Designing with
the community.

Helen Kerr is leading the Awataha Greenway project for HLC and Panuku Development in Northcote. This is a transcript of her presentation on the project at the 2018 Urbanism New Zealand Conference.

The Awataha Greenway is not my idea, it is the Northcote Communities idea. But regeneration has made it real. My job is to help shape it and bring it to life with the community.

The greenway is, or has potential to be an incredible connector:
— As a physical piece of green infrastructure
— As a community connector
— As a connector of old and new pieces of suburban fabric
— Also it invites ‘connectedness’ – ‘the state’ of being ‘joined or linked’ and having a close relationship with other things or people

The Greenway will eventually connect Northcote to the CBD via the planned seapath and skypath, greenway extensions and safe cycle routes. It will visually connect the stream to the sea. It will connect fragments of space to the local ecology. The benefit of connecting smaller, independent systems into larger more complex ones delivers greater resilience. Making and restoring connections sounds easy, but of course on the ground it’s not. It takes a lot of time and patience.

The regeneration opportunity in Northcote enables a finer grain of connectedness that would otherwise be super difficult to achieve. In turn, the greenway enables growth and density as a significant chunk of green and social infrastructure and it stitches the residential and town centre areas together.

Right Locating Northcote with the broader Tāmaki Makaurau.

Awataha Greenway reference plan.

It connects old and new because it is made up of old and new streets, old and new parks, old and new civic spaces and communal buildings, and a piece of the schools’ edge owned by the Ministry of Education that are subject to a land transfer negotiation. The Design Guide and and Reference Plan were created as a ‘shared vision’ to be held by the mana whenua kaitiaki group. The Greenway Community Reference Group, the Kaipātiki Local Board, the Council family and the local schools. This was an important step, it identified the qualities of all the joined up elements and the network of spaces and functions across the greenway. This enables joined up design and delivery, even though it will be developed in stages by multiple delivery partners.

With the pressure to build more affordable homes to accommodate a growing population, comes the inevitable shrinking of backyards and private space. So, there is more pressure than ever before on our communal spaces to deliver the quality expected to support more people and their daily activities. Development contribution park provision standards in Auckland are now based on quality standards rather than quantity. Quality is measured primarily by size and function ie. spaces that are ‘fit for purpose’. But connected greenways in urban areas have the ability to knit multiple functions together – encouraging greater use, greater social interaction, and therefore greater potential for collective care and ownership. Ultimately a shared yard that is safe and familiar.

Below From disappearing yard (left) to shared yard.

Designing with community is a direct pathway to collective care and ownership, and in turn that is a pathway to welcoming new community. Kaitiakitanga leads to manaakitanga. There is often a fear that designing and creating with community is costly, resource hungry and unpredictable. That may true initially – but it’s also a social investment. And for suburban regeneration it also means earning a social license to operate in the area and make a mess through construction and disruption. A measure of trust, consistency, transparency and relationship building. By working with the schools’ and community we are able to establish a solid foundation for the future greenway and imagine the uniquely Northcote possibilities. The DNA!

Above The first three issues of Everyday Northcote, keeping the community informed.

Engaging with all ages of the local community.

Wellbeing is a state, a daily dynamic to be actively managed and maintained, and requires a shift in thinking toward the everyday opportunities for the whole community. In a child-centric view – the support of whanau and community, and access to nature in an urban environment, are key to healthy environments. In Northcote, the intermediate and primary schools are at the heart of the community. They provide an anchor through the process of development and change and a gateway to whanau.

Right Connectedness for
health and wellbeing.
Psychological / Spiritual
(Te taha wairua)
Social (Te taha whānau)
Physical (Te taha tinana)
Mental (Te taha hinengaro)

The brain map represents the idea of connectedness as a reaction – what happens when you make a connection and something ‘lights up’. A process that may be either subconscious or conscious, but neural pathway has been formed that can be replicated and reinforced. In pulling apart and putting the suburb back together ‘at density’ – we may sever some connections – but we may also form new ones. We are changing the pattern and programme of community in response to new stimulus.

In partnering with kaitiaki working group I was reminded that whanau, community and culture are nested in the whenua. A human-centred approach may in fact mean starting with the environment which sustains all life. These things can’t be separated. Sustaining life or sustainable development is our job. So it’s not really about the four interlocking spheres of sustainability with a tiny overlapping bit in the centre. It’s a much more holistic view of an integrated system. Natural systems are the ultimate innovators – capable of evolving and repairing to sustain life, even in an urban environment. This is the mauri – the health and life of a regenerating community.

The stories of the past – korero tuku iho – are embedded in the whenua, they endure and connect Māori to place, and acknowledge the mauri or life force of all living things. The Te Aho Māori world view is boundary-less. The Awataha Greenway is named after the stream that originally flowed from its hillslope origin, through the low-lying alluvium swamps, along the edge of the volcanic tuff craters and into the Waitematā Harbour at Shoal Bay. A key move for the Greenway is bringing that stream back out of its underground pipe and into daylight.

Above Mauri Model (Kaitiakitanga).

Below The Awataha Greenway and geological context of Tāmaki Makaurau.

The benefits of greenways for sustainable urban development are numerous and multi-layered because natural systems lend themselves to connectivity, as well as resilience. I mean this in terms of stormwater management – which is a big challenge for intensification, ….but also connectivity and resilience for human ecologies. With these multiple benefits of course come multiple challenges – they go hand in hand. It is not ‘Business as Usual’ to reconnect things. Especially when in multiple ownership.

Below Greenways are integral to sustainable urban development.

The schools’ edge portion of the greenway is where the majority of stream daylighting will occur. In the 1940’s the meandering stream channel was still visible, by the 60’s it was channelised when the school fields were filled and constructed, and today it is piped underground. The stream can’t be fully daylighted because of the velocity, rapid rise and fall and scouring created by the ‘unnatural state’ of stormwater management in a post development scenario so close to the town centre. But a controlled flow daylighting option has been developed, that allows us to replicate the pre-development base flows of the Awataha Stream.

Below Awataha Stream from pre-development base flows to today.

Part of the co-design process has involved education about daylighting. The community were not keen to have open water bodies initially because of safety and vandalism concerns, but now we have a shared vision that includes a stream. The controlled flow depth permits a highly interactive stream corridor for play and learning. Later this week, and for the remainder of this month we have a series of ‘Design-Lab’ sessions with local schools to explore and co-create an outdoor classroom design for the schools’ edge portion of the Greenway.

In the story of Awataha Greenway coming back to life and flowing to the sea, we find the emergence of a healthy environment – the visible return of wai and tangata – water and people – forming connections and converging within the greenway. These are everyday journeys that help define what quality means here and how it might be measured. In the words of Jane Jacobs – ‘in real life only diverse surroundings have the practical power of inducing a natural, continuing flow of life and use’.

Left Visualisation of the schools’ edge of the greenway.

To frame and build a shared vision with mana whenua kaitiaki and community we pulled apart the aho or strands of landscape and community to articulate what success looks like and how we know when we get there. As it turned out, success is broadly defined by health and wellbeing for this community. The strands are woven together to form the greenway. The aho are place-based, and they represent what is most highly valued by the community and mana whenua. To develop the aho we started from the big picture of the landscape and connections.

As a solid base for future design, we can now measure against the aho to test value and impact:

Aho taiao explores the natural environment and the stories of this landscape – ‘the whenua and the wai speak’. The Awataha stream corridor is visible, green, resilient and ecologically healthy.
Aho tangata is the second strand – a connected, healthy and inclusive community supported by a healthy habitat. The substrands from the bottom up relate to:
— Ara Hikoi – safe journeys
— E tipu rea – growing with nature – play & learning
— Hononga – coming together as a community
Aho toi is the cultural layer that comes from weaving the strands of the natural and social environments together in a way that is unique and beneficial to Northcote and its future.

Below Weaving the strands (whiria).

The matrix can expand and contract in depth and detail. The strands are interwoven with Te Aranga māori design principles, but they are also grounded in this place with the people of Northcote. So it is important to note that we didn’t start with a ‘tickbox’ exercise to align the Te Aranga principles with a design outcome. Our project partners helped build a picture of success from the ground up, and thread through the Te Aranga principles for a quality kaupapa.

We are now working with mana whenua to establish mauri ora indicators for each of these aho or strands, so that we can define the detailed measures of health from māori world view. By applying the design process to community collaboration, or rather inviting community into the process – we have been able to reach consensus more easily, and define impact in terms of direct benefit to the community.

It is not a huge leap to use the design process as a tool for working with community. It is a problem solving process, and the wide funnel at the beginning is the key. Our toolkit for Northcote invites hands on, face to face and experimental collaboration. If people are having fun (including adults) then they are more likely to be open and invested in the outcomes. Growing ownership and influence is a critical part of the change that happens with regeneration.

Toolbox for Northcote (clockwise from top left) Roleplay and storytelling, cut and collage, scale-up, voting criteria, cupboards of treasures, weaving our story.

Importantly, these tools create a ‘leveller’ for inclusive conversations, and an invitation to work together.

To test and develop some of these experiences and opportunities for ‘Aho tangata’, we used a roleplay and card sort technique in workshops with the community and schools. The participants chose a character – which may have been a grandparent, parent, teenager, intermediate or primary age child and put themselves in the shoes of that character to explore how the greenway could be designed in an inclusive way.

Participants chose ten image cards of the experiences they felt their character would most like or need to support a healthy connection to the Greenway, and arranged in priority order so they could tell a story from that characters perspective.From the stories told and heard, the greenway is evidently not only seen as a shared space, but a space to share knowledge and skills between generations and cultures. The results were collated as infographics and presented back to the community reference group and also recorded.

The final tool from the toolkit that I wanted to share, is the ‘cupboard of treasures’. We asked all the Community Reference Group participants to bring an object along to the workshop that represented something to them about the identity and DNA of Northcote and their connections to place. When people arrived we wrapped the object and placed it in a box. One by one people came up to claim the object, explained its meaning and placed it in the cupboard. At the end we had a collection of items representing the DNA of Northcote, each with its own story.

The cupboard itself was extracted from a house in Northcote that was being demolished and brought to the workshop venue. So it was also part of Northcote DNA. Collectively the objects speak of the rich cultural diversity of Northcote, as well as the importance of looking after children and whanau.

To conclude, I would suggest that quality can also be measured by how the community comes together to lead a project into the future. Quality can be measured by connectedness – as both a process and an outcome. And that this quality is fundamental to suburban regeneration. A bottom up meets top down approach. It’s in between space where design skills are needed to align community voice, with development possibilities.

Give a community a voice.
Have the confidence to be flexible.
Build good relationships and honour commitments.
Don’t fear uncertainty, be open to the unexpected.
Start conversations early – a shared vision is the foundation.
Don’t assume you know what is best for a community.
Be honest about constraints – they will frame conversations.
Define the problem you are trying to solve.
Find the opportunities to explore and test together.
If the process is fun and inclusive then people will open up.