Exodus of young is a game changer

19:04, Nov 25 2012

Christchurch is on track to become New Zealand's biggest retirement village, says Mayor Bob Parker.

Immediately ahead of us is one of the most important "game changers" this city and region will ever face. It is driven by a perfect storm of demographic truths that we simply cannot ignore.

They are, based on current trends, as follows:

In 25 years time most people in Christchurch will be over 65 years of age.

Post-earthquake our young are abandoning the city in increasing numbers, exacerbating the above trend. I am losing count of the number of friends who have told me their university age kids are going to study elsewhere in New Zealand.

Just maintaining our current workforce numbers, based on current migration stats, would require population growth of around 5 per cent per year (our average population growth figure historically is around 1.5 to 2 per cent per year).


In other words Christchurch is on track to become New Zealand's biggest retirement village unless we take immediate action.

It is not rocket science, but the undeniable truth is we need a city that can attract and hold young people.

Early New Year 2013 I am bringing together a panel of foremost thinkers, managers and policy architects who will be charged with addressing how Christchurch is going to attract and retain what have been coined "Generation C," our 18 to 35-year-old men and women.

They are colloquially referred to as the connected generation.

I believe the pace with which we are entering an age where borders, citizenship and how countries even recruit future citizens now equates to the roar of the deafening thunder of an approaching storm. You can turn your back on it - but you cannot pretend it is not happening. The storm is approaching and we need to plan for it now.

To excuse ourselves, for resting on the number eight wire mantle at this time, would be a mistake of major proportions and we cannot allow this to happen.

Abundance of knowledge, demographics, collaboration as in cloud thinking, increasing competitiveness, design and addressing the weight of governance are the six themes that should now prevail through our dialogue when addressing the way ahead.

Underlying this proposition is the need to energetically engage with "Generation C" and into this intersect fold the creativity and knowledge of our people.

I believe if we do this Christchurch can embrace a socially and economically sustainable future.

However, if our planners, civic and central government leaders and entrepreneurs misread "Generation C" they will forsake the brilliance that will be possible through their connectivity and collaboration when imagining and designing "Future city Christchurch."

To maintain a skilled workforce that is both engaged in ongoing education and is sufficient in numbers to meet demand, the region will need a highly connected tertiary sector and research infrastructure.

At the very time we need it most, our tertiary education system in the city (and I include Lincoln University in this as well) is financially weak and faces ongoing issues around enrolment.

It is impossible to ignore the realities of global warming, the significant societal and market changes in Europe, the emerging markets of Asia and Africa, evolving technology, informed and environmentally aware consumers and the boomer generation legacy.

Scientist/philosopher Stephen Hawking's view that "intelligence is the ability to adapt to change" accurately captures this moment and I believe should inform our design process around our wider community aspirational thinking.

Future city Christchurch; where age and brilliance are synonymous, where residents and visitors enjoy the benefits of the city's cutting-edge urban design, with a knowledge-age CBD that breathes life into our economy and where there is an abundance of public space around the themes of healthy creative lifestyle, all would be the ideal. So who are these people who hold such a sway over our future? The Volunteer Army is probably the best illustration but, in fairness to others, their concept is not entirely new. Rotary, Jaycees and other such service organisations extol similar ethics. However, their ranks are thinning.

While encouraging an increase in the birth rate and significantly boosting immigration and recruitment are all possible, we must first look after our current "Generation C."

The opportunity to capture this issue and use it to our advantage is here now but won't stay that way forever - especially in a time in which the constant is change and ideas, like talent, have wings

The McKinsey Global Institute suggests that by 2020 the world could have 40 million too few college- educated workers and that developing economies may face a shortfall of 45 million workers with secondary- school educations and vocational training. In advanced economies, up to 95 million workers could lack the skills needed for employment.

If ever there was a business opportunity surely this is it?

The game changer I believe in front of us is to find a way to bring tertiary education back into the city, the present CBD plan, in my view, while admirable does not go far enough and could include plans for a "University of Oceania".

We can train the world and benefit greatly from such a position.

Taking from the model of the Colombo plan which promotes the concept of collective inter-government effort to strengthen economic and social development of member countries in Asia Pacific region we could create an academically diverse campus that offers students the opportunity to learn, research within our business innovation ecosystem, and develop among their peers a network of collaboration rooted in this city and region.

We have to come to terms with the fact our approach to business and life must be fleet of foot and therefore our institutions must be adept to change. Our drive during the first quarter of 2013 must be to address the existing structural imbalance between the present and future. If today because of ego and partisan politics we fail to correct this imbalance, our great plans and vision for the central city, transport and education, will fail or at at best suffer from weak implementation.

It will reflect poorly on us if our bequest to the future, our grandchildren and their children, is literally that of the campfire tale of "what could have been".

As the virtuous cycle which has largely driven our economy in recent times diminishes in the post- industrial age, now is "our" time to harness the friction between the old and the emerging new guard and morph that into collaborative ideas and a planning vehicle to take us forward.

What we perceive as being bold must be robustly interrogated against the question of "is that really bold enough?" Remember the surge of optimism and hope that followed "share an idea" and the community driven plan we together produced? We must not lose that.

The mission for this office over the next twelve months is to better synchronise the dynamics of our social, creative, business, education, body politic, lifestyle and innovation sectors to ensure we bring about the vision of "future city Christchurch".

A city where generations of Cantabrians are excited to live and where there is a waiting list of the best and brightest to live here.

Let's start with exploring the case for one tertiary campus for the city and wider region.

In a broader sense what are the lessons we can take from the ethos of the newly- opened EPIC Innovation campus for the entire CBD.

Let us bring Generation C to our doorstep, supplementing our own young with the creative energy of those from around our own country and the Asia-Pacific Indo-Australian region.

Let us be bold, back ourselves, and remember that with the best will in the world no-one else is going to do it for us.

We alone can turn the approaching storm into a passing squall.

The Press