Bringing local government officials together, starting conversations and helping regional communities find new vitality
We know that District Councils and the small towns within their borders are facing challenging times. But, as the saying goes, within difficulty there lies opportunity.
Helping Lower North Island Councils find and act on that opportunity is something urban planner Marc Baily, a partner in Boffa Miskell’s Wellington office, has been doing for several years.
Last month Marc invited representatives from six Councils from the Lower North Island . They were joined by Boffa Miskell consultants including urban designer Jane Rennie; planners Hamish Wesney and Sherilyn Hinton; landscape architect Rachel de Lambert; and Boffa Miskell chief executive Kerry Gupwell.
The Small Towns Forum began with a presentation about the influences that require a rethink from smaller towns and their centres. A free-flowing discussion followed, which covered a wide range of issues that are top-of-mind for councils and some of the initiatives they have underway, or in development, to try and address them.
Marc says a fantastic level of information and ideas sharing took place between the attendees, and the 2-hour forum was clearly a starting point for future conversations.
“One of the keys to these towns’ future, lies in their past – the concept that the town centre is a destination; and that people come not just to trade, but to socialise and connect with their community.” says Marc.
Much of the discussion was centred on how the vibrancy of small towns and their centres can be increased.
“Retail and shopping preferences have changed; demographics are in flux, as we see some of these communities with aging populations; the impact of technologies and ways of doing things and interacting with one another. And then there are more gnarly issues like earthquake-prone buildings and climate change resilience.”
Council representatives shared some of the place-making initiatives they are trying in response to these issues.
Working more closely and enabling local people to colonise the town centre was discussed. Being more permissive about letting people have a go with creative ideas gives people a sense of the town centre being their place.
“Having a range of places from a library to appropriately-located warm open spaces; along with play spaces, cafes and shops provides choice for people of all stripes. The best outcome of all is when you can define the identity of the town — that character that makes it distinct from anywhere else — then you know you are really on the way.”
Marc’s initiative has already gained momentum within Boffa Miskell, as consultants from the Tauranga office built upon Marc’s message in their presentation to local government officials from the Central North Island at the LGNZ Zone Two meeting.
Landscape architects Morne Hugo and Bryan Sanson are leading the upgrade of Whitianga Town Centre. “Some officials from the surrounding districts have seen what’s happening in Whitianga, and the positive response to the changes, and we were invited to present to the Zone Two group,” says Morne.
“These challenges are being faced by small towns across the country. Marc’s strategic thinking, and the work we’ve been doing more locally in the Bay of Plenty, are very complementary.”
As in Wellington, the response from Zone Two attendees was very positive; and like Marc, Morne plans to carry the momentum into the new year with further gatherings.
Jane Rennie, an urban planner from Boffa Miskell’s Christchurch office said “These gatherings are an effective forum to discuss issues and challenges and for the Councils to connect with one another. Small towns in the South Island are facing many of the same challenges, and I’m going to explore holding a holding similar event in Christchurch.”
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13 November 2018