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Why we love Frank Kitts Park

frank kitts park

by Alana Bowman
As many times as you walk along the edge of Wellington Harbour, the green expanse of Frank Kitts Park always comes as a surprise.

Walk along the rest of the waterfront and you are among the walls of buildings – restaurants, businesses, shops, and other structures. But then, turn a corner and there is a grassy stretch of open, unobstructed land.

Almost everyday the park is used by local workers for lunch breaks or after work gatherings, kids blowing off steam around the playground or rolling down the little hills among the Pohutukawa trees, sports and game players, and even buskers. Casual users drift in all day long, spending minutes or hours just enjoying the outdoors away from the crowded CBD.

frank-kitts-aerial

On good weather days people use this space for picnics, playing with kids, lounging or staring out to the harbour. Trees, grass, low walls to give shelter from the wind – it is actually a small space but feels generous.

The popular little children’s playground is always busy, and after the closure of the lighthouse slide there may be hope for a needed refurbishment for more space for all that happy activity.

People love this park.

When the proposal to build a Chinese Garden in the middle of the park was announced in 2016, over 3,000 people signed an online Change.org petition to tell the Wellington City Council how much they wanted the park to stay as it is. I hope Councillors and city planners took time to read what they said –

“This is the only park that we can hang out in the late night after night shift work. This is the only place when we can take a break from home to work and work to home. This is the place we can bring our lunch and enjoy the sea breeze. This is the best place in Wellington that can refresh my mind and heart.”

“It shouldn’t be taken away from the community. It’s a place for families to be together and for tourists to enjoy a place of relaxation. It would remove the view and bring in a cold and windy area.”

“Children love that Park. It’s a wonderful city place of joy for everyone.”

“Space is a must in cities for kids and the loss of this area would be a tragedy.”

“I love lying under the tree by the playground and having picnics on sunny days. It makes you forget you’re in the middle of a concrete jungle.”

“I love this park. It’s a hugely important part of Wellington’s waterfront. It’s lovely for daytime and nighttime strolls. In fact it’s the only genuinely usable green waterfront area. Keep it.”

“It is part of my neighbourhood where I go to relax, enjoy the events held there, get away from the wind, and watch the world go by from a great environment.”

“The current design suits many users. The wall protects in both nor’west and southerly winds. To remove it would be unnecessarily destructive. As a wheelchair user it is totally accessible area and the Chinese Garden is not.”

“I love the fact there’s greenery in the city centre and my kids love the park. I enjoy the entertainment that’s there and just enjoy sitting there with friends talking having coffee… it’s a beautiful area.”

“These are the valuable spaces that add ambiance to the inner city and link people with nature, bring about a greater calmness. As the city population expands and living intensifies, these spaces become like an oasis. Once sold for development these joys can never be returned to the people.”

In spite of so much opposition, Frank Kitts Park is still under threat – from proposals for not one but two buildings, as well as plans to destroy the amphitheatre and the open space configuration. The proposed Chinese Garden – a walled building right through the middle of the park – was given consent in 2018 by the Environment Court. Its original location was to be alongside Te Papa, on a space that remains empty and available where the Chinese Garden could be an extra attraction for the 1.8 million visitors (before COVID) to Te Papa annually.

In April, Mayor Andy Foster and the Fale Malae Trust announced the intention to take over a 1700-square-metre section of the Park near the Whairepo Lagoon. The planned building, originally designed for Bunny Street, would close off the furthest section of the park on the location of the now closed car park.

Both the Chinese Garden and the Fale Malae would be permanent structures, considerably reducing the amount of open, public space on this well-loved part of the Wellington waterfront.

frank-kitts-park ampitheatre

The amphitheatre and its terraced bowl design offers seating and shelter from the harbour winds and encourages simple enjoyment of leisure and spontaneous play because it is grassy and unobstructed. There is enough space to kick a ball, take off into a run, and tear across, back and forth. People – local workers, families, kids, visitors – come to play, dance, dawdle, have a laugh, clown around, roll around, stretch out in the sun, play music, relax, unwind, re-charge, mellow out, have a break, loosen up, stare at the harbour, space out.

It is a rare, non-utilitarian space for random meetings and conversations in the centre of the city. You encounter friends or strangers and you have the chance for that most democratic activity of conversation – catching up, debating, exchanging ideas, political discussions, gossip, and news updates.

It’s a public space without any admission cost, free to use. You don’t need to buy a coffee or a drink to sit and talk with a friend.

fkp 2

And on days when large public events – a teddy bear picnic, music concerts, a community festival – are held at the park, it becomes happily congested with people and activities. Stalls and marquees are intense with movement and discovery. Swarms of adults and kids show off their energy and playfulness. Homegrown hosts 24,000 music fans all along the waterfront and last year 14,000 runners and walkers started from the park for their participation in Round the Bays.

Those days show how quickly the Park becomes a cheery chaos, sometimes in frenzy from music and dance, and packed with silly fun.

Just a little further down the waterfront promenade, on the Wellington Writers Walk, are a series of wonderful concrete sculptures, initiated by the Wellington branch of the New Zealand Society of Authors. The poem by Lauris Edmond (1924 – 2000) can also describe activity in the Park when it is at its busiest:

“It’s true you can’t live here by chance,
You have to do and be, not simply watch
Or even describe. This is the city of action
The world headquarters of the verb –“

Action and activity – that’s one of the wonderful aspects of the Park. Noisy crowds can fill the place for events, and then the Park reverts to quiet and stillness when the party is over. One day it is filled with people and music and the next, it is quiet again with lounging and book reading.

For those who enjoy the stillness, the quiet, and the indulgent choice of sitting alone, another poet, Emily Dickinson, described a larger space – a prairie – but I think the basic concept applies:

To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,
And reverie.
The reverie alone will do,
If bees are few.

Losing open space: Council supports Fale Malae, a big new building, on Frank Kitts Park

2016: The $5m mistake

45 comments:

  1. Claire, 15. September 2021, 10:16

    More than ever Wellington needs to keep its green spaces. They enhance mental health and well being. However I am not sure the WCC believes that. They have bowed to lobby groups and developers with much much more development, coming in the wake of a storm of misguided up-zoning harking back to the neo liberal 80s. Frank Kitts Park must not fall prey to that.

     
  2. Helene Ritchie, 15. September 2021, 10:52

    Alana this is a very cleverly crafted creative piece. Thank you. I leave detailed concern to others at present, and simply say that during my time as a councillor, along with Waterfront Watch and the Civic Trust, we tried hard to save the then existing public space on the waterfront and create some additionally new green space. The erosion of public open space on the waterfront has been alarming over those 30 years or so.

    Now we are having to argue to stop the Council’s proposal that the Town Belt be utilised for such large events as Homegrown because we are running out of open space on thewWaterfront and filling it up with more buildings. The waterfront, our harbour, and the green forested Town Belt define the beauty of our city.

     
  3. Polly, 15. September 2021, 11:33

    Alana, so many thanks and absolutely agree with you, and with Helene – “the waterfront, our harbour and the green forested Town Belt define the beauty of our city.”

     
  4. James, 15. September 2021, 11:52

    The Council should stop spending time and money on non-essential projects like these, and focus on its core responsibilities.

     
  5. Wendy, 15. September 2021, 13:50

    A WCC commissioned report (Green Space in Wellington Central City by New Zealand Centre for Sustainable Cities) was concerned with the substantial lack of greenspace available and pointed out that that much of what is there is dominated by hard surfaces.

    The report recommended that the council “Plan for and adequately resource an increased amount, accessibility and quality of green space in the central city, in order to provide for the health, wellbeing, amenity and ecosystem benefits required by the significantly larger likely future population of the central city”. Clearly the council has dismissed these recommendations as it continues to allow our precious green spaces to be built on with little or no thought to the impact this will have on the huge number of city residents.

    It is soul destroying watching the viewshafts to the harbour and our green spaces disappearing to serve the needs of developers or individual groups.

     
  6. Henry Filth, 15. September 2021, 15:37

    There’s not really a lot of green, open space in the middle of Wellington, is there? What should get torn down to make some more?

     
  7. Conor, 15. September 2021, 16:06

    Will the Chinese Garden and the Fale be private space?

     
  8. Stephen Moore, 15. September 2021, 16:40

    I agree 100% with Alana’s article. There is only a limited amount of seaside greenspace for people to enjoy.

    The proposed Chinese garden could be located anywhere as its focus is inward – not outwards towards the sea. Personally I’d stick it on the roof of a new building or Te Papa (if possible) to create new green space rather than lose other green spaces.

     
  9. michael, 15. September 2021, 22:13

    Over the past few years, we have been bombarded by WCC’s telling us they plan to introduce more inner-city green spaces – “places to reflect, relax, kick a ball, play with the kids”. But as high-rise apartment buildings, with very little design appeal, spring up squashed side by side and turn streets into canyons, page 52 of the Central City Framework states that green spaces will happen “when developers and building owners recognise that tenants value such spaces”. This is another example of WCC passing the buck and neglecting its basic responsibility to ensure the UN Global Goals of sustainable development underpin all inner-city apartment developments.

    And, in the meanwhile, WCC continues to permit developers and others to destroy what small amounts of precious inner-city green space we have left.

     
  10. Hel, 15. September 2021, 22:19

    The Chinese garden and the Falae have no place being on Frank Kitts Pk. The open space of Frank Kitts is precious and irreplaceable, I simply cannot believe how ideas as flawed as these surface and get traction.

     
  11. John Bell, 15. September 2021, 22:46

    Great article. Leave the park alone.

     
  12. Richie Bestingface, 16. September 2021, 1:01

    This park could be so much better. As it stands, half of it is an underground carpark, the playground is probably the worst in the city, even more so now the slide is gone, and the grassed area turns its back on the harbour and faces the city. A collection of grimy concrete walls designed around a long forgotten motor race. Surely it’s time for a rethink.

     
  13. Ms Green, 16. September 2021, 9:41

    The Frank Kitts Park walls were not designed around the motor race.
    Just a few facts! Frank Kitts Park was not built to accommodate the car race(s). The first race was 1985, a decade after the park was opened in 1976. Clearly the Park was designed well before that. Council put significant $S into the race which became a financial disaster, (let alone it was always an environmental disaster in order to “support the city’s economy”!).

    The grassed area was deliberately designed to have shelter from the wind, and provides a welcome visual green relief from the concrete canyon that Jervois Quay has become.

    Yes I agree Richie, the park could be so much better. Like all key WCC assets, it has lacked care, attention, maintenance and improvement, even if at a cost far less than the proposed two buildings – the Chinese Garden and the Fale.

     
  14. Keith Flinders, 16. September 2021, 9:53

    Stephen Moore: One of several options was to place the Chinese Garden on the roof of a car park building planned for the east side of Te Papa. This would have seen the garden looking out to the sea as the promoters of it wished. The car park building proposal was abandoned, hence 20 years years or so later this discussion about the location of the garden continues even though the Frank Kitts site has gone through the formal processes for approval.

     
  15. Toni, 16. September 2021, 9:58

    Richie, the park is used all the time so there is no reason why in the future it could not be redesigned to face the harbour – assuming that section of the harbour has not already been built on as well. But the last thing we need is to lose more green space.

     
  16. David Mackenzie, 16. September 2021, 10:43

    A Chinese garden is a green space. It is hard to imagine anything but prejudice behind opposition to this development. It would not in any way reduce the public’s access to outdoor recreation space — it would just be different.

     
  17. Yimby Jim, 16. September 2021, 11:19

    There seems to be misconception that the proposed Chinese Garden will cover the entirety of the current area. It won’t. It’s clearly shown to occupy only a small part. The rest of the park is in dire need of an upgrade – it faces the wrong way and is under utilised.

     
  18. greenwelly, 16. September 2021, 11:26

    it would just be different.-

    Locking public green spaces at night is certainly “different”… and a huge departure from the the current assumptions that operate in New Zealand. Not sure about describing all opposition to this as prejudice.

     
  19. Claire, 16. September 2021, 11:41

    David: no prejudice here. Just lack of open green space.

     
  20. Michael Gibson, 16. September 2021, 11:46

    To David Mackenzie: Firstly, as far as prejudice is concerned, the matter has been addressed by the Environment Court’s agreement that any garden in Frank Kitts Park would be called a “Garden of Beneficence”. Secondly, it will be surrounded by high walls and will be locked at night. I find this hard to reconcile with the words “green space.”

     
  21. Traveller, 16. September 2021, 12:23

    David. Critics of the Chinese Garden are concerned that it would be behind walls and would be locked at night. Not the openness that ought to be a continuing feature of a waterfront park. Nothing to do with prejudice.

     
  22. Psyllium Husk, 16. September 2021, 12:43

    How often do commenters here visit the botanic garden during the night? It’s not locked up but I doubt many people would.

     
  23. greenwelly, 16. September 2021, 12:56

    I’ve taken my kids (and others) on many an occasion to look at the glowworms in the botanical garden. It’s pretty hard to do during the day.

     
  24. Ray Chung, 16. September 2021, 13:08

    My understanding of why it was mooted to lock the Chinese Garden at night was to try to reduce the opportunity for anti-social behaviour and for people to sleep in, deface or paint graffiti in there. All you have to do is look at Te Aro and Glover Parks at night. I’m sure if these security issues were addressed, there would be no need to lock it at night. Surely, this security issue could be resolved by having cameras there and link them with the existing CCTV cameras around the city?

     
  25. Richie Bestingface, 16. September 2021, 16:02

    Ms Green – from the council’s website: “Completed in the late 1980s, Frank Kitts Park was one of the first areas of the waterfront to be developed. The design of the park was heavily influenced by the annual street car race that ran through the area at that time. The seaside promenade was the start grid for the race and is the reason why the promenade is flanked by a high wall on its city side – to ensure spectator safety.”

     
  26. michael, 16. September 2021, 16:15

    David, opposition to the Chinese Garden is nothing to do with prejudice. It is because it will be surrounded by high walls (ie: a roofless building), which will not only block more of what little views are left the harbour, it will also do away with a large area of openness and green space.

     
  27. Harold Rodd, 16. September 2021, 16:52

    Will the Council have to pay somebody to check every corner of the garden to see if it’s OK to lock before turning the key?. Then come back in the morning to unlock it? How much will this cost?

     
  28. Bath bomb, 16. September 2021, 17:31

    Harold – No more than public toilets that get locked during certain hours I’d imagine.

     
  29. Ms Green, 16. September 2021, 19:01

    Richie: The Council website is wrong. A little more research by you (and the Council) will show this. Frank Kitts Park was opened in 1976, and clearly was planned before that. It was not designed to take into account a future car race.
    The car race was first held 1985.

     
  30. Dorothy Grover, 16. September 2021, 19:18

    Leave this lovely meeting place alone. so many things happen in Frank Kitts Park for families and workers to enjoy in this wonderful space

     
  31. Mike Mellor, 16. September 2021, 23:34

    Ms Green, I think you’ll find that the council website is correct, and that the park was modified to accommodate the race.

    If you know better, perhaps you could share the “little more research” with the rest of us?

     
  32. Richie Bestingface, 17. September 2021, 7:03

    The park may have been formed from port land in 1976 but it was redesigned later.

     
  33. greenwelly, 17. September 2021, 9:57

    Next week the council’s Planning and Environment committee are being asked to endorse in principle the Fale Malae Trust proposal to continue investigating Frank Kitts Park as the preferred site for the Fale Malae, being the south west corner of the park where the carpark building is located.

     
  34. Stephen Moore, 17. September 2021, 10:37

    Mike Mellor: – when you say “the park was modified to accommodate the race” what significant modifications do you think were made to the park? Please provide a source if you have one. My recollection is that there were only minor tweaks mostly in route as identified in this link. I seriously doubt when the WCC website says “promenade is flanked by a high wall on its city side – to ensure spectator safety” that this is meant to imply it was a retrospective modification to the park for the car race – rather it used a existing feature.

     
  35. Mike Mellor, 17. September 2021, 11:56

    Stephen, my recollections are consistent with what the WCC website says. There’s been no firm evidence provided to the contrary, and it’s hard to see what other purpose that large wall was intended to serve. It’s certainly accurate about the start grid, with associated road markings there visible for many years after the race ceased. The Wikipedia link just confirms that the race did run along there, making no mention of the park or the promenade.

    Ms Green implies that there is other evidence available, so it’s over to her to produce it. In the meantime, that WCC website is the only documentary source that has been identified (the External Links on the Wikipedia page are all broken or dead).

     
  36. Ms Green, 17. September 2021, 13:30

    Mike Mellor, facts are facts. Now, let’s get with the topic – the evisceration of open green and public space on the waterfront.

     
  37. Alana, 17. September 2021, 14:26

    Greenwelly – Yes, WCC posted this item on Thursday’s 9.30 schedule with little public notice for community comment or consultation. It should be delayed to allow sufficient time for scrutiny. If you can, please contact Councillors to request it be removed to allow sufficient time for consultation.

     
  38. Mike Mellor, 17. September 2021, 15:28

    Ms Green: indeed facts are facts, and the documented fact, unchallenged by any firm evidence so far, is that the design of the park as completed in the 1980s was heavily influenced by the car race. Your statement that the park was opened in 1976 is not inconsistent with that, and hence does not support your allegation that the WCC website is incorrect.

    So agreed, let’s get back to an evidence-based debate and not be diverted by supposed corrections of fact that appear to have no foundation. For me, a couple of key paragraphs in the report are:

    “34. Officers acknowledge that due to the exponential growth of residential development within the central city, a deficit of open space has emerged. This has been acknowledged in the Spatial Plan and is being addressed in the Green Network Plan for the central city. The Green Network Plan will identify areas which are lacking in green spaces against the predicted levels of growth for the city. It will then recommend an approach for increasing high-quality green spaces across the city”

    – that’s good as far as it goes, but the Green Network Plan needs to be in place before looking at making the deficit of green space worse; and

    “35. Any loss of open space in the park, such as a building, will be accounted for and compensated in future developments elsewhere in the city”

    – again this is good in principle, but too vague in practice to be a basis for a council decision. What do “accounted for” and “compensated in” mean, and how and when will they happen?

     
  39. Andrew, 18. September 2021, 8:32

    The council have fallen for the same instinct that many have: to improve something it’s necessary to add something. In fact in many situations, the subtraction of something is an improvement.
    I suggest anyone who is interested in this concept look into the work of Leidy Klotz on subtractive change.

     
  40. Wendy, 18. September 2021, 9:34

    WCC constantly acknowledges that the inner-city neighbourhood is critically short of open useable green spaces for the current residents, which has not yet been addressed. And, while the council continues to eliminate existing open green spaces, we are told the inner-city will also need an additional 1.5 ha – 1.7 ha of open space for the proposed increase in population, on top of what is currently required.

    Pocket parks, green roofs and walls, and patches of trees and shrubs are constantly referenced by the council as green space. But these will not replace the need for large open spaces/parks for physical activities and community gatherings or once the existing useable open green space disappears, does the council consider that inner-city residents will have to travel out of the city to find this kind of facility?

    The mayor has stated that the Chinese Garden and Fale Malae hold great importance to significant parts of our community. While this may be true, how can the council use this as justification to destroy Frank Kitts Park which Wellingtonians are passionate about, and which is significant and important to the greater Wellington community? Does this not matter?

     
  41. Simon Bowie, 18. September 2021, 12:41

    I agree with the majority of the commenters here, we need open green space, especially in that part of the city. I have a potential Fale location if anyone is interested. Where the boat cafe is located now, in Oriental Bay. Imagine a round building with 360 degree views, right on the waters edge, an iconic building that Te Papa could/should have been, (but obviously at a much smaller scale). The Fale would have much better relationship to the sea, which is fundamental to Pasifika identity and a potential dialogue with the marina and other boats of the harbour. It would revitalise what is currently a poor use of such great waterfront property? Does anybody frequent the boat cafe? Thoughts?

     
  42. D'Esterre, 19. September 2021, 18:17

    I cannot believe that we keep having to revisit this issue. Council: follow your own rules and leave Frank Kitts Park as it is. Over many years, we’ve made it clear that this is what we want.

     
  43. Toni, 19. September 2021, 23:38

    As far as I can see, nowhere in the proposal put to council have council officers considered the needs of the inner-city residents, or the impact the removal of 20,000sqm of large open green space will have on the current critical shortage of inner-city green space. The council has repeatedly acknowledged the dire shortage of inner-city green space, and it has reports clearly setting out the space required, so why are they even considering this when they do not have a confirmed green network plan to ensure they can achieve their obligations?

    It is irresponsible and ill-considered to allow development on Frank Kitts Park when replacing this huge amount of green space, on top of what is already necessary to meet current and future needs, will require the council to purchase huge amounts of land within the city, at great expense. Either that, or the council will fail miserably to ensure there is enough green space for the well-being of current and future inner-city residents.

     
  44. Conor, 21. September 2021, 16:06

    Ray – the people in Glover Park are hipsters, drinking at Rogue and Vagabond, not homeless people.

     
  45. Ray Chung, 21. September 2021, 18:48

    Hi Conor, I’m not sure what a hipster is but back in my younger day, this name described people who dressed in the latest fashion. I recall seeing these anti-social people drinking in Glover Park when I walked past on my way home work when I lived in Jessie Street.