Understanding past to plan for future – update

Posted on September 3, 2007

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Update on the Romantic City. I’m just back from presenting the project to the Dunedin City Council Planning and Environment committee. Their response: wow (mine? …phew).

Flis Butcher introduced us to the committee, along with perhaps 20 Council officials and members of the public. We talked about the importance of having an understanding of where we’ve come from in order to best make decisions for the future. On the committee agenda today was some decisions about Logan Park so we included this composite of Logan Park 1912 and 2007 (out of one of our office windows).

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We described the aim of walking down any street in any given year. We demonstrated this with a partial reconstruction of the Exchange area based on Shaw’s 1850 painting (two years after settlement). This view was a favourite of early artists and then photographers, but always from the same spot. What did it look like to a settler as they climbed off the boat? Let’s walk over and have a look, I said. Mark, Sanjay and Anson did a great job on this model, I’m really grateful for their energy and commitment.

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Questions from Councillors:

Q: Could you show McLaggan Street? Yes, we intend every street inside the Town Belt

Q: Could you show a particular year? A: Yes, “every building, ever” is the aim.

Q: So you could walk around the Queen’s Gardens between the wars? A: Yes.

Q: Are we going further back? A: The record goes back to 1840 and brief mentions in 1826. Peter Entwhistle’s “Behold the Moon” describes pre formal settlement while Maarire Goodall and George Griffiths’ “Maori Dunedin” considers Maori history, so we’re building these into the system. We hope to go further back and include some geological information too.

Q: Are you doing Port Chalmers? A: No, not initially. The design will be easily expanded though.

Q: How could we explore design options for future buildings or zoning? The plan is that we could sit on a favourite spot and watch the city develop around us. We hope to be able to include future developments to explore whether a plan fits with the history.

Q: Could you show features such as the stream in the Exchange? A: Yes, the stream caused great difficulties for the early settlers, such features will be a part of the system – along with reclamations, excavations, vegetation and fire.

Q: Why is it cloudy? A: Doesn’t have to be (is 24 degrees outside today on the second day of Spring).

Q: Where is the information coming from? A: Building information is coming from City Council rates books (from 1857) and building consents (from 1901). The first photographs are from the late 1850s.  We hope to have a database structure that links spatial and temporal information with the historic record so that each building can be positioned automatically in any given year.

Q: How can people contribute? A: The community has a vast store of knowledge about the history of particular places and buildings. We are setting up a community website for people to lodge their information and stories.

Q: What are the biggest hurdles? A: At the moment, the landscape – it is very much changed and we are working backwards through reclamation records and old photos to generate the changing terrain model.

Q: Please keep us posted. A: That’s the plan!

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