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

Friday, October 28, 2005

Planet Wadestown

I had hoped not to end the week's blogging with another rant, but as both Russell Tregonning and Pauline Swann had letters published in the Dominion Post yesterday, I felt that I needed to reply. I've already had enough of responding to Ms Swann, but since Tregonning's letter referred to one by Ian Pike that was based (with my permission) on an unpublished one of mine, I felt obliged to write.

One part of Tregonning's letter that's truly bizarre is when he refers to "the cramming of high rises into tiny Waitangi Park". Now, there are many different definitions of a "high rise", and with the exception of one specific to fire-safety purposes, the only concrete definitions require at least 6 storeys, and one requires 25 storeys! Apart from Oosterhuis Lenard's 8-storey blob, none of the proposed buildings in any of the entries exceed 5 storeys.

As for a "tiny" park, have a look at this comparison:

Comparison of Waitangi Park, city blocks and Midland park at the same scale
In central Wellington, a space that's bigger than three city blocks hardly counts as "tiny". If you turned the open space of the planned Waitangi Park into a mid-rise neighbourhood of 4-storey apartments, you could create 300 homes here. At suburban densities that would have taken 30 hectares of sprawl (bigger than the Botanic Gardens), so we're already sacrificing a substantial opportunity for sustainable development in order to provide a very large open park in the centre of the city.

I had to wonder what planet Tregonning comes from if he considers Waitangi Park to be "tiny". Then I realised: he's from Planet Wadestown.

Anyway, here's my reply:
Despite what Russell Tregonning claims, buildings do support open space. That's not a "discredited policy", but a demonstrable principle of good urban design. Midland Park thrives, not despite the buildings around it, but because of them: they provide shelter, activity and a local population.

Why is Ian Pike's comparison with parks in other cities "mischievous", when Tregonning himself brought it up? But it's his description of "cramming ... high rises into tiny Waitangi Park" that is truly bizarre. Where on earth would 3 to 5 stories be described as "high rise"? In Wadestown perhaps, but surely not in downtown Wellington. And this "tiny" park is as big as three city blocks, even if you discount the building footprints, Chinese Garden and promenades. The lawn alone is at least five times the size of Midland Park! In the context of central Wellington that's a big, flat piece of grass, and it will be 90% empty 90% of the time.

The landscape architects have done well to bring complexity to what could have been a dull suburban paddock. But it still needs buildings: to define intimate, sheltered spaces; provide active edges; and to give the park a stunning architectural backdrop.


At 4:41 pm, October 28, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Take a deep breath (or 5) Tom!

While Waitangi Park isn't too small compared the normal pocket handkerchief standards of downtown Wellington, you'd have to admit it really isn't big compared to other parks found in capital cities around the world. But Wellington is blessed to have two parks on the waterfront, so I'll give thanks for that. Back from where I'm from there's a fearsome row going on about the little park next to Tower Bridge. I helped choose the architects given the job of relandscaping it, but the real poser is the adjacent site where a luxury property developer wants to through up 9 70m towers. I think the Wadestown crew would all have embollisms if they saw those..



At 4:42 pm, October 28, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

or even 'throw up'.

At 11:33 am, October 29, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Again I totally agree with you. Did you send your illustrations along with the leter to the ed? I think they are very enlightening and would graphically show to the silent majority just how way off-beam the Waterfront Watchers are.

At 1:50 pm, October 31, 2005, Blogger Tom said...

Ok Andrew, deep breaths duly taken.

I agree that Waitangi Park is small compared to the major parks in big cities, but how many of those cities have an extensive Town Belt within walking distance of the CBD? We've got the Botanic Gardens, Central Park, Mt Victoria and Oriental Bay. If you need large playing fields, they're just a short bus ride away at Kelburn, Berhampore or Kilbirnie. Then there's Otari/Wilton Bush and the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary and ...

I am passionate about public space: I just don't equate quality with quantity. Rather than turning every square metre from Te Papa to Oriental Parade into "park", I think we need a range of public spaces, of varying size and character, throughout the city. I've written about this before, and I have another post in the works about current plans for more local parks.

At 6:46 pm, October 31, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree - Wellington does have some great parks and open spaces surrounding the centre, and I agree with you about needing variety rather than having every square metre from Te Papa to Oriental Parade being a park.

I think one of the things I miss about London is the green spaces found in various squares around the city - mostly dating from the Georgian expansion of London - Hannover and Berkeley Squares just to mention a couple. The place that really lacks some green relief to the built form is central Te Aro. Sadly Glover Park is just too small - you need something several blocks deeper to give park users a genuine sense of temporary respite from the hubub IMHO, like Soho or Hoxton Squares. Those squares also benefit from better defined edges, I think, and that seems to me to be key distinction between the sort of open spaces found in downtown Wellington and what I'd call a park, however small.

Looking forward to the post on the plans for more local parks.


PS Did you get a chance to look at the website for what is proposed for Potters Fields?

At 11:49 am, November 01, 2005, Blogger Tom said...


I've just put up my post about the new parks. I agree with you that these, and existing inner city spaces, aren't really "parks" but city squares with bits of green, and to my mind all the better for it. I don't quite agree that central Te Aro is the problem, more southeast Te Aro. Central Te Aro has my favourite urban spaces in Wellington: Cuba Mall and the Left Bank, which are the places I'd shoose to go to just sit on a bench and relax. Mind you, I've never felt the need for "a genuine sense of temporary respite from the hubbub" - I think Wellington could do with a lot more hubbub!

I do agree with more greening, though, just not in the form of big lawns. Street trees, climbers, window boxes and roof gardens could all add to a sense of pervasive greenery and break down the city/nature distinction.

And yes, I've had a look at your Potters Field links. While I don't think that the towers are "monstrosities" per se, I do agree that they're terribly out of scale and context. The buildings designed for the edges of Waitangi Park don't come close.

At 3:30 pm, November 01, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry - as a non-local I probably wasn't being accurate with my description of where central Te Aro is! I'll have to come back and read your just-posted entry more carefully another time - essays to finish - but I do think at least one 'hubub respite' lawn in this area will be needed if residential densities and hubub are increased over the next 10 years. People will want to be able to pop out from their flats to lie in the sun, read a book or have a bite to eat, without having to go out to the town belts etc.

More window boxes and trees are actually 'quick wins' that you'd expect the City Council to be on top of already - little grants to give people incentives to get started would be a good idea.

Alternative view of the towers emailed to you. I think they'd look great down in Canary Wharf or by the Dome, but they are - as you say - out of scale and context where they are proposed.


Post a Comment

<< Home