Visionary, brave ideas go far

By Ivan Thorley,

I have been watching the Whangarei-Hundertwasser debate from afar and it's great to see the local council taking on this public debate and moving towards a resolution. Something that needed doing. Bringing people with you is always the most challenging part.

I'm sure there has been many arguments put to you both artistic and business sided on the Hundertwasser issue, so I don't want to bore you too much with mine.


However ... I really believe that the relative amount of artistic activity in a community reflects its confidence or world view, and is a sign of where it's looking.

Whangarei could really signal its confidence and leadership if it moves forward with developing its artistic institutions, which have been critically underdeveloped since day dot. There is a real opportunity to develop Whangarei as an artistic and business hub.

It's beautiful, scenic, connected, fun ...

However, business development won't happen without the artistic development (properly managed of course).

This point has been demonstrated in attempting to turn Forum North into a conference centre and leaving out the artistic vision. More broadly, my living in London and previously Melbourne has demonstrated the point that quality business and art (cultural activity) go hand in hand.

I've also seen the support that artistic institutions can bring to a small city. I did an opera last year in Bregenz-Austria, which is a relatively small border city, yet has a huge opera house with a large floating stage. It has been built up over 50 years and now seats (just on outside auditorium) 7000 people per night, over a month during the summer, and is a major regional draw card.

My point is that artistic institutions are long-term projects and, if managed well, can have huge benefits. I'm not saying the Bregenz opera scale can be achieved in Whangarei, but if visionary, outward looking, and brave ideas are planted, the dividends can be far reaching.

Creativity is all about inventiveness and responsiveness. Art takes ideas, relationships, materials and turns them into something good.

This is what business does also, yet art and business are sometimes perceived as completely unrelated. Perhaps they can be viewed as opposing poles, which naturally should push and pull one another but must be embraced, balanced and managed with strong leadership.

So, from a guy who grew up in Whangarei district; with a single teenage mother and absent father; on the DPB and in state housing; who dropped out at Fith Form but was talented and lucky enough to become one of the top ballet dancers in his age group; had an inspiring local theatre at Forum North to perform in; who now holds three degrees to Masters level; and has toured the world and worked with the best local and international artists; and is only in this position because of the ambition of a community that looked forward and built a 300-seat theatre in a fantastic cultural centre, for which I am so very grateful for ... it is extraordinary (Billy Elliot I know, I know). And there is so much more to be done.

I love Whangarei, and only hope it can fully recognise its potential.

Oh, my suggestion for secondary use of the old harbour board building instead of Hundertwasser- more toilets but mightily grand toilets ... can't let Kawakawa have all the fun (and toilet tourists ... )

Focus should be on livable city

By Jeff Brickell ANZIA Registered Architect and Principal

This is in response to the article "Half turn thumbs down to HAC" in Thursday's Advocate.
Firstly, your headline is misleading. Re-reading the results of the survey on page 7 it is clear that 53 per cent of respondents were either strongly opposed or opposed to the HAC, only 28 per cent strongly supported or supported. The LTP has as its mission "Creating the ultimate living environment".

It makes reference to council "making a difference to the quality of life for residents", and "council's role to support our community's quality of life - both now and in the future". The first two core values for achieving this mission are given as: "Communication" and "Customer first". Presumably the customers being referred to here are the region's 80,800 inhabitants.

The approach taken by council with the HAC seems to be "build it and they will come", but who are they? The focus is on potential tourist visits rather than creating a highly liveable, vibrant small city with a uniquely Northland character, that the community is proud of and is the envy of many. My concern is that the HAC is a one-hit wonder, once you have been once you are unlikely to go back. Northland residents will be left with a white elephant.

If the mission is truly to "create the ultimate living environment", and we really do want to "love it here" then there are many more important projects to be investing in:
Create pedestrian linkages and connections within the city The Town Basin is cut off from the central city, providing connection should be the priority. We should create a strong pedestrian link from Rust Ave to the Cameron St pedestrian mall. Extend the mall to meet John St. "Pedestrian-ise" the whole of John St to the Town Basin. Build a pedestrian bridge over the reduced Dent St. The bridge should be iconic, conceived by local artists, and complete with public space on top of the bridge with views in all directions.

This way people can walk to the Town Basin and connect to the newly formed loop walk, stopping en route to get a library book, have a coffee, buy something ...

Create good quality public space and improve retail and hospitality opportunities
Prioritise people over cars in the city, extend the Cameron St Mall with retail to include the John St Mall with retail/restaurants/cafes/bars and al fresco dining. That connects to the Town Basin with open space, walks, playgrounds, microbrewery bars selling local beer and food, a smoke house selling locally caught and smoked fish, and gelato carts.
Utilise what we already have Rather than put all our eggs in one basket with the Town Basin, let the city have different "quarters" each with its own character. We have the beginnings of an excellent "arts and culture quarter" in Rust Ave comprising the city library, old library, civic buildings, town hall (Forum North) and the Quarry Arts Centre.

Cameron St Mall has good retail potential, this could extend to John Street and take in hospitality with retail and other uses. It is clear that the only option must be to conduct a review of the whole project and the Town Basin site and building it is planned for. These options must take a wider view of the city and consider what moves benefit the city, making it a more liveable, vibrant and enjoyable place to live, work and visit.