Personal reflections on urbanism, urban life and sustainable urban design in Wellington, New Zealand.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Nga Wahi o Te Reo Māori

In the spirit of Te Wiki O Te Reo Māori, here's a map of Wellington that shows the proportion of Māori who speak Te Reo.

Grey areas show area units where the proportion is close to the national average (24%), red areas have higher than average rates, and blue lower than average (white areas have a Māori population below 50, so proportions could be unreliable).

Perhaps not surprisingly, Māori in more affluent suburbs are less likely to speak Te Reo, with some (such as Roseneath) well under 10%, and this also seems to apply to new suburbs such as Crofton Downs and Newlands. Traditionally working class suburbs (perhaps those with a larger, more settled Māori community?) such as Newtown, Porirua and Petone show greater rates of Te Reo. Interestingly, so does Te Aro: perhaps there are a lot of Māori-speaking students and public servants there?

Cambo Parade

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A couple of quick snaps from the Michael Campbell parade.

Some of my TPK colleagues did us proud with an impromptu haka as the main float passed.

And wouldn't you know it, super-stalker Dena got a photo of her and Cambo together. Typical!

Sans Souci

Sans Souci performing at Neat (I need a decent digital camera!)Last night's absinthe night was a success, and Neat was humming with music, poetry and intoxication. Sans Souci's vocalist has just the right nasal warble (I mean that as a compliment!) to carry off the classic Piaf sound.

It's perhaps revealing of the audience's mental state that of the poems performed that evening, the heartiest response was reserved not for the subtle sensuality of Baudelaire's Les Bijoux or the surreal imagery of Rimbaud, but for an extract from Valentine de Saint-Point's Futurist Manifesto of Lust. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Panic over

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All back to normal now after the brief bomb scare. Phew. It's now safe for shopping addicts and golf groupies to go about their business.

Bomb scare on Lambton Quay

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Right now, Lambton Quay is cordoned off from Panama to Brandon St.

Word at the moment is that it's due to a suspicious package. These things are often false alarms, but there are policemen in padded uniforms around taking it very seriously.

Better be careful anyway, and try not to look too suspicious (though our police are not quite as trigger happy as those in London).

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Ride the Wind

Today's edition of The Wellingtonian leads with an article on The Green Party's transport policy for the Wellington region, dubbed "Ride the Wind" (the details are now available on the Greens' web site), and it sounds like a bold and positive package. The key points are:
  • Convert the Johnsonville and Hutt-Melling lines to light rail.
  • Extend light rail from the station, along Featherston St to Courtenay Place, and eventually to the hospital and airport.
  • More trolley buses.
  • Upgrades to train tracks, stations and ticketing mechanism.
  • Power all the above with wind turbines (2 wind turbines could power 60 trolley buses).
  • No more than minor upgrades to roading.
They estimate a cost of $600-700 million, and a timeline of 10-15 years. It's hard to say how much of this will be politically feasible, and I haven't seen any detailed policies on urban form that will deliver the densities required for mass transit (by the way, the DomPost published my letter on Transmission Gully and sprawl today), but here's hoping!

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Where the boys are

Today's Dominion Post has an article about New Zealand's shortage of men in their 30s. It's not a vast difference (if you look at the actual stats, for every 100 men in the 30-34 age group, there are 9 extra women), but that didn't stop them milking the story for all it's worth.

However, it struck a chord with my female colleagues, so I decided to dig a little further. Things are a little different if you're only interested in single people (and being ethical people, we are), with just over 3 extra single women in that age group. That led to the question: so, where are all the single men? A little Table Builder, a bit of Excel tweaking and a lot of MapInfo, and I had a map of gender imabalance in the 20-40 age group from the 2001 census. Nationwide, the pattern was fairly predictable: they're in the country (all those lonely farmers). But let's zoom into Wellington:

Pink for girls, blue for boys. The legend shows proportional gender imbalance, so light pink (0.1 to 0.2) indicates 10-20% more single women than single men. There are a few outliers, but one intriguing pattern is that there are more single men in Lambton & Te Aro (all those inner-city bachelor pads?) and more single women in the inner suburban ring. Maybe I shouldn't complain so much about the bridge and tunnel crowd.

Now, if only we had the statistics broken down, not by area unit, but by bar...

Tokyo on Cuba

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This scaffolding and plastic structure recently appeared in Cuba Mall. It's not, as some have suggested, a shelter to protect evidence for the police investigation into the mysterious mayor-bashing incident. It's a temporary party structure housing Neon Tokyo, the marathon five-night third birthday celebration for Good Luck bar.

Last night's opening was so popular with the hospo set that at least one local bar and restaurant closed down for the evening (and judging by the state of the staff late last night, they may be closed for a while longer). Some inventive and outrageous costumes added to Cuba Street's already eclectic atmosphere, though I'm not sure how a chicken suit (the guy on the left) fits in with the Neon Tokyo theme.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Creating the centre?

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The Wellington Arts Centre in Abel Smith St is now open and apparently fully tenanted. On Saturday there will be an open day from 1pm to 5pm, which should present an interesting opportunity to look around the studios and rehearsal spaces as well as the public gallery.

Wellington Arts Centre
Of course this is a vital facility and a positive gesture by the council, but I do have some reservations. There are obvious aesthetic issues: the older building is handsome enough in a stolid stripped-classical way, but the 70s wing desperately needs a makeover, since stained concrete, blank ground floor windows and faux-domestic brown weatherboards hardly say "vital creative community". Getting it ready for occupation was obviously the first priority, but I hope that some effort is made soon to make it more inviting and help it reflect the imagination of the tenants.

More importantly, I hope the council doesn't think "right, that's the artists sorted, then". 3000 sq m sounds generous, but how far does it go towards providing affordable space for all the artists being pushed out of the central city by demolition and rising rents? The very concept of an Arts "Centre" is questionable, since it smacks of a centralised facility for officially authorised artistic activity. Instead, a truly creative city requires a multitude of cheap, informal spaces for artists and artisans to live and create in. This centre is a worthy effort, but we still need a much more "creative" approach to urban planning to ensure the continued viability of artistic creation throughout the city.


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The night of the green fairy is almost upon us. This Thursday from about 9pm, be at Neat bar at 201 Cuba St for an absinthe-fueled night of decadence and delight.

There will be live music and performances of depraved and delicious poetry (Baudelaire, Rimbaud and the wickedest man in the world, Aleister Crowley) to put you in the fin de siècle mood. Eddy has compiled a special list of absinthe cocktails to "render the breathing freer, the spirit lighter, the heart more ardent", and patrons are encouraged to dress in the spirit of bohemian glamour, in order to conjure up the spirit of licentious imagination.

Monday, July 25, 2005


I've just sent the following letter to the Dominion Post:
Vaughan Maybury (Letters, July 25) claims that development of land adjacent to the Transmission Gully route should be counted as a side benefit.

Yes, that's exactly what we need: more sprawling dormitory suburbs and "lifestyle" blocks, far from public transport and services. More car journeys; more greenhouse emissions; more storm water run-off; more demand for car parks and "bypasses" in central Wellington; more countryside and productive farmland sacrificed in favour of cul-de-sacs and toy farms; more property-value-obsessed residents to complain whenever something actually useful (such as a wind farm) is proposed for the land.

It's bad enough that increasing traffic capacity to the Kapiti coast will accelerate unsustainable patterns of development on the coast itself, but Maybury's letter reveals the extent to which such development will despoil the very "natural beauty" that he claims will draw residents to the Gully. Urban sprawl is not a benefit of motorway development: it is the underlying problem that drives the calls for such costly and damaging road projects in the first place.

Underground, overground

This mysterious doorway, with its dark and dungeony appearance, looks strangely out of place amid the fast food and sneakers of Manners Mall. It arrived some months ago, without explanation, prompting rumours of what it would become: a haven for roleplaying gamers? A Tolkein-themed nightclub? A B&D dungeon?

Finally a sign appeared: "The Harem Cafe & Bar. Opening Soon". It probably won't be quite as much fun as the name suggests: I expect a Middle-Eastern themed restaurant and bar, presumably an offshoot of the kebab shop below. I managed to sneak upstairs for a quick look, and the decor is best described as "Aladdin's Cave on acid". Could be worth a look after all.

Continuing the Orientalist theme, the Wellington Workingmen's Club and Literary Institute in Cuba Mall has a liquor license application form on its door, under the name Morocco Bar. Could it be that the venerable watering hole has found a solution to its financial and patronage issues by turning to the exotic allure of hookahs, couscous and mint tea?

The proliferation of upstairs and underground bars (think GoGo, Mercury Lounge, Motel/Chow, Beau Monde, Monkey Bar, Good Luck) continues with The Cavern, presently just an unassuming doorway between two Asian restaurants in Allen St. There's no word yet as to whether the Beatles will reform for the opening night.

Who owns Te Reo?

Here's a wonderful way to start Te Wiki O Te Reo Māori: there's an article in today's DomPost about someone who wants to block the Taranaki Wharf wharenui because he claims "established legal rights" to the word wharenui.

Now, if he were a representative of a Māori group opposed to commercial appropriation of Māori culture and language, then I'd have some sympathy. But it's the opposite case: the objector is the owner of Wharenui Apartments in Oriental Bay, and the new wharenui is being promoted by the Wellington Tenths Trust.

It appears that the objector doesn't have a legal leg to stand on, but his sheer gall and cultural offensiveness is breathtaking. Given that wharenui is an everyday word in Māori, literally translating as big house, perhaps it's time for a Māori group to claim rights to the word apartment.

Midnight Marauders

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Fat Freddy's Drop have played their last gig in Wellington, and are off on a tour of the country before their big European adventure. The effort expended on setting up Shed 6 for the gig really paid off (the crowd was large enough to go off, but small enough to connect with the band): it's not a bad venue for a crummy tin shed!

Here's a typically rubbish phone camera photo. With any luck, Dena should have some better photos up soon, among all the sheep, carrots and guys in Speedos.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Fat Freddy's Disco Ball

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Preparations are underway for tonight's Fat Freddy's Drop concert at Shed 6 on the waterfront. Sneaking a peek through the doors, I grabbed a couple of photos of a couple of their stage props: the world's biggest disco ball

and a giant octopus set to devour the stage.

Monday, July 18, 2005


Spotted in the gents' toilets at Indigo during the Black Seeds gig on Thursday:

The image isn't very clear, but it reads: "poohs are our greatest untapped resource. when anarobically (without O2) diegested poohs create methane! The power is YOURS!"

A little more ecologically conscious than the usual cubicle scrawlings, though points off for spelling. Perhaps someone's been reading Treehugger?

Wellington i witness

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Sybille Schwarz has some wonderful photos of quirky urban details from Wellington on her i witness photoblog site. Also, check out her blog, heimatseeker.

Further Futuna

Following up on my previous post, the Futuna topic on the Arch Centre forums has already attracted some heated posts. I've added this modest suggestion:


I lack the expertise to comment on the political or physical feasibility of the move, but there's another question: if it is moved, what uses would be acceptable, viable and relevant to this unique building?

The Waitangi Park design brief suggests the following ground-floor uses for new buildings:

Site 1: "Boutique delicatessen style stores", or "eat-in or take-away food outlets"

Site 2: "A variety of recreational activities such as kayak hire, rock climbing, mountain bike hire etc.", or "Recreation related retail. Retail/interactive activity outlets"

Site 3: "Creative café that is a coffee venue during the day and a restaurant/bar in the evening capable of hosting live performances, demonstrations or exhibitions. Outlets for hiring recreational equipment. Retail stores", or "Retail outlets. Gymnasium/health club"

Site 4: "Chinese tea house. Gallery space" or "Function centre"

There's no call for a Catholic chapel, but if we go beyond that narrowest definition of its function, Futuna is two things. Firstly, "a place of reflection and contemplation, of meditation and inspiration" (from http://www.johnscott.net.nz/pages/futuna.html), and secondly, an iconic work of New Zealand architecture that fuses modernism and Maori influences. Are any of the Waitangi uses compatible with these qualities? Few of us would like to see Futuna end up as a fish 'n' chip shop or bike rental outlet, but some of the other uses might be promising.

The gallery option seems most appropriate, perhaps doubling as a function centre and performance space, and this suggests Site 4 (the "transition building") as the best location. Furthermore, the brief states that this site will "provide an extension of the public exhibition space available to [Te Papa] ... . The concept ... is a focus on ‘the contemporary’ – primarily contemporary art and visual culture but with a breadth of view over contemporary ideas, popular culture, and including contemporary Maori and Pacific art, and extending to fashion and design.". Given Futuna's vital place in 20th Century NZ design and art, how about this for a concept:

- a semi-permanent exhibition on the history of NZ architecure
- space for temporary exhibitions of contemporary art, craft and design
- a venue for evening lectures and performances
- the building itself as prize exhibit

Physically, Futuna could be located at the northern end of the site (appropriately, near the atea, waka landing beach and Pacific garden), with the rest of the Site 4 programme (Chinese tea house, galleries, offices and accommodation) in a separate building to the south. Futuna's powerful geometry could provide strong design cues for the new building without being too prescriptive. The purpose may not be as spiritual as a chapel, but it could certainly count as "contemplation" and "inspiration", as well as celebrating its architecture.

Does this sound desirable? Feasible?

Friday, July 15, 2005

Harbour Quays

There's a big article in today's Dominion Post about a major 6.5ha "business park" to be developed on CentrePort land, between the railway station and container port.

Harbour Quays site outline
The development has been discussed before, and has been mentioned in the council's plans for the City Gateway, but this marks its official launch and naming as Harbour Quays.

This could be very positive for Wellington: 4000 office workers (not quite the 8000 mentioned earlier, but still significant) within 2 to 10 minutes' walk of the station, and the conversion of an unfriendly brownfield site into an extension of the city, complete with landscaped public spaces, retail and harbourfront cafes. However, I have some reservations:
  • The very phrase "business park" makes me suspicious, as it evokes exurban images of anonymous, isolated buildings among wide carparks, with a few token patches of grass and a gate to keep out the riff-raff. The descriptions and renderings appear much better than my pessimistic view, with quality landscaping and public amenities, but I'm still wary of the emphasis on "maximum space" rather than an urbanist approach of streets and city blocks.
  • They mention some retail and entertainment, and that "the potential for apartments ... would be considered as the development progressed", but I'd prefer to see more emphasis on mixed use from the start. It should be easy to incorporate at least 500 residents without adding too much height to the proposed buildings.
  • The site is adjacent to the CBD, but there's a real danger of isolation. There are vague references to footbridges across Waterloo Quay, and development along the Quay could provide enough shelter and activity to make walking from the city less of an ordeal. But these need to be done properly if they are to succeed, and more needs to be done to connect across the railway to Thorndon.
On the whole, though, this is an exciting development, and if this could be combined with the proposed indoor stadium, short-stay apartments on the west side of Waterloo Quay, revamp of the Government Centre Precinct and a real commitment to public transport, then the northern end of the CBD could become a truly vital part of the city.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Futuna's future

The Architecture Centre finally have their forums back online, after being hacked a while back. One of the topics they're discussing is how to save the poor old Futuna Chapel.

Despite plenty of support for extending its heritage status in the district plan, its future is still far from certain. So, the Arch Centre have come up with this interesting proposal:
Futuna is dear to our hearts, but its ongoing and current situation and context is an incredibly frustrating one. After some discussion, the committee considered whether the difficulty of getting public interest, support and action, to find a long term solution to ensure Futuna is an important part of Wellington, is in part to do with its location in Karori. There is currrently some discussion regarding what buildings should be built in Waitangi Park. Should we propose that this is a more productive place for Futuna to be sited? What other bright ideas do you have for ensuring Futuna Chapel coontinues to be an important icon of New Zealand and Wellington architecture?
I'll need time to think this through before I decide whether this is a good idea. At first thought, it's a fantastic idea, but I wonder how well it would fit in with the proposed ground floor uses in the draft design brief for the new buildings at Waitangi Park.

Bring back the matt!

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The package, Wellington's indispensable weekly gig guide with a bafflingly unreliable web site, recently switched from matt to gloss paper. The result: it's now bloody difficult to read. It's hard on the eyes, and raises the frightening (though unlikely) possibility of planning a night at Bodega and ending up at the Cambridge by mistake. Shudder.

However, the good package people have obviously realised their error, and are now asking their readers whether to stay glossy or switch back to matt. Cunning buggers that they are, they've turned it into a revenue-earning text survey: text WIN MATT to 3654 (I'm not going to tell you what to put if you prefer gloss). It'll cost you 50c, but you might win stuff. Go ahead: bring back the matt!

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

How wrong could I be?

While it was still under construction, I reviewed the extension of the Prudential Building on Lambton Quay. From the fact that the additional floors were being set back, I optimistically assumed that the form would actually improve the aesthetics of the building, creating the stepped silhouette of an Art Deco skyscraper. But then the covers came off:

The massing is actually not too bad: there's a series of setbacks, the flagpole is a nice touch, and it's broken into a cluster of smaller forms around the lightwells of the original. But the materials and the horizontal banding of the fenestration are so heavy and lumpen that they completely destroy the vertical emphasis of the host building. It squats where it should soar.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

This is not a Loaf Shop

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There's a shop space in Cuba St (between Ghuznee & Vivian) that seems to have hosted a very Cubaesque variety of temporary uses (gallery, sale shop, anarcho-feminist centre) for years, without any signs of long-term tenancy. Then it appeared that a more permanent fit-out was underway, with counters, shelves and new signage. It looked like Cuba St was getting an upmarket artisan bakery, complete with the painfully punning name "Labour of Loaf".

But something wasn't quite right. A hole in the front window; strange lights late at night; loaves of bread that remained unnaturally fresh and glistening for days on end. Rumours abounded, and now this sign confirms it:

As Sybille pointed out, this is a set for the TV series Insiders Guide to Love, a prequel to the impressively weird though grammatically sloppy Insiders Guide to Happiness. Looks like we're not the first ones to be fooled!

Anyway, those worried about gentrification can rest a little easier. On the other hand, it might have been nice to have somewhere local to grab some fresh rye or bagels.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Cabaret Fever

It's an unexpected but welcome trend: Wellington seems to be playing host to an outbreak of cabaret and burlesque-style entertainment.

The most ambitious and upmarket is Cabaret at Chow, with shows every night in a purpose-built venue complete with , velvet curtains, communal tables, opium-den-meets-70s-motel ambience and banquet dinner. The entertainment concentrates on music (albeit with a theatrical bent) rather than the more diverse acts that you'll experience at the more chaotic events. A word of advice: while the web site sternly advises you not to be late for dinner at 8, don't arrive hungry, as starters didn't arrive until after 9 on the night that we attended.

More variety and edginess will be on offer at VauDevil Cabaret, on at Bats Theatre next weekend (22nd and 23rd), which promisingly offers to mix "genderfuck with gorgeousness, stand up with stalkers, trapeze with tap dance".

Expand your mind while destroying your neurons at "La Nuit de la Fee", an absinthe-themed night at Neat in upper Cuba St on the 28th of July. I'll be reading some new translations of Baudelaire and Rimbaud between sets of Piaf-style jazz, while Eddy whips up some absinthe concoctions to expand your consciousness (and liver).

On a slightly different note, try Jaques Brel is alive and well and living in Paris at Circa Theatre until the 23rd. The setting and audience may be a little more genteel, but the songs are often intensely moving and some of the vocal performances were spectacular.

But nothing captured the rambunctious, shambolic lewdness of cabaret better than Midnight Burlesque at Thistle Hall. These photos are dark, blurry and somewhat dodgy, but I think that's an accurate reflection of the night:

Wind farms vs sprawl

This letter of mine was published in the DomPost today:

How ironic that residents of Paremata and Whitby complain about the “visual intrusion” that a wind farm would allegedly bring (June 28). Could a wind farm ever be as much of a blot on the landscape as these sprawling suburbs, with their McMansions, big-box shopping malls and hectares of roadway? The only things uglier are the motorways that they demand to support their unsustainable, land-hungry, car-dependent lifestyles.

Friday, July 08, 2005

What happened to the old WellUrban?

File under: about this blog.

The old site at wellurban.org.nz is still alive and well. However, I got too ambitious and fiddly with WellUrban, and that's been a disincentive for me to update it. I think that a blog should be more conducive to off-the-cuff comments. So, this blog will cover some of the same territory as WellUrban, as well as some random comments and observations, but longer articles will stay on the old site.