11 Sep 2018

Christchurch’s first “thinker in residence” believes the city is moving in the right direction.

“Wow, you have progressed,” says Hila Oren, who first visited Christchurch last year.

Ms Oren, who is the chief executive of the Tel Aviv Foundation, is considered a global leader in creating a city's narrative, supporting entrepreneurialism and philanthropy. Her work takes her all around the world.

She has been brought back to the city for two months by the Christchurch Foundation as the first "thinker in residence” to engage with city leaders, charities and social enterprises on several projects.

She has shared her infectious enthusiasm for “city making” at this week’s Think Christchurch workshop, delivering a thought-provoking keynote address.

Christchurch Foundation Chief Executive Amy Carter says the next step is to develop an action plan to progress the many great workshop ideas.

Ms Carter says Ms Oren, who is respected for her work in many cities including Moscow, Copenhagen and Barcelona, is an obvious choice as the Foundation’s first “thinker in residence”.

Thinker in residence Hila Oren.

Thinker in residence Hila Oren.

Each year, the Christchurch Foundation will host a world leader to challenge Christchurch’s thinking, to keep the city moving forward and to be aspirational.

“Hila is an out-of the-box thinker and after visiting in 2017, it was an opportunity for us when she asked if she could come back and experience more of our exciting city,” Ms Carter says.

Ms Oren says she has formed a special connection with the city through its “explore’’ narrative and believes Christchurch has a bright future.

She likes that Christchurch is a city of “doers”, committed to taking the community to explore the next step.

“Every city is different in terms of the issues, DNA, urban identities and the entity working on that issue,” she says.

“What is interesting and nice about Christchurch is that building the city involves a team.

“All representatives  including the Christchurch City Council, the Christchurch Foundation, ChristchurchNZ and the regeneration organisations and private sector  are working together on this. That is why I am so sure you are going to succeed.

“I’m very optimistic. I think there are some things that must be done like fix the Cathedral, build the stadium, extended hours of shopping, put lights in and music around the city, have Tūranga at your heart and make sure all the coalitions of the private sector are holding hands so people will come back to the CBD, because you need life in the CBD.”

She likes this week’s announcement that the Council has given its backing to a new electric scooter service because she says it will add to the energy of the city – 700 explorers will be out on the streets.

Things like that, she says, will help make the city a “beautiful playground”.

In looking forward for the city, she says it is really important to first “hug the past”.

Ms Oren heard about Antarctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton’s expeditions when she was on a leadership programme at Harvard University in the United States.

“You need to celebrate your links to history and tell the stories of Shackleton, Edmund Hillary, New Zealand’s suffrage leader, Kate Sheppard, and others who have played such a huge part in what your city is today,” she says.

“Explorers from all over the world should want to touch Christchurch’s spirit to inspire them.

“As to the future, your city is at a crucial stage of considering ‘where to, now’. Even just bringing me from the other side of the world to help you think through ideas demonstrates that you are bold in taking the next step.”