All at sea
I'm disappointed by the outcome of the Environment Court decision that rejected the Marine Education Centre at Te Raekaihau Point. I've never been a hard-core supporter of the project, but I was convinced that for the particular vision the proponents had in mind, there was no better site. The concept of an education centre embedded in and entwined with the south coast environment was unique and appealing, so building it in the inner harbour would have made as much sense as building the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary visitor centre in Glover Park.
While the opponents are of course ecstatic that no nasty tourists are going to come and invade "their" patch of coast, and that only those lucky enough to already live nearby or hardy enough to trek around the coast will get to enjoy it, the Dominion Post has taken the opposite tack in its editorial by attacking "naysayers". I don't agree with their implication that anyone who opposes something is automatically conservative and lacking in vision: after all, I'm one of those who still maintains that the bypass was "not worth it" and that it did indeed "damage the fabric of the city". People can and do have divergent visions for the city, but the issues should be debated rationally and with an open mind. I tend to agree with the dissenting opinion from Judge Thompson that it would have added "an entirely complementary and interesting asset to the south coast". We've missed an opportunity to open up the coastal environment to people who don't believe that the only way to learn about the environment is to do it the hard way (and I did detect a hint of puritanism in some of the opponents).
The DomPost believes that another south coast site must be found, but now I'm not so sure. The extensive site investigations (1MB PDF) show that other south coast locations are either much more environmentally sensitive, subject to poor water quality or too small. Besides, I'm willing to bet that as soon as another site is proposed, a brand new bunch of NIMBYs will appear claiming just how unique and world class their own particular patch is.
So, while an inner harbour site will lose most of the uniqueness of the original concept, a new concept will have to be found. Rather than just another aquarium, perhaps it would have to concentrate on the particular qualities and activities of a working harbour. Shipping, tides, containers, weather, climate change, energy and immigration spring to mind, in addition to marine flora and fauna. The Museum of Wellington City and Sea already deals with much of that very nicely, but it would become free to concentrate on the history of Wellington while the new institution immerses itself (perhaps literally) in the watery stuff.
A letter writer in today's Dominion Post suggested the Tug Boat site next to Freyberg Pool would be ideal (anything that replaces the Tug Boat is fine with me), and many of the waterfront sites between Oriental Bay and Harbour Quays could conceivably combine an aquarium-like attraction with other uses. Perhaps Shelley Bay or even Somes Island would be interesting locations, with the right ferry connections, combined with some resort or spa elements.
Any other ideas? Underwater bars? Urban dive experiences ("And here we see, in all her glory, the rare Shoppingtrollius Novaterra") and submersibles? Something more abstract, like the Saltwater Pavilion by Oosterhuis Lenard? A Maritime Museum? A South Seas Tiki Adventure?