reassuring the Resilient Greater Christchurch plan, via Ngai Tahu guidance recognises that "all things are interconnected and that the symbiotic relationship between land, water and people is at the heart of building resilient communities."

If we chose to value the health of the relationship between people and nature, the limits of natural resources would be clearly known and respected. We would extend by all means possible the lifespan of the resources we harvest, mine, drain and fell. In this symbiotic relationship between nature and people, needless waste would be avoided, and disposal of reusable resources that did not return nutrients to soil would be viewed as failure.

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I find it useful to consider all material resources as "nature's resources" as this is where they come from. They are the materials we live in and around, that we walk in, we climb, we breathe, we grow, we eat, we use, we consume, we play with, we throw away, we love and treasure.

From infancy it is our interaction with the world around us that helps us learn, that gives us confidence and competence, and that sparks a sense of challenge, mastery or failure. How we use the resources around us informs who we are, as our inner resources are built and developed according to our experiences in negotiating our world.

So what does wastefulness teach us as we are growing up and learning to be resilient and resourceful? What does it teach us when we learn that disposal of barely used resources or products is commonplace? What impact does it have when at the Christchurch EcoDrop you are encouraged to dispose of repairable or reusable goods? Such wastefulness reduces the opportunities for us to learn to repair and gain other resourceful skills in our communities, and it goes against kaitiakitanga or the guardianship of nature's resources.

The duality of kaitiakitanga is that not only is it good for nature to be resourceful and reduce waste but it is good for us to do so. Taking care with the resources around us enables the development of our inner resources. As we care for what we have we learn skills and technical knowledge, we have opportunities to learn culturally rich traditions, and we gain confidence and a sense of self-efficacy.

These positive experiences are especially relevant given the number of people in our communities challenged with maintaining mental health that could benefit. My work as an occupational therapist over the last 20 years has provided many opportunities to observe our need as humans to be resourceful as part of upholding mental health.

Life can feel extremely tough when we feel things are beyond our inner resources, and to have an opportunity to feel outwardly resourceful, when for example we learn to fix a chair, can help significantly. Regaining a sense of self-efficacy is a major part of regaining mental health and so these opportunities for resourcefulness should not be overlooked in their therapeutic potency.

The wellbeing and resilience of ourselves and our cities is inextricably linked to our access to resources, our resource use, and the way resources flow and are valued. Personally, I'll support the Resilient Greater Christchurch plan by continuing to promote resourcefulness as an integral part of resilience. Waste management planning for the city holds many opportunities to build a genuinely resilient future.

I especially look forward to this year's FESTA theme of 'We Have the means' as this is resourcefulness in action at grand scale – an extraordinary illustration of a city using the means it has to create unique transformative experiences inside and out.

Juliet Arnott is an occupational therapist who founded social enterprise Rekindle, which makes furniture and objects from material salvaged from demolished homes.  She is a Strategic Advisor for this year's FESTA: We have the Means.

 - Stuff

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