Change Management is Critical

Barnaby Bennett, co-founder of Freerange Press speaks with Duncan Ecob, Director, Isthmus Group. Both Barnaby and Duncan are presenting at the 2018 Urbanism New Zealand Conference 14-15 May in Wellington. To register

Suburban Regeneration Opportunities

The problem of how to increase the density of existing suburbs is not new, but it is increasingly important issue for cities such as Auckland as they undertake major urban renovations. Duncan Ecob, a director of Isthmus, has been working on urban regeneration projects in the UK and NZ since the mid-80s and bring this depth of experience to the challenges facing Auckland.

Ecob’s original foray into suburban regeneration was the consequence of Thatcher era cuts to social housing. These cuts, inadvertently, shifted responsibility from the housing authorities to landscape and urban planners through local councils. It’s notable that almost thirty years later we are witnessing somewhat similar shifts in responsibility but from an almost opposite political ideology.

One example is on the North Shore of Auckland the suburb of Northcote which is undergoing significant planning and regeneration. This project is being led as a partnership between Auckland Council and Housing New Zealand. One of the core projects is the replacement of 360 odd HNZ houses with 1200 modern homes, including around 400 new statehouses.

The opportunity created by this intensification is, in many ways, is simply being able to implement age old good quality urban design principles: better access to public transport, encouraging of healthy movements through cycling and walking, increasing access to public amenities such as parks and school, providing new age care facilities, and the crucial goal of improving density and thus improving housing affordability. Ecob argues that while these principles are old, each projects has its own geographical, cultural and political variations that demand careful attention. He argues that similar regeneration projects in Mt Roskill and Mangere are very different and require different spatial and organisational responses. Context rules.

One of the main differences Ecob sees between NZ and UK is that the NZ doesn’t have strong traditions of dense housing with good urban design and so, unlike people in Europe, we New Zealanders tend to inherently fear this change. So presumably it’ll get easier the more we do.

Is this too good to be true, where’s the tension or problems with this approach? Ecob identifies two major areas of danger. Firstly, he argues that working with existing communities and change management is critical. Local residents and communities need to be informed, and they also need to understand the benefits and opportunities for their communities and families. HNZ has been working closely with the families in existing housing in Northcote and provide options to stay in new housing or move to other locations. Secondly, Ecob suggests that all the political goodwill in the world can be undone by reluctant or disinterested bureaucracies.

Perhaps the main threat for the different city-making professions and the new government in taking the opportunities generated by suburban regeneration projects is the powerful force of the status-quo.

Both are presenting on Tuesday 15 May – Duncan is speaking in the Case Studies Session and is chairing a panel; Barnaby is speaking in the LIVE Session.


Duncan Ecob and Barnaby Bennett



Guidelines, Principles and Plans

Dr Lee Beattie, Professor Errol Haarhoff, Stephanie Gard’ner, Tui Arona, Jeanette Ward and Gabi Wolfer are speaking in our DESIGN Session presentation Monday 14 May. To join this collective discussion developing a ‘Statement on Urbanism’ for New Zealand REGISTER TODAY at

Urban Design Guidelines

The use of urban design guidance and independent expert review panels through the statutory urban planning process is a tool commonly used by cities worldwide to enhance the quality of their built environment. Dr Lee Beattie and Professor Errol Haarhoff examine the urban design outcomes achieved in New Zealand’s largest brownfields regeneration project on a disused military base. Lee is an urban designer and urban planner with 24 years’ professional experience. Dr Beattie is Deputy Head of School of Architecture and Planning and the Director of the School’s Master of Urban Design Programme at the University of Auckland. Errol Haarhoff is Professor of Architecture and Co-Director of the Urban Research Network also at the University of Auckland.  He is currently leading a $2.5million National Science Challenge research project: Shaping Places – Future Neighbourhoods involving 25 researchers at five universities.

Built Environment Principles

The New Zealand government has an ambitious and wide ranging housing and urban development work programme sitting across multiple ministerial portfolios and agencies. This programme seeks to end homelessness, improve housing affordability, make room for growth in urban centres and to help create thriving communities. Part of this work is a project to develop a set of Quality Built Environment Principles. The Ministry for the Environment’s purpose is to make New Zealand the most liveable place in the world for our children, their children and their mokopuna. Stephanie Gard’ner is a senior policy analyst at the Ministry for the Environment in the Auckland- based urban and infrastructure team. Tui Arona is a policy analyst at the ministry with a background in research and works on a variety of urban projects.

District Plans

Streets are an important part of our urban fabric, not just for movement but as public spaces. How effective are District Plans at achieving best practice street designs in new developments? A project team of transport engineers, urban designers and planners recently looked into this question as part of a district plan review. Jeanette Ward, Associate, Abley Transportation Consultants is a transportation engineer with 20 years experience in local government and consultancy within New Zealand and the United Kingdom. Gabi Wolfer, Senior Urban Designer / Town Planner, Selwyn District Council trained in Germany with an engineering degree in urban and spatial planning, moving to Canterbury in 2003.


Dr Lee Beattie, Stephanie Gard’ner, Tui Arona, Jeanette Ward and Gabi Wolfer


To review the complete conference programme

2018 Urbanism New Zealand Conference 14-15 May in Wellington, New Zealand.

Conference sponsors: Wellington City Council, Urban Design Forum, Jasmax, Isthmus, Boffa Miskell and the NZ Transport Agency.


Urban Case Studies

We have two CASE STUDIES Sessions at the 2018 Urbanism New Conference. The first will include the following:

  • Vinegar Lane – a NZ urban intensification case study
  • The South Frame – an urban designer’s regeneration dream, but everyone else’s nightmare
  • Designing Public Space for Active Aging – a case study from China

Urbanism New Zealand is being held in Wellington from 14 to 15 May 2018. To register

Vinegar Lane

In this presentation Duncan Ecob, Principal, Isthmus Group and Gavin Lister, Founding Director, Isthmus Group will demonstrate an alternative ‘home-grown’ form of urban development that draws on New Zealand’s older mixed-use inner suburbs. Vinegar Lane is an experiment of low-rise intensification that sets out to reinterpret the scale, character and spirit of inner city suburbs. Duncan is an Urban Designer with over twenty eight years experience in designing and delivering regeneration in the built environment. He leads the Place service, with a focus on Urban Design and Masterplans. Gavin is qualified in both urban design and landscape architecture. He has 28 years’ experience throughout New Zealand on a range of project types including housing, land and commercial development, public spaces and streets, urban master planning, parks and landscape design and large-scale infrastructure.

The South Frame

One of the most comprehensive, yet often misunderstood, urban regeneration projects undertaken in Christchurch presents a valuable, multi-layered case study on urbanism. The complexity lies in the ambitious, yet fundamental, revitalisation of a large central city area when there was little understanding or appetite for change. Sophie Connell, Urban Designer, Connell & Associates return to Christchurch to work on the rebuild was off the back of over a decade working in urban design, regeneration, development, masterplanning and placemaking in New Zealand and abroad. When The South Frame landed with her, the ‘underdog’ of the Anchor Projects, it presented the ultimate challenge. Cameron McLean, Project Manager, Otakaro Limited is currently responsible for the design and delivery of a number of the largest urban regeneration projects ever undertaken in Christchurch.

Active Ageing in China

With ageing populations, many developed countries including New Zealand have introduced policy to support the concept of active ageing. However, a lack of resources has presented significant implementation challenges for policy makers. This case study examines a low-cost solution using spatial design to improve the health of the elderly in a low income urban village in China. Dr Minh Nguyen is a lecturer at Wellington Institute of Technology, teaching architecture technology. Minh trained as an architect in Germany and received a PhD in architecture from the Victoria University of Wellington.


Dr Minh Nguyen, Cameron McLean, Duncan Ecob and Sophie Connell



Matters of the Heart

The 2018 Urbanism New Zealand Conference 14-15 May in Wellington will discuss matters of the heart – the city heart and its centre. Speakers Dave Charnley, Benjamine Smith, Peter Hansby, Henry Crothers and Mike Frew will present in the HEART CENTRE SESSION on Palmerston North, Queenstown and saving our regional towns.

To register for the conference

Re-Start the Heart

Dave Charnley, Urban Designer, Palmerston North City Council will demonstrate how a range of capital investment projects, strategic planning direction and a bottom up approach has been successful in reinvigorating the city life of central Palmerston North. As an award winning landscape architect with a passion for realising shared cultural landscape and reconciliation with nature, Dave Charnley has extensive experience across a range of urban projects.

Building a Better Experience

With a targeted vision of ‘Supporting a thriving heart to Queenstown’ the recently endorsed Queenstown Town Centre Masterplan draws together a suite of major transformational infrastructure and placemaking projects. Benjamine Smith, Senior Advisor, Rationale; Peter Hensby, GM Property and Infrastructure, Queenstown Lakes District Council; and Henry Crothers, Director, LandLAB will focus on how the town centre was defined as a ‘place’ to support a robust local economy and improved experiences.

Getting Out of a Hole

Mike Frew, Fund Manager, Heritage EQUIP, Ministry for Culture and Heritage will present on how earthquake prone heritage buildings can save our regional towns. For many communities the dominance of heritage buildings in their town centres make the government’s Earthquake Prone Buildings Regime particularly challenging – but with this comes opportunity. Mike Frew’s professional background spans commercial property, sustainable business and community development. Over the past four years he has been implementing government programmes in the commercial property sector and currently manages the government’s Heritage EQUIP fund.


Benjamine Smith, Henry Crothers, Mike Frew, Peter Hansby and Dave Charnley


For the full conference programme #urbanismnz2018

Conference Sponsors: Wellington City Council, Urban Design Forum, Jasmax, Isthmus, Boffa Miskell and NZ Transport Agency.

Councils and Our Urban Environment

Justin Lester, Mayor, Wellington City Council joins Ben van Bruggen, Manager Urban Design, Auckland Council and our other POP Panel members as they identify the key issue areas the sector needs to address to bring about change. The 2018 Urbanism New Zealand Conference provides the opportunity for the sector to better connect our thinking for the planning, design and delivery of our urban environments.

Being held in Wellington from 14 to 15 May, the conference program includes feature speakers, session presentations, multiple panels, poster presentations, networking events and study tours in Christchurch, Auckland and Wellington. To register

Design Review Panels: PANEL Session

Lisa Dunshea, Manager Design Review Auckland Design Office, Auckland Council chairs a panel of representatives from Auckland Council and Wellington and Christchurch City Councils as they discuss the effectiveness and relevance of design review panels as a tool to improve urban design outcomes. Panel members include Melanie McKelvie, Auckland Council; Gerald Blunt, Design Manager, Wellington City Council; Josie Schroder, Principal Advisor Urban Design, Christchurch City Council; Dr Lee Beattie, Senior Lecturer, University of Auckland; and Graeme Scott, Director, ASC Architects.

Re-start the Heart: HEART CENTRE Session

Dave Charnley, Urban Designer, Palmerston North City Council discusses ‘urban surgery to save city life’ as he demonstrates how a range of capital investment projects, strategic planning direction and a bottom up approach has been successful in reinvigorating the city life of central Palmerston North. Dave Charnley  is an award winning landscape architect with a passion for realising shared cultural landscape and reconciliation with nature.

Business Case for Walking: MOVE Session

George Weeks, Specialist Urban Designer Auckland Council Design Office, City Centre Unit Auckland Council presents ‘counting walking to make walking count’. Auckland like many western cities, went down the path of auto-dependency, systematically measuring and providing for motorised vehicles while ‘accommodating’ people on foot and bike if any space were left over. To challenge this auto-orientated paradigm, Auckland Council developed the Business Case for Walking. George Weeks is a chartered planner and an urban designer. From 2011 to 2016 he was based in Transport for London’s urban design team where he developed the team’s expertise in monetising the economic benefits of high-quality public space.


Ben van Bruggen, Mayor Justin Lester, Dave Charnley, George Weeks and Lisa Dunshea

For full programme information


Conference Sponsors: Wellington City Council, Urban Design Forum, Jasmax, Isthmus, Boffa Miskell and NZ Transport Agency.


How the Dots Join

Connal Towsend, Chief Executive, NZ Property Council is a member of our POP Panel in the opening Plenary at the 2018 Urbanism New Zealand Conference. Moderated by Rod Oram, panel members will aim to seek consensus on the KEY ISSUES AREAS that need to be addressed by the sector as a whole to bring about change.

This conference provides the opportunity to connect our thinking for the planning, design and delivery of our urban environments. To register

Nigel McKenna, Development Director, Development Advisory Services Limited will speak in the plenary session on ‘How the Dots Join’. In this session Nigel will present on the practicalities from his successes and lessons learnt as a developer. Nigel’s session will focus on what the opportunities are, what tomorrow looks like and importantly what people are looking for in their new urbanism. With a 25 year career in property, Nigel is one of the most experienced development managers in New Zealand. He has extensive understanding with leading large diverse teams and has undertaken a wide variety of highly specialized projects.

Lauren Semple, Partner, Greenwood Roche presentation is ‘Keep Calm and Build Better Cities – joining the dots with the Urban Development Authorities Proposal’. Speaking in the Develop & Delivery Session, Lauren will discuss legislation with the objective to streamline and speed up important large scale projects identified by government. Lauren has worked in resource management for more than 20 years. Passionate about urban planning and development, she has consented some of the largest new developments and subdivisions in the South Island.

Paula Schultz is the Managing Director of Canopius Developments and in her presentation ‘Urbanism Papakura’ she will take a developers perspective on involvement in the urban design of a community. Paula proposes that you can have great urban planners, architects and both local and central government officials working towards an ideal of properly designed urban-renewal, but unless the disconnect with the developers is remedied and controlled the plan becomes an obfuscation. Paula grew her development company by taking lessons from the project, task and risk management elements of her previous experience in airline operations and utilising relevant aspects in both property development and urban design spectrums.


Connal Townsend, Paula Schultz, Lauren Semple and Nigel McKenna


The 2018 Urbanism New Zealand Conference is focused on collective discussion with designers, architects, developers, planners, delivery, academics, community, policy and decision makers. Being held in Wellington 14-15 May for more info

Conference Sponsors: Wellington City Council, Urban Design Forum, Jasmax, Isthmus, Boffa Miskell and the NZ Transport Agency.