This will not be a long article.

Not because I am short of words – I am sure that lack of verbosity is not something my team-mates would ever accuse me of, but rather because this is a question that we have not yet answered. And so I am writing from a position of inquisitiveness and enquiry, rather than certainty.

The question is this: this thing we are calling “placemaking”, this idea that places should be made with people in mind and with a determination to make sure our environments are good for us – is it really that new?

All cultures, if they look far enough into their ancestry, can find a time where they knew how to live with each other and their environments. And yet this innately human (and humane) knowledge has been widely disregarded in our rapid and enthusiastic drive towards urbanisation.

Across the globe, placemaking seeks to rebuild connection between people and place – between communities and the disciplines that we use in creating our environments – from planning to design to implementation and on into the life of our places.

As stated above, our ancestors carried knowledge that assisted them in surviving in many varied environments, across thousands of years. And yet so many of our built environments, and related processes, are failing us and failing our planet. Which is probably why all of us in the field of regeneration have jobs!

But in this rapidly changing and uncertain world there are many calls to revisit this deep knowledge in order to assist us into a better future – from placemaking to systems thinking to regenerative practise. And so here at Panuku, in Auckland/Tamaki Makaurau, we are looking to the first peoples of this land, Mana Whenua – who still remember what it means to live in this place - to try and communicate our placemaking approach through a lens of ancestral and place-based knowledge.

Panuku is committed to the creation of healthy, resilient places, and recognises the role that Mana Whenua play with regards the protection and guardianship of this land. From their knowledge and understanding we seek to assist in the creation of places that are truly connected, on all levels.

We recognise the importance of Mana Whenua identity and connection with place. The essence of a place, their stories and what makes them distinctive – an other aspect of civic life that seems to have fallen away in the last 200 years or so. Part of that identity extends and is not limited to the importance of historical narratives and the use of the native language of this land : Te Reo Māori.

We are looking to their knowledge (mātauranga Māori) and understanding, combining the physical and psychological elements of place and protection of the environment, to help us ensure that the places we are responsible for, and the people that use them, continue to thrive.

This is something we need to do with great care and respect – there has been much harm done here over the love of, or desire for, this “land of 1000 lovers”. So we therefore enter this conversation with an awareness of the damaging effects of appropriation and misrepresentation.

We fundamentally recognise that placemaking for Tamaki Makaurau requires a return to what makes this place special – the people and the place. This means working with an understanding and awareness of physical, emotional and psychological effects that our environments, and our fellow citizens, have on us as humans.

Or, to paraphrase one of Auckland’s iwi/tribes (not well I am afraid!) – we need to walk to the future facing the past.

Place making, in my mind at least, is not an individualised practice. Rather is a call to move beyond specialisation and into processes that honour collective knowledge, resilience, understanding and wellbeing.

So back to the initial question: Who are the people of your land? What is the knowledge of your ancestors? Maybe these are tools we ought to look to grip up again, for the good of all those people that haven’t been born yet. After all – aren’t they the ones we are making places for?

issue 03. autumn 2017