The Eye of the Fish

August 6, 2010

Mayor Kerry speaks

In response to a recent posting here on Eye of the Fish, and possibly in response to my slightly provocative comment that ….
“It is increasingly difficult to write about design in a city which pays only lip service to it,”
I’m pleasantly surprised that Mayor Kerry Prendergast has taken the time to add a comment to the posting. In case people have missed it, and because it is, after all, from the Mayor, I think it deserves a little more prominence and so, here it is:

Hi, Mayor Kerry here. The city needs a Mayor who stands up for good design in the city. I see myself as such a person and would hope that others do too.
Quality in design is a collective effort. Your Council puts a lot of effort into our public buildings and streetscape in the hope that this will inspire private owners to build better buildings. Unfortunately economic issues often dictate cheaper outcomes – which we cannot control! If you have new and bright ideas about how to get the better designs I’d love to hear them.
There is much more info for you below if you want detail:

A few instances where Council, under my leadership, is committed and has delivered good design outcomes;
– Signatory to the Urban Design Protocol
– Building on Council’s current Public Domain Policy and finalising Public Space Domain Manual
– LTCCP budgets committed to street upgrade and greening the city
– Strategic design leadership through the Wellington 2040 City Central Framework and W2040 Strategy work
– promoting urban design and heritage outcomes for the city across a range of projects in association with other partnerships and committed people to quality places (e.g. Midland Park; Cobblestone Park, Waitangi Park)
– using design competitions to stimulate creativity and innovation through design (e.g. outer-T waterfront; Cobblestone Park, Waitangi Park)
– In March 2006, the Council completed a two-year study into the effectiveness of the District Plan’s built environment rules. The study found that Wellington’s District Plan has been successful in promoting a contained city and preventing urban sprawl. The Central Area Design Guide provides a focus on the design and appearance of new buildings (rather than having rigid bulk and location requirements. Building proposals are assessed the relevant Central Area Design Guide.

Council can not do it alone and good urban design needs to work on all levels to create social, cultural, environmental and economic value. Therefore, Council is committed to ensuring that Wellington is well designed and this should be priority for all of us who are maintaining and shaping the built environment.

6 - 08 - 10

Ask her to come back and make similar comments when it’s halfway during a electoral term. Not two months before an election.

6 - 08 - 10

My thoughts exactly Chris, I doubt whether this post was in response to anything, provocative or not, other than a desire for self promotion. Kerry, we might be a little less cynical if you did engage more frequently (although I understand the difficulty of doing so)…

6 - 08 - 10

I’d like us to engage with the comments that Kerry has made here, if we can, a little more constructively. It’s not, as Chris says, that often that a mayor of a city engages directly with the citizenry, outside of electoral campaigns (especially on an anonymous blog forum) but I’m glad to see more evidence of engagement by the council – so I’m going to try and be as respectful as possible, while also adressing Mayor Kerry’s comments.

Firstly perhaps – being a “Signatory to the Urban Design Protocol”

I’m well aware of the UDP, and know of its high hopes for unleashing a wave of good design onto NZ via a series of Urban Design Champions. The theory was, that every city would appoint an Urban Design Champion, who would ave the power, the respect, the mana, the ability, and the budget to make a difference.

That all seems to have fallen beside the wayside. As far as I am aware, it all started to unravel when Dick Hubbard, that well known cereal killer, decided that he would be the Urban Design Champ of Auckland – and I think that all other mayors followed suit. Apologies if I am wrong on that. Heaven forbid that John Banks is now the Urban Design Champion of Auckland in place of Hubbard – my point is not personal, but that neither Hubbard, nor Banks, and, quite possibly, nor Prendergast are in any way qualified to speak or act on Urban Design matters.

In London, for instance, the then Mayor, Ken Livingstone, appointed Richard Rogers as the Urban Design Champ. That’s a fairly good guide to a likely positive urban outcome – certainly better than Livingstone himself being the Champ (no, I have no idea whether Boris Johnson has decided he is now the Champ in place of Rogers – but as Rogers was supportive to the Labour government, that may indeed have happened).

Anyway: my question is therefore: what really does being a Signatory to the UDP mean? Who is in charge? Who is our Champ?

6 - 08 - 10

Before anyone gets too excited about Kerry’s passion about design, remember that she’s the woman who said this:

“Ms Prendergast said a new Mt Victoria tunnel should be a high priority, regardless of what submitters to the study say.”

6 - 08 - 10

Personally, I don’t have a problem with new tunnels. In fact, Wellington probably needs a lot more of them.

When you think of the fact that the existing tunnels we had were mostly dug years ago, by hand, with pickaxes, shovels, donkeys etc, or some with old steam shovels, and we’re still using them now, and haven’t built anything more since the Terrace Tunnel, then it is a crime that we’re not building more tunnels really.

We need more tunnels under Mt Vic, to take the new high speed light rail link. We need a second tunnel out of Karori, to help those poor suckers who live in that godforsaken valley to get out of there and in to work on time. There’s only really one route, and this week it was blocked because of rain / slips – really, a capital city needs better than that.

We need a tunnel across the Memorial Park and under Basin Reserve. Yeah, we need tunnels alright – we just need to make sure they’re there for the right purpose.

6 - 08 - 10

So, a test for the good folk at the Eye: Make it a firm task that Eye will ask the next Mayor to write a few paragraphs on the architectural/design achievements *in the middle of the electoral cycle*. That would be really interesting to see.

As for tunnels – well, we were going to get one for SH20 – til Holiday-Highway-My-way Joyce came along and decided that the poor brown folk can bear the cost of emissions/noise while he cruised along in this BMW paid for from the tax cuts received at the expense of those same poor brown folk, so I’m picking you won’t get tunnels. Correction – you will if the route lies past rich white folk. And not if it runs past poor brown folk or white folk.

6 - 08 - 10

State Highway 20 ? In Wellington? Not sure if there is one – or do you mean the one in Auckland? The Waterview connection?

But good point – we will make sure to ask the Mayor (whoever it may be) in March 2012

6 - 08 - 10

More tunnels for more single occupancy vehicles. It doesn’t matter how many you build, it just means you are shifting the bottleneck to somewhere else.
How can positively encouraging commuting by car through the provision of decreased journey times be considered ‘greening the city’, ‘strategic design leadership’ or ‘promoting urban design and heritage outcomes’ ?
The Council’s outcomes are middle of the road at best. More like Wellington is reluctantly being dragged whimpering along the back of the line of cities implementing 21st century urban design.
Don’t imitate. Innovate.

7 - 08 - 10

Actually Maximus, I think you are being way too deferential here. The comment made by Kerry was one of campaign, not engagement, no matter how you try to construe it. I actually think that such activity is pretty rude on a site like this – unless proper engagement with a particular issue at least attempted (which I would wholeheartedly encourage).

N o harm in trying though, I guess…

Kerry’s thoughts on design for Wellington « WCC Watch
8 - 08 - 10

[…] Eye of the Fish, a Wellington based urban design blog, has recently had a comment from Kerry Prendergast who was defending her leadership against a statement by the blog: “It is increasingly difficult […]

9 - 08 - 10

Well, well – I didn’t know there was such a blog as WCC Watch. And they’ve commented on the conversation going on here:
“Kerry’s response is a pretty thorough list of ways in which her council has engaged with good design. For the most part she lists signing up to protocols and providing “strategic leadership”, but she does also list some very tangible things, such as holding design contests to revitalise some of our public spaces and nurture Wellington’s design community.

The response in the comments from the design buffs is pretty harsh. Some see Kerry’s response as a cynical attempt to woo voters, and the rest get sidetracked into discussions about road planning. Sigh.”

Sidetracked indeed. Can we get back on topic? Kerry’s design record?

9 - 08 - 10

Who cares if the comment was one of campaign or engagement? It’s the mayor, on the record, asking for ideas. If you have ideas, submit ideas, if you don’t, discuss existing ideas.

I have some ideas that I haven’t been able to articulate to my satisfaction, yet, and the frustration I feel at the short-sightedness of Council and mediocrity of development in Wellington is unbelievably high, but it’s comforting (and interesting) to me that the Office of the Mayor sets a wide net for ideas.

9 - 08 - 10

You have a good point Jason.
“the frustration I feel at the short-sightedness of Council and mediocrity of development in Wellington is unbelievably high”

I think that was really what I was referring to in my comment about a council only paying lip service to design. Actually, in most of the Council driven things around town, they do tend to incorporate a reasonably good level of design – via the appointing of external consultants. Ok, obviously at times that doesn’t work so well – the Manners Mall buslane debacle is a valid case in point where the designers employed (roading engineers with zero imagination) are plainly not up to the job, but on other areas, and with a decent budget, then external consultants have been great. Think: Waitangi Park, Kumutoto, and hopefully, Frank Kitts.

But contrast that with the abysmal nature of some of the recent buildings approved by the same council, where design has not been subject to the same scrutiny. I don’t need to name them – I think you know what they are. Somehow, a council with balls has got to be able to stand up to that.

9 - 08 - 10

“They do tend to incorporate a good level of design”

I guess you aren’t including Karo, but what about Glover and Cobblestone Parks, the Lambton Quay footpaths, the Mt Vic lookout…
Actually – that’s pretty much everthing not on the waterfront…

10 - 08 - 10

m-d you’re absolutely right – thank you for that reminder. And that’s where the point of my comment about the Urban Design Champion sits. I haven’t spoken personally to the Mayor about it, but I imagine that Kerry is quite happy with the quality of work at Glover Park. The Council certainly spent enough money on it. I’m not sure who the designer of that Park was – but they’ve been keeping a bit of a low profile.

We do have to balance all that with the practicalities and cost of good design and attention to detail. The Cobblestone Park rebuild has certainly suffered from lack of detail – the loss of the street displays has made a mockery of the park – and again, I’m not sure that Mayor Kerry has picked up on that (not that she could publicly acknowledge it even if she had).

Mayor Kerry
10 - 08 - 10

I am trying, during a very busy work life, to keep abreast with all of this info on the web. It is not just an election push, I have been responding to stuff that I am told about for some time.
I was the first Mayor to sign the Urban Design Protocol and am Council’s spokesperson on the issue. I have been very supportive of stuart Niven and Gerald Blunt when they were working for WCC. I fronted with the PM about the planning for a Capital Precinct.
I didn’t see any “bright ideas about how to get the better designs” I’d asked for. Maybe that is a forum this website can supply. My preference is to sit around a real table and discuss these issues. Happy to do that. Kerry

10 - 08 - 10

OK – I’m willing to take your comments at face value (despite the timing), and commend you on your efforts.

WRT the UDP, which I thought was a promising recognition (at the national level) that the urban environment was indeed an important aspect of The ‘Environment’, what has happened to it now that the MfE Urban Group is now effectively non-existent (according to my sources). Is there still a dialogue and/or reporting between MfE and Council’s wrt the protocol, or is it largely gone the way of the dodo – a memory to be cherished…

If it is still an active concern, I think the call made that someone other than the mayor should be the designated ‘champion’ is a valid one. While I appreciate the symbolism of the mayor being a champion (i.e. the appearance that good design starts from the top and permeates all aspects of the organisation), I would suggest that the profile of ‘good urban design’ could be raised to more prominence in the public eye (where it most needs lifting) if someone else were the champion. Without disrespect, the ‘message’ is easily lost when it is part of the range of reasons we might read or hear something that a mayor has to say – a degree of media saturation is inevitable with the mayoral role which has the side-effect of diluting public attention to such ‘proclamations’. if the champion were someone in the design world, who had a useful public esteem, and were perhaps a little provocative in their role, their presence as a champion would become so much more effective. of course, we need people leading and within the Council to be champions of good design at the coalface, so to speak, but the public face is a wholly different kettle of fish (sorry – bad choice of saying maximus).

With respect to bright ideas for better designs, it seems to me that some reasonable designs get lost in the translation, with cost-cutting playing an important design role (with obvious consequences). I do not know of the processes involved, but it appears that the design is submitted, and then cost-cutting design decisions are made independently of the designers (or their intentions). I would suggest that the designers budget should hold (in order to avoid this), or, that if the budget is reduced after the design is submitted, that the project be sent back to the designers to redesign as appropriate. That way the design integrity can be maintained as all design decisions are made by designers*.

Now, if the process I have suggested is already in place, then it would seem to be the case that the project budgets are simply too low to achieve quality design…?

*Obviously, traffic engineers, accountants, and any other involved council busy-bodies are not good designers, and their services should not be employed as such.

Lastly, while it would appear that we have your ear, it is my belief that concentration on the golden mile and the waterfront needs to be balanced with an improvement to other public spaces as well. I know that Copenhagen is often dragged out as the model by which we aspire to, but from my experience the city’s attractiveness was rather thin – once you navigated away from the Stroget, the streets are largely as appalling as any other city, even just metres from intersecting with its golden mile. The Copenhagen ‘experience’ is therefore very limited and carefully manicured and maintained. personally I would hate for Wellington to become like this, and while the waterfront and the golden mile will always be jewels of sorts in our crown, let’s not neglect the crown itself.(e.g. just think of the contrast between Courtenay Place and the public environment that is Tory Street leading south from there…)


Thanks for your participation Kerry – I look forward to some further engagement from you…

11 - 08 - 10

thanks Mayor Kerry, for taking the time and coming back to the forum again. I’m going to have a good hard think about how best to do what you ask for:
“I didn’t see any “bright ideas about how to get the better designs” I’d asked for. Maybe that is a forum this website can supply. My preference is to sit around a real table and discuss these issues. Happy to do that. Kerry”

and thanks too to m-d for your good constructive comments as well. I haven’t been to CopenHagen for years, so I’ll have to take your word on what it is like now. But I would say that any comparison with Denmark has to be tempered with the knowledge that they have a massively high average wage compared to us, and an even more massively high tax rate as well. I think we (Wellington / NZ) probably do punch above our weight in terms of what we manage to achieve in relation to our budget. We keep comparing ourselves to other countries high in the “First World”. While we’re definitely not in the “Third World”, no one really talks about the “Second World” which is really where our economy sits.

12 - 08 - 10

Mayor Kerry should not be calling too loudly for ‘bright ideas about how to get better designs’ because there has been absolutely no lack of either bright ideas or bright design people at WCC over the last few years. What happens is the dissolution of bright ideas by either politicians, traffic engineers, accountants or restructuring. It’s just the WCC way.

But go back and read the first Mayoral quote folks – is she really asking for your good ideas about WHAT to design in Wellington City? I say no…

There is no lack of ideas out there right now about what would make Wellington a really well-designed place. But it seems that what the Mayor is asking for is bright ideas about HOW to get good design for less money, particularly from private developers but also in respect of the Council’s projects.

So it appears that it’s not ‘what’ but ‘how to’ get good design. That sounds more like a statement from someone who is trying to be a champion of good budget outcomes rather than good design outcomes.

12 - 08 - 10

@Charlie, surely you are not suggesting that the Council have an open check book for design? The rate payers aren’t going to like that and I believe that is part of the issue. Political self preservation. Take Manners Mall for example. Is the final design about road engineers and/or budget cuts, or Councillors not wanting to alienate the car driving voters by making ‘unpopular’ decisions? If you really want to speed up PT along the Golden Mile get rid of the private motor vehicles. There are plenty of other routes they could take to get from A-B.

13 - 08 - 10

No, I am not suggesting that at all – quite the opposite, in fact. The issue is that good design frequently gets ‘watered down’ by a cry from the accountants to close the chequebook, not open it. I’m sure the ratepayers don’t like this either – it means we end up with compromises on the standard of both design and finish.

I just don’t think the Mayor should be asking the public how to tackle the issue of affordability of design. I’d rather she said that prettying things up wasn’t the highest priority at the moment, rather than promising fancy things then chopping them back due to budget issues or political palatability. Like Manners/lower Cuba.

Mayor Kerry
17 - 08 - 10

I have been keeping up with the comments. Some of you think I’m the wrong person to be the “Urban Design Champion”. Urban Design is the design of the spaces between buildings and things and that is nearly always WCC owned public space. The problem is that design is so subjective. If we chose an architect, say Ian Athfield, then there would be a whole lot of people would expect him to make design choices, another group who then did not like those design ideas. The job is not to put Council’s fingerprint on the design of privately owned buildings. And the job is not to have good design ideas, or to choose good designs. It is to promote the concept of good urban design. I am in an ideal position to do that, and think I do.
WCC is currently undertaking “Wellington 2040” which looks at where the city can/should be in 30 years. As part of that we employed Space Syntax of Sydney. They use a unique urban modelling technique to forecast the effects of planning decisions on economic and social outcomes – such as pedestrian flows, vehicle movements, land use, and crime patterns. We are, of course, including the Golden Mile in the sudy, and you may have noticed in the DomPost today that Sir Bob Jones and his group -who want the Golden Mile completely pedestrianised- will meet with the consultants when they are here in September to begin their work. Kerry.

Not optimistic
17 - 08 - 10

Oh dear.

Mayor Kerry, urban design is not just the design of spaces between buildings. This sort of viewpoint is why the council’s most senior urban designer, not the mayor, should be the champion. The mayor can – and should – be a spokesperson for the city and all the good urban design things that may be going on, but you have just demonstrated why they should not be the champion.

The council has design guides that do indeed attempt to put the council’s fingerprint on privately owned buildings, especially in the CBD. The council has a unique ‘overview’ position and encouraging buildings that contribute to a coherent and pleasant whole built environment should absolutely be the council’s job, as well as the spaces in between. And this is what good urban design is all about.

Is anyone else worried that WCC have employed yet more way-out-of-towners to tell them how to design Wellington?

17 - 08 - 10

Kerry, regarding your news on Space Syntax – that’s the best news I’ve heard for ages. Great move! The office I worked for in London used Space Syntax to analyse spatial networks – and the results were really informative, and crucial to the successful redesign of places and spaces there, such as Trafalgar Square, Kings Cross and Parliament Square.

Bill Hillier’s work with Julienne Hanson in “The Social Logic of Space” and Hillier’s later book “Space is the Machine” are really important works that are followed quite closely at Victoria University (by some), and it will be hugely informative to see what factors of our city can be enhanced by the use of Space Syntax as a diagnostic planning tool.

It will be a hugely informative method with which to analyse the future growth of the city, including not just pedestrian flows but also the role and position of a (higher speed) public transport system – and I’m looking forward to seeing the results in December as well. You mention a number of organisations that will be involved as part of that study – the Architectural Centre would also be keen to be involved, I think, if that is at all possible (you will, hopefully, have seen the submission documents and drawings we submitted to the Wellington 2040 vision). We spent quite a bit of time and effort on the submission, but have yet to see any feedback as a result. Fingers crossed that it hasn’t all been lost in the Urban group’s reshuffles.

With regard to your comments on Design, it is great that you are passionate about the design of public spaces, which are, as you say, mostly under the control of the WCC. I guess there are concerns however about the politicisation of Design – there are elections coming up in October, and I guess that is the point that Maximus was saying – that some Mayors may be better suited to pushing a Design agenda than others. Imagine what would have happened to Wellington last time if Carluccio or one of the other fringe element candidates had got through to a position of Mayoral power. Boulders and rusted steel throughout the city? Or a giant Kiwi as iconic vision on the outer Tee…. There are, therefore, some advantages to having a non-political figure in the key role (and certainly, in Auckland, the Mayor there is going to have their hands full, so I would hope that the role is relinquished there by the Mayor, but full support still given to whoever takes it on there).

Anyway – onwards with the positive vision.

cheers, Guy

17 - 08 - 10

“Not optimistic” – your comment “Is anyone else worried that WCC have employed yet more way-out-of-towners to tell them how to design Wellington?” is, following on from my previous comment, possibly a little mis-directed.

While I’m generally not keen on people from Auckland or Australia being brought in as designers (we have stunningly good home grown talent right here in the capital), the ability for companies to use the Space Syntax system is way beyond the ability of most companies in New Zealand. It uses pretty high level computing power to analyse visual connection paths etc, and then factor in changes in connections and intensity.

cheers, Guy

Not optimistic
17 - 08 - 10

Guy, I know about space syntax and agree that the best expertise is from outside NZ. Experts from Sydney are undoubtedly more affordable than experts from London!

But this is not the only design exercise the council is undertaking at the moment, in fact it’s only one part of one project.

I also agree that if good talent/skills/ideas come from outside the city, if they offer a benefit that’s a good thing. But there seems to have been a lot of new people and new ideas at WCC lately, and my comment related to the concern that someone else’s imported ‘solution’ could end up plonked down in Wellington without sufficient consideration of our unique context. Maybe not the case with space syntax though, and it will be interesting to see their analysis, which I hope will be made public.

Eye of the Fish | A wide-angle view of architecture, urban design and life in Wellington
18 - 08 - 10

[…] quick post today to briefly introduce the subject that seems to have got some people excited: that the WCC has hired Space Syntax to map out conditions in Wellington’s CBD. I’m a […]

19 - 08 - 10

Kerry did such a good job taking heritage buildings off the protected list that she’ll be running out of ones to put back on. The biggest crime in recent years was the destruction of the marble clad P&O building, which is now where big corporate lawyers Chapman Tripp is headquartered. The first two floors of that new building are carparks, with much of the lower floor vacant. So much for the active edge. They could have easily incorporated the old building into the new, but money talks loudest in Wellington these days.

21 - 08 - 10

From the Dom Post Letters to the Editor this week: perhaps time for a quick answer?
OPINION: Does anyone remember Wellington’s “blue sky outer-T” competition?

Last year, Wellington Waterfront ran large advertisements in The Dominion Post’s “Our Wellington” pages, inviting ideas and suggestions for the development of the outer-T at Queens Wharf.

Several hundred people responded and the ideas and designs were displayed at Shed 6. Finally, last October, I and all other submitters were invited to a breakfast to be held at Shed 5, hosted by the mayor.

On November 4, at the breakfast, the winning ideas were announced, a panel discussion was held, and there was opportunity for a question-and-answer session.

The mood of the breakfast was upbeat and we were all encouraged to think that the winning designers would be brought together and an amalgam of their ideas would be created on the outer-T.

Last November 5, The Dominion Post published an informative article and photograph of the winning designers and their ideas. Has anyone heard anything since?


Kerry Prendergast
5 - 09 - 10

Kerry here again. there was a comment “Aussie Thunder” from Maximus 2 Sept. He comments that I promised trees down Taranaki St but they are not breaking out of the asphalt. No they are not yet. They are allowed for in our forward plan and budget is there for the detailed planning in the next financial year. However, they will only happen in conjunction with the Government’s committment to Memorial Park. At present that Park is tied in with NZTA’s investigation into the Buckle St/Basin Reserve solution. My vision is a tree lined boulavard up Taranaki St to Buckle St which I hope to see completed in time to commemorate the beginning of WWI in 2014.