Otago Daily Times - - DUNEDIN -

WHEN change comes slowly, it can be easy to miss that it has come at all. But with an­other univer­sity year over, it is worth ac­knowl­edg­ing how North Dunedin has changed for the bet­ter.

A decade ago, North Dunedin was a con­stant pres­ence on na­tional news bul­letins for its ri­ots, drunk­en­ness and van­dal­ism. The in­fa­mous Undie 500 car rally from Christchurch to Dunedin was a fac­tor but there was more to it than that.

Dunedin had long ago earned a rep­u­ta­tion as a stu­dent city. Fair enough, as nearly a fifth of the city’s pop­u­la­tion were stu­dents and the ter­tiary precinct was cen­tral, ur­ban, com­pact and vir­tu­ally all gown, no town.

The prob­lem wasn’t the stu­dents but the ex­pec­ta­tions some of those stu­dents had for what Dunedin life was. Ex­stu­dents cham­pi­oned their ex­ploits of drunk­en­ness and law­break­ing, and around the coun­try Scarfie cul­ture be­came some­thing of a school­leaver’s rite of pas­sage. As well as pop­u­lat­ing Caris­brook’s ter­race, don­ning a hodge­podge of char­ity­shop win­ter­wear and ex­ist­ing on a diet over­rep­re­sented by noo­dles and baked beans, Scarfies also be­came fa­mous for burn­ing couches, dam­ag­ing prop­erty and forc­ing the city’s fire crews to con­stantly di­vert their lim­ited re­sources to ‘‘Stu­dentville’’.

Of course, stu­dents also stud­ied, loved, lost, made mis­takes, found solutions and, at the end of it all, emerged as well­ed­u­cated adults. Those stu­dents from a decade ago are now den­tists, lawyers, doc­tors, en­gi­neers, teach­ers, nurses and more.

Dunedin ac­cepted its stu­dents were young peo­ple re­leased from the shack­les of the fam­ily home; ex­per­i­ment­ing with free­dom, con­se­quences, so­cial­is­ing and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. The prob­lem, as far as Dunedin was con­cerned, was the cost. The cost to the fire crews, the cost to prop­erty owners, the cost to ratepay­ers, the cost to the city’s rep­u­ta­tion and, of course, the cost to those stu­dents who pushed too far and ended up with con­vic­tions, in­juries and dam­aged fu­tures.

The univer­sity and city coun­cil promised they would tackle the is­sue. Emer­gency ser­vices vowed to work with stu­dents to change the cul­ture. Stu­dent lead­ers agreed things needed to change and slowly, over the last decade, the cul­ture has changed and the city, by and large, is no longer talk­ing about couch­burn­ing, van­dal­ism and hooli­gan­ism in the stu­dent precinct.

It came slowly, but it seems Dunedin stu­dent cul­ture has ma­tured. Ex­pec­ta­tions have changed. The na­tional nar­ra­tive of Dunedin’s stu­dent life has im­proved. And now, at the end of an­other stu­dent year, North Dunedin has emp­tied while the cruise ships are ar­riv­ing. The fa­mous Dunedin sum­mer lull — long trea­sured by lo­cals — has been re­placed by sum­mer tourism crowds. Dunedin’s pop­u­la­tion has grown, mean­ing the stu­dent per­cent­age of the city is now smaller than it was.

It all com­bines to make the city feel more set­tled. North Dunedin, with its con­stant re­gen­er­a­tion and the sig­nif­i­cant res­i­den­tial prop­erty pur­chases and ren­o­va­tions un­der­taken by the Univer­sity of Otago, as well as im­pres­sive in­vest­ments by Otago Polytech­nic, is look­ing smarter, cleaner, more at­trac­tive, more re­spected.

Through a me­thod­i­cal and at times dif­fi­cult decade of clamp­ing down on what was some­times seen as an un­solv­able prob­lem, Dunedin has man­aged to main­tain its rep­u­ta­tion as the coun­try’s premier univer­sity city while largely re­mov­ing the un­wanted bag­gage that rep­u­ta­tion used to bring.

All those in­volved in this trans­for­ma­tion should feel proud of what they have achieved. Univer­sity man­age­ment showed vi­sion, then had the con­vic­tion to act on and stick to that vi­sion. Emer­gency ser­vices showed pa­tience and char­ac­ter while de­mand­ing stu­dents lift their be­hav­iour. Cam­pus Watch staff played, and con­tinue to play, a valu­able role.

Most sig­nif­i­cantly, the stu­dents them­selves de­serve praise for their ma­tu­rity and the re­spect they have shown the city this year. The Scarfies of 2018 have, by and large, been a credit to Dunedin and a credit to them­selves. Long may that con­tinue.

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