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Tāmaki: Tapping into the wisdom of the crowd

This article is part two of a series created with help from Tāmaki Regeneration Company.

Read the first part here.

For the Tāmaki Regeneration Company - the body tasked with rebuilding and rejuvenating one of the nation’s most deprived areas through housing development - international precedents weren't enough.

It searched far and wide for inspiration and answers but has ended up with a solution largely formed much closer to home, from the people who live there.

The plan is for the area that encompasses Glen Innes, Point England and Panmure to grow from a current population of 18,000 to 40,000.

Attracting new residents is certainly a goal. But not, however, at the expense of displacing existing communities. TRC is focused not just on building so that people come, but building in a way that they also remain.

That means avoiding a pitfall that has claimed well-intended regeneration projects across the globe: gentrification.

“There are all those jokes about vegan cafes and yoga centres but, actually, gentrification - if poorly done and too quickly - can be harmful to the existing community,” says TRC’s general manager strategy and performance Shelley Katae. “It either creates displacement or leads to social isolation.”

A fear of gentrification was what drove early resistance to regeneration plans for Tāmaki. Avoiding it has become central to the thinking of the project's planners.

The goal is not just to upgrade Tāmaki’s dilapidated housing stock, but to create meaningful social change for a community that scores highly on just about all markers of the deprivation index.

The concept of social housing as a safety net that provides temporary respite for the nation’s most vulnerable citizens has failed – at least in Tāmaki.

“It would be fine if we saw that it provided a safety net that enabled people to make progress in their lives, gaining employment, moving along the housing continuum,” says Katae. “But unfortunately, that doesn’t happen enough. The aspiration and the willpower are there, but the reality is that things are tough. Finding good quality private rentals is hard. Up-skilling and getting the confidence to apply for jobs that offer employment stability and career progression can be intimidating for some of our tenants.

“So our end goal – and what we keep our eye on constantly – is changing the lives of the community. Housing to us is great – and we are definitely doing our bit to creating more houses in New Zealand. But ultimately that’s a means to an end, not the end goal. The end goal is the social regeneration of this community.”

Given the development must also accommodate a significant increase in population density, the challenge facing Tāmaki ’s planners is a significant one.

“There’s no doubt it is a very challenging project, however, with the support of the community and everyone working together, we are confident that we will get this right,” says Katae.

TRC’s approach has been informed by a two-pronged research phase; it has taken on the lessons from overseas developments, and also extensively and repeatedly surveyed the local community.

“Our approach has come from international research but also from our own experiences,” says Katae.

“Having done this for a few years, we have got some ideas about what works and what doesn’t. We had a theory from the evidence base, from the research, and we have tweaked it over time to fit Tāmaki.”

TRC studied similar developments in Australia, England, Scotland, France, Netherlands, Scandinavia, Canada and the United States.

“When we’ve looked overseas the one thing that comes through loud and strong is that you must have a holistic approach to do regeneration,” Katae says. “If you concentrate solely on the infrastructure – you get in there and build new houses and invest in open spaces and do work in the town centre, you may get gentrification.”

One of the challenges with gentrification is that it can look like success. As more upwardly mobile families move into an area, social markers improve, suggesting the community has been uplifted. The reality, though, is that some of the original community will have been displaced, while those who remain might feel isolated and ostracised.

There is evidence to suggest people whose neighbourhoods are gentrified end up significantly worse-off, says Katae.

“With gentrification you end up with a community that completely lacks social cohesion.”

Concentrating solely on investment in social and economic programmes within deprived communities can also have unwelcome consequences. “As soon as they can see a new path they 'up and out'.

“They leave the area as soon as they possibly can – and they don’t return.”

Some of the overseas developments studied by TRC did achieve a level of social integration, however the blueprint can’t necessarily be applied to Tāmaki, which has its own unique challenges.

“The difference with [many of those projects] is they were taking large concentrations of state housing and selling it off to create the integration, versus the kind of approach we are doing with redevelopment, where you are going more dense,” says Katae.

“But we can still take a huge amount from those. We can also see what the counter-factual looks like 20 or 30 years on. In Tāmaki, there are some examples of quite highly dense social housing concentrations – and we know the outcomes that come with that.”

There are examples of the counter-factual Katae references dotted all over Tāmaki. Maybury Street is one of the most glaring. It is developments like this that contribute to the stigmatisation of the area – and Glen Innes in particular.

Breaking down that stigmatisation will be crucial if Tāmaki is to succeed. And TRC is confident that can be achieved. Just 1.5 kilometres from Maybury Street sits Fenchurch Street, a redevelopment that embodies TRC’s strategy.

Fenchurch Street is an example of ‘blind tenure’ – a street of new built houses in which it is impossible to tell the difference between state-owned, privately-owned or rented homes.

New housing on Fenchurch St. Photo: John Sefton 

Blind tenure is viewed as vital to removing the stigma around the existing, largely socially housed community and the creation of a genuinely mixed community.

Developments such as Fenchurch Street are designed with ‘bump spaces’ – places such as shared driveways or easily accessible community spaces where people will naturally be drawn together.

The early signs are encouraging. TRC says some Fenchurch Street residents who purchased their homes initially expressed concerns about having state-housed neighbours, however those concerns had since been replaced by positive views.

"Everyone seems to get along just fine. It is a living example of the new New Zealand: young, multi-cultural, inclusive, environmentally aware and socially responsible" says Katae.

While the attitudes of residents towards mixed tenure are generally positive across the three estates, they are significantly more positive in the New Gorbals estate, an area where high-rise apartment blocks were demolished and the area totally redeveloped. The master plan for the rebuild contained a strong emphasis on urban design, and the tenure mixing was significantly more integrated than the other two developments studied in the report.

The less successful redevelopments, Drumchapel and Castlemilk, were constrained by the incremental approach to regeneration and a continued lack of investment in surrounding infrastructure that failed to address the lack of existing amenities and facilities.

Tāmaki is an unusual project when measured against what has been done elsewhere in New Zealand and abroad, says Mark Seymour, a Melbourne-based brand strategist who consults on the project.

“The development paradigm is normally opportunistically led," says Seymour. "A developer finds a block of land, whether it is brownfield or is greenfield, and they work up a master plan and flog it to the market. The community side has traditionally been left in the background."

Tāmaki's focus on the long-term fortunes of its existing populace is what sets it apart.

“Over the past 10 years [the social wave] has started to grow. We had the environmental phase that dominated in master planning for over a decade. Then the social wave started to really lift. But I hadn’t seen [a project] before that comes from such a strong people place as Tāmaki.

“Over 25 years, I had never seen such a heavy focus on people – and how that related into the type of development you could actually create. It is always from the other angle. It is a breath of fresh air.

“The Tāmaki commitment, which basically says ‘we won’t kick you out’ - it is your decision to stay or leave - creates a beachhead that will help stop the negative side-effects of gentrification from occurring."

One of the key planks of TRC’s approach to Tāmaki is an emphasis on “placemaking” – making the most of the area’s natural assets.

While Tāmaki boasts large swathes of green belt, the majority of it is poorly kept and barely accessible.

“There are some interesting statistics about how living next to green spaces can have a really positive impact on mental health, particularly in lowering depression,” says Katae.

“We’ve got great green space here in the sense we have got a lot of it, but it is in poor condition. A lot of it is storm water drainage that you can't use."

“And just up over the hill you have got St Helliers and Mission Bay. A lot of people can get in their cars and drive up and enjoy those wonderful playgrounds and walking spaces. Poorer people can’t.”

Access to transport is seen as one of Tāmaki ’s strengths. Once the inner-city rail loop is completed, the number of services from the city to Glen Innes is expected to double from six per hour to 12 , with the journey between Glen Innes and Aotea Station cut from 25 to just 15 minutes.

TRC’s plan is to adopt, where possible, the successful international model of creating higher-density housing in close proximity to major transport hubs.

Panmure railway station has already received a $17.5 million upgrade, and an upgrade of the Glen Innes station is also in the pipeline.

“Tāmaki has so much potential to be realised,” says Katae. “It’s got waterfront locations, an abundance of natural reserves, a welcoming and diverse community, with great transport links that mean the city’s CBD is practically on its doorstep. It’s the inner-city suburb that is Auckland’s best kept secret.”

“Part of my role with Tāmaki has been to help people to think differently. To see a clear vision for the future. It is where it is going to go over the next 20 years. That’s what we are moving towards, this vision of a better place, where all people will be included. A place where people will flourish and prosper," she says.

Seymour believes the Tāmaki development has the potential to become a world-leading model.

"The other projects I’ve worked on which were social housing, the focus was on ‘just give us more social housing that is better’. They weren’t based around the community and didn’t have people living and working on the site and trying to implement new initiatives. 

"In the other social housing projects I’ve worked on the focus was on ‘just give us more social housing that is better’. They paid lip-service to community building compared to what TRC do. What’s different here is TRC is on the ground developing a new community where people come first. This people focus penetrates through all the work they do from master planning, to building houses, creating jobs, improving skills and uplifting education and living standards.

“If we can achieve that, mate, this will be one of the greatest projects in the world."

Factbox: Blind Tenure in Tāmaki

Social houses constructed out of same materials as private houses, are roughly the same size and have the same look and feel.

Spread out rather the being clumped together in large developments of social housing

New developments to include a mixture of social/state housing, rented housing and private ownership

This article is part two of a series created with help from Tāmaki Regeneration Company.

The first part is here.

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