Regular people, change and Wellington: the District Plan and the movement

Of course 2024’s first Urbanerds gathering had to be about Wellington’s battle for a District Plan that lets the city evolve. In case you missed it, here’s a roundup of the evening featuring A City for People, the War for Wellington and record turnout of new faces!

Some views of the great people, many new to Urbanerds, enjoying urban-nerdy conversation and the delicious discount drinks of Waitoa Bar.

Urbanerds co-host Matt McCallum welcomed folks and introduced A City for People’s Marko Garlick and Luke Sommervell, with shoutout to other CFP folks including Elena Wood.

What’s the movement right now and what’s A City For People?

First Marko Garlick introduced A City For People, and ran through its five (very basic and sensible) asks of the City Council at its March vote on the District Plan.

They’re here, and here in a very relatable story. 

He also reminded the audience of the bizarreness of the situation: that we all need to fight so hard! (Including needing to relitigate key tenets of accepted urban economics and urban development as if somehow they don’t apply in Wellington.) Listening to this, some attending Urbanerds from other cities in the region enjoyed a quiet smirk, notably those from Hutt City (which recently voted through a District Plan that ticks the sensible upzoning boxes for a District Plan in the 21st century, and did so with a small fraction of the palaver that’s playing out in Wellington.   

But WHY density, why now, why in Wellington? 

After the big applause for Marko, Luke Somervell painted the bigger picture. It’s one that as TW readers we’re often finding ourselves needing to provide, when people we love and respect say things like, “well, we don’t need lots of density in Wellington” or  “Kiwis don’t like living in apartments, it’s not Singapore!” or “oh house prices have come down, it’s all good”.  

His rousing, depressing, funny and ultimately energising words are here.

“Great! So what can we do?”

The packed room asked some questions, of which the gist was what are the chances of councillors voting well and how will we all make them listen? Marko and Luke reiterated the call to action for regular people who care about the future of the city: press Wellington councillors to do the five CFP asks. Write to them all (you can use the all-councillors address), and frequently – but especially your own ward’s candidate, and include ones you think don’t Get It (yet!).   

Note, this worked for the Spatial Plan, but the legally binding document is the District Plan and that’s the one in peril.   

The Urbanerds hosts jumped in to add that a great action is getting Pukehinau/Lambton voters to turn out and vote in the current byelection. In terms of how to vote, the decision is up to each voter. But if said voter shares the Talk Wellington kaupapa, and applies the TW Sniff Test to the two frontrunner candidates, the choice is pretty clear.   

Do I have to read lots of nerdy planning and housing technical stuff? And what’s The War For Wellington?

To sighs of relief all round, the Urbanerds’ second guest answered both these big questions at once: “Nope, The War for Wellington’s got your back”.

Joel MacManus is the Wellington Editor of The Spinoff.  He introduced The Spinoff and the War For Wellington and it was music to the assembled ears. 

The Spinoff are deliberately different from the other major media outlets, and its Wellington coverage is in this vein. They’re future-focussed stories about Wellington for people who care about the future of the city, magazine-style (which gives them more scope for writing more richly, having more data and visual images, and longer than 500 words).  There’s also great fun stuff (like their wildly popular/controversial ranking posts). To this reader, it seems that Joel (as the Wellington editor since late last) is enjoying the Spinoff’s unique combination of hard facts and careful referencing with strong storytelling and often some hard sass.

Sass, style *and* all the hard facts! It’s the Spinoff in Wellington

Some urbanerds smiled when they heard The War for Wellington was inspired by the Auckland Spinoff’s War For Auckland, when that city was facing the same crossroads we are (trying to make sure its city plan was enabling enough for more homes in good places). The War for Auckland took a really bullish stance on the Auckland Unitary Plan, whereas The War for Wellington isn’t advocating for any particular policy outcome, it is simply taking the editorial position that more dense landuse – especially homes, built well, located close to things people want to do – is good for Wellington city. 

One of the audience questions for Joel summarised it all: “How do you find the balance on this complicated stuff –  being technically and factually correct, and making it easy for people?” His answer was modest “yeah, we try…it’s really hard!” but it’s clear those rare skills are in full play, having been honed over years of journalism on climate change and local government.

Joel had two calls to action for the Urbanerds: “sign up for the newsletter, read and share it!  And please consider being a Spinoff Member – this stuff is funded significantly by Members”. 

For completeness for the night’s info:

Quick notices from the Urbanerds hosts:

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