Collaborative design coupled with strong decision-making processes and comprehensive spatial planning techniques can help support the growth of resilient future communities and environments.

This is the first in a series of articles by WSP exploring issues and opportunities for the design and development of regions across Aotearoa New Zealand. Read on to hear about how we can better approach the future visions and spatial planning for our neighbourhoods, towns and cities.

Growth, regenerative planning and resilience in a time of change

What happens next? At last count, Wellington-Wairarapa-Horowhenua was home to over half a million people – residing mainly in the capital or in one of dozens of towns and villages peppered across the region, and this population is continuing to grow. “The Wellington-Horowhenua region has an important role in the prosperity and governance of New Zealand. It is home to the capital, is the country’s second-largest metropolitan economy.” (Wellington Regional Growth Framework Report, July 2021)

Just like other parts of the country, being able to thrive in the face of environmental and social change is a priority for people in the Lower North Island. Regenerative planning is becoming central to future-focused eco-systems and resilient spatial outcomes. A regenerative approach enhances and contributes back to our communities across-the-board; socially, environmentally and culturally – creating multi-faceted resilience. The ability of future generations to enjoy a quality of life that offers diversity of lifestyle choices, amenity, housing and activities depends on how successfully we collectively navigate and implement spatial planning, to ‘preserve’, ‘enhance’ and ‘grow’ our regions. Decisions made need to be made by many people and agencies to inform integrated solutions that support ambitions and pressing needs of the long-term, whilst also accommodating iterative and interim plans where outcomes are required at pace.

In these times of rapid change, the impetus is now! Opportunities for development and growth in the region are unfolding alongside climate change and social and economic upheaval. Spatial planning must be responsive and sensitive to these changes and help conserve, regenerate and restore our precious natural environment as we evolve our local communities and their ability to build place, activity, amenity and prosperous populations into the generations ahead.





 Looking through long-term visions for towns and cities in the Lower North Island, words like ‘resilient’, ‘collaborative’, ‘regenerative’, ‘climate-positive’,  ‘progressive’, ‘community-centred’, ‘connected’ and ‘dynamic’ are the key-notes of the future. Spatial planning has an essential role to play in guiding, realising and supporting the implementation these kinds of initiatives and aspirations.

Growing the region’s towns and cities for all, must be representative of all and woven into the spatial planning frameworks, the governance understandings and thus, delivered in the built realities – helping us all to feel connected and love where we live, learn, work, gather and play. Participative engagement across our communities establishes collective, creative visions where people are enabled to play-a-part of the process and contribute to their own futures, places and potential.

To get the big things right, we need to get the small things right too. When we think about spatial planning, the ‘macro’ context describes what is happening at a strategic level, the ‘micro’ context describes how it affects people day-to-day. For example, it’s important to have an excellent broadly spanning, multimodal transport network, but it’s also important that this system works for people, step-by-step, door-to-door (from a user’s-experience point of view).

Communities, practitioners and leaders need to think big and strategically, but also apply actions and contributions at that ‘micro’ level. In other words, we need to bring visions together with strategies and deliver pragmatic realities across all scales, understanding the intersection of hierarchies, various networks, visions and minute effects, outcomes and experiences. We must embed the collective visions and grass-roots concerns of our communities into the high-level projected growth scenarios and frameworks for our regions – ensuring we can respond to the pressing regional issues facing our regions from a people’s perspective as well as from a planning and policy perspective.

Right – so where do we focus our attention?

Ka ora te whenua, ka ora te tangata. (When the land is well, the people will be well.)

When it comes to resilient growth, there’s lots of issues across the region that need attention. These include:

  • Water management, energy and infrastructure
  • Intensification, Mixed-use and Housing (and iwi housing)
  • Environmental Management, Resilience and Climate Response
  • Transport, Connectivity and Multi-modal networks
  • Community, Well-being, Employment and Economy
  • Nature, Ecology and Biodiversity

Improving these six areas will go a long way towards building more resilient environments and communities. In each area, local authorities are working hard to create plans that outline meaningful immediate, short, mid and long-term actions. Where there are growth strategies and plans proposed, it’s essential that governance models provide for mutually inclusive environmental and cultural goals, asset management initiatives and infrastructure planning.

When we look at how to create beautiful, resilient local places and climate responsive environments, a meeting of minds and knowledges is needed – where community, stakeholders, industry, experts, iwi, authorities and government decide together through strategic yet iterative engagements and processes.

Growing a shared vision with co-design,  good engagement and social governance


Cross-collaboration and partnerships will be the difference between being able to integrate, coordinate and transform places to meet their potential alongside their pressing needs. Growing strong shared visions is based on the ability to unlock inter-agency intelligence and cross-benefiting solutions. Acknowledging our responsibilities to Te Tiriti o Waitangi, tangata whenua and to community will also be key in shaping futures that express a local urbanism, that reflects our people, our pūrākau (narratives) and gathers our differing priorities.

With leadership, we must listen to, take onboard and coordinate all knowledge and perspectives to support a stronger system of social resilience, representation and belonging. Layered understandings of whakapapa tell the stories of whenua, whanau and hapu. It’s through these relationships and stories that we can provide for resilient futures that respect the priorities, values and tikanga of Te Ao Māori.

Resilient growth must look at environmental management and whenua first – this is based on concepts of climate and environmental necessity and of tāria te wā and kaitiakitanga – a commitment to nature, long-term thinking and growing our sense of guardianship for whenua in and across Aotearoa, Wellington and its regions. An environment-first approach promotes intelligence, technology and innovation, and offers better models of regeneration, circular economy, long-sightedness and delivery of critical infrastructure to support environmental health.

Iwi from across the rohe (area); Ngāti Toa, Taranaki Whānui, Rangitāne O Wairarapa, Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairarapa, Ngāti Raukawa ki te Tonga, Te Ātiwawa ki Whakarongotai, Muaūpoko tribal authority, can offer kaitiakitanga and tino rangatiratanga that guide matauranga around how evolving models of resilience might be established.

Walking the talk

It’s an exciting time for the region as spatial planners, innovators, central and local government and iwi leaders join together to discover where the best opportunities for our collective future lie, and create plans and pathways towards achieving progressive and well-considered urban, suburban, coastal and rural objectives for resilient growth. Taking the quadruple bottom-line across all areas of development must become ‘business as usual’; consistently asking how development and growth performs environmentally, socially, culturally and economically?

Shifting Spatial Planning from a theoretical concept into the actuality of Resilient Growth requires strong implementation, project-based exploration and engagement alongside a multiplicity of engaged delivery partners. To achieve what the Wellington Region requires to be a thriving place, it is essential that we utilise the best of all aspects of our industry, governance, community and iwi understanding to create strategic methods of action across all key areas; Water management, energy and infrastructure, Intensification, Mixed-use and Housing (and iwi housing), Environmental Management, Resilience and Climate Response, Transport, Connectivity and Multi-modal networks, Community, Well-being, Employment and Economy, Nature, Ecology and Biodiversity, acknowledging the interconnectedness and interrelationship of each.

Bringing together taiao (the natural world), te ngākau (heart of people and place), strategic spatial planning, technical complexity and a balanced long-term vision for land, environment and oranga (well-being), spatial planning, participative engagement and resilient growth is set to influence waves of catalytic, climate-responsive, collaborative change for communities and environments across the Wellington region.

We acknowledge and understand the paths of the past through experience and seek to bring closer the not-so-distant horizons working for the resilience of tomorrow’s future.

“Kua tawhiti kē to haerenga mai, kia kore e haere tonu. He nui rawa o mahi, kia kore e mahi tonu.
(You have come too far not to go further, you have done too much not to do more)
– Ta Himi Henare  ( Sir James Henare ) Ngati Hine elder and leader


  • Co-written by Haley Hooper, Alan Whiteley and key members of the WSP team (WSP; Research, Urban Design, Planning, Architecture + Landscape Architecture)

In the next edition of our five part series into Spatial Planning with Wellington Regional Growth, we will look further into what really is Regenerative Design, what is happening in this space and how we can deliver more holistic solutions for our regions, and for the communities of Wellington.


Wellington Regional Leadership Committee

100 Cuba Street, Wellington
New Zealand

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