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

Monday, August 20, 2007

Mt Cook summit

Mt Cook has been facing a few changes recently, and the locals have been vocal in their response. The next step is a well-publicised public meeting tomorrow night, and it will be interesting to see what comes out of that.

Quite apart from specific issues of supermarkets, swimming pools and traffic, I get the feeling that Mt Cook has long faced a more fundamental question: one of identity. It's no doubt different for those who live there, but I suspect that even many long-time Wellingtonians don't have a clear image of what or where Mt Cook is, beyond a vague feeling of it being "not the city, but not quite Brooklyn or Newtown". Here is its "official" extent, as recognised by the council, NZ Post and others:

Mt Cook mapMuch of this is certainly what, with some effort, I might recall as being "part of" Mt Cook, but it's difficult to get any coherent sense of Mt Cook as a whole. Some of the factors that lead to this lack of what Kevin Lynch would call "imageability" include:
  • the geographic feature that gave it its name no longer exists;
  • even the eponymous school is outside of the suburb boundaries;
  • the official boundaries include areas (such as Nairn St and the east side of Adelaide Rd) that few people would think of as "Mt Cook";
  • there's no recognisable centre, and hardly any small-scale shopping;
  • the urban fabric ranges from low- to medium-density "character" homes to high-density council housing, light industrial and bulk retail;
  • the most recognisable landmarks (the War Memorial and Massey University) are of national and regional importance, but don't seem to offer many everyday facilities for locals, and act more to physically divide the community than bring it together.
Perhaps the most positive thing that could come out of the various pressures and potential threats on the area is the opportunity to create a focal point for Mt Cook. Okay, so a supermarket hardly counts as a community centre per se, but with the right approach there's no reason why it couldn't become part of one. The block for which it has been proposed is in a slight dip, and could handle some medium-rise development without massive impact on the surroundings.

Tasman St - proposed Pak 'n' Save siteConceivably, this block could have room for a supermarket (which apparently is not intended to follow the standard over-scaled Pak 'n' Save model), the retained BGI building, some apartments, and a combination of small-scale shops and a compact public square on the Tasman St side. That would require not only some much more community-spirited thinking than one has come to expect from corporate developers, and some determinedly proactive planning from the council, but also an acceptance from the residents that more people will be coming to live and shop in their neighbourhood, and that two-storey weatherboard won't be the norm forever.

There have been some accusations of Nimbyism, but I think that the tone of the campaign so far (a few letters to the editor notwithstanding) has been more about positive engagement and sensible planning than a blind resistance to any sort of change. I'm sure that there'll be plenty of anger at tomorrow's meeting, much of it justified, but I like to think that the local community can take this as an opportunity to guide the future of their neighbourhood in a direction that's best for both them and the broader needs of the denser, more urban Wellington of the near future.


At 1:53 pm, August 21, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've always found Mt Cook as a suburb a difficult concept... no centre, no main road (except perhaps Wallace Street) and no unifying feel. It has all the facilities you'd expect of an inner city suburb (except a supermarket but enough said on that) but they're distributed around the area. Having lived in Thompson Street (although that was when it was part of Te Aro before the WCC suburbs review) and Douglas Street I found it hard to explain Mt Cook to a fair few locals. There ARE a lot of downsides to Mt Cook: traffic, noisy printing presses (with their reversing rubbish trucks at 6am), broken bottles, some very un-arty and not-at-all-cool grafitti (check out the historic brick wall on Tasman Street), vomit in the streets, cold old damp houses, cold new leaky houses and the sheer ugliness of the Adelaide Road area. But, it is close to town and schools, close to main roads, the buses are good, it could handle a light rail system nicely, the population density is high (for the burbs) and house prices are rocketing, so it can only improve.


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