Written by John Williams
Number 254 Ponsonby Road, or Nosh to us locals, is very handy. O’Neill St residents Jen Ward and Chris Bailey are regular shoppers there and couldn’t agree more. “But it will have to relocate,” says, Chris, bluntly. “No matter what eventually goes on this site, everything will be bowled over. Nosh would have probably gone already if it hadn’t been for our campaign,” adds, Jen.
A little bit of history.
Turn back the clock to 2000, when a survey commissioned by the then Auckland City Council found Ponsonby was not adequately serviced by open public spaces. In response the council looked at, and subsequently bought 254 Ponsonby Road with a view to developing part of it as a public space.
Fast forward to July 2013, when the draft Ponsonby Road Master Plan was released. At that point, the Waitemata Local Board revisited the use of the site, throwing the question back to the public and asking them what they wanted? This is when Jen and Chris got involved, almost singlehandedly raising a 1,200-signature petition that clearly said – don’t waste the site, intensification is already here, please use the whole site for a public space to support this intensification
“Because our petition raised so much interest, the board decoupled the site from the master plan, so that more investigation could be made into what to do with the space,” says, Chris. “Following another public consultation, 77% of the respondents said they wanted a whole of site open public space.”
Community led design
“Unfortunately, there was no money to develop the site, but there was very strong public feeling,” says, Jen. “They needed a cost neutral option to progress the desired outcome, so decided to trial a community led design process.
“We had the infectious vision,” says, Chris. “We could see what could be done, and we got enthusiastic about it. As soon as people understood the options, they got excited, too”.
“We provided the focus for those things to crystallise around,” adds, Jen. “Anything that happens within the community needs someone to nurture and look after it. It doesn’t happen by accident. It takes an incredible amount of time and determination and vision.”
They have spent two-and-a-half years, out on Ponsonby Road with homemade ginger beer and brownies, spreading the word, informing and questioning the public as to what could be possible for the space. They also started working with School of Architecture students from Auckland University who chose the site as their main project for the last semester of their third year of study. After twelve weeks, nine of the 23 students involved presented their work at a recent public consultation event, held at Boy & Bird restaurant on Ponsonby Road.
“The exhibition really encapsulated why the park needs to be here. There was such a buzz on the day,” says, Jen. “Consider this. When the Waitemata Board did their consideration for Myers Park, they got 43 submissions. When they did Grey Lynn Park, they got under 70. We got 110 at one single event.”
“We’re going to take the best of the student concept ideas, as chosen by the public, blend them with the strong feedback we have already received from our earlier community consultation, then distil, analyse, quantify and finally create a design brief,” she says. “We will then approach a number of professional landscape architecture firms to ask them to do some pro bono work, and develop this vision into a concept for the site.”
In February, they plan to take the designs from the landscape architects back to the public to make a final choice. “We’ll then present the results to the Waitemata Local Board, saying, here’s the design, here’s the price, please go and advocate for this on our behalf as you promised you’d do,” says, Chris.
“Although there’s no money in the kitty right now, they will be re-budgeting at this time next year, and our design will be in the mix. That’s why it’s important to show the groundswell of enthusiasm for the project.”
“I imagine a space not unlike Wynyard Quarter… vibrant, urban, all-weather, and accessible for all people,” says, Chris. “Locals and visitors will know it’s here. They will see the space and be drawn to it”.
“Overall, it will be a magnificent open space, a community hub, with a full programme of events, from art installations to a regular authentic farmer’s market. And it will intensify the diverse and inclusive community flavour that Ponsonby is so proud of.”