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

Monday, January 16, 2006

Man meets Nature in Woodward St

Location of 'Man meets nature trail' poster in Woodward StThe other day I noticed a laminated A4 sheet stuck to a wall in Woodward St, between Pandoro and the entrance to Lambton Square. It turns out to be a printed notice with the intriguing title "Man Meets Nature Trail". Given the very cheaply-produced appearance of the sign, I somehow doubted that this was an official "nature trail". There's also not much in the immediate vicinity that looked like "nature", so I read on.

There's obviously a satirical edge to this poster, given that the "simple man made structure designed to afford nature some space" clearly does nothing of the sort. Perhaps it housed a small tree or other vegetation at some stage, but if so, the council has clearly given up on it.

This apparently simple piece of paper raises some questions. Is this a part of an art project? The "No. 5" written at the top certainly suggests that it is one of a series. If so, where are the other stops on the trail? On the other hand, it might be simply a more than usually creative effort by a local resident or business owner to shame nearby smokers into being more careful with their cigarette butts. If so, is the writer perhaps being a little too subtle?

Incidentally, while this sign refers to the environs as "an otherwise sterile local environment", and there's certainly little in the way of vegetation along most of this short street, in other senses it is one of the least "sterile" streets in this part of town. It's narrow and pedestrianised, with a significant slope and plenty of historic buildings. There's a popular sculpture, the odd busker, several cafés that spill out onto the street, and it generally has a very "European" feel. Have a look at some flickr photos of Woodward St, and you'll see what I mean.

There's also a lot of Māori history here. The Kumutoto kainga, which used to be a major flax-trading centre, was near the top of the street (see site 3 on Te Ara o Nga Tupuna) until the 1850s. The Kumutoto stream still flows down here, but is now reduced to a stormwater drain, flowing past its original mouth to empty into the harbour north of the Loaded Hog. A small section of this stream will again see daylight when that area is redeveloped and landscaped as Kumutoto Plaza, a name that makes more sense when you know the history and geography, and certainly has more dignity than its previous default name of "North Queens Wharf".


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