I threatened/promised (dependent on your viewpoint) to write this post after visiting Rotorua’s lakeside development.
If you had a chance to see the updates about the time we spent in the town, you’ll know that not only is there a lot to see and do but that we greatly enjoyed the visit. We also got a chance to exercise our Publuc Health geekery.
We also walked down to the lakeside and on arrival were confronted with this:
Yes, a boarded up, utterly underwhelming view of the waters. How disappointing…
…but actually… what is going on is a scheme to regenerate the Lakeside.
There are several schemes underway in the city as part of the Vision 2030 – Rotorua Way, one of which includes the repairs of the Museum, but I was really interested in the Lakeside development and the way the plans had been consulted on.
Public health and planning
Working in Public Health for the last (good grief) almost twenty years, some of the projects that I have most enjoyed working on have been focused on regeneration and planning.
What has that got to do with health?
To paraphrase Murray Walker (sports commentator and who, legend has it, was the creator of the original Mars Bar branding), I argue that our health and wellbeing are shaped and affected by where we live, work and play.
Where do we spend most of our time? Where do we eat, go for a walk, take the kids to spend the afternoon, etc?
Linking Public Health principles to place-shaping, town planning, regeneration, urban (and rural) design is therefore essential.
I was really interested to see an example of New Zealand’s approach to this and Rotorua’s Lakeside development provided.
There were several information boards that outlined the intentions and the design elements. The principles were clearly presented too:
The focus on connecting people to place – encouraging residents to enjoy the natural green space that is on their doorstep – supports mental wellbeing as well as physical wellbeing.
Plans have been in place for the Rotorua waterfront since 2006 but funding hasn’t been available to implement them.
The vision combines improving the environment to support tourism and further investment. There is, after all, substantial evidence that shows an attractive environment encourages people to spend time and money in local businesses.
(It’s an argument that also supports improved cycle routes and pedestrian routes through towns).
In 2018, the New Zealand government recognised the importance and potential of this project and invested 19.9million NZD, matched by the Rotorua Council with 20.1million NZD.
Work will take three years to complete.
Communication and consultation
The fence closing off the site is being used as a means to communicate the vision,the plans and how they have been developed.
A simple and effective way to keep people informed about the project. I hope that these are updated as key stages are completed over the next three years.
It would be a great way of maintaining enthusiasm and interest.
The project designers have also consulted with local people and a particular element of this was consulting with schoolchildren on what the playground should look look like and contain.
I love the fact that the children were asked to help design the playground. After all, which group of people are going to spend the most time there?
They had strong ideas for their dream playground.
The facility will be three times bigger than the existing playground, with smooth looped tracks for children to ride bikes and scooters. New swings will be installed and it seems kids enjoy watching the world go by too.
There will be seating areas for groups and individuals to chat or catch their breath.
I’m not sure adult designers would always have considered the idea of children needing to take a rest from running around.
This is a beautiful example of the importance of involving, in the planning and design stages, the end-user/ consumer/ target audience or simply the people who you’d like to enjoy your product.
In the UK, I undertook training with the Design Council on how to plan a project aimed at improving health – focusing on what the problem actually is (rather than what we think it is) and how to work with local communities to design the solutions.
The key messages from this programme which was supported by the Local Government Association were:
Enabling public sector organisations to become more agile and inclusive – we all know that working alone in a darkened room seldom brings solutions but we need to work with people we wouldn’t usually.
Aligning projects and processes with the needs of users – what is it like actually using the services tou provide? Experience it from a service-user perspective. It could be enlightening.
Performance improvements come from uncovering user insights – ask the people what would work.
Reading about the work that had gone in to developing the Rotorua Way very much brought to mind the Design Council principles.
The plans and designs have considered the needs of people who will be using this facility – whether it is for physical activity or mental wellbeing and the real strength of the design is that it combines the two.
It’s also not only a space for running around. It’s a space for resting and great care has been taken to ensure it will be accessible for all.
Not everyone goes to the park for additional exercise – for some groups, the park is the destination for a rest after the exertion of getting there.
It would be great to come back in three years’ time and see what the project looks like.