When Lianne Dalziel first entered the Civic Offices as Christchurch’s 46th Mayor in 2013, she initially intended to ‘fix things and leave’.
Having previously served 23 years in Parliament, and equipped with a Bachelor of Laws, there was no better suited candidate for the odyssey that lay ahead.
Sitting in her office some eight years later, Lianne reflects on her three eventful and somewhat tumultuous terms, and answers what changed.
Taking office in the midst of the rebuild, with the weight of the fractured city’s expectations resting upon her shoulders, Lianne certainly had her work cut out for her.
A decade later, and a colourful, accessible city with walking, cycling, and green spaces is evidently reflected in what’s being built today.
Yet, when I ask how she feels about shifting the city from response to recovery, the mayor claims it’s not something she takes credit for.
“The private sector – all of those developers, they could’ve spent their money anywhere, but they reinvested in the city.
“I take my hat off to them… they are the true heroes of the recovery because they were prepared to back the city’s future,”
Though, Lianne makes no mention of how these fantastic developments wouldn’t have been possible, had the council’s accreditation rights for new building consents not been restored under her leadership back in 2014.
Perhaps one of the most “awesome” additions to the revitalised cityscape, Lianne says she does however, want to take a moment of glory for Turanga, the Central City Library.
“I remember going into libraries when I was a kid – I went to libraries all the time,” the mayor recalls.
“I always say to kids that reading is the best way to power your imagination which is the best way to become a creative and innovative thinker.
“The reason Turanga is awesome is because it was imagined by the people who were going to be using it,” she explains, while also proudly listing off the facility’s unique features.
When I ask her to elaborate on any texts that have influenced her leadership, she answers without a second’s hesitation.
“‘If Mayors Ruled the Word: Dysfunctional Nations, Rising Cities’ – I always quote it in speeches. Whenever I put it up on a screen, everyone laughs.
“But I just wonder with the government talking about the future for local government, whether one of the things that they should be reflecting on is whether we’ve got the system right.
“Is central government doing too much that local government would be better at doing, in terms of building civic trust and
While Lianne puts forth a compelling argument, she jokingly clarifies that she will not be leading the metropolitan revolution any time soon.
“I just think it’s a really incredible conversation to have – it’s not because I want to rule the world, or think that New Zealand mayors do!”
Over her three terms overseeing the city, Lianne has played a significant role in pioneering new approaches for community development.
Among one of her proudest accomplishments lies the establishment of The Christchurch Foundation, she tells me.
For context, Lianne explains that when she was first made privy to the cost-sharing agreement that the previous council had signed with the then government, it included some “heroic assumptions” in regards to the amount of capital that would be raised by the private sector.
Although there were provisions in the agreement for philanthropy, the Canterbury Recovery Authority raised all but “zero”, Lianne explains.
“So, when the government told us that they were handing it back to us to find this money we established a place-base foundation with a very broad framework.
“Since then, they’ve paid back, not just financially, but also in terms of building passion for different things.”
Lianne makes special mention of the Tui Corridor project – a partnership between Meridian Energy and The Christchurch Foundation, which centres around attracting the Tui back to the city.
“It’s extending the boundaries of what philanthropic giving can mean for a city and I’m very proud of that,” she says.
Lianne explains that by tackling issues from a different angle, you can often attract more investment and yield better results.
Such is the case with the Otautahi community housing trust, which she explains was about creating a model where the housing was only one element of the wraparound support available for tenants.
“Having a work broker work directly with them is something that could be handled through a housing trust that could attract government funding in a way that the council couldn’t.”
Lianne says that these projects, along with the council’s focus on developing community partnerships, are accomplishments she’s extremely proud of.
“The earthquakes brought us together and recognised the significance of coming together to support ourselves.
“I think that such partnerships – like the Aranui Community Trust, are the building blocks for the future… rather than the council doing projects for communities,” she explains.
This September marks two and a half years since March 15, 2019, when a pair of Christchurch mosques were fatefully attacked in a violent act of terror.
A source of immense tribulation for those affected and beyond, it’s something the mayor says she still struggles to forgive.
“There was just this overwhelming sense of disbelief that this could not have happened here, and I held that for so long.”
Lianne pauses for a second to compose herself, before continuing.
“But the way the Muslim community reacted… it was incredible; the incredible sense of compassion that was the response to such a vicious act of hatred.
“So, although it was a time of challenge, it was also a point where I have never ever felt prouder to be the mayor of Christchurch.
“One of the challenges that comes from that, is how do you address things like underlying racism and a history of white supremacy in the city?” she asks.
Lianne points towards the ‘Christchurch Invitation’, an initiative by members of the local Muslim community where people are invited to spread peace, share kai, reconnect and reflect, as a step in the right direction.
“Just simple messages that have come from the roots of their faith, that they now want to share with the rest of the city and the world… it’s amazing.”
In regards to how she personally feels about her accomplishments, Lianne’s answer is a bit of a mixed bag.
“Have you ever heard of imposter syndrome?” she asks. I grew up in one of those eras where you’re never quite good enough to do what you do. So, the thing is, you never quite feel like you’ve done enough,” the Mayor admits.
However, the parting legacy Lianne says she would like to leave, is a future for the Otakaro Avon River corridor, which she envisions to be a sanctuary.
“I want it to model co-governance, which actually means mana whenua and the city, and its community coming together as equals in a co-governance arrangement.
“The reason I say that, is because probably more than anything else that I’ve invested my time in over the past eight years has been building strong working relationships, which I hope survive my time as the mayor,” she explains.
Lianne expresses she also hopes to see more of our natural and cultural assets being celebrated in the future.
“One of the most significant things that I’ve learned, is the significance of what was taken from Ngai Tahu.
“The earthquakes changed the city forever, and I really would like to see a lot more understanding around what is now being put into our built environment.
“Some of the traditional stories that belong to this place – a long time before the Europeans came, are now found woven into our landscape, and I would like more people to know about that.
“This is a place where people can connect with the environment, and with each other – so that’s my hope for Christchurch,” she says.
When I ask if she’s ever considered throwing in the towel, the mayor responds with a roar of laughter.
“Every day!” Lianne chuckles.
“Every day since I’ve announced I’m not running again… no, you know I don’t want to not fulfil my commitment, so that’s just a joke,” she clarifies.
“There have been things that have been particularly challenging, and I do get upset when I feel like my actions have been misinterpreted.
“But look, for every single negative thing that might’ve been said about me anywhere, I have somebody walking up to me in the street – an absolute stranger, who thanks me for serving the city.
“There is so much about the role that I love, that I’ve got no regrets about taking on the challenge.
“I’ve met some amazing people and I’ve made some really close personal friends.
“I’m incredibly grateful for all of that,” she concludes with a smile.
By Rosie Duff