EPISODE SUMMARY: On this episode of Indigenous Urbanism, we travel to Porirua, Wellington to learn about Imagining Decolonised Cities, a project designed to stimulate discussion around what our cities could look, feel, sound, taste and smell like if they were decolonised.
GUESTS: Rebecca Kiddle, Fiona Ting, Jessica Hulme
Jade Kake v/o: If we walk around our cities in Aotearoa, they feel like colonial spaces. This is changing, slowly, but on the whole they don’t feel very Māori. In general, they don’t reflect the hau kāinga or local people of that place.
Our cities in New Zealand have, for the most part, taken shape according to Eurocentric values. Pre- and early- European contact, Māori had kāinga and pā where all the major cities were founded, but were dispossessed of their land in order for these cities to be built.
Māori concerns have historically been understood as rural despite the fact that most Māori live in cities, and urban spaces are turangawaewae for a number of iwi and hapū.
So, what is a decolonised city anyway?
Rebecca Kiddle: We wanted to explore this idea of decolonisation, and that really started from not really understanding what that might mean, in relation, particularly to the build environment. New Zealand often understands itself to be a rural place. And maybe you've heard people talk about this before, but we're one of the most urbanised countries in the world, and yet we still understand ourselves to be, you know, people with sheep basically. The reasons for exploring that are, that it becomes pretty problematic if we conceptualise ourselves to be rural, in relation to Māori identity. So what I think happens, is people understand Māori-ness to be a rural thing. It's not an urban thing, it's not something that’s relevant to the City, and that’s problematic in two ways. First of all it kind of dismisses the mana of the iwi and hapū, for whom these places are theirs. So, Te Ātiawa, Ngāti Toa, Ngāti Whātua in Auckland, and so on. It means that their identities aren't represented well in the built environment. I think the second is really about a sort of general kind of erasure of indigeneity in the built environment.
JK v/o: Tēnā koutou katoa
Nau mai haere mai ki te Indigenous Urbanism, Aotearoa Edition, Episode 18.
I’m your host Jade Kake and this is Indigenous Urbanism, stories about the spaces we inhabit, and the community drivers and practitioners who are shaping those environments and decolonising through design.
On this episode of Indigenous Urbanism we travel to Porirua to learn about Imagining Decolonised Cities, a project designed to stimulate discussion around what our cities could look, feel, sound, taste and smell like if they were decolonised.
The project did this through eliciting utopian ideas for a decolonised city through a public urban design competition, and a public symposium where speakers were invited to respond to the provocation ‘What is a decolonised city?’
We spoke with Dr. Rebecca Kiddle, nō Ngāti Porou raua ko Ngāpuhi, a senior lecturer at Victoria University of Wellington, and leader of the Imagining Decolonised Cities project.
RK: I te taha tōku kuia nō Ngāpuhi. I te taha tōku koroua, ko Hikurangi te maunga, ko Waiapu te awa, ko Ngāti Porou te iwi. I tipu ake au i Heretaunga, ko Becky Kiddle tōku ingoa. So I'm Ngāti Porou and Ngāpuhi, but I grew up in Kahungunu territory, and yeah, my name's Becky Kiddle and I'm a senior lecturer in environmental studies at Victoria University.
JK: Could you talk us through the project, and how it came about?
RK: That project came about cause I had spent a few years overseas. So I was overseas for about ten years, and I came back and sort of felt a little bit like our built environments hadn't moved on all that much, since I had left. There was obviously some real gains in some areas of the country, particularly around uptake of the Te Aranga principles in Auckland. But for the most part Māori were seen to be excluded from decision making processes around, just the form and function of our cities. In parallel with that, there was a real sense of pain, I guess, amongst Māori communities, around what cities were and meant to them. And that pain is for obvious reasons, all the government policies post-World War 2 that led Māori into the cities, and led to the demise of things like culture and language, and has caused a whole lot of pain amongst many Māori communities. Those are those coming from other rohe to be in the cities, but there's also pain amongst iwi for whom the city has always been their papakāinga or their tūrangawaewae or whatever. So, a sort of double-edged pain going on around cities and Māori. But I think the problem of conceptualising cities as all being about painful reminders of terrible government policy, is that we can miss out on the opportunities of cities, which I think there are many. And many of us younger Māori are quite keen to live in cities, because there's lots of opportunities to be who you want to be, and live in ways that you want to live. But there obviously could be more in terms of cities supporting Māori tīkanga, and just ways of being I guess. So, talking to some colleagues around the place here at Vic, we decided that we would really like to explore this idea of decolonisation. And it's kind of a lofty term decolonisation, it's used often in very highfalutin ways, and I was like, well what does that mean, exactly? What does it really, really mean. And, I think sometimes it's quite hard to make tangible the notion of decolonisation. So, the whole project was really about us trying to work out what decolonisation means for cities, and doing that in what we hoped was quite a democratic way actually. By opening up this competition to New Zealanders - all New Zealanders, not just Māori - and the reason it wasn't just for Māori is because we were very firmly of the opinion that decolonisation - whatever that might mean - is the work of everyone, not just Māori. Māori are so overcapitalised - is that the right word? They're drawn to be involved in a whole heap of things, and capacity is pretty low in terms of ability to be able to influence a whole host of things. So, decolonisation's got to be a shared effort, if we're actually ever going to achieve it. So, that was the impetus really, was about getting some tangible ideas about what it might mean for the built environment.
JK: Could you tell us about the competition?
RK: So the competition was funded by UNESCO, well the New Zealand arm of UNESCO, I think it's called the National Commission for UNESCO. And as I said, we opened it up to anyone, but we were particularly interested in three categories - so, under 18 year olds, we wanted a youth perspective, and the reason we wanted a youth perspective is because, our thinking was, that often young people are less muddied, I guess, by the impact of colonisation, and so we were hoping that they would have some really great ideas that perhaps are not rooted in a real strongly held sense of the impact of colonisation, which I think many of us older generation might have. And then we wanted to open it up to the general public, so we were really clear that we wanted anyone to be able to be involved in the competition, because those who live in cities are experts in living in cities, so therefore, why wouldn't they have good ideas in thinking about decolonisation for cities. And then finally, we were keen to involve professionals as well, because it's their bread and butter, and we wanted to see if they also had some interesting ideas for the city. With the young people, we were quite clear that we wanted to make sure that they felt able to participate. So we were concerned that if we just threw it open, young people might not necessarily take part. So we worked with secondary school aged children at Aotea and Mana colleges in Porirua, and we did a couple of two to three day wānanga with students to teach them and give them some urban design skills, and some communication skills that they might use to enter the competition. And a lot of them did enter. Not everyone entered, but many of them did enter, but in the meantime they got to experience the architecture school at Vic, and see what it might be like to come to university, and just give them some opportunities to understand what university life might be so they might be interested in coming.
JK v/o: The public urban design competition encouraged people to think about how we might ‘decolonise’ cities in Aotearoa New Zealand.
Two sites, at two different scales were offered on which to consider the question ‘What is a decolonised city?’ At the larger scale is the Onepoto arm of the Te Awarua o Porirua and shoreline.
RK: Partly we chose that because with a new roading system, transmission gully, the Eastern side of that harbour is going to change dramatically over the next few years, and the local Council were keen to get ideas about how they might redevelop the harbour. The harbour also was a key site for Ngāti Toa Rangatira, the local iwi. It was their food basket, and it was also the place where they went to heal over the years, and often due to government policy - like the Public Works Act - the harbour had been systematically polluted, and now is somewhere that they can no longer collect kai moana, or go to bathe.
JK v/o: At the smaller scale is a papakāinga site owned by the Parai whānau. One of the impacts of colonisation was the loss of what is now urban land from iwi and hapū ownership. In Porirua, Ngāti Toa Rangatira lost many acres of land, often via the Public Works Act.
RK: We had a papakāinga site, which was based on some land that a local whānau, the Parai whānau, had actually bought back from the government, despite it being taken from them. Under the Public Works Act, they fought for many years, and finally were able to purchase it back. And their vision is to develop a papakāinga for their whānau on this piece of land.
JK v/o: I teamed up with fellow architecture graduate Jessica Hulme, and landscape architecture graduates Fiona Ting and Tosh Graham, to create a competition entry for the papakāinga site.
Our team sat down to have a kōrero with Symon Palmer nō Ngāi Te Rangi, a researcher on the Imagining Decolonised Cities project.
Symon Palmer: Obviously a group that participated in the competition here. How did you guys all come together to work on this project?
Jessica Hulme: So we had mutual friends.
JK v/o: That’s Jessica Hulme.
JH: I think we all heard about this separately, and then we wanted to start up a group. And then Fi's friends with Tosh who's also part of the group, and I know Jade from studying with her at Unitec, and doing Māori studio. So we all grouped together.
SP: So, between you, how would you define decolonisation? Or how did you define it in the project as a team?
JK: A big part of the way we described it in the project was around reoccupying whenua Māori as a political and decolonising act, because I suppose one of the big kaupapa for me, well, possibly my life's work actually, is around rebuilding our kāinga, you know, both in terms of socially and economically, and how we can return to the best of a land-based and interconnected, inter-dependant approach, but also taking on the best of new technology. So for me that's kind of the heart of decolonisation, because I think that means that, you know, we're able to provide for ourselves, provide for our children, and resume our roles as kaitiaki, whilst also circumventing or having an alternative to free-market capitalism, which is the dominant system of the day. And I do think it has the opportunity to be both politically and economically transformative.
Fiona Ting: I suppose in the context of the particular site that we looked at.
JK v/o: That’s Fiona Ting.
FT: Decolonisation was really about how do we enable this whānau to setup their homes in a way that's going to best serve them, and obviously there was a tension, the fact that it was a competition and we didn't have any meaningful relationships with the whānau, but I guess it was about like, what does tino rangatiratanga look like, on their land, I guess, in designing the papakāinga.
JH: It was a cool opportunity to design something, like what these guys were saying, for self-determination.
JH: I think that’s a big thing that’s been missing in, maybe like all realms of society. And this could be a good platform for Porirua in including mana whenua, as well as the community. I think engaging them, although we weren't able to actually go to them, I think it was a real cool idea that it got this real big focus, universities and people looking at it, and it really highlighted what, even like what Jade's been working on for quite a while, but then all of a sudden people are like, oh aye, actually this is insane, this is good, this is better. Like, it's grassroots up, and it's everything that we want for our people, it’s our own ideas that are best for ourselves, and going back to that.
SP: I’m just wondering what Māori values you considered in your design process?
JK: I would say that we didn't necessarily consider Māori values, I think we considered the values that that whānau was saying, well they told the researchers team in the development of that brief. So they were quite clear about the fact that, you know, whānau was very important to them, caring for each other was important to them, they had large families with lots of kids, the importance of sports, relationship with their harbour, and the ability to collect kai, the stories about their grandparents. You know, I think they kind of, well we didn't, weren't involved with that brief development process, but I think it was quite thorough, and I'm sure we would have learnt new things if we'd been able to talk to them and work with them directly. So really just tried to respond to those things, rather than applying any kind of generic Māori values.
SP: In the area, in Porirua, there’s quite a mixture of people. Obviously the project was geared towards the tangata whenua. I’m wondering if you were considering any other identities in that region as well? Incorporated in your project I mean?
FT: I think the nature of the site that we looked at, probably didn't really feel like it was high on the priority list. But, yeah, I think it's interesting, it would have been interesting, and maybe we'll soon hear the answers of how the groups that tackled the wider Porirua site incorporated or didn’t incorporate those values.
JK: So we did talk about what if we built at a higher density, and what would be the implications of that? And as we talked about it as a group, we kind of rationalised that the only way that would make sense would be if you considered the wider context, and kind of masterplanned that wider area, and looked at how that density might increase over time. And it wouldn't have made sense to do it in isolation on that site without that explanation. And so I think if you undertook that exercise that would mean kind of looking at people's comfort with density, and how cultural values and demographics might have an impact on that, perhaps.
SP: How was mana whenua catered for in your design process?
JK: Well, not really at all because it wasn't allowed by the competition. But we did allude to the process that we would look to undertake if this was being done as a real project. So yeah, we outlined that briefly in the one page text document. But as it was we didn’t have access to the key people, and all we had was the written brief provided. And yeah, I don't know, is it worth talking about what the process might be like otherwise?
SP: Sure, yeah, yeah
JK: Well I'll just talk briefly about some of the processes I use, and I'm sure others will have similar or complementary kind of methods. So a lot of the stuff in my work will involve kind of, starting with hui and just starting to build consensus around the idea of the project, it might involve hīkoi over the land, it might involve sharing stories about the whenua and the experiences on it, which can be used to produce oral histories, and cultural maps that would go alongside more conventional site analysis and inventory, and it might involve going through participatory design wānanga to talk through options and test ideas and socialise ideas, I think is a big part of it. So I quite like using kit of parts type setups, but I'm interested in how new technology could be utilised in that process as well. Although sometimes simplest is best.
FT: I think Jade outlined a lot of the different processes that you might usually use in a project like that, in real life. And you kind of alluded to like how new technologies can be utilised for kind of accelerating or helping co-design with mana whenua. One of the, I just thought I'd mention one of the projects I've been working on recently, we're working with a mana whenua group in Auckland and yeah, just using things like, we've kind of been experimenting with, when we socialise ideas, like a 3d model that they can actually like play around and use a touch screen with, and like move different elements and that's just been for like a little project, we're designing a nursery that they run. [/22.22]
SP: You’ve kind of touched on it, but just a bit more on your motivation to participate in this project.
FT: Honestly, it was probably one of the first times I’d seen something, like a public competition, or a very public project, talking about both decolonisation and what that looks like in the built form or the urban form in particular. Obviously there's lots of good work that's already happening, but, yeah, I think often there's talk in non-indigenous spaces, or like, majority non-indigenous spaces, there's talk about indigenous design or working with mana whenua, but no explicitly talking about decolonisation and what that process might look like in design. So, I was really interested to enter and work with other people who either had experience in this or were also interested.
JH: This sort of thing has always kind of interested me, but I think it wasn’t until I was doing my thesis work that was actually based in the islands. So I'm part Samoan, part Māori. But I still felt like going over there and helping with reconstruction, and seeing who was involved and the stakeholders, I still felt like the other. And I could also see the power dynamics that were happening as well, and how it wasn't quite reaching the community, or different dynamics like that. And valuing more tīkanga practice that is right for their own communities, and where they're from, yeah. Just other people coming in with their own ideas, which is more like colonisation all over again, it was a real struggle seeing that happen on the islands. So, I think that coming back here and then seeing this competition happening, it felt right, this is something that should be happening on a broader scale.
JK v/o: We asked Rebecca about the kind of entries the urban design competition attracted.
RK: We got, I think, 42 entries in the end. The other thing that we did to make it accessible was we allowed people to submit in whatever medium or mode that they wished. So we got poems, and masterplans, and haka, and waiata. We got a board game, essays, all sorts of submissions, which allowed people to submit in a way that they felt most comfortable submitting. What we got back was some really, really interesting ideas - and some quite controversial, actually - about how to decolonise the place. We got back some quite traditional ideas about almost reinstating the land to what it was, sort of redeveloping pā sites with ponga fences and that kind of thing, right through to more temporary interventions in the landscape. So not exactly built form, but little interventions that might be temporary and used to test ideas, before moving onto something a bit more permanent. One of the most controversial ideas was from an American submitter, who had looked at the demography of, the demographics of Porirua, and found that there was a high Pacific population there, and so her proposal was a series of Pasifika villages that supported a whole range of different Pasifika people. So you would have the Tuvaluan village, and the Samoan village, or whatever. And that caused a lot of controversy within the judging team. This contentious one was really tricky, because for some it felt like the role of Ngāti Toa wasn't well-articulated, their role as kaitiaki and mana whenua of this place. Whereas for others this was a forward-thinking, how do we cope with a multi-cultural society, particularly given the impact of climate change on some of the Pacific islands, which will mean a whole lot of new migration to New Zealand.
JK v/o: Our guest reporter today was Symon Palmer. Thank you to the New Zealand Center for Sustainable Cities, who hosted and recorded the seminar which we featured at the beginning of the episode.
The Imagining Decolonised Cities project is a collaboration between Ngāti Toa Rangatira and Victoria University of Wellington. You can find out more about the project at idcities.co.nz.
Indigenous Urbanism Aotearoa Edition is a production of Te Matapihi. Sandy Wakefield does our sound recording, editing, and mixing. Our theme was composed by Thomas Burton. I’m Jade Kake, your host and Executive Producer.
For more information about today’s show and other episodes of Indigenous Urbanism go to indigenousurbanism.net. You can drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you like what you’re hearing, please give us a review or rating on iTunes.
Coming up next on Indigenous Urbanism: In part two of our story on the Imagining Decolonised Cities project, we talk to some of the practitioners who were involved in a day-long, free public hui held at Takapūwāhia Marae in Porirua which invited public dialogue on the question - "what is a decolonised city?"
Lena Henry: And he just said, why don't they like Māori? And he pointed up at the signs. He goes, there's no Māori words, I don't know how to read that. So, it really is apparent to a five year old, that their environment doesn't represent who they are.