Elevate Ōtaki and Kāpiti Coast District Council, along with Flightdec, are engaging in a project looking at how to showcase the best of Ōtaki as the expressway approaches.
We’re seeking to better understand and define the fundamentals that showcase the town, and the stories and things that make the community work for people’s well-being. We aren’t trying to “change” Ōtaki, but enhance what’s already here.
The results will not be a work of fiction, but rather a gathering together of people’s thoughts and beliefs. Therefore, we are starting by asking Ōtaki people what they think, with questions such as:
- what do you believe is unique and valuable about Ōtaki, and
- how do you see Ōtaki in the future?
You might ask, why is the identity of a place important? Surely it is what it is, or what difference does it make to define it?
One answer is that every town has an identity (how people view a town) but it’s not always flattering or helpful. For example, Ōpotiki was recently called the homicide capital of New Zealand by a national newspaper, and Taihape is known as “gumboot town”, whether its citizens like it or not.
The better answer is a positive one. A town that has a confident sense of its own worth and one where the citizens feel proud, will undoubtedly be a better place to live, work and play, than a town that has no sense of its own worth. Where this happens, people on the outside see it as a positive affirmation and the effect multiplies.
Consider, for example, how Pātea’s identity was enhanced by Poi E and the work of Dalvanius Prime and the Pātea Māori Club in the early 1980s.
The value of this self-appreciation is incalculable for the well-being of citizens and the opportunities that can arise, but a shared identity is only a place to start. It’s really about people in the community weaving together and using their strengths to benefit the community. For example, a strong and long-standing component of Ōtaki’s identity is obvious in the town’s exceptional Māori culture and heritage. That has been further enhanced in recent years with the formation of Ngā Hapū o Ōtaki to create a shared kaupapa between the Ōtaki district’s five hapū. Then there’s the establishment of Te Wānanga o Raukawa and the Māoriland Hub, and education institutions investing strongly in our tamariki and rangatahi.
While tangata whenua is a central part of Ōtaki’s identity, there are also many other aspects and views to appreciate. Ōtaki’s outdoor recreation and tech business potential might only be beginning to be realised. A good climate, access to water and exceptional soils have been a boon to agriculture and visitor attraction, and will feature in the future.
Then what do we make of the impact of the expressway creating a potential transport hub with enhanced destination shopping and a café society feel? In addition, many Ōtaki people talk proudly about a quieter lifestyle, and powerful community spirit where people look out for each other and are quick to offer support.
All these things point to a strong sense of place and values, self-reliance and service to each other. It also points to a richly diverse community and one where opportunity and growth is not just defined in economic and business terms.
Defining Ōtaki’s identity is, in part, about looking at the town’s past and present, and where it is going in years to come. The latter asks for a vision, which Elevate Ōtaki broadly defines as “a place to experience, belong and have fun – a place to grow, live, and play”.
Whichever way Ōtaki defines itself, it can never be false or manufactured. People within the town, and those outsiders who might wish to visit or move their family or business here, will know if it’s real, or not. But a mission and purpose to define it in a way that can be positive and uplifting, can only be a good thing for Ōtaki.
The Ōtaki Identity is one of several initiatives by Elevate Ōtaki. The project, a necessary stepping stone for further work, is to be completed by the end of September.
- Elevate Ōtaki invites Ōtaki people to a kōrero and discussion evening where you have the chance to openly share your thoughts, from 5.30pm on June 19 at the Māoriland Hub (former Edhouse’s), 68-70 Main Street, Ōtaki Village. Registration is not essential, but it’s helpful if you indicate your intention here. You can also post your views online here.