The land on which Auckland developed was lived in and loved by Māori, the first occupants. The colonial city which overlaid the landscape of Auckland adopted ideas from the West in its street formation, piping streams, quarrying mountains, filling bays used for fishing, and draining wetlands. The city also demonstrated amnesia of some of the previous places, leaders, uses, and values of the people for whom this land was a home for thousands of years.
Auckland is now slowly decolonising to truly reflect the diversity of residents, to become the memorable city of Tamaki Makaurau. My ancestors William Swanson and his wife Ani Rangitunoa lived in City Rd in Auckland in the late 1800s and probably saw the Horotiu Stream being put underground as Queen St developed.
The public infrastructure and other works which are now being undertaken in the central city create places where both Māori and settler identity can be reflected; places where we remember our history and start to address some of the city's environmental impacts. The impact on water quality in city streams that drain into the Waitematā is one aspect the new infrastructure works are addressing.
Take a walk down to the new space called Te Wānanga by the Ferry Terminal. If you look over the railings, you will see structures designed to form mussel rafts and provide for sea life which will indicate the vitality of our harbour and marine life. Te Wānanga is for people meeting, talking, resting and waiting for others, but also for plants from our sea shore, and stories of mana whenua told through designs. This bold and innovative new recreational space was formed in conjunction with needed sea-wall strengthening and provides a space like no other city.
Taking account of 19 iwi/hapu who have overlapping interests in the city and reflecting their stories is complex. The infrastructure works which have been undertaken as brave moves to provide for public transport, public spaces and laneways have considered complexity and built links to the harbour with mana whenua as design partners. The solely local Aotearoa New Zealand teams have worked together to provide places with which all can identify, a decolonising project.
Decolonisation is about social justice, questioning assumptions, especially those culturally formed, linking communities, taking a sensitive approach to the expression of values, and reflecting Māori identity and values. While decolonisation is a process through which more equitable built environment outcomes can be achieved, it is also a process which is being tackled in areas such as health, education and housing.
The crisis of housing in Auckland has not been felt evenly across our society, with many enjoying the benefit of warm, dry homes near schools, shops and needed facilities. However, there are many who struggle to find and pay for a home, or need emergency accommodation. Decolonisation is about recognising the causes of this injustice which continue in Auckland, and which continue to need to be addressed.
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The new Matariki holiday to celebrate the Māori New Year is an opportunity to learn about customs, stories and knowledge with which we may have had little previous contact. The time leading up to the rising again of the Matariki star cluster signalling the New Year is a time traditionally used for reflection and review of the past year and planning for the new period.
We could use this time to consider our central city where I live and which for many years has not shown a friendly face to mana whenua, only recently starting to reflect tangata whenua customs and values in our celebrations and local places and spaces.
This reflection could include considering the impacts colonisation has had on the previous occupants of this land and how Auckland could move step by step towards greater equity and fairer living conditions.
Our cities, including Auckland, have always been Māori cities and, with careful thought, the customs and values of those who first lived here can be given space, and the environmental values of mana whenua respected. This, in turn, will make Auckland a city in which we all have a place of which to be proud, arrest the biodiversity losses, and address the effects of climate change.
Decolonisation is not an easy process and the trauma of land alienation, laws forbidding use of language and customs, and intended assimilation have produced intergenerational trauma. There is continued resistance to including Māori language in our daily lives and denial of our common roots and the impacts which colonisation has caused in this city and others globally.
With the new parks and spaces which start to tell all our stories and increasing knowledge of the foundations of our city, we can look forward to Matariki when all can celebrate heritage in Tamaki Makaurau.
Dr Diane Menzies, ONZM, is a descendant of Rongowhakaata and Aitanga a Mahaki, with Scottish and English heritage. She is a consultant and researcher on cultural landscape and environmental issues for Landcult Ltd, and trained as a landscape architect.