Regenerative placemaking – what could it look like in practice? case study Auckland

In a recent article with the Future of Cities and Bill Reed, introducing the key components for moving regenerative placemaking forward we outlined what these could encompass. In this post I will explore what these looks like in place, in this case the City of Auckland.

The City of Auckland, has been employing regenerative thinking in the sense of re activating and enlivening the city as well as regenerative thinking in the ability to use the city to support social and ecological capacity building.

They have also been applying the concepts placemaking through very fine-grained testing ideas and engaging with stakeholders. The outcomes have been extraordinary in the revitalization of the city’s heart. For example the Fort street transformation “of Fort Street into a shared street resulted in a 54% increase in pedestrian volumes and a 47% increase in consumer spending”[1]; and Elliott street, where there was a 10% increase in pedestrians and 27% in spending (blog reporting on figures from Auckland’s annual report).[2]

Image source from case study written by the Global Designing Cities Initiate 2

Much of the work presented here has been ongoing for a decade, so the results have been built over time, collaboratively.  Below are some reflections of how we can map the regenerative-placemaking components across their work, this deserves a longer more in-depth case study but this provides a taster.

Transdisciplinary research and education, acting as a vehicle for knowledge exchange

When being interviewed Ralph Webster, a previous City of Auckland employee and part of the team which oversaw a number of regenerative placemaking activities, said that working on a regenerative placemaking development was “not just a team sport, but an intergenerational team sport.”

Ralph also said

The way the council works with each went about each redevelopment project saw them genuinely engage with each of the many many communities that make up the complex urban environment, combined with the way the indigenous people’s language and worldview is increasingly becoming a part of the everyday activity business of the city, and the “listen, do, learn, do…” approach, meant that the majority of Auckland’s urban regeneration, whilst not easy, is a truly collaborative process

And that making was together.

Living systems thinking, employed as a way of understanding the socio-ecological aspects of place

Being in such a beautiful location with the care for country so strong in the culture of New Zealand, the redevelopment of the city was catalysed by the Americas Cup in the early 2000s and the Ruby World Cup in 2011. This journey has continued at the work of many architects, developers and business stepped up to the potential of regenerative leadership, using their roles to support a healing of the land and its people.

One of the ways this is exemplified for me is the focus on government lead interventions that create the capacity for private investors and developers to walk with the government in creating a thriving city. From the design of the waterfront this meant starting with an “anchor playgroundRalph Webster not anchor tenant. And the design of an underground rail link which through its investment created a 10-fold investment from industry.

Playground, source Ralph Webster

Rigorous and inclusive community engagement to gather the patterns/essence of place, identify the values and needs of the present and past, and deliver an ongoing strategy for engagement at self, group, system actualization levels

The city of Auckland in their 2020 annual report sayOur urban regeneration projects need to reflect the people, character and needs of the area. Place-led thinking drives all parts of our business from design to investments, to the way we structure our organisation.’ This has built on the work of many people in the council, their consultants and collaborators. The Activate Auckland guide is an example of this approach to engagement. [3]

“In addition to working with all stakeholders in projects, to increase the vitality and vibrancy of a place, one of the most critical parts is to create the potential to have fun, laugh and to play, through the process and embedded it in the end result.” Ralph Webster

Wynyard quarter, source Ralph Webster

Frith Walker was an integral part of the way that the projects unfolded and their impact, she has a saying which is “Remember there is ‘…making’ in ‘placemaking’”

Ecological aesthetic (i.e., biophilia) and sustainability practices, assisting people to visualise a healthier living environment

Through out the city connection to nature is an integral part of how the spaces are looked at, from working with threatened species to how to plan green roofs and roadsides to support biodiversity. When I was there they were experimenting with green roofs on shipping container activation for insects and other small threatened species.

Image from Presentation of Ludo Campbell-Reid, international urban strategist and newly appointed Director of City Design & Liveability at Wyndham City Council

The city has nature front and center of its ways of working with future potential. This leads to human benefits as well with reduced urban heat island and the biophilic benefits of being connected to nature. From Auckland’s 2050 city development plan, direction 3, they aim to “Use Auckland’s growth and development to protect and enhance the natural environment” .

A wonderful example of this is how they worked on reconnecting to Auckland’s natural systems when rebuilding a plaza over the water to better withstand earthquakes. The plaza was also designed to support a regeneration of the local mussel habitat with the additional benefit of regenerating significant filtration capacity to that part of the water way. Further, connecting those walking above to the initiatives through looking holes through (artist’s impression below). This fosters a connection to the ecosystem of the water, the ability to live with nature and through human intervention to support both the ecosystem and contribution to healthier water ways.

“Divers have attached 38 seeded mussel lines to the underside of Te Wānanga, the new public space which reaches out over the water in Quay Street. With all 600 metres of rope, laden with mussels,  anchored in place, the kūtai / mussels will provide a truly living and organic connection between the city and the harbour.” [link]

Artists impression of Te Wānanga when completed.
Caption: Artists impression of Te Wānanga when completed [Link]

Programme Director Downtown Eric van Essen says: “This outcome captures the potential for Te Wānanga to encourage deeper understanding and appreciation of our different ecosystems and strengthen a living connection between land and sea in Auckland.” [link]

Downtown enhancements cross section
Caption: Artists impression of a cross section of the downtown public space both above and below the tidal line [link]

Regenerative placemaking interventions (i.e., pop-up parks, festivals), as a way of trialing programming and design ideas for long-term projects and planning initiatives. 

Testing it with the community is an integral part of the siting down with stakeholders that is an integral part of the City of Auckland’s processes. They have created a Activate Auckland plan created in 2015 to support the 30-year strategic redevelopment plan of Auckland.

Source: Activate Auckland 2015

My favourite story of the Auckland journey is the Pink Path. It is part of the Nelson Street Cycleway knows as Te Ara I Whiti (Lightpath or the Pink Path). It has a vibrant hot-pink colour which was a hard fought decision by the design team. It also has LED mood lighting system that constantly changes Māori name.

It was inspired by the highline in New York City and is now one of the must go places tourists like to get their photo taken if they only have a short time in the city.

Image source: Ralph Webster


The Auckland journey is one that started over a decade ago, there are still many things that are evolving and emerging and every time I visit I am excited and surprised at how much the ideas have been incorporated into the essence of life. I have been visiting since 2011 and its transformation, its life, and its essence is palpable.




About Dominique_Hes
Chair of the board of Greenfleet, regenerative development thinker, educator, author and researcher. I have a demonstrated history of working in the higher education and building industries in the fields of sustainability, regenerative development, systems thinking, environmental issues, placemaking Industrial ecology, LCA, Eco-Design and project management. I have degrees in science, engineering, corporate governance and a Phd in architecture. Author and editor of 6 books and over 100 papers and reports. Photo by Steve Scalone

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