There’s been a plethora of comment in the media over the proposed Wharf Street Hotel development. The Amenities Society would be interested in polling people’s opinion as to what they think about the proposal. So take the time to answer this simple poll. You’re welcome to make comments after voting through the polling process. Comments will be moderated and the poll is anonymous.

There are parts of Dunedin that let our city down due to litter, vandalism, graffiti and general malaise. One area that has concerned the Society for some time is the abandoned Kaituna Tennis and Bowling club on the corner of Serpentine Avenue and Maori Road. The club vacated the premises quite some time ago and the building that was on site was set on fire by vandals. This has left a waste land for vandalism and litter dumping that does little justice to the Town Belt or the neighbouring community. After inspecting the site with DCC Parks Officer Richard McAlevey members of the Society asked whether he could arrange Taskforce Green to clean up the area and remove the rubbish from the site. It’s been a pleasant surprise over the last few weeks to have seen the improvement that the Taskforce Green team have made to the site, with the removal of the redundant fences, graffiti covered walls and the household dumping. Here are some before and after photo’s showing the good work that Taskforce Green undertake in their community, and while it’s not perfect its a good start. Many thanks from the Dunedin Amenities Society, keep up the good work. Click on the pictures to view in a gallery.

 

Dunedin City has largely  been shaped by its natural environment, with its steep hills and gullies running outwards to the harbour and the wide flat estuarine wetlands of south Dunedin known as Kaituna. The physical geography dominated early colonial development around the harbour due to the accessibility to the port for shipping transport and the narrowness of the available commercial land for the early city to be constructed upon. As Dunedin moved from a pioneering city after the gold rush into a commercial and manufacturing capital, and with the expansion of the rail corridor, so the city needed width to expand and grow. Reclamation of the harbour continued to allow commercial and industrial expansion. So, the city that we know today is a historical, landscape and architectural narrative of settlement, expansion, growth and change in much the same way that Winston Churchill wrote ” we shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.”

The consideration of the future shape of the city in relation to development has been brought firmly to the local consciousness with the lodgement of a notified resource consent proposal to build a multi storey hotel on Wharf Street. The proposal is for a hotel of 27 floors (including a basement) which will contain 215 bedrooms, two restaurants, two bars, a swimming pool and will include 164 self-contained apartments. The proposed Wharf Street hotel has a dominance of physical presence in the city that has not been seen in Dunedin before. High rise development of this type has not occurred in the harbour precinct in Dunedin, though there are examples of smaller high-rise buildings  in the central business district of the city.

The development has certainly polarised opinion about the scale, appropriateness, design and connectivity to the existing built and natural landscape of the city. Accompanying those arguments is the perceived future financial benefits of the hotel to the city’s economic future and whether such a development will generate robust economic vitality and sustainability in Dunedin. There’s certainly no doubt that private sector investment in the City’s economy is desperately needed, as Dunedin grapples with the shuddering of the global economy. However, there is no in-depth analysis of the economic factors given in the consent lodged for the development. Indeed it’s one of the weaknesses of the Resource Management Act 1991, that economic “effects” are not included in the assessment of effects for any application. Which is why the Dunedin City Council must ensure that this proposal’s financial sustainability is investigated thoroughly and vigilantly to ensure the economic viability of this proposal. Moreover, that information needs to be made publicly available to reassure Dunedin citizens that such an analysis has been undertaken. Nothing could be a worse advertisement for private sector investment in Dunedin or our landscape for that matter, if we are left with either a half completed or empty hotel languishing on our waterfront for years to come.

The physical access to and from the site is less than ideal at Wharf Street and this raises the question as to whether the hotel proposal will require the upgrading and redevelopment of access so as to provide better proximity for the hotel and its users. That type of infrastructural change is normally the preserve of the City Council and deeper clarification is required as to whether the city will be asked to contribute to this aspect of the project, and at what cost? One example of the potential for the Council’s contribution can be found in the application documents and states;

There are (sic) existing pedestrian connectivity between the site and the CBD, the harbour edge and other key facilities/attractions for hotel guests. In international terms those connections are reasonable, but in the Dunedin context, they are less than ideal. There are other opportunities but they require input from a much wider group of stakeholders if they are to become serious propositions. These can be explored if others are interested.” The question has to be asked here “who are the stakeholders that would have input and what are these serious propositions that can be explored?” Does it mean that the Council will be asked to commit financially to dealing with the pedestrian connections that are “less than ideal?”

An additional proposition is described in the developer’s transport report that suggests;

“… Thomas Burns Street car park could provide an appropriate storage location. Survey shows that this is an efficient use of an existing underutilised resource. Moreover, it lies within 350m of the development site.” 

It’s worth noting that this land is owned by the City Council and if the mitigation of transport effects for this development are to come  from the use of Council property, where is the information from the Council describing that agreement? Other aspects of the application that directly affects Council owned assets include the shading of the harbour basin reserve immediately opposite and the spatial effects on the Chinese and Queens Gardens. Under normal circumstances Council departments managing Council property can be considered “affected parties” and can comment on applications in that role. The City Council needs to provide citizens with an indication of how they view those effects on Council owned assets and how they intend to protect or preserve the public’s interest in the management of those effects with this application.

The issues of context, design, impact on the skyline and other visual effects on the landscape are very subjective in planning terms, but are significant to this application if the city is to give legitimacy to its recently published “Dunedin Towards 2050 – a Spatial Plan for Dunedin.” Just how objectives and policies of the Spatial Plan will be adhered to with such bold statements as, “Manage the location and design of prominent buildings …and any associated car parking does not detract from the overall amenity of the city” or “protect significant view corridors from key vantage points to key heritage buildings, the Harbour and hills.” seems increasingly difficult when faced with this proposal.

The City Council must show some leadership here and endeavour to provide real answers to some difficult questions that both the developer and the Council have been eerily silent on to date. That means ensuring that the City Council as the consent authority and as a landowner asks the right questions before going to hearing, and shares that information with the public. Unfortunately, those questions do not appear to have been asked and we’re left to ponder what is the economic and physical prospects of this development. That uncertainty is not good for the city’s business and social morale.

The Dunedin Amenities society have donated seats at the summit of Flagstaff as a welcome rest stop for weary walkers and runners. The Flagstaff reserve is a popular skyline recreation area for walkers and runners as well as an important tussock grassland habitat. Part of the Flagstaff track was the original route north from Dunedin and dates back to 1848. It was also the first reserve in New Zealand to be protected under the Scenery Preservation Act 1903 which laid the groundwork for many of New Zealand’s parks and reserves. The project to install the seating that take in the panoramic views of the city was undertaken between the Society and Athletics Otago.  It should prove a great addition to the reserve and on a clear day be a welcome spot to take in the scenery.

Students from the Otago Polytechnic Horticulture course continued a 18 year relationship with the Dunedin Amenities Society with further tree planting at Craigieburn recently. The students planted further native plants on the Tanner Road frontage to add a visual link to the adjoining Ross Creek area and improve the entrance to the site from the road. They will return to the reserve on the 14th of September for further planting work to strengthen the southern bush boundary. With a stiff easterly breeze the group worked well in an effort to keep warm, and took the time to look at the historic and forest values of Craigieburn which makes the reserve unique.

Otago Polytechnic Horticulture students began planting native trees in the 1.5 acre grassy open paddock on the western boundary of Craigieburn in 1994, and after 9 years of hard work the paddock planting was completed. The totara, rimu, miro and matai have shown phenomenal growth and through the students work a new piece of sustaining native forest cover has been created. During the last 8 years other parts of Craigieburn have also been replanted with each new course group contributing to the success of the reserve re-planting. Otago Polytechnic Course Co-ordinator Lisa Burton and Craigieburn Project Manager Paul Pope were able to show the current students the positive impact that the preceding students had on the reserve over the last 18 years.

The Amenities Society takes great enjoyment in hosting the students and staff at Craigieburn, as their enthusiasm and energy is uplifting and inspiring. The project also serves an important purpose in the preparation of the students towards their horticultural qualifications which will hopefully inspire them in their own projects, future studies and employment in the horticulture industry. On behalf of the Dunedin Amenities Society our thanks for your efforts to make our site a great success.

The installation of art works in public places has not always gone well in our City. The sculptured teeth at Portsmouth Drive and the ephemeral installation of the “peep show”in the Octagon have been met with plenty of public derision as the public comes to terms with the works of each artist. The artistic merit of both works has been a matter of considerable debate defined partly by the public’s poor understanding of the artists intentions and the decision-making process that surrounds its selection. These factors give the clear impression that the City Council is both hesitant and confused over its role in the installation of public art works and why the inevitable policy review is about to be undertaken. Accompanying that review, is the decision to stop funding the programme until 2016-17 and provide funding of $100,000 every four years, as the Council gains a tighter grip on its ever decreasing finances.

If the Council are to embark on the arts policy review then it’s time for the City Council to look at its own performance in the arts world, and question whether it is the right organisation to be administering, selecting or developing public art in Dunedin. Perhaps there are opportunities for external organisations to better manage the process based on a consultative process instigated by Council in the newly developed arts strategy. Certainly the Council have a role in terms of the management of public open space where art would be installed, but does it have a role or experience in suggesting a particular aesthetic? The manner in which the harbour molars and the peep show were selected and managed as public projects reflect the lack of expertise and understanding of art and artists within Council. A criteria for public art in Dunedin might consider;

  1. How the work reflects the history, culture, landscape and topography of the city.
  2. How the work engages with Dunedin’s people and its community.
  3. A consultative process that initiates education and understanding of art or wider issues emanating from the work in the community.
  4. Whether the work can contribute to development or vitality of a community or suburb within the city
  5. A high standard of excellence that fits within the other factors of the criteria.
  6. How the proposed work responds to the context of the site in cultural, historic or environmental terms.

The real necessity of the arts strategy is not about the judgement of the aesthetic alone but the quality of the work based on the physical and social setting that the work inhabits. That means encouraging artists to work collaboratively with organisations who have  environmental, cultural and community interests so that public art meets the needs of the community in a successful manner. In short, it creates dialogue, between the artist and interested parties in the community, resolving the consultation process for the work to proceed.  If that criteria is developed in the pending arts policy, then the Council’s involvement is only to ensure the criteria is met, rather than judging the works merits in a muddled way. This also lessens the continued “politicisation” of art in public places by Councillors looking over their electoral shoulders when poor decision-making is made in the selection of works. Rather, Councillors could be more confident that when they finally see applications in committee, the criteria for new works has already been tested and their decision is a financial rather than artistic one.

Public art is always a subjective issue that some have no opinion on and others vigorously debate with a passion (though it may be misplaced at times). The polarisation of opinion is not helped by the insularity of the decision making process that surrounds its selection. What is clear though is that if Dunedin is to vitalise the city with creative energy we need to create opportunities for the established artistic community and our young artists emerging from the Polytechnic School of Art. That means creating an arts strategy where we engage and enable both the artist and the community together in something that will challenge but also complement our cityscape, landscape and suburbs in a meaningful way.

Read Art in the Heart of the City

The Otago University Anthropology Society undertook a working field trip to Craigieburn on Saturday, the 11th of August. The Anthropology Society is a Otago University student club that gives members interested in all things anthropological to participate in field trips, training, discussion and networking with other interested members. The field trip to Craigieburn gave the club an opportunity to undertake field studies including sketching and measurement of the byre and Mrs Sherriff’s house site on Tanner Road. Craigieburn is an ideal site for the Club because of its easy proximity and the documented material already available from previous research initiated by the Amenities Society. Craigieburn is governed by a deed of trust that requires the reserve to be utilised for educational purposes and the encouragement of that aspect of the deed is an important facet in the management of the reserve. The Amenities Society are always pleased to have Craigieburn utilised for educational and learning opportunities in a variety of fields, and the Anthropology Society were most welcome.

Arboriculture students from the Otago Polytechnic Natural Resources Department have been working at Craigieburn removing wind damaged and hung up branches from the significant macrocarpa shelter belt in the main paddock. The students are undertaking the work as part of their studies in arboriculture and provides them with practical experience in the arboriculture field. The students use their climbing, chainsaw and health & safety skills during the work under the supervision of qualified professionals. With the reserve open to the public the removal of the dead wood and damaged branches was important for the safety of visitors to the area. The work by the students culminates an agreement put into place between the Craigieburn Reserve Committee and the Otago Polytechnic to utilise Craigieburn as a training area for students training in arboriculture. The agreement signed at the December 2011 open day is the continuation of a 17 year relationship between the Otago Polytechnic’s Natural Resources Department through planting work undertaken on the reserve by horticulture students. It also continues the provisions of the Deed of Trust that governs the property ensuring that the reserve is utilised for learning and education. While there will be further work undertaken on the reserve cleaning up after the pruning, the impact has been extremely positive and adds to the safety and look of the reserve.

The recent Draft Economic Development Strategy undertaken by the Dunedin City Council was an opportunity for the Dunedin Amenities Society to put its views on the economic pathway outlined for the city. The development of such a strategy is an important step for the future of Dunedin, but it’s not the first time that the Society have advised the Council and its citizens that Dunedin has much to offer. In September 1888 Dunedin lawyer and Society co-founder Alexander Bathgate read an address to the Otago Institute entitled “The development and conservation of the amenities of Dunedin and its neighbour-hood.” Bathgate outlined a vision for Dunedin that blended the conservation of native biodiversity and landscape with the smoothing of the rough edges of the colonial city.

What was remarkable about Bathgate’s address is his realisation that Dunedin could play a major role in the tourist industry and that such an industry would become a key economic driver for the burgeoning Dunedin economy. Prophetically he stated; “Beauty in itself or in its surroundings is a pecuniary valuable attribute to any town. We have much to attract the passing stranger, and these attractions may be so added to that he may be induced to linger longer in our midst and perhaps even cast in his lot amongst us…” If he was prophetic about the tourism opportunities Dunedin could create he was equally concerned that Dunedin citizens did not appreciate what was available to them; “I do not think that the people of Dunedin as a rule are fully alive to the beauty and attractiveness of their city, and there are but few, if any, evidences of that love for, and pride in our own romantic town, which might not unreasonably be looked for from the inhabitants of such a highly favoured city.”

 It seems difficult to believe that what Bathgate wrote and presented to a stunned but enthusiastic audience in 1888 is just as relevant to Dunedin today. While his rhetoric and his belief in acclimatisation are typically Victorian, his passion for Dunedin and its environment are just as vibrant 124 years after the address was written. Indeed one could argue that his address is of even greater importance to Dunedin now, particularly in the face of the destruction of our built heritage. In 1888 Bathgate identified apathy for the preservation of such values that today we seem to have taken for granted. It seems that public apathy has continued to dog the city into the new millennium. Our natural environment and our built heritage appear to be at a crossroads in Dunedin, complicated further as Dunedin grapples with its economic path.

The Draft Strategy only deals ephemerally with the issues of biodiversity, sustainability, landscape and city vibrancy and describes Dunedin as a “compelling destination.” Yet in many respects both private and public enterprise have failed to invest deeply and meaningfully in a planned campaign to make Dunedin a compelling destination. In fact Dunedin sells our recreation, landscape, and ecology assests rather short.. Which means that we fail to reach our residents, potential immigrants, investors and tourists alike. Our public parks, walking tracks, heritage areas and open spaces are very poorly interpreted and promoted to a local, regional, national and global audience. So, if we are serious about creating new business and new opportunities we must promote as a matter of everyday life what our city has to offer as a lifestyle and landscape location to create interest in investment from other areas.

Within the Draft Strategy   four small city examples were provided as potential models for Dunedin’s direction. While such models are admirable, its worth taking a closer look at what these cities actually provide and what makes them attractive and viable business communities.
• Cambridge promotes its recreation and open space as well as its world-class botanic gardens.
• Leuven has outstanding, woodlands, heritage buildings, botanic gardens and city parks.
• Adelaide is one of only three cities in the world (including Dunedin) that has a Town Belt.
• Kingston is a premier cycling, outdoor recreation and world heritage area.

Each small city example actively promotes its environment and landscape as a key component to the attractiveness of their respective city. It’s the promotion of those values that creates an environment of vibrancy that brings people to establish businesses and settle in these cities. The Draft Strategy utilises the chocolate box pictures of Dunedin’s landscape and streetscape for promotion and effect, but look closely around Dunedin and there is a much deeper opportunity that is being lost here. The Dunedin Amenities Society stresses the need to create a meaningful promotion and interpretation programme of our landscape, heritage and ecology. Such promotion is urgently needed in traditional and electronic media so that as a city we can create the necessary vibrancy and interest for citizens and visitors alike.

The installation of directional signs at Craigieburn has now been completed to give visitors a better understanding of how to navigate around the key visitor sites within the reserve. Eight directional markers were installed by Dunedin City Council’s Taskforce Green team under the supervision of Project Manager Paul Pope. While the earlier installed interpretative signage gave visitors a detailed understanding of the heritage, historical and ecological values of Craigieburn, directional signs were needed to link the on site maps and new tracks with the access linkage to Ross Creek. The Taskforce Green team under the leadership of Alex Griffin have proved an invaluable resource for the Craigieburn project through their willingness to undertake some tough tasks in often onerous conditions. Many thanks from the Craigieburn Reserve Committee and the Dunedin Amenities Society, love your work!