Creative Community: Community engagement fuels Urban Planning proposals

25 November 2016
Preparation@VacantSite
The students visiting the vacant site in Kaikohe. Image: Te Rūnanga-Ā-Iwi O Ngāpuhi.

Mā te tika o te toki o te tangere, me te tohu o te panaho, ka pai te tere o te waka i ngā momo maona katoa.

By designing and shaping the keel of the waka to perfection, your canoe will overcome obstacles. 

When Te Rūnanga Ā Iwi o Ngāpuhi was looking for creative ideas and concepts to redevelop a vacant hotel site in Kaikohe, Northland, Ngāpuhi Iwi Development leader Tania Pene saw an opportunity to engage students at the School of Architecture and Planning to develop their practical experience and help create a space with strong community and Māori cultural values. An alumna of the School, Tania made contact with Lecturer Lena Henry to enquire about the potential of working the project into course work. Lena recognised the value for her third year students in executing their theoretical knowledge in a real world example for their second semester studio course. "The purpose of the studio is for students to participate in a live studio and learn the value of qualitative research, and this project allowed the students to interact with a diverse community grappling with multiple development aspirations," says Lena.

With the support of Jim Peters, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Māori) and help of a research grant from the Sir James Henare Research Centre, the students travelled to Kaikohe for a weekend in August to formally and informally engage with the local community, gauging their thoughts on best use for the old Kaikohe Hotel site. The students stayed at Kohewhata Marae during their stay, allowing for full immersion in the culture, applying tikanga Māori principles of engagement to assist in their research. "Sharing their own stories, and hearing those of the locals, gave the students a chance to connect to the area, the people and the project," Lena recalls. Through her role with Te Rūnanga Ā Iwi o Ngāpuhi (TRAION), Tania promoted the students' involvement and arrival to discuss potential options for the site. "The community were genuinely excited about their arrival," Tania says. "Many people were wanting to talk and share their ideas about the site, so it was wonderful to see the locals buy into the project and the students’ involvement."

The group outside Kohewhata Marae. Image: Te Rūnanga-Ā-Iwi O Ngāpuhi.
The group outside Kohewhata Marae. Image: Te Rūnanga-Ā-Iwi O Ngāpuhi.

The students gained insight into the history, culture and desires of the town through focus groups, interceptive interviews and one on one consultations. Individual proposals were developed for assessment, and then the cohort were put into teams to present one concept to the TRAION representatives. This allowed for discussion of ideas and demonstrated the collaborative process they will be facing in industry. There were overwhelmingly preferred themes in all proposals, based on the needs and desires of the community; from an attraction to make Kaikohe a destination, to a youth recreation space, educational facilities and community garden. Tania was pleased their discussions with the locals touched on salient concerns for the community. "Our people are keen on naturally produced kai, and it would provide healthier eating options as well as an educational opportunity by developing horticultural skills," she complimented the students during their presentation.

In-depth quantitative research also fuelled the recommendations, with groups working in a site content analysis, predictions and suggestions for potential issues such as ongoing governance, financial feasibility, lack of skilled professionals in the area, and proposing tactical urbanism and initial beautification of the site to aid with endearment towards both the site and project long term. Many groups also referenced cultural aspects in both the spirit of their concepts and the built product. Māori proverbs provided vision for the projects, while some groups referenced Te Pū o Te Wheke, acknowledging local narratives and prominently featuring cultural patterns in the architecture.

Both Lena and Tania were impressed with the quality and depth of the students' proposals. The experience will hold the students in good stead when they finish their studies at the end of 2017, Lena says. "While the theory of planning is valuable, they can now complement that with practical experience. Now they can say they've had the experience of working for six months on a real project that will make a positive difference to the community." Tania is hopeful that the architecture branch of the School of Architecture and Planning can be involved in a similar way in 2017. “I truly hope it is the start of a long term relationship with the University of Auckland."

For more on TRAION, visit www.ngapuhi.iwi..