Wellington Scoop

Basics for redesign of Civic Square

civic square and town hall

Opinion from Inner-City Wellington
It is vital that any redesign of Te Ngākau – Civic Square recognises that inner-city residents now make up the largest suburb in Wellington in terms of population (in the smallest area of land in Wellington) and, as this population is expected to grow considerably, it is essential that, as well as being developed as the Civic heart and cultural hub of the city, the Square can also be seen as the heart of the inner city community. Key to this is retention of outdoor space, especially green space, and inclusion of surrounding internal community amenities at ground floor of ‘new’ buildings.

Currently the inner city is woefully devoid of community open space for its residents and we cannot afford to lose any that we have. Jack Ilott Green in the Square is the only reasonable sized easily accessible area in the CBD that provides essential green park-like space for children and adults alike to play and relax. A further requirement is for the space to continue to be open and retain the glorious vista to the harbour from the square.

Ease of access to the waterfront is also vital. The need for a large space that can be used as an evacuation centre is also a requirement. As we see it, the future of the Central Library is known – and building requirements for the Old City Library, the Michael Fowler Centre and the Town Hall have been identified.

In addition, new or remediated facilities are needed to house the City Council civic and staff functions and a National centre for Music. We expect that these buildings will be as ‘green’ as possible, base isolated and built with sea level rise/encroachment in mind. That means the ‘greenness’ must be made a requirement for the design.

However, the greater and PRIOR issue is that of the whole site design – consideration of the view shaft from Mercer Street, framing of the Square with consideration of sun and shade, and the way in which openness to the harbour needs to be maintained, the designation of large open spaces which are indeed adaptable so they can be used for physical activity, events, protests, celebrations, evacuation places; then the bulk location of the buildings to encourage connection.

ICW’s concern is that in providing a framework for any design brief or competition without a focus first on the spatial elements of the Square and the need for consideration of how it will contribute to improved social cohesion, conversation and debate will inevitably focus more on the buildings.

City Planners must consider and consult on the needs of the inner-city residents = Co-Design!


¨ Library

¨ Community and public spaces accessible in ground floor of ‘new’ buildings

¨ Green space: Retention of separate reasonable sized area of natural green space for physical activities, children’s play & community gatherings such as picnics should be more integrated with the Square. “Green space should be integrated into all designs” because of the “important relationships between accessible green spaces and mental health and wellbeing”

¨ Open central area for gatherings, concerts, markets etc which may consist of hard surfaces and seating areas interconnected to larger green space

¨ Open to waterfront: Retain the sunny open view of the waterfront from the square. Nikau ramp should remain as it is an integral part of crossing to the waterfront

¨ Separated interpersonal places around the edges of the square where people can feel comfortable and safe without being crowded

¨ New buildings should not be taller than existing buildings and should contribute appropriately to the outer frame of the Square facing the Square.


1) There must be major stakeholder engagement: Recognition of the square as the local community space for inner-city residents, as well as a place for all Wellingtonians and visitors to congregate, is vital to its success.

2) If there is to be a design competition the criteria and guidelines must be agreed with inner-city residents and the Wellington public prior to announcement of the competition.

3) The primary planning focus should be on SPACE planning rather than buildings.

4) Timeframes need to be given priority.

5) There must be a robust budget limit as this must not become a vanity project.

6) The technical services must be separate for each building, so that in future problems can be better isolated.

7) Rooftop gardens cannot replace useable ground level green space for exercise and running and playing.

8) There should not be any ‘extra’ buildings in the square.

9) An underground carpark is still required, and all vehicular traffic should be excluded from the Square.

10) The main entrance to the Square should be clear and from there the square should tell a story that links the city to the harbour through sculpture/mural/water features etc.

This is part of a submission from Inner-City Wellington to the Wellington City Council highlighting pre-design concerns prior to any action being taken regarding Te Ngākau – Civic Square.


  1. Claire, 20. January 2021, 11:07

    ICW has the right idea about co-design. I hope that any changes that are made from the DPS in its modified form will be carried out with full consensus and co-design from each suburb involved. Wellington is hopefully not ruled by authoritarian rules, but by cooperation in designing a great city.

  2. greenwelly, 20. January 2021, 12:06

    Jack Ilott Green in the Square is the only reasonable sized easily accessible area in the CBD that provides essential green park-like space … But that’s simply not true. Green park-like spaces are available at Waitangi Park and in Parliament grounds, not to mention Frank Kitts Park. The Botanical Garden is easily accessible from the CBD, via the cable car, bus or walking.

  3. David Bond, 20. January 2021, 17:28

    “Retain the sunny open view of the waterfront from the square.” But there is no open view of the waterfront from Civic Square. See this .

  4. Toni, 20. January 2021, 20:59

    David, It is part of the experience when wandering through the Civic Square Precinct to arrive at the City to Sea Bridge with its openness and views to the waterfront .

  5. ICW, 20. January 2021, 21:18

    @ Greenwelly: WHO guidelines state that “as a rule of thumb, urban residents should be able to access public green spaces of at least 0.5-1 hectare within 300 metres linear distance (around 5 minutes’ walk) of their homes”. A sustainable cities report on green spaces in the city carried out for the WCC identified a significant lack of green space within 300m of the population-weighted centre of the Willis St– Cambridge Terrace. This report also established an urgent need for the provision of Green space the equivalent of another 10 Te Aro parks to meet the needs of inner-city dwellers.

    Waitangi Park, Parliament grounds, Frank Kitts Park, and the Botanical Garden may be green spaces, but they are not close by, nor are they readily accessible to the residents in the Lambton -Te Aro area. For example: mothers with small children on scooters, or in pushchairs, or people in wheelchairs, or the sight impaired etc.

    As the inner-city is now the largest “suburb” in Wellington in terms of population, and is expected to increase by more than 100% in the future, it is therefore vital all existing green spaces are protected.

  6. Simon, 21. January 2021, 5:52

    *Waitangi Park, Parliament grounds, Frank Kitts Park, and the Botanical Garden may be green spaces, but they are not close by, nor are they readily accessible to the residents in the Lambton -Te Aro area.”
    This statement is factually incorrect.

  7. Marion Leader, 21. January 2021, 6:48

    ICW’s views are spot-on and give a convincing reason for not wrecking the open space in Frank Kitts Park.

  8. Meet Loaf, 21. January 2021, 7:42

    ICW – would you include the Pukeahu war memorial grounds as green space? It’s quite a large area and sits in the zone you mentioned.

  9. Ben Schrader, 21. January 2021, 9:36

    There is certainly a dearth of green spaces and trees in Te Aro. This should be rectified by the Council. It could either buy properties itself and turn them into parks and/or encourage developers to provide them.

    At the moment developers have no incentive to provide green spaces. When St Peter’s Church in Willis Street provided a pocket park behind the church as a public good they were startled to find they were still charged rates on the space. This seems unfair. If such places were granted rates relief then more developers might provide green spaces as part of new building projects.

    I heard last year that the Council has no budget for planting street trees. This also needs to change. More trees would certainly soften the concrete jungle feel of Te Aro.

  10. Will, 21. January 2021, 10:07

    Developing the old Circa Theatre site (presently part of the underused Jack Ilott parklet) would help the project to be delivered in the tight fiscal climate. Not need for something massive – six storeys would fit into the site well.

  11. John H, 21. January 2021, 11:46

    My observation from years of walking over the City to Sea bridge is that Jack Ilott Green is the most unloved, unused and badly sited green-space in Wellington (that rugby sculpture doesn’t help; it would be better sited on the Fran Wilde walkway by the entrance to the Stadium).
    It only exists because the building intended for that site was curtailed by the 1987 share market crash. I recall the former civic lawn when I was a teenager (with its Guy Ngan sculpture prominent) which is now the site of the pink curved Civic Administration Building and how well used it was during lunchtimes, summer evenings etc vs. the J.I Green which is basically dead-space in comparison. Both the Civic Building and the former Capital E / southern part of the City to Sea bridge are seismically stuffed and are likely to be demolished. As such, I think a green-space-swap should be considered; demolish the Civic building and return the civic lawn to that site incorporating the mature trees on Wakefield street to ‘frame’ the green space and the greater Civic Square. Re-expose the western side of the Municipal Office Building (once a great looking frontage though sadly it seems that this could be demoed too) and build on the J.I Green site (incorporating part of the Capital E site). Total building coverage across the square remains the same but will result in a green space shifted away from the traffic noise of Jervois Quay which is likely to get FAR more use than J.I Green does today.

  12. Marion Leader, 21. January 2021, 12:29

    The great ideas of Ben Schrader and Will underline the cluelessness of councillors. Why haven’t they had a look around Wellington and begun pressing to do such things themselves?

  13. ICW, 21. January 2021, 14:23

    Surely the focus should be on the seriousness of the huge lack of inner-city green space as defined by the sustainable cities report and acknowledged by WCC during spatial plan meetings.

    The inner-city has gone through a huge increase as a residential “suburb” and therefore it is vital we acknowledge the importance of green space/park land to ensure we have a healthy and sustainable residential population.

    Wellington is falling well behind in this area. For example: the Dixon- Victoria – Ghuznee – Willis Streets mesh block’s population density was approximately 13,950/sq km in 2018, and since then several apartments have been finished pushing the density up further, with up to seven more in the pipeline. This area of the city is not far behind Seoul (15,763) and is up there with the population density of London. The most densely populated area in London is Islington at 13,890. These figures give great cause for concern when there is not the green infrastructure here to sustain them.

    The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that governments place health and health equity at the centre of urban governance and planning. However, a report from the Ministry of Health (Healthy Places, Healthy Lives: Urban environments and wellbeing (mentalhealth.org.nz) explains how good health outcomes are reduced when there not readily accessible areas that encourage reactional physical activity or social interaction. The report also points out that, “in spite of the connection between urban form and health, health outcomes do not feature as a major consideration in most urban planning decisions in New Zealand”.

  14. SJIG Group, 21. January 2021, 15:13

    Jack Ilott Green has looked unused and unkempt for years because it was not regularly maintained until recently. And, as far as it not being used, that is not true. For a long time, WCC staff played regular lunchtime games of volleyball, office workers played touch rugby, and there are lots of occasions of people sitting around having lunch on the rundown seating, playing Petanque, having Tai Chi and gym sessions, and children playing. In the summer evenings (when we have them) there have been locals playing touch rugby, children playing and people walking and relaxing etc. And, as far as suggesting its closeness to the road is reason enough to abandon it, well that also applies to Frank Kitts and Waitangi Parks.

    Jack Ilott Green is a large CBD green space that cannot be replaced with little “pocket” parks which will not enable healthy physical activity.

  15. claire, 21. January 2021, 15:55

    There should be a park in that highest density area mentioned. But don’t hold your breath.
    There is a lot of poor design in Wellington. With more to come when buildings are jammed into the last square inch.
    And now there are proposals to knock over older houses and build on the entire footprint. It makes no sense except to a developer.

  16. John Rankin, 21. January 2021, 17:15

    @BenSchrader suggests that “the Council has no budget for planting street trees.” Does this mean the trees (many of which were young and small) cut down on Cable and Wakefield Streets for the Convention Centre will not be replaced? The artist’s impression shows just 3 trees on the new site, on the Wakefield Street frontage.

    It seems to me that the Council needs some kind of Hippocratic Oath for how it treats the natural world in the city centre: first do no harm. Allowing the population of the central city to increase without a corresponding increase in green spaces is doing harm.

  17. Hel, 21. January 2021, 18:53

    I’m all for green space scattered around the city but not just for the sake of it. I regularly walk across the city to sea bridge and there are green spaces such as outside St. John’s that are extensively used and then there are spaces like Jack Ilott that are largely unutilised. It has zero to do with Council maintaining this space, it has been well maintained for years. It is a poorly located spot beside a busy road and while it is green space it would be better used as a building site, and better public spaces located elsewhere.

  18. Toni, 21. January 2021, 19:34

    I find it depressing to watch as the WCC allows our once beautiful city to degenerate into the kind of density we see in big crowded cities overseas. Why hasn’t the council developed plans to ensure Wellington does not become full of rows of high rise apartment buildings with little or no green space/parks?
    What about the cost to the city in terms of social, mental and physical health issues associated with this kind of development?

  19. michael, 21. January 2021, 20:06

    I agree that there is a serious problem with the lack of green spaces in the city. Much of the green space needed is actual parkland where people can get out and actively play, picnic, cycle, meet up with others etc. Developers are building wall to wall multiple high rise apartments that are creating canyon-like dismal gray streets with little regard to how this is changing the form of the city, while the council seems to be unable or unwilling to do much about it. It is ridiculous to expect that families in areas like Upper Willis Street who want to get outside to run around and play in safety should have to walk across the city to find a reasonable sized park.

  20. Traveller, 21. January 2021, 22:47

    Hel: Frank Kitts Park and Waitangi Park and the Botanical Garden are all located next to busy roads. Are you condemning them as well?

  21. Toni, 22. January 2021, 0:38

    @ Hel: The green area outside St Johns (and the Karaka Café opposite) is used by their patrons who sit outside socialising, eating, and drinking. These spaces are not set up as parks or green spaces for adults and/or children to play, ride bikes, throw frisbees, and race around etc. They are also a long way from some of the high-density areas like upper Willis Street where city residents need accessible suitable public parks and real play areas, not green areas outside a restaurant or a bar used by the patrons.

    And I disagree about Jack Ilott Green. For years it was not well maintained and was little more than mud and grass. It was only after the SJIG Group presented a petition with over 10,000 signatures to the council in 2016 to save the green that maintenance improved.

  22. michael, 22. January 2021, 0:49

    @ Hel: I often walk past Waitangi Park and there is no-one on it, so is that also under-utilised and should it be built on? What about all the many parks in the outer suburbs which may not have anyone on them for days? Should they also be built on? Green spaces do not have to be full of people to be beneficial for public health and well being, and many green spaces are by busy roads.

  23. aom, 22. January 2021, 10:40

    Hel, you seem to have an obsession for buildings so it comes as no surprise that you are opposed to green spaces that aren’t wall to wall with people. Do you feel the same about pieces of art on walls that provide no other functional purpose other than inspiring the human spirit? Also, does it trouble you that all over Wellington there are dedicated volunteers who spend countless hard hours in the pursuit of cleaning up local green spaces that are deprived of WCC maintenance and those re-vegetating large neglected sites with endemic flora?