Introducing Professor Jon Shaw, UC’s 2000th Visiting Erskine Fellow

Which university have you come from and what do you teach?
I’ve come from the University of Plymouth, in the UK, and I teach different aspects of human geography. My main area of expertise is transport geography, though, and I teach a full course on that at home. Here at UC, I’m teaching GEOG222 Transport, Urban Development and Wellbeing until the Easter break.

How did you learn about the Erskine Programme and why were you interested in it?
I first heard about the Erskine Programme years ago – I know a few really high profile British geographers who’ve come out on Erskine fellowships before and they speak very highly of it. When I got the chance to follow in such venerable footsteps myself, I jumped at the chance. I really value being able to meet new colleagues and also to teach in a different university environment: already I’m developing new material and ways of doing things that I’m going to take back home with me.

What have you been doing during your time at UC so far?
I’ve been developing new lectures – I did my first couple of lectures this week – and labs, which start in earnest at the beginning of March. I’m covering some familiar themes but I’m insistent on doing them from a New Zealand angle, so I’ve been reading lots of new literature and scouring the web for all sorts of Kiwi examples to demonstrate key ideas. I have allowed myself to keep a couple of British case studies in the sessions, but only when they stack up as legitimate against a host of other international examples!

 What are you plans for the remainder of your visit?
In addition to the course I’m teaching, I’m giving some seminars (at Otago, Vic and the Ministry of Transport) and I need to get a couple of papers written up. But I’m also looking forward to immersing myself in Christchurch life and seeing some more of the country! I was on holiday here a while ago but didn’t get around to seeing some places that I wanted to, so I’m planning on putting that right this time. I hear a good way to do that is to pick up a rental car or a camper van that needs relocating…

What are you enjoying about your time here at UC/in Christchurch?
The weather! It’s been raining relentlessly in Plymouth for months, it seems. Seriously, I’m enjoying everything about being here. Meeting new people, exploring new areas, learning more about the country and familiarising myself with NZ culture.

You’re an expert in transport, travel and mobility – do you have any thoughts on how these three things have been approached in Christchurch, post-earthquake?
I can’t even begin to imagine what people living here during and post-earthquakes have been through. I’ve been incredibly moved by what I’ve seen and heard so far about how people pulled together to rebuild and plan for the future.

In some ways, on first glance, it’s difficult to see how the transport system was affected, because now it all looks so normal to a visitor coming into town. But when I looked a bit closer it’s easy to see some really significant differences to other places, for example the cycle network. I’m a regular bike user and it’s great cycling into work every morning on a dedicated, segregated cycle route. I cycle into town as well, and it was a real thrill to go through Riccarton Bush and on to Hagley Park – and take a little detour to have a look at the Oval, where I’m going to go and watch the Black Caps play India very soon! Christchurch has the highest proportion of cyclists of the major cities in New Zealand, and I’m sure that’s a lot to do with the new cycling infrastructure.

In the paper this morning I read that patronage on public transport in Canterbury has fallen this year, due largely to a drop in ridership in Christchurch. I hope when the CBD is more fully rebuilt that trend will reverse: it’s such a good idea to have a sparkly, high-quality new bus station as an anchor development in the central city, as it sends out the message that travelling by public transport is a really important thing to do for the health and vitality of the city.

What does being the 2000th Visiting Erskine Fellow mean to you? A great deal! 2,000 visitors shows just how much the Programme has become enormously successful, and whichever way you look at it, bringing that number of visitors over to UC – not to mention how many UC staff members have gone elsewhere as part of the Programme – is a globally significant achievement. 2,000 visitors is the equivalent of bringing the entire teaching staff of about 4 medium-sized universities to teach here. In addition to the world-leading research work that’s done on and around campus, it enhances the reputation of UC in the worldwide academic community. I’m over the moon to be able to play a small part – which is actually quite a bit less than 1/2000th given all the magnificent work that goes on behind the scenes to make the Programme work – in fulfilling the (now expanded) vision of Jack Erskine to bring international scholars to UC.