Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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A Current Past: an exploration into the resurgence of waterways in modern urbanscapes of Aotearoa New Zealand

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posted on 2023-03-09, 23:03 authored by Whaley, Isabel

With over half the global population living in urban centres, we are called to question how these environments are structured and how they can function both socially and sustainably. As society evolves, Aotearoa New Zealand's urban centres need to reinvent themselves as social and cultural centres rather than retail ones. Urbanscapes of mid-size cities remain trapped by the gridded structure imposed on them by nineteenth-century surveyors. Streams that sustained their diverse landscapes now lie buried under our urban streets, in concrete channels or under waste and refuse at the exterior of the built form. Concealed with these waters are the stories of a land and people past, and hopes for a sustainable and integrated future. Urban water offers an opportunity to re-spatialise our vehicle-dominated cities and restore identity through a connection to the memory of the land. These forgotten arteries offer to reinvigorate a CBD in danger of becoming socially irrelevant. Changing attitudes, such as Te Mana o te Wai governance and recognition of freshwater cultural health indicators, are clear signs of a society eager to rethink our relationships with urban water. Furthermore, with over 95% of rivers in pastoral, urban and non-native forested areas contaminated, the time is now.

Similarly to mid-size cities around New Zealand, New Plymouth has unique natural landscapes and histories; however its urban centre, with an outdated retail focus, struggles to remain relevant. The city is physically and culturally defined by its coast and its mountain; despite this, the city centre remains disconnected from these natural features. The water flowing from its mountain to its sea offers a perfect research opportunity of a catchment-scale approach to re-integrating urban waterways into a cityscape, reinstituting water as the literal and cultural link from mountain to city to sea. Water offers to resolve New Plymouth District Council's concerns that the city will become a ghost town due to vehicular dominance and changing retail trends.

This thesis seeks to reimagine the identity of Aotearoa New Zealand urbanscapes as vibrant social and cultural centres. Connecting forgotten waterways and revealing histories and identities of a land and people past, it explores what urban interaction with our water may look like in a uniquely New Zealand context. Focusing on streams in the CBD and a wider ki uta ki tai mountains to sea approach, site-informed exploration suggests how freshwater can spatially define an urbanscape, engage community with a site's history in an experiential rather than signposted way to become a living social structure.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Landscape Architecture

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Landscape Architecture

Victoria University of Wellington Unit

University Library

ANZSRC Socio-Economic Outcome code

120201 Civil construction design

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

2 Strategic basic research

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Alternative Language


Victoria University of Wellington School

Wellington School of Architecture


Martinez-Almoyna, Carles