An expert in engaging communities in developments will be among speakers on a panel at an architecture festival in Tauranga this week.

Auckland architect Benje Feehan returned to New Zealand a year ago after 18 years working in the United States.

Today he will be speaking on the Smart Talks panel, talking about how growing and changing cities like Tauranga can trial big changes in smaller - less expensive - ways.

He said he had worked in all sorts of communities on all sorts of projects - from making dingy alleyways into bright and busy urban spaces to building whole new suburbs from the ground up.

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There were ways to trial how a neighbourhood could work and function without just starting a huge, expensive project.

In Dallas, he worked on a project to convert service lanes into "living" lanes. They shut the lanes to traffic for a few nights and days to run some tests.

"We brought in pallet furniture and trees and lights and vendors and food. The plan was to get people comfortable with these new ideas. It's like rapid prototyping. You can also have a couple of people walking around interviewing the public about what they like, what they don't."

Mr Feehan said he also hoped to share his experience of how deep community engagement led to better developments that work for and empower present and future communities.

"We need to acknowledge the fact that change is needed and coming and how to make it in a thoughtful way will strengthen the identity of Tauranga."

NZIA Festival of Architecture, Tauranga

What:

Smart Talk panel discussion

Theme:

Placemaking and density done well

When:

Wednesday, September 13, 2.30-4.30pm

Where:

The Cruise Deck at Club Mount Maunganui, 45 Kawaka St

Cost:

Free

Entry:

Open to the public

Participants:

Benje Feehan - associate director, Ignite Architects; Michael Tucker - urban strategy manager, Tauranga City Council; Lisa Main - senior principal, Boffa Miskell; Bernie Walsh - implementation advisor, SmartGrowth.