Where is Wellington going?

There's a malaise spreading around Wellington. Partly it's the weather, partly the poor performance of our various sports teams, but the underlying issue is that the city is not going anywhere.

We don't have a clear sense of direction any more, and the things that made us good in the 90s aren't delivering us a competitive edge anymore.

We no longer have the dominance we once had a city of culture. We are still strong but Auckland is now contesting in a way it didn't even a few years ago.

We are no longer the events capital - many other cities have good events and while we do the Sevens, WOW, Festival of the Arts, the Fringe and the like well, again, we don't dominate like we did.

Manufacturing has shrunk to a fraction of what it used to be and tourist operators are finding it hard going with a strong Kiwi dollar and international uncertainty about security weakening the appetite for long haul travel.

As government shrinks - at least under this government anyway - we must look for alternative sources of growth.

Councillor Jo Coughlan, one of the council's better thinkers, wrote a piece in the DomPost last week talking up Wellington's advantages as a business destination, particularly for the creative industries.

But she warned "Wellington's attitude lacks urgency. Some think it is anti-business. We must...redefine our city as more than the political and cultural capital."

 She's right. We need to find a new competitive edge, and soon, before we shrink into the morass of dullness and despair that characterised the city before the advent of Absolutely Positively Wellington in the mid 1990s.

Ian Cassels of the Property Council is bothered by the empty office buildings around the city. More should be done to attract offices into the city centre, he says. 

''In comparison to a tourist who stays typically one and a bit days, the office worker favours the city with custom most working days of the year and can be said to be worth 250 times more than the tourist. So if you've got 5000 office workers, you've got a huge economic benefit to the city."

He's right too. What many people don't realise (or don't accept) is that unless there is investment in buildings and infrastructure, businesses won't come. Being attractive as a city in a commercial sense is about the ease of doing your business here.

So what is to be done?  I think we start by a blunt airing of views. Ask and answer the questions of what do we want in our city and what are we prepared to do to get it. 

We can have an almighty row over a sign on a hillside, which really isn't a big deal in itself whatever happens - at least not in my opinion anyway. (I accept that others feel differently.)

What we need is a new consensus about direction, strategy and means, and about how costs and benefits will be shared. Forget the Wellywood argument. This is the real stuff. It's about our future.