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

Monday, November 14, 2005

Twisted views

I've taken a while to respond to John Macalister's letter to the Capital Times, but I hope I was in time to make this week's edition (update: yes, it was in time, as it was published in the November 16th edition). Dr Macalister seemed to have been late with his letter, as he looks to be referring to a letter of mine from some weeks back, rather than the more recent one that deals with the full text of Jack Ruben's letter. Anyway, here's my letter:
John Macalister accuses me of twisting Waterfront Watch's views, but I don't need to: they're twisted enough already. Most people who know and enjoy cities realise that they are best when a range of uses (including residential, commercial, entertainment and recreation) is mixed throughout the city at a fine scale; yet Waterfront Watch seem to want to go back to the Modernist doctrine of segregating uses.

It's ironic for Dr Macalister to accuse others of 'smug, "we-know-best" attitudes', when Waterfront Watch is always claiming to speak for all of Wellington. "We Wellingtonians know what we want," he says. Well, I'm a Wellingtonian too, and I know that I don't want Waterfront Watch's big, dull, empty spaces.

Waterfront Watch want nothing but park between Te Papa and Oriental Parade, but I don't know anyone who thinks that's a good idea. Jack Ruben wants an outer T without buildings, and most of those I've talked to believe that the result would be windswept and bleak, with or without sculptures and paintings.

"We Wellingtonians" don't go into fits of self-righteous apoplexy when we learn about plans for a lively, urban waterfront: instead, we say "That's cool: we can't wait!"
I hope I'm not being too broad when I claim that no-one I know wants nothing but park at Waitangi, but that's definitely the consensus among my friends, and though the comments on my last Waitangi Park post covered a range of opinions, I think it's fair to say that none of you wanted a complete absence of new buildings in the Waitangi precinct. I'm not quite as adamant about the Hilton project (I support it, but with reservations, and I've proposed what I hope is a constructive solution to meet the most serious objections), but even on that most people I know are more in favour of it than against it.

If you disagree with what I'm saying, please say so in a comment: I'm happy to engage in informed debate on these issues (I've enjoyed my discussions with Andrew, for example), and it would be arrogant of me to claim to speak for WellUrban readers unless there is general support for my views. I don't want to turn this blog into a site for my ranting, but I do want to make it clear that Waterfront Watch do not speak for all Wellingtonians.


At 1:27 pm, November 15, 2005, Blogger Baz said...

John Macalister accused you of having friends in elected office. Isn't that defamation?

Presumably no-one elected Waterfront Watch, and for 9 years their sole raison d'ĂȘtre has been to protest (over)development of the waterfront by the Council. They (whoever they are) demand at least 75% open space and no new developments to be over 15m above sea level. I've no idea how they derived these figures, or why they don't take into account any other factors.

Perhaps next time you should reply to the Capital Times saying that "Dr John Macalister" is an anagram of "Ah, Dr Nil Scrote Jam". It may not achieve anything but it would be really funny if they published it.

At 4:04 pm, November 15, 2005, Blogger Kate Borrell said...

I support your views on the Waterfront.

I consider myself fairly middle-of-the-road. Maybe I am a bit more towards the right, but I think the Waterfront Watch crowd are a bunch of homemade cardigan roman sandal wearing old hippies stuck in the 60s.

Is that defamation? It's pretty mild compared to what I normally say about some folk ;)

At 10:53 pm, November 17, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Both you and Wellington Waterfront Watch have valid viewpoints, it's unfortunate it's getting personal.

Yes, having more people on the waterfront would be good, and a hotel would bring that sort of life just as sports people do.

However, on Waitangi Park, the fact is that the Park is not an inner city park, it's a harbour-front park and those views should be made the most of, not hidden by "protecting" buildings. If you want a park enhanced and protected by buildings, build it in the heart of the CBD, or Courtney Place...

At 11:04 am, November 18, 2005, Blogger Tom said...

Hi Anonymous,

I think we're both right in a sense: Waitangi Park will be a harbour-front park, but it will also be an inner-city park, because our inner city is next to the harbour. It's not Kilbirnie Park or Ian Galloway Park, so thinking of it as a suburban sports ground (as some of WW want it to be) will miss the opportunity to provide a range of opportunities for a range of people.

I agree that views need to be made the most of, but "making the most of" views isn't necessarily the same as ensuring that every part of Cable St has as a panoramic view. I think that the approach of traditional Chinese Garden design is more subtle, in that it aims to frame and guide views with walls, stones and plantings. Traditional, densely-built European cities are similar, in that they offer tantalising glimspes of the surrounding landscape: I don't think that the Piazza San Marco would gain anything from being completely opened up to the Grand Canal rather than being mostly separated from it by a large building.

The various competition entries for Waitangi Park take different approaches to views: I've summarised them previously, but I think that Architecture Workshop & Kerstin Thompson have done the most to preserve views. But my own position is that I'd rather see people coming to the waterfront than gazing across it passively from a distance. The entire water's edge, from Kumutoto to Oriental Bay, will be a publicly accessible promenade with panoramic views, so by offering viewshafts and glimpses framed by attractive buildings, we will give people an incentive to come to the waters edge and bring it to life.

At 10:23 am, November 28, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the big problem with urban architecture of this nature is that what people think they want and what they actually want are two different things. People like fields, trees and wide open spaces but when you give it to them they stay away in droves. Just look at Perth. Lovely open green areas devoid of human life. Humans need spaces in human scale. Would I be wrong if I suggested that the most popular parks in Weelington are the ones with the _least_ wide open spaces?

The WW crowd are a little different though. They are watchers not doers. They will sit on their hill and peer down on us. They want to look upon parks and trees not buildings and people. For them the joy is looking at a picture post card not being part of it. The irony is that it you took away all the buiuldings the view they like the best would be a soul destroying black void.


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