20 Mar 2015

Ugly old town

From Nine To Noon, 10:05 am on 20 March 2015

Many New Zealand cities and towns are spartan, ugly and makeshift - designed with little regard to the natural world around them, urban designer Garth Falconer says.

He has spent eight years undertaking historical research to look at how our cities and towns were created. The result is his book "Living in Paradox - A History of Urban Design Across Kainga, Towns and Cities in New Zealand", which highlights the struggle to reconcile development with the country's climate, landscape and geology.

Which towns do you think are NZ's ugliest? And why? Send your views to iwitness@radionz.co.nz

Tawa Flat advertisement from 1929

Tawa Flat garden suburb [cartographic material]. The pick of Tawa Flat: 114 residential and eleven business sites. R. B. Hammond, architect and town planner. National Library of New Zealand. Ref: 832.47981gbbd 1929 Photo: National Library

Mr Falconer concludes there has been a reluctance to put serious effort into the planning and development of urban spaces.

"This lead to a fundamental disclocation between topography, landscape and urban form, resulting in a minimal, discontinous and eclectic landscape presence in the emerging urban environments."

Mr Falconer said Europeans came with ideas of how to design towns and cities based on what they already knew. This included the Protestant colonies of 16th century Northern Ireland and penal settlements of 18th century Australia.

But New Zealand's terrain, ecology and climate conspired to frustrate the end results.

The book's final chapter is devoted to our biggest city, Auckland, known for urban sprawl and traffic jams.

Mr Falconer said Auckland's biggest problem was not traffic but social division. It had become a city of two halves, divided by the woeful state of social housing, poor lending policies and too much low-rise detached housing.

"It is time to undertand what the New Zealand city is and to design and live in it with ease. This will involve recognising and developing a strong network of small towns, vibrant regional centres and outstanding metropolitan cities.

Raurimu township c1880

Railways construction camp/Raurimu township, central North Island, circa 1880s. Spencer, Charles. Alexander Turnbull Library. Ref: PAColl-6498-01 Photo: Turnbull Library

"We need engaged and design-literate communities, a shared high-quality environment and a strongly inclusive public realm." 

See more images from Living in Paradox.

Garth Falconer talks to Kathryn Ryan on Nine to Noon about his book.