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KeepHaweaBeautiful - a community rights movement

When we learnt about the proposed rapid urban development of our loved rural landscape in Hawea, we like many folk in the community fell victim to chronic distress at the reality that the place in which we reside and live has come under assault. Using abrupt and sudden physical desolation to clear land for development, common practice which has already consumed so much of our unique landscapes.

We created KeepHaweaBeautiful as a way to navigate this experience. A deeply felt uneasiness around the nature of this proposal. From our perspective, it was simply more of the same desolation created by large-scale developments. This proposal in particular seemed to deviate quite dramatically away from the communities interests.

Our beloved, natural landscapes are rapidly changing at a pace that no longer matches our ability to comprehend it. These landscapes offer a familiarity & stability. We hold relationships to them, which underpin and enhance the essence of a community. Understandably when an existing, peaceful organic community rhythm, which supports a sense of trust & familiarity to raise children and maintain healthy physical, spiritual and mental well-being is threatened, by negative transformation. There is a natural sense, that a way of life is under attack.

The new normal for children growing up in the Queenstown Lakes District is living with rapid development, abnormal is the stability of our landscapes & communities. When our children observe the rapid culling of trees in the Upper Clutha to make way for development, they are not witnessing a harmonious respect for nature, or tree coppicing as a method to manage trees as a resource. The story we would prefer to be telling them. Reluctantly we have to burden them with the truth, which is that these actions are the antithesis of community and environmental respect.

It is a common narrative to use "economic growth" as persuasion for a better future. Yet few address the immediate impact of living with negative environmental experiences, the consequence of "economic growth". Forget the future, what about the present, children are living daily, with the distress of rapid loss of natural environment. If we become what we think, and our children are constantly exposed to elevated levels of distress then surely we should be applying strategies now, to alleviate a looming existential crisis for the next generation.

What we are experiencing is not unique, in fact it has been identified as ‘ecosystem distress syndrome' by Dr David Rapport a pioneer in the field of ecosystem health. Dr Rapport established ecohealth consulting, which is statistically collecting data to rapidly assess the state of the environment including the relationship of ecosystem health to human health and well-being. He holds a holistic vision that balances human needs and aspirations with the fundamental need to maintain the proper functioning of the earth's life-support systems.

Similarly the concept of Solastalgia was developed by Environmental philosopher Greg Albrecht of The University of Newcastle, Australia in 2003. He identified that people were clearly distressed about the relationship to their home environment, noticing increasing numbers of people concerned about the sheer scale of the environmental impacts in the Upper Hunter Region of NSW during the 90's.

"In their attempts to halt the expansion of open cut coal mining and to control the impact of power station pollution, individuals would ring me at work pleading for help with their cause. These people were clearly distressed about the relationship to their home environment and the threat to their identity and well-being from changes to their environment," Albrecht says.

Albrecht describes Solastalgia simply as “the homesickness you have when you are still at home”. Having origins in the concepts of nostalgia, solace and desolation. Solace is derived from the Latin verb solari (noun solacium or solatium), with meanings connected to the alleviation or relief of distress or to the provision of comfort or consolation in the face of distressing events.

Solace has connections to both psychological and physical contexts. One emphasis refers to the comfort one is given in difficult times (consolation) while another refers to that which gives comfort or strength. A person or a landscape might give solace, strength or support to other people. Special environments might provide solace in ways that other places cannot. If a person lacks solace then they are distressed and in need of consolation. If a person seeks solace or solitude in a much-loved place that is being desolated, then they will suffer distress.

Solastalgia despite its rather malaise meaning has in fact given hope. It has put a name to the deeply felt sense of injustice, disharmony and harm experienced, but difficult to put into words. It proves and validates the real experience for folk like us, whose values are tied to the living reality that trees breathe out, what we breathe in yet they are cut down & exploited with an attitude, that they hold less value than a human life.

Solastalgia has confirmed our uneasiness as something real and tangible, in naming this phenomenon Solastalgia, we can now transform it into a present reality that uses our intelligence to grow in better way for our communities to thrive into the future.

KeepHaweaBeautiful is an extension of our love for our home. It is the conscious acknowledgement that we all have a developed sense of connection & belonging, both human and natural to the place in which we live therefore it is normal to want to protect the love we have for it.

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