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

Tuesday, December 13, 2005


I said last week that I wasn't going to let John Macalister's letter in the Capital Times get to me, but he seems to be implying that I have some sort of conflict of interest or that I'm a puppet of the council or developers or some sort of shady conspiracy, so I felt that I had to reply. Here's my full disclosure.

I belong to Our Waterfront, which, like Waterfront Watch, is a lobby group of individuals who advocate for their vision of the waterfront. Unlike Waterfront Watch, they are broadly (but not blindly) in favour of the current proposals, and they also know how to put a website together. Amanda Morrison (who has a good letter in the current Capital Times) approached me to join after seeing my letters. While I've joined the group and welcome their contributions to the debate, I don't usually speak for them or consult with them before writing letters or submissions.

I also belong to the Architectural Centre, which in addition to promoting good architecture and urban design, has a long history of promoting art and cultural debate in Wellington. One doesn't have to be an architect to join, which is just as well because I'm not. Some people assume that because I like and write about buildings, I must be an architect or have architectural training. I like food too, but that doesn't make me a chef.

I know some people on the council and at Wellington Waterfront Ltd, but that's only through my letters, submissions and suggestions to the Ideas Bank. I sometimes send copies of my letters to them as a courtesy, or check with them to make sure of my facts, but there's nothing in it for me. And I often disagree with council policies (such as the 'bypass') and express that disagreement publicly as well.

Finally, some people assume that because the waterfront proposals involve private uses of council-owned land that I'm either a property speculator or a right-wing ideologue. Neither could be further from the truth. I don't own any property (not even my own flat) and I don't intend to. I know some property developers, and while some of them are decent human beings, I have major reservations about what a lot of them do and I certainly don't speak on their behalf. And I definitely have no ideological commitment to privatisation: quite the opposite, I believe that there's a lot of national and local infrastructure that would be better off in public hands, and as readers of this blog will know, I believe that local and central government should take a stronger lead in areas like urban design, smart growth, public transport and sustainable energy.

But that was too much to put into a letter, and in any case I want to see what the good doctor is trying to smear me with. Anyway, here is what I sent to the Capital Times:
John Macalister asks that I be "more transparent about whose views" I represent. I hadn't realised I was being opaque, but I'll do what I can.

I don't claim to speak officially for anyone but myself: I am just a Wellingtonian advocating my vision for the city, as is anyone's right. But what started me writing letters was the realisation that there are many Wellingtonians who disagree with Waterfront Watch, and whose voices were not being heard.

So in that sense, I am speaking for those who are looking forward to an urban waterfront; who don't think that four storeys is a "high rise"; who believe that the city is something to celebrate, not escape; who realise that if we want panoramic views of the harbour, all we have to do is go there; who wonder why our waterfront is deserted so much of the time; who love public spaces, but prefer them compact and active rather than wide and empty.

Is that what he means by "transparent"? Or is he suggesting that I am somehow a mouthpiece for vested interests? If Dr Macalister is going to make accusations, it would be refreshing if he were transparent about it.


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