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September 30, 2021


Regenerative Placemaking in Practice

With thanks to conversations with Ludo Campbell-Reid, Ralph Webster,
and Frith Walker 

Twenty years ago, the City of Auckland was suffering from a depressed economy, declining public health, and a short-term, self-centric viewpoint called “Auckland disease.” Now a decade later with a ten-fold increase in private investment, public transport patronage doubling every year, and the strengthening of its social and natural systems, Auckland’s embrace of Regenerative Placemaking principles has resulted in this remarkable transformation and the recent recognition as the most liveable city in the world

Employing regenerative thinking in the sense of re-activating and enlivening the city; using the city to support social and ecological capacity; and activating these strategies through fine-grained testing of ideas and active agency of stakeholders; Auckland’s efforts to revitalize the heart of the city have been extraordinary. 

For example, take the transformation of Fort and Elliott Streets. On Fort Street, there has been a 54% increase in pedestrian volumes and a 47% increase in consumer spending, while on Elliott Street there has been a 10% pedestrian and 27% spending increase.

Source, City of Auckland review, 2015 2

However, while these are tangible examples in simple terms, there are many additional reflections to map Regenerative Placemaking components over the past decade in Auckland. Six of note are: 

  1. Living systems thinking

Understood as a philosophy that studies the interrelation and dependence of all stakeholders and environments in a given place, for Auckland this approach was leveraged to emphasize reconnecting to its natural systems – the bay, rivers, and mountains. 

In practice, this was realized by:

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Image source: Ralph Webster

  1. Transdisciplinary knowledge exchange

Focused on consulting with everyone to gain significant ideas and better solutions, Ralph Webster, the Auckland Council’s former program development manager said that working on a Regenerative Placemaking development was not “just a team sport, but an intergenerational team sport.”  

How so? 

  1. Rigorous and inclusive community engagement 

Community engagement done well means that they are agents in the eventual outcome and have a sense of custodianship and stewardship which is critical. This creates attachment and belonging leading to positive social, ecological, and economic outcomes. 

Critically this engagement should not only be about extracting ideas and good will from participants it is ensuring they gain benefit from the experience also as Webster said, “In addition to working with all stakeholders in projects to increase the vitality and vibrancy of a place, one of the most critical parts is to create the potential to have fun, laugh and play through the process and embed it in the end result.”

In Auckland this came to life in practical terms by:

  1. Biophilia and sustainability practices

Throughout Auckland, connection to nature is an integral part of how spaces are looked at, from working with threatened species to how to plan support biodiversity. This is evidenced through experimentation with green roofs on shipping container activation nodes, using them for insects and other small threatened species. 

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Image from Presentation of Ludo Campbell-Reid, international urban strategist, and newly appointed Director of City Design & Liveability at Wyndham City Council.

Auckland’s focus on nature enables them to imagine future potential, and this leads to human benefits such as reduced urban heat and biophilic benefits with a stronger connection to nature. 

These practices are put into action by asking these simple questions: 

  1. Regenerative placemaking interventions 

Testing within the community was an integral part of the City of Auckland’s processes and their work with stakeholders. Practically, this collaboration has resulted in the Activate Auckland plan to support the 30-year strategic redevelopment plan of the City.


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Image: Activate Auckland

  1. Avoiding gentrification

Auckland has attracted its share of critique for increased housing prices, yet this was addressed by creating innovative models to support home ownership and community planning.

For example:


While Regenerative Placemaking is an ever-evolving, living development approach, Auckland demonstrates through its transformation as one of the least to most-liveable cities that with incredible amounts of private investment, collaboration, preservation, and conservation that a socially, ecologically, and socially thriving city can be willed. All it takes is commitment and vision!