“How do we solve the challenges in healthcare?” Warren Buffett was asked recently.

It is a hot topic in the United States, of course: that country spends more on healthcare than any other. But the spiralling cost of healthcare is a challenge everywhere. In New Zealand, for example, for most of the last sixty years, government expenditure on health has increased faster than national income: rising from 3% of GDP in 1950 to 10% now. Today, one dollar in five of government spending is on health.

Buffett’s answer was “ingenuity”. Our generation’s great minds, he said, will innovate world-class care that can be provided at a sustainable cost. He was right—innovation is the answer—but I would answer slightly differently. I would say our generation’s great minds are already innovating world-class care and they are doing it right here in Christchurch.

Christchurch is establishing an international reputation as a centre of innovation in health. Not only is the Canterbury District Health Board’s HealthPathways tool being embraced by health systems across New Zealand and Australia, but the King’s Fund—a U.K. healthcare research organisation— found that “The Canterbury experience demonstrates that it is possible to provide better care for patients, reduce demand on the hospital, and flatten or reduce elements of the demand curve across health and social care by improved integration.”

Most people would be unaware of this reputation. Just as most people wouldn’t realise that more people in Christchurch work in healthcare than in any other sector: 24,660 employees2 compared with 22,920 for Manufacturing and 23,710 for Construction. Healthcare contributes 8% of GDP in Christchurch. By that measure, it’s our third-largest industry.

So let’s talk about the future. CDC—the Canterbury Development Corporation— has published an economic development strategy for the city. The strategy seeks to ‘optimise our economy so that by 2031

Christchurch has a higher quality of life, better income, greater employment and is a vibrant and growing city attracting people from around the globe.’ It’s an appropriate goal, but how do we achieve it? The strategy talks about ‘game changers’ and ‘initiatives’ and lists 70 projects that will make a difference.

In my opinion, Te Papa Hauora—the Health Precinct—is the one that offers the most potential. Pittsburg has been labelled one of the world’s ‘magnet cities’ by consulting firm KPMG. Once a steel town, Pittsburg is now a medical research hub, thanks to a collaboration between the city’s universities, hospitals and medical researchers: ‘the magnets which were attracting new ideas, new people, new directions and new economies’.

In his book, ‘Triumph of the City’, Harvard professor Edward Glaeser says that “education is…the most reliable predictor of urban growth.” He says Boston’s post-industrial success has been built on education-oriented industries and on “creating and selling new health technologies.” Cities succeed, he says, when they enable collaboration, “especially the joint production of knowledge, that is mankind’s most important creation.”

Te Papa Hauora brings all of this to Christchurch. The collaboration that Professor Glaeser talks about is already here: our educators, medical researchers, healthcare providers and technology companies are already working closely together. Co-locating them—as occurred in Pittsburg—will turbo-charge the process.

As the world’s population continues to grow—and, in particular, as the population of people over the age of 60 stretches towards two billion— healthcare will present even more challenges than it does today. As Warren Buffett points out, what is needed is great minds.

I can think of no better place for people to bring their great minds to collaborate and innovate than to Christchurch, a city which daily becomes an ever more wonderful and exciting place to live and play.

Baden Ewart, Former Director, Christchurch Central Development Unit – Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority, Health Precinct Advisory Council.