South D dare to dream

What started as community anger over the destructive floods of 2015 has morphed into a network that celebrates ‘the goodness that is South Dunedin’.

In June 2015, heavy rain caused severe flooding which damaged more than 1,000 businesses and homes in south Dunedin and forced some evacuations.

Blocked drainage tanks were part of the problem and residents were angry with Dunedin City Council, which is responsible for the stormwater system.

In 2016 a group of residents formed and in 2018 the resulting South Dunedin Community Network began receiving funding from the council’s location-based Community Grants Fund.

“People were standing up individually and realizing that if they didn’t unite, they weren’t going anywhere,” says Robyn McLean, network manager.

South Dunedin was built on land reclaimed from a coastal wetland and its 600ha low-lying area is particularly prone to flooding and the effects of climate change.

About 10,000 residents live in reasonably dense housing, some of which is of poor quality.

Robyn says between 50 and 60 per cent of local properties are rented out and many landlords have not invested in their buildings due to the uncertainties of climate change.

Another challenge is an incredibly diverse community, with a high proportion of low-income families and elderly or disabled people. Many live alone.

“Sometimes things are more difficult in this community.”

She says the struggles also mean residents are resilient, as has been shown during the Covid-19 pandemic of the past two years.

“We can always be tough and wonderful, then crack a hilarious joke – at exactly the wrong time!”

At the network’s welcoming community halls in King Edward St, Robyn speaks warmly of the people of the South D.

There’s a really charming side to our community, a really grounded practicality and a sense of humor. That’s what I love most about working on this street.

She says there is a lot of good going on right now.

KiwiRail’s Hillside workshops will indeed reopen, retail and office space is being built in the former Wolfenden and Russell clothing and drapery store, and the Bathgate Park playground is being upgraded.

Focus points

The network has five points of interest. The first is advocacy, helping residents get involved in issues such as public transport and sea level rise/climate change.

The second is celebration – “to celebrate the goodness that is South Dunedin”.

The South Dunedin Street Festival has become an annual fixture and although the pandemic has forced its cancellation this year, the next festival is scheduled for April 2023.

Keeping Covid-19 prevention measures in mind, the network celebrates local “cute, beautiful” homes. Volunteers will photograph them and a multi-photo poster will be printed.

Connection is the third goal.

“That’s really what our bread and butter is,” says Robyn. During our interview, the phone rings and her to-do list looks like a pen-on-paper puzzle.

Resources in the form of organizations and individuals already exist in the region and the work of the network is to ‘connect the dots’.

For example, during the Covid-19 lockdown last August, single-parent families struggled with a lack of stationery for their children.

The network connected them with an organization that had a huge fixed budget that could not be used due to the isolation of the houses.

We’re joining the dots, helping everyone connect, giving South Dunedin the small town feeling it once had.

The network organizes two community meetings a year. These are open to anyone who lives, works or plays in South Dunedin, and the next one will be on June 1.

These gatherings provide an opportunity for council to be accountable to residents, a shared meal, and fun activities for people to express themselves.

The network’s president, Eleanor Doig, is committed to non-violence, which emphasizes participants’ interaction with the council.

“You’re definitely allowed to challenge, but in a respectful way,” Robyn says.

Dream South D Steering Group members and supporters planning the project (left to right): Eleanor Doig, Chair of the South Dunedin Community Network, Hurihia Luafitu from the Department of Internal Affairs and Warren Edlin and Kathryn Harkin from the Steering Group. Photo: provided

Build a community

Community halls are available for free or a koha and a range of groups use them.

From the Matariki festival of June 24 until October, a food truck will park in front of the rooms on Fridays and Mondays.

The owner’s goal is to provide affordable family food and people can eat their kai inside the rooms.

“It’s great to see how people are thinking about another way to use this space,” says Robyn.

The fourth and fifth focal points of the network are communication and creating sustainability within the network.

As a result, the network and the newly formed Dream South D Steering Group will share a five-year partnership with the Department of Home Affairs.

The ministry will provide hands-on support and access to a national pool of $4 million, and the community will be asked to think about and plan for the future.

People in South D struggling with daily worries may be starting to dare to dream.

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For more information:

South Dunedin Community Network website and Facebook

If you are interested in his volunteer party on May 30, please email [email protected]

Dunedin City Council’Future of South Dunedin‘ information

South D dare to dream

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