Palmerston North Councilor Rachel Bowen: Diversity and inclusiveness make the town special


Our worldview allows space for, and embraces, the breadth of expression. Photo / Palmerston North City Council


I was asked last week to reflect on what makes our city special. Not great, not interesting, not the thing I’m most proud of, but special, different from other destinations in Aotearoa New Zealand, unique.

There were a lot of ideas in the room – city councilors are usually our city’s most enthusiastic ambassadors! – and we talked about our great location and fantastic facilities and amenities.

But as I pondered the question, I remembered a few community groups I had the pleasure of interacting with recently, and that helped me formulate an answer.

The new Palmerston North Multicultural Youth Council is a group of young people who have organized themselves to form the town’s newest community group. They work closely with the Multicultural Council of Manawatū with event funding provided by Palmerston North City Council through the Welcoming Communities Initiative.

With 38 young council members, aged 13 to 21, they come from 19 ethnicities and plan to organize events, celebrate diversity and provide education and support.

In contrast, MaLGRA (Manawatū Lesbian and Gay Rights Association) is New Zealand’s oldest LGBT association.

MaLGRA provides a social service that affirms and empowers its members and their family/whānau and loved ones. She actively promotes the development of a safer social environment for our multicultural communities.

So, to me, what makes Palmerston North special is our diversity and inclusiveness, and how we express it in community life.

Nationally, we are a small town – seventh on the list.

Internationally, Palmerston North is a city, and not even a big one. But we are a community with a proud history of making space for people to own and fully express their identity.

To me, that’s the core of our small town benefits, our vision of big city ambition for the city. It’s a place where you can be connected and safe, and where our worldview leaves room and embraces a wide range of expressions.

This takes us from our award-winning annual flagship event Festival of Cultures, when thousands of people pack Te Marae o Hine/The Square to celebrate and experience our city’s diverse cultures, to our new Palmy Drag Fest.

It will be a national celebration of drag culture with attendees and attendees packing our most traditional venue, Regent on Broadway, for a joyous celebration of diversity of expression.

You can participate in both of these events. The Festival of Cultures is seeking community input on its planning for 2023 (contact [email protected]), and tickets for Palmy Drag Fest in September are on sale now, online or at the Regent box office.

• Rachel Bowen is a councilor for Palmerston North.


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