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

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

All at sea

Te Raekaihau PointI'm disappointed by the outcome of the Environment Court decision that rejected the Marine Education Centre at Te Raekaihau Point. I've never been a hard-core supporter of the project, but I was convinced that for the particular vision the proponents had in mind, there was no better site. The concept of an education centre embedded in and entwined with the south coast environment was unique and appealing, so building it in the inner harbour would have made as much sense as building the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary visitor centre in Glover Park.

While the opponents are of course ecstatic that no nasty tourists are going to come and invade "their" patch of coast, and that only those lucky enough to already live nearby or hardy enough to trek around the coast will get to enjoy it, the Dominion Post has taken the opposite tack in its editorial by attacking "naysayers". I don't agree with their implication that anyone who opposes something is automatically conservative and lacking in vision: after all, I'm one of those who still maintains that the bypass was "not worth it" and that it did indeed "damage the fabric of the city". People can and do have divergent visions for the city, but the issues should be debated rationally and with an open mind. I tend to agree with the dissenting opinion from Judge Thompson that it would have added "an entirely complementary and interesting asset to the south coast". We've missed an opportunity to open up the coastal environment to people who don't believe that the only way to learn about the environment is to do it the hard way (and I did detect a hint of puritanism in some of the opponents).

The DomPost believes that another south coast site must be found, but now I'm not so sure. The extensive site investigations (1MB PDF) show that other south coast locations are either much more environmentally sensitive, subject to poor water quality or too small. Besides, I'm willing to bet that as soon as another site is proposed, a brand new bunch of NIMBYs will appear claiming just how unique and world class their own particular patch is.

So, while an inner harbour site will lose most of the uniqueness of the original concept, a new concept will have to be found. Rather than just another aquarium, perhaps it would have to concentrate on the particular qualities and activities of a working harbour. Shipping, tides, containers, weather, climate change, energy and immigration spring to mind, in addition to marine flora and fauna. The Museum of Wellington City and Sea already deals with much of that very nicely, but it would become free to concentrate on the history of Wellington while the new institution immerses itself (perhaps literally) in the watery stuff.

A letter writer in today's Dominion Post suggested the Tug Boat site next to Freyberg Pool would be ideal (anything that replaces the Tug Boat is fine with me), and many of the waterfront sites between Oriental Bay and Harbour Quays could conceivably combine an aquarium-like attraction with other uses. Perhaps Shelley Bay or even Somes Island would be interesting locations, with the right ferry connections, combined with some resort or spa elements.

Any other ideas? Underwater bars? Urban dive experiences ("And here we see, in all her glory, the rare Shoppingtrollius Novaterra") and submersibles? Something more abstract, like the Saltwater Pavilion by Oosterhuis Lenard? A Maritime Museum? A South Seas Tiki Adventure?


At 8:20 pm, September 25, 2007, Blogger Will de Cleene said...

No love lost here with the demise of the marina. It always seemed a strange way to encourage conservation in marine life by putting a building site in their environment.

There's always diving or, if one wants to stay dry, Kelly Tarltons up north.

At 10:51 pm, September 25, 2007, Blogger Joanna said...

No, not by the Tugboat! That's (one of the places) where I go swimming, so I'm going to get all NIMBY about it.

At 1:21 pm, September 26, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

will de cleene:

Firstly the correct title in Marine Education Centre, not marina. Two VERY different concepts.

Secondly, it was not proposed to be in the water, but near it (and also close to the Kupe Kevin Smith marine reserve), thereby providing context for education about marine environments and their conservation.

Finally, the project included the rehabilitation of a high degraded area. I particularly liked one of today's letters to the editor, which challenged the opponents of the scheme to put their money where their mouth is and begin their own work towards the rehabilitation of Te Raekaihau Point.

At 4:41 pm, September 26, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

No offence, Will, but "There's always diving" sounds like the sort of thing I termed "puritanism" in my post: the idea that if someone wants to enjoy or learn about the environment, they've got to strap on some scuba gear/tramping boots/whatever and do it the hard way. Providing educational materials, entertainment or comforts just doesn't seem right to some people, and they'd rather keep the coast for those who go through this sort of penance or initiation to prove that they're proper outdoorsy types.

But the purpose of my post is not so much to put the case for the MEC, but to look for alternative concepts if the idea of a MEC integrated into the south coast environment proves not to be viable. So, feel free to suggest alternative marine based attractions that would work in the inner harbour and be uniquely Wellington.

At 5:40 pm, September 26, 2007, Blogger Erentz said...

My opposition to it has always been largely that it didn't seem to stack up financially. It seemed like it was going to turn into a $20m cafe. I'd have been very much for it if it was to have been a joint project say with NIWA and some universities to develop a *research* centre with an attached education centre. That would be valuable. And would have got a lot of the divers/greeny types on board that I've spoken too. But otherwise there are much easier and cheaper ways to educate people about marine life (for $20m you could probably develop a curiculum and set of materials for all schools). The big difference in comparing it to Karori Wildlife sancuary is that it wasn't a sanctuary, it did not rehabilitate the ocean and make it pest free, it did not provide an area for recreational exercise and exploring. It was some very expensive fish tanks, and a very expensive cafe, with a requirement for a very high number of visitors to break even, and in a location that is hard for tourists to get to (although they should see more of the south coast).

All for them reinventing the idea to make it more workable.

At 4:41 pm, September 27, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

Erentz: fair points. I don't think I could make an assessment of its financial viability, and a combined research and education centre would be a good idea in many ways.

"The big difference in comparing it to Karori Wildlife sancuary is that it wasn't a sanctuary, it did not rehabilitate the ocean and make it pest free, it did not provide an area for recreational exercise and exploring."

Although I wasn't comparing it to the Sanctuary per se, but to the visitor centre at the Sanctuary. That's clearly also about education and being a tourism attraction, but in a specific environment. Similarly, the MEC was to have been an education/tourism venture in its own specific environment, including the Marine Reserve, which would indeed help rehabilitate the ocean.

I don't agree that it didn't provide recreational or exploration areas: the centre wasn't just about the underground tanks, but also the rock pools and landscaping that were integrated into the greater plan. Thus, the MEC would have provided a sheltered, structured learning and entertainment experience that also encourages visitors to explore the actual coast once they've got the inspiration and basic knowledge; exactly as the KWS visitor centre is intended to do.

It's all very well for the opponents to say "well, you can learn about the coast by just going there", but for the average schoolkid or tourist who doesn't know one shell from another it isn't going to be a terribly enlightening experience. Some of those opponents are probably sneering at the KWS visitor sanctuary as well (and there has been some opposition), and it comes from the same mindset: "a proper environmentalist wouldn't need any of this mollycoddling and handholding, they'd just get out there in the bush". That's true, but there's a vast number of people out there who need some gentle encouragement and an introduction to what they're going to see, and if done well that can be an inspiring experience.

At 7:21 pm, September 28, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What other city has an undeveloped coastline at its doorstep like ours? It's unique. Many opponents fear that building the four story aquarium building would set a precedent opening the door for other south coast developments. Once it's gone, it's gone, you can't "undevelop" things.

I object to using the term nimbyism here. It's not just people on the south coast who oppose the aquarium. The south coast is the backyard of every Wellingtonian. I don't think it's fair to dismiss opponents of the aquarium as a small fringe group of naysayers.

Furthermore, many opponents point out that the term marine "education" centre is misleading. The centre would have a cafe that seats 150 people and would be open until 11pm. Also, at a possible price of $18 per head, it's quite steep for parents who want to educate their kids about marine life. As Erentz said, there are better ways to spend $20 million on education.

Finally, the whole process leading up to this fiasco has been misleading, with the council spending considerable amounts of money towards legal aid for the developers. Brian Pepperell calculates the total amount of tax payer money spent on the project so far to be $1.5 million. Money that you had to cough up.

Planning to build a marine education centre is one thing - not many people oppose this. But the council has a responsibility to handle the consent process open and fair, which they have not done at all.

At 10:07 pm, November 01, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just received an email looking for support from the Marine centre, and although I am not flush with cash, I have made a pledge as I really believe in what they are doing.

These guys have persisted for 10 years against all odds and negatively. The trust’s continued fight not only means we may get an incredible resource that shows off one of Wellington’s most unique jewels, but it also represents not allowing a vocal self-interested minority get away with blocking things that will improve this wonderful city we live in.

One of my fondest memories as a youngster was visiting the Monterey Aquarium, which this has been modeled on. The benefits gained from such facilities are hard to quantify, but there are few things more powerful than education, especially through interactive means that are almost the real thing. Without it, there is a lot less likelihood of the general public cherishing it, respecting it and ensuring it is conserved.

Economically, it is a boon for Wellington. Tourism is currently hindered in this city as we have few chargeable attractions that attract tour operators to click the ticket. This centre will encourage this. It will also show off an often unvisited part of Wellington, leaving an lasting impression with tourists that is not just Te Papa and the inner harbour. In my opinion, this is one of the most magical and unique parts of Wellington and somewhere you can really experience and enjoy the elements that Wellington is famous for and this is a good compliment for it and a reason for visiting. I’m also a little baffled by complaints of it destroying an undeveloped piece of coast – running around the coast, which I often do, there is no shortage of excessively ugly buildings in close proximity –the design for this is a lot more respectful of the environment. If someone wants pristine, take a 5-minute drive around past Owhiro Bay.

Sorry about my rant


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