Diversity in the Field

Stephen Quin 

The Purpose of local government is: (a) to enable democratic local decision-making and action by, and on behalf of, communities; and (b) to promote the social, economic, environmental, and cultural well-being of communities, in the present and for the future. (Local Government Act 2002) 

There are 24 landscape architects currently working across a range of divisions within Auckland Council, including its council controlled organisations (CCOs). These include Parks, Sports and Recreation Department, Waterfront Auckland, Community and Cultural Policy, the Built Environment Unit and the CBD Transformation Projects team.

Using recent examples of the Myers Park Development Plan and the Greenways projects currently being delivered for council’s local boards, this paper suggests that the diverse multi-disciplinary approach of landscape architecture plays a crucial role in enabling the stated purpose of local government.

 The Myers Park Development Plan is an initiative of the publicly elected Waitemata Local Board.  The design team within the Parks, Sports and Recreation Department (a team of seven landscape architects) were asked to lead and deliver this plan. Having influences across a wide range of disciplines including visual arts, engineering, natural and cultural sciences, landscape architects are an important resource where there are ideas to be formulated that are to be influenced by, and will influence, a range of perceptions, uses and qualities relating to natural and cultural landscapes.

 Myers Park is located in the heart of Auckland’s CBD, occupying a gully system formed by the Waihorotiu Stream - a valuable kaimoana source for Maori, before being piped and covered in the late nineteenth century. In reaction to developing slum-like conditions in the CBD, and under influence of the ‘City Beautiful’ movement of the time, former Mayor, Arthur Myers, donated the land to the people of Auckland in 1913 declaring: “The surroundings of our people should not only be healthy from every point of view, but as far as possible, the beautiful both in art and nature should enter into them. Nature should be brought as near to our citizens and their children as possible in a town”.

 

The original Myers Park masterplan developed by then Superintendent of Parks, Thomas Pearson, served the city well, particularly as a park for children after the Myers Kindergarten was built there in 1917. However, after nearly a century of development and changing uses in and surrounding the park, Myers Park has become isolated from its central city environment, severed by the Mayoral Drive overbridge and shadowed by surrounding tall buildings. It is a known trouble spot, suffering from anti-social behaviour at times. Despite this, the park remains highly valued by a broad range of people and organisations that hold various interests and associations with the park. 

To create a plan to reinvigorate the park in time for its centenarian birthday, the design team involved undertook a process of participation to capture and understand the diverse, and often competing, interests in the park. Internal and external stakeholders were identified, and a specialist research firm was engaged to explore current park users and uses, as well as possible future uses. A series of workshops were held, where surrounding residents and business people mixed with users of the park.  Participants were taken for a guided tour through the park, where the history and current issues were explained, and this was followed by brainstorming sessions looking at short and long-term ideas for the park. Key stakeholders were also interviewed ‘in depth’ by the research firm.

This process of public and stakeholder collaboration enabled council’s landscape architects involved to develop a shared understanding of the park’s issues, values, associations and aspirations. Perhaps more so than other professions, the breadth of influences and disciplines related to landscape architecture enables an understanding of a range of views and stories. This ability to understand and listen, coupled with creativity and problem-solving skills, allows landscape architects to interpret this community feedback into designs that are responsive to the landscape context, including natural and cultural values and processes.

 Preliminary ideas for Myers Park were tested at a public open day and through an interactive web page, encouraging feedback and critique. Concepts were refined and then reported to the Waitemata Local Board for their approval. The Myers Park Development Plan was approved in August 2012, guiding a programme of park improvement projects that will re-establish the original values of the park.

In conclusion, this paper suggests that the diverse multi-disciplinary training of landscape architecture plays an important and often crucial role in enabling and promoting the purpose of local government. Therefore, as a landscape architect within Auckland Council, the question – ‘what is landscape architecture?’ for me, is intrinsically linked with this purpose. 

Xsection Issue Two 2012/13 What is Landscape Architecture?