A provocative question perhaps but one that many people in Wanaka and, I suspect around the region, are discussing.
That Wanaka and Queenstown are growing at a rapid rate is undeniable. The speed of growth and the lack of a coherent plan to manage that growth and ensure that it doesn’t overwhelm or destroy the community and undermine community values have been key issues for many locals.
Rightly or wrongly there’s a sense that we live in a developer driven culture. Not all developers or subdivisions are bad, but there has arguably been a tendency for developers to maximise their profits without concern for the community and equally a lack of oversight and planning by the council in establishing coherent urban design and sustainability standards for the respective townships.
That looks like it’s about to change.
On 26 July, the QLDC approved the go-ahead on the Wanaka Town Centre Masterplan. Most significantly, the council states that, “Engaging with the community is a critical part of the process”. The council wants the community’s help to “create a vision and cohesive plan that looks towards 2050 and beyond”.
Interestingly, the council is acting on a report commissioned from the New Zealand offices of a Canadian company called Stantec. The company’s tagline mission statement is: “We design with community in mind”. ( https://www.stantec.com/en/about)
Their report makes for interesting reading. You can find it here: https://www.qldc.govt.nz/assets/Uploads/Your-Council/Projects/Wanaka-Masterplan-2018//Wanaka-Establishment-Final-Rev-B.pdf
The report provides an honest and clearly spelt-out evaluation of Wanaka’s development to date, infrastructural issues and the need for an integrated plan for urban design and transportation for the future. A few quotes are enough to indicate why a masterplan is desperately needed.
- Between 2001 and 2013, the number of households in Wanaka and the resident population has doubled, and this unprecedented growth is forecast to continue.
- On an average day there are currently around 8,000 visitors to Wanaka; at peak times this climbs to nearly 35,000 visitors in a day. The impact of this increasing ‘peak population’ on core infrastructure and services in the town is significant.
- Two new centres are emerging, of a different format and character to the Wanaka Town Centre. The location and land use within these centres has been primarily developer-led, and there is evidence that transport and land use planning are not widely integrated. (This refers to Northlakes and Three Parks)
- As Wanaka continues to thrive and expand, the pressures on existing infrastructure will continue. Without an integrated plan and vision, and further investment to support this growth, the quality and reputation of the Wanaka experience for both residents and visitors will deteriorate.
- It is also recommended that an initial community engagement activity is undertaken to gauge community opinions.
The good news is that council is following the consultants’ recommendation and there will be community consultation in Wanaka starting in September, as advertised in the September edition of Scuttlebutt.
Why is this so important?
At a philosophical and policy level – it affirms the importance of social responsibility by council and their understanding and acceptance of the value and importance of community.
At a practical level – it means the people who live in Wanaka and who are most affected by growth have a say in how that growth is managed and in their future.
You’d think that both would have been obvious and essential elements of the council’s mission statement. They should be – but ‘Growth’ can have a blinding effect on councils. The bright lights of development, economic expansion, increasing numbers of rate-payers and the glitz and glamour of big-budget projects can make ‘Growth’ a cultish obsession and anyone who questions growth can be deemed negative naysayers, opposed to progress.
But progress without people, growth without community serves the few not the many and invariably comes with a downside cost – socially and infrastructurally.
We are social creatures. We do live in something called society. Our quality of life depends on our social connections and interactions. Our sense of belonging, our well-being and our happiness are integrally bound up with where and how we live.
Globally, there is an increasing emphasis on creating “liveable” towns and cities. The World Health Organisation has set out eight principles for creating liveable cities, bearing in mind the ageing population:
THE 8 DOMAINS OF LIVABILITY
- Outdoor spaces and buildings
- Social participation
- Respect and social inclusion
- Civic participation and employment
- Communication and information
- Community support and health services
Given the number of current and planned retirement centres in Wanaka, it’s essential that town and transport planning takes the elderly and their needs into account. In the United States, AARP, the American Association of Retired Persons has adopted the 8 domains of liveability and provides case studies of what that can do for ageing (and growing) communities. As they point out:
“By 2050 more than 20 per cent of the world’s population will be age 60 or older. Because of that, many cities, towns and communities across the globe are already working to address the needs of their older residents and prepare for future generations.”
The principles of creating liveable cities (and towns and communities) are not dissimilar for old or young. People need green spaces, ease of access to shops, medical centres, schools and libraries; they need affordable housing, community meeting places, traffic calming and transportation management, playgrounds, pathways and cycleways, access for mobility scooters. Much of this is centred on good urban design and planning that employs mixed-use development, connects residential areas to facilities and to each other and provides space and places for people to meet, connect and interact. Think traditional village. After all, as a species we’ve lived and thrived for most of our time on the planet in extended family and tribal groups or village societies.
If we ignore that and have growth without community, the consequences could be dire. Social isolation, mental health problems, family violence, disaffected young people, excessive alcohol and drug use, increase in crime etc.
The focus on community as being integral, indeed essential to development and economic growth in the 21st century is sharpening. Kate Raworth of Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute last year put out a book, “Doughnut Economics: Seven ways to think like a 21st century economist” in which she challenges the fundamental premise for modern economic theory based on self-interest and growth for growth’s sake and argues for an economic approach that factors in environmental sustainability and human well-being.
A high-tech and up-upmarket example of how town planners are making community the centre of development is happening in Cambridge, UK. The University is building an entire suburb for 8500 people as well as 2000 students. The driving principle behind this major project is a sustainable community in terms of both liveability and environmental sustainability. You can read about it here:
It’s inspirational – and yes, the budget is huge at £350 million. But the underlying principles are excellent, relevant and transferrable.
Closer to home, Hamilton City Council takes a strong interest in social wellbeing. In November last year they produced a major report, “Hamilton’s Social Wellbeing Indicator Report”, which covers wellbeing across eight key areas:
- Social connections
- Education and employment
- Health and wellbeing
- Crime and safety
- Civic engagement
The purpose of The Social Wellbeing Indicator Report is to “provide a framework for the Council to engage and lead strategic, targeted discussions with a range of key stakeholders on emerging issues and will provide a benchmark to measure social wellbeing in Hamilton.”
The report draws heavily on Community Profiles which the city’s community development team compile from surveys they conduct in eleven city districts and which are then correlated with data from the national census. The purpose of these profiles, as described on their website is simple but fundamental: The profiles are seen as a way to understand our communities better and create more effective planning in the future.
There are hopeful signs that the QLDC is adopting more community and environmentally sustainable policies. The Proposed District Plan which provides the ‘overarching strategic direction for the management of growth, land use and development in a manner that ensures sustainable management of the District’s special features and qualities’, lists the following criteria:
- Dramatic alpine landscapes free of inappropriate development
- Clean air and pristine water
- Vibrant and compact town centres
- Compact and connected settlements that encourage public transport, biking and walking
- Diverse, resilient, inclusive and connected communities
- A district providing a variety of lifestyle choices
- An innovative and diversifying economy based around a strong visitor industry
- A unique and distinctive heritage
- Distinctive Ngai Tahu values, rights and interests.
Which brings us back to the title of this piece and the QLDC’s plan to consult with the Wanaka community. Clearly, we must be looking at Growth with and for Community not versus Community.
The QLDC is to be congratulated on taking a more enlightened and forward-thinking approach to growth and development – hopefully putting the word ‘community’ in front of the word ‘development’, where it belongs.
The Wanaka Town Centre Masterplan has the potential to radically rethink how Wanaka grows and to ensure that that growth is centred around the needs, wishes and well-being of the people who live here. The success of the plan and a test of the QLDC’s commitment to the Wanaka community will rest on the questions they ask but more importantly on how well they listen to the community’s answers – and whether they act on them in good faith.