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

Monday, August 21, 2006

A load of boules

It's been a while since I last wrote about Waitangi Park, and I'm holding off on replying to Kenno's Snark at the Park until the Wind Gardens are complete (which is proving to be a very long wait) and I can get a better idea of how the park works as a whole. But there was a letter in Friday's Dominion Post that I had to respond to.

Petanque at Waitangi Park in March 2006The writer complains that there's too much concrete, not enough greenery, and that the wetlands should all be converted to petanque pitches so that "Wellington could become the petanque capital of the southern hemisphere". I'm not averse to the odd game of petanque myself (especially with a glass of vin rouge in one hand, though the kiosk is also taking forever), but while French may be the second-most spoken language in Wellington, the suggestion smacks of Eurocentrism. If he were a true petanque fan, he would know about the existing facilities at Waitangi Park via the NZ Petanque Wiki.

As for the greenery vs concrete issue, I've written several times before about the practical need for a balance between hard and soft landscaping in an urban park. There certainly is a sense of barrenness to the park, but if anything it would be worse if were just one big paddock, and once the trees grow the whole place will be leafier and more intimate.

Wetlands at Waitangi Park - photo by nzphotopro1 at http://flickr.com/photos/nzphotopro1/138175169/The wetlands have certainly had their detractors, and it's a pity that the water-treatment aspect is not yet working, but it's interesting to see how many of the Waitangi Park photos on Flickr concentrate on the wetlands and the captivating images they provide (such as this one by nzphotopro1). Of course, a park doesn't exist solely for the amusement of photographers, but it's a hint that it would be a lot less interesting without the wetlands (and the skatepark, graffiti, graving dock, propellor and all the other hard elements).

Anyway, here's my reply.
Alan Burden wants Waitangi Park to have "more greenery, less concrete and no 'swamp'". Yet most of the time, the concrete and lime-chip areas attract more people than the existing grassy field, and the wetland area is one of the most interesting parts of the park.

Wind-blown rubbish is a fact of life in Wellington, and any planted area or water feature, even traditional flower beds or duck ponds, would fill up just as quickly. Some people call for "nature" to be returned to the city, but they obviously prefer a manicured, Europeanised vision of picturesque nature to a working ecosystem that recalls the living lagoon that was once nearby.

Speaking of European imports, while Petanque is an appropriate activity, perhaps we should wait to see how well the park's existing petanque terrain is used before taking over the whole area.

What the park needs is not more greenery, beyond what the existing trees will bring once mature, but more shelter, activity, visual interest and vertical elements to alleviate the flatness. And luckily, that's exactly what the proposed nearby buildings will bring, thus completing the vision of a lively urban public space rather than a wide, dreary paddock.


At 7:05 pm, August 21, 2006, Blogger mikeymike said...

Yeah, go gettim...
Although when I read that letter I could have sworn he was taking the piss.
As for the wind garden, the screens around the new trees planted on the east side of TePapa (overlooking the marina) were literally whistling when I walked past today. It was just before the southerly hit - the northerly was blowing its last hoorah. It was quite amazing.
I must get out more...

At 8:48 am, August 22, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

whistling walls hmmmm.... that should go down well with the rich buggers in the Herd St PO apartments... how long before they get them pulled down, or that they are "accidentally burned down by streetkids"....

At 9:14 am, August 22, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

great response Tom, but to be honest I thought he was taking the piss too...I mean really I'm not adverse to the odd game of Petanque; heaven knows repeatedly throwing metal balls at 'piglets' is good fun but you could fit 20 'courts' or so into the land the Water garden is occupying....

At 9:17 am, August 22, 2006, Blogger Tom said...

I think that there's just one of the screens that whistles, but it's bloody loud and annoying: more like a shriek than a whistle. I'm surprised that the "rich buggers" from Mt Vic haven't complained about it already, since they were part of the reason that the planned wind turbines never went ahead.

The original concept for the wind garden screens was much more interesting: a wooden cutout version of the "writers' walk" plaques. I gather that the idea was dropped because of cost overruns (the odd million or two here or there), but that it might get revived at a later date. I hope so, because the perforated metal screens are pretty dull to look at, and aren't quite as effective as the double-layered screen between the two sections of the bridge over the lagoon entrance.

At 9:29 am, August 22, 2006, Blogger Tom said...

I also had to wonder whether he was aiming at satire with the petanque thing, but the overall tone made him sound serious.

I have to admit that the wetlands are looking a bit sad at the moment. Some of the reeds look distinctly unhealthy, but that might just be a seasonal thing (I don't know much about this plant stuff). I assume that the blue plastic pipes are just a temporary feature until the stormwater feed gets goinf properly, but they've been "temporary" for a long time.

Does anyone know what's happened to the waharoa? At one stage it was expected to be installed in early August, and there was a press release from Te Papa saying that it go in as part of the Matariki celebrations. Intriguingly, the latter article referred to it as a "huge perspex waharoa".


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