Interview with James Brown, Kaiwhakahaere, Ngāi Tai.
The Landscape Foundation commences an intermittent series of interviews with leaders about their thoughts on landscape and changes to their landscapes. Iwi, business, political and community leaders influence the way others value and perceive our landscapes. What do these leaders think and why?
We commence with James Brown, Kaiwhakahaere (or in business terminology Chief Executive Officer), of Ngāi Tai. One of the iwi/hapu who have mana whenua status in Tāmaki makaurau (Auckland), Ngāi Tai influence city planning and design through leadership groups.
What does landscape (whenua) mean to you?
Influence: whenua or landscape is one of the few ways to retain the past in the present. It is when wealth planned is the way to navigate the past in the present using plants, ecology and to return to broad ecological corridors which can only be returned through influence. The same applies to infrastructure: but we are consistently behind the eight ball though with infrastructure.
With what landscape or place do you associate?
I am Tāmaki makaurau – all of it. I am also proud of this landscape in terms of its built environment. As far as desecrated landscape goes, it is down to memories and remnants, but I am still proud of it. It is heartbeat, with nearly half the population of New Zealand. 1.5 million people give it the characteristic of the heart, which makes some of us so proud of the city, the landscape. Others see a big ugly city, but it has heart.
Down south some think little of Tāmaki makaurau, but I am proud. I was born in Tāmaki makaurau, in this rohe, Mataitai (Clevedon) by the coast.
How does this in turn affect your sense of identity?
Tāmaki makaurau elevates this sense, my sense of identity. The argument is that with so many people we get diluted, but as mana whenua we are elevated through our inherent DNA. We are right to welcome and host all of Tāmaki, to welcome all waka as mana whenua and mana moana. Two hundred plus ethnicities call Tāmaki home. This doesn’t excuse or support growth, but we are responsible irrespective as to whether we support it. Every visitor is our guest.
How can landscape changes be made to enhance rather than destroy sense of place and values from your perspective?
If we look at the traditional method of compromise to accommodate growth such as in Auckland, evidence will show that the commonwealth had no appreciation of height, space and its relationship to growth. Landscape can assist this missed opportunity.
Space and height needs more attention, and a commitment to enable Tāmaki makaurau to accommodate 20 million. The numbers are irrelevant but the timing is not. The largest opportunity is to exploit space and height, as well as depth (such as tunnelling), to provide future opportunities here.
We could be self-sufficient through landscape ideals such as floors of orchards in buildings, roofs with energy generation, more self-sufficient within the confines of development.
There could be models of community connections, around nature walks, the foreshore. There are a whole heap of connections.
How do you think the Te Aranga Principles can help with place-making or enhancing city landscapes, for Ngāi Tai?
There is the example in Glen Innes of the Te Oro building, with sound shells that tell the stories of the four cones. There will be other ‘Te Oro’ opportunities. Ngāti Paoa will include their stories as well with whatever they do. Cycle ways and walkways will include such elements. Bridges on walkway land are and can become cultural features through our own sculptors and artists.
Ngāi Tai are building 200 units but we are not including the Te Aranga Principles, deliberately, but have substance to support our own values.
What sort of futures do you see for Ngāi Tai at Maraetai; Glen Innes, or other places in Tāmaki Makaurau.
Ngāi Tai will grow its footprint commercially and culturally. We will invest within the urban area and Hauraki Gulf. In the next 30 years Ngāi Tai will have another 2-3 marae, and villages to support and run them. Te Naupata (Music Point) is a golf course but there will be 10 homes owned as a working village there. We will grow our footprint like that. We will have a war chest for investment for health, education and housing. Back to the future: once prosperous. Ngāi Tahu are investing in Glen Innes: they have money. While they should play in the South Island it is competitive for mana whenua to grow their footprint.
Ngāti Whatua have now a billion dollar asset base and Waikato Tainui have three billion. But only Ngāi Tai can represent Ngāi Tai and we aim to consolidate and return to when we first welcomed waka and had all the resources. Our opportunity is to leap frog, to reach the global stage. The Chinese are growing their economic footprint with serious acquisitions of infrastructure. This is also our opportunity to influence the future rather than be behind.
Umupuia (the Ngāi Tai marae at Maraetai in Auckland) is not catering for urban whanau: they are struggling to get out there, so we aim to make ourselves more accessible. We are spectators now but excited about change. These are exciting times.