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Making All New Zealand the Place Talent Wants to Live


For immediate release

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Making All New Zealand the Place Talent Wants to Live

The development of the provinces is becoming a major issue for New Zealand, and for the new Government.

Television New Zealand’s Sunday programme (21 September) addressed the plight of towns such as Whanganui, where jobs and populations are declining.

A national conference on the New Zealand way of life, organised by Victoria University and the MacDiarmid Institute, will take place in Whanganui in November. It will focus on the economies and environments of small towns and regions, and on the power of individuals and community-based social/environmental movements to make positive changes in their communities.

A Place to Live… for the life worth having, 16-19 November, honours the memory of Sir Paul Callaghan, 2011 Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year, who often talked and wrote about his formative childhood in Whanganui, and how its outdoor freedoms set him up for a creative science career. He made a deliberate move back from the University of Oxford to the Manawatu-Whanganui region early in his career, a move that did not stop him achieving at the highest level, and gaining international recognition in his chosen field of nuclear magnetic resonance. In the last years of his life, Sir Paul gave talks throughout the country about “making New Zealand – all of New Zealand - the place talent wants to live”.

The conference will pose fundamental questions about our lifestyles. Keynote speaker Richard Louv, US author of Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle, argues that our increasing disconnection from nature - even in small towns and the regions where nature is on the doorstep – contributes significantly to problems such as obesity, anxiety, social isolation, depression and a loss of creativity. Children need unstructured play in nature for healthy emotional and physical development. While a lot of children in urban areas have limited access to “wild places”, many small towns and regions offer the best possible lifestyles, with opportunities to grow and gather food.

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Gayle Souter-Brown, Wellington-based international expert in green urban design, strongly agrees with Louv. “Without ecological health there can be no human health and well-being,” she emphasises. Ms Souter-Brown notes the comparatively small percentage of green space in New Zealand cities, where 85% of our population now lives. Her book, Landscape and Urban Design for Health and Wellbeing, which covers many exemplary overseas case studies, will be launched this week. The highest percentage of green space in any New Zealand city is 11% in New Plymouth, compared with 50% in Moscow and 40% in London. Our city average is 7-8%.

Coincidentally, the conference takes place following the signing of the historic Deed of Settlement relating to governance of the Whanganui River as a legal entity in its own right. The Maori economy has the potential to be a powerful factor in regional development and keeping the burgeoning demographic of young Maori in their hometowns and regions.

About the conference

A Place to Live... for the life worth having will take place on 16 – 19 November at The Whanganui War Memorial Centre.

The conference continues the conversation begun at the 2012 Transit of Venus Conference in Gisborne, which Sir Paul Callaghan initiated to talk about at how science can support economic development. It also follows on from the Valuing Nature Conference last year, which directly addressed the quantitative and qualitative value of our natural capital.

Kiwibank is the principal sponsor of the conference. Other sponsors include the Department of Conservation, the Allan Wilson Centre and Landcare Research.

The conference is organised by Victoria University of Wellington and the MacDiarmid Institute (Sir Paul Callaghan was the founding director), with support from the Whanganui District Council, the Whanganui River Maori Trust Board, and the Royal Society of New Zealand. Eminent broadcaster, Ms Kim Hill, will chair the conference.

Register for the conference at

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