The Community Wanted It
Updated: Feb 6, 2018
I didn’t go to university until I was in my early 30s, a wonderful stage in life to take up full time study. What was I training myself to do? I didn’t actually know. With six children and my love of children and learning, I hoped to be a teacher. A prerequisite was that I pass a year’s university study in lieu of a high school leaving certificate. This I did, relatively easily, and so applied for teacher’s college.
Unfortunately, it was the year the government in its wisdom decided there were too many teachers and so they cut back drastically on the intake. What to do? I was hooked on this learning and decided to stay and enrol in subjects that interested me.
I earned my BA in Geography and English, had my seventh baby in the middle of final exams, and took a year off. During this year we moved from New Zealand to live in Canberra, Australia. Once settled I enrolled in what eventually became a Masters degree in Political Science and Geography. We returned to New Zealand and I completed my thesis for my degree. I still didn’t have a clue as to what I was training myself for. Just that I loved what I was doing. But my thesis supervisor knew.
She helped me get a temporary position as a town planner in one of the local councils and I was hooked. Eventually, I found a permanent position. I was very fortunate that my boss, the City Planner, was committed to staff development and autonomy. I was placed in the forward planning section where my principal task was to undertake the urban growth strategy for our city, whose boundaries had been extended in a recent restructuring of local governments.
What an amazing time to find myself starting a new career. I made mistakes. But in the final analysis I’d be petty to beat myself up too much over them. My greatest successes, I believe, are reflected in the outcomes achieved by listening to the community and translating their desires into policy and rules. And these successes are many. Three of these are right here in my home city.
My very first task was to identify how much Council owned land needed to be preserved to ensure the viability of Horseshoe Lake, a peat lake by Hamilton Zoo. The intention was to sell off surplus land for housing. That process was predominantly a technical one. But we held meetings with the community to see what they wanted to be done with the land that would be kept around the lake. Today, 60 hectares have been set aside in what’s known locally and internationally as the Waiwhakareke Natural Heritage Park. Over the last 13 years, about 30 hectares have been planted out in the beginning stages of a 500 year project to bring back some of the pre-European biodiversity native to this area. What a joy it is for me to be still involved in this project that was envisioned by the community! The first photo shows the lake today.
The result of another task is one I enjoy every day. A ‘future road’ had been identified on the planning maps for decades, so long that people were beginning to believe it would never be built and many even forgot its purpose. Some bought existing houses within sight of it thinking it was a green space set aside by the council.
But, if someone wanted to build a new home withing 80 metres of this stretch of land, they found that it was still on the books as a future major road and therefore greater expense would be incurred in soundproofing their new home.
One such new home builder came to see me, furious that he should have to mitigate noise when the road wasn’t even constructed yet. His outburst made me think. I remembered my time living in Canberra where all the houses on the major ring roads were separated from the roads by earth mounds. I started to research the most efficient noise prevention methods and discussed these with the environmental health officers. A plan was formed and put into the “book of rules” putting the onus on the future road builder, not the house owner, to mitigate the noise effects of this new road. The new road - Wairere Drive - is now nearly completed and forms a ring road around Hamilton.
An ancillary and equally important roading outcome that I was able to influence was taking cycleways off the new roads, changing an existing practice. My time in Canberra showed me this could be done. In those days I loved running for hours along paths shared by walkers and cyclists, using under- or over-passes rather than crossing the road. So safe for school children as well. When I was asked to implement the cycle strategy for Hamilton, I found that method acceptable to and desired by the community here as well. Where it has been implemented in the new areas, it works well, and I also enjoy these paths as a resident. The second photo was taken by me of Wairere Drive from a walkway/cycleway over-bridge.
I’m proud of the work I was able to do, bringing the community’s will into practical effect. Very few people know the hand I had in these and other projects and that’s not important to me. I find great joy in seeing and hearing how the community enjoys Waiwhakareke, the treed beauty of driving along Wairere Drive, and using the cycleways and walkways. And my heart fills with gratitude that I was given the opportunity to work as a town planner at such a wonderful time in our city’s development.