Rongotai Revived – a fisheyed view…

I have come to this a little late, as it has already been the subject of about 30 or so comments over on Eye of the Fish, and I did think that perhaps I wouldn’t bother posting anything on it given the stirling job they usually do over there.

Then I read the post.

Disappointingly, it is  knee-jerk culturally-elitist pompous rubbish that alienates the people who are going to be affected by the Rongotai Revived (RR) proposal, and does the cause of good urban design (and more generally, thoughtful socialism), no amount of good in the process. Looking down your nose at the culture of others is called all sorts of terrible things if the cultures are of another creed/race/sexual orientation/etc – so why is it ok to diss the activities of the majority of the lower and middle classes with so much blathering arrogance??The disappointing thing about the EotF blog post (other than lowering the tone of their blog – which is their right), is that it counters a logical argument with shrill rhetoric. Its only form of evidence employed is speculation, which lo-and-behold, supports their argument to a tee. The days of the carefully crafted position of WellUrban (which EotF is the nominal replacement for) are sorely missed indeed…

Ok, calming down now, what is RR all about – click on the thumbnails below (isn’t it a pretty letter?):

I don’t agree with the Rongotai Revived scheme, and agree with EotF that RR have indulged in scaremongering and willful contradictions to make their case stronger (e.g. a work-zoned area is not needed on the one hand and will thus remain as dilapidated/abandoned buildings, can hardly be reconciled with impending abattoirs, battery recyclers, and the like)…

Lyall Bay has recently undergone something of a revival, due in part to the presence of the relatively new airport ‘retail park’ (should be retail carpark) development – let’s not be dismissive about that because we don’t like them, but also down to other factors such as the appearance of a couple of cafe’s, a resurgence in surf club activities, etc. You could even say the area is currently undergoing something of a glacial gentrification as the elderly and low incomers are replaced by middle-class young families, and as older housing stock is made over in the best of our kiwi DIY tradition. Certainly, the area experienced one of the higher property value growths of the Wellington area in the years prior to our current situation, and even now, is not pulling back as much as some markets are.

Despite EotF’s amazing speculative ability, Wellingtonians do travel to the mega-malls – and not just the residents of the Northern Suburbs. The fish needs to deign to swim outside of its own little school of like-minded every now and then to see how life really exists in the greater ocean. The malls happen to be very attractive to a broad range of people – from the lower end to the upper middle classes – people who generally want to shop at one destination, where parking is easily available, and all of the major chain stores are located. That’s not me, but I am not going to deny that it exists, or that this group of people isn’t the overwhelming majority of our fellow residents, and nor am I prepared to assume any form of superiority over those who do choose to shop in this manner. I will admit however, that I do shop at big box retail when I need a number of large items from a range of stores (at the best prices) – something that would be difficult to do using the golden mile and PT combination – so yes, big box retail does offer some advantages even to those of us who do not count shopping as a recreation. It is here by demand, and I would suggest it is here to stay.

RR’s argument about the extra miles that this shopping migration encourages is interesting though, but, I think, needs to be balanced by an assessment of the roading infrastructure that facilitates this. Can the suburban streets of the Rongotai area (a far cry from the motorway and car-prioritised roadways of Porirua and Lower Hutt), cope with much more traffic; especially when it is suggested that the bulk of the traffic will be generated from the southern and eastern suburbs?

Any stroll through ‘high’ street Kilbirnie will show that it fails to meet the needs of its residents, and most will tottle off in their cars in search of their consumer goods, either in town, or to the mega-malls in our satellite cities. RR make the point that this is hardly sustainable in terms of the extra travel generated (don’t you just love the structural illogicality of their ‘sustainability’ argument when they are promoting consumer culture…). A revamped Kilbirnie might be one solution (and is actually on the Council’s agenda), but alone, is not enough to service the entire Kilbirnie, Rongotai, Lyall Bay area (if you consider the usual walkability radius and the like).

Now, I am not going to champion the solution offered by RR, especially as it consists of little more than big boxes amidst ‘greened’ carparks, but I have to say that the current use of the land seems rather wasteful given the land shortage that is at the root of our ridiculously-priced real estate. As an industrial centre it is not very intensively occupied, and is, as suggested, somewhat dilapidated and an odd fit in its contemporary context (it really is a relic of older zoning decisions – but lacks the ‘charm’ necessary for it to be considered as a ‘heritage’ area). A clever solution might incorporate the light industrial activities with retail, leisure, and residential development in a dense mixed-used development that provides employment, retail service and housing in one intensive urban node. I see that the WCC Centres policy document even gives the existing airport retail park the classification as a suburban centre – so why not actually make it one?

As a resident of Lyall Bay, I received the RR mailer in my letter box and was immediately intrigued by the logic offered, and the openness of those behind it (well, that they were prepared to admit they were from ‘big business’ anyway – which was pretty obvious given the glossy professionalism of the brochure). I do bear in mind that businesspeople are generally primarily interested in promoting their businesses, but am not of the persuasion that businesspeople are automatically bad (the poor-and-us-are-good vs the anyone-richer than-us-is-bad divide that typifies much of the more extremist left-wing ‘ideology’). Thus, I accept RR’s argument (except for the rather dubious scaremongering), that there is a general ‘need’ (read demand) for such a development, but disagree with their proposed solution. It is on the latter grounds that the architectural and urban design community should engage with the development in order to force a higher quality mixed-use solution… imho…

As for the fish, well…, everyone knows how a fisheye lens distorts views…



6 responses to “Rongotai Revived – a fisheyed view…”

  1. jayseatee Avatar

    “blathering arrogance”?
    M-D meet mirror. Mirror meet M-D

  2. fantastic response to the post over at the Fish. I’m glad to see we have some decent competition at last….

  3. heh – blathering arrogance seems to be something of a requirement for blog posting…

    Maximus – thanks for the compliment, but I should let you know that I dined-out on fish and chips last night…

  4. richard maclean Avatar
    richard maclean

    Greetings Architecture Centre – this text (below) is posted on behalf of Wellington City Councillor Andy Foster.
    Richard MacLean – WCC Communications

    …Good to see the interest in this issue.

    However it seems Rongotai Revived has slightly missed what Wellington City Council is proposing. The Council is not proposing to prevent ‘big-box’ retail in what we are calling ‘work centres’ like Rongotai. We absolutely understand that there is a shortage of space for these kind of activities because of Wellington’s topography. Most of the big-box retail activities like garden centres, DIY, furniture etc aren’t usually sited in established suburban centres. Most of them are used for periodic visits only rather than daily use. The main things things we are looking to limit in work areas are the high-frequency visit/foot traffic generators like supermarkets or department stores which we want to see as the cornerstones of our established town centres (like Kilbirnie and Miramar). Taking those out of town centres is likely to see the viability of these centres – as hearts of their communities – being undermined and replaced by a much more car-dependent retail environment because it will be harder to do a variety of frequent-trip activities (ie the bank, post office, library, small retail shop activities) at the same time as your supermarket visit.

    The other element of concern we have is that ‘industrial’ activity is also being pushed out by higher-priced activities – including residential. Such activity includes couriers, office servicing, catering, panelbeating, distribution etc, all of which are important to the city. To pick up Rongotai Revisited’s theme, we would not want Wellingtonians to have to drive long distances to access those kinds of services because there is no land available to them in Wellington City.

    Also it’s worth saying that the stuff about abattoirs and quarries is also scaremongering – as several bloggers have already commented. On that logic at the moment those activities that do occur in ‘suburban centres’ (ie the meatworks and quarries in the Ngauranga Gorge ‘suburban centre’) could equally occur in any other suburban centre – not just Rongotai South. Why don’t they ? Well aside from the obvious that they aren’t of sufficiently high value, dollar-wise, to do that, they would also fail a host of other rules in the Plan – think noise, heavy traffic, emissions etc.

    The final point to make is that in many ways this proposal is a return to the planning regime prior to the 1994 District Plan when Wellington City did have a range of industrial and retail areas. In 1994, for the sake of simplfying the Plan, these were all merged into one ‘suburban centre’ zone, which treated, for example, Ngaio village and Ngauranga Gorge as if they were the same. This current proposal recognises that they aren’t.

    Submissions on the pre-consultation on the review of the whole residential and suburban centre chapters of the District Plan close next Wednesday 1 April. After that the submissions will be analysed and changes made in response. The aim is to formally notify Plan Changes around Aug – Sept this year, giving a formal opportunity to make submissions. I encourage people to let us know what you think – the things you agree with, and those you don’t. When it comes to the formal notification/submission process you do have to be in to have an influence. We’ll keep you informed on the process.

    We are always happy to try to answer any questions.

    Warmest regards

    Cr Andy Foster
    Transport and Urban Development Leader
    Wellington City Council

  5. Thanks Richard,

    I don’t want to be the one to defend the RR development, but I wonder what your position is on the fact that the existing Airport Retail Park is indicated as an established suburban centre in your Centres document. if you believe this to be a suburban centre according to the definitions in that document, then doesn’t it follow that you actually do want to reinforce this with further high-frequency visit/foot traffic generators like supermarkets or department stores, seeing as you want to see them as “cornerstones of our established town centres”.

    I am only being slightly facetious here, as with the Warehouse already being the cornerstone of the centre, further development is only consolidating that centre rather than increasing its catchment per se.

    As for the pushing out of ‘industrial’ activity – wouldn’t it be better, for the reasons I’ve laid out in the post above, to facilitate mixed-use (given the fairly benign activities undertaken in the area), rather than relying on antiquated functionalist zoning regimes?

  6. “I should let you know that I dined-out on fish and chips last night…” i know, i still have your fish knife sticking out of my back….

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *