Nelson residents join forces to change the narrative

Nelson residents said they are tired of hearing negativity about the city. Photos: RNZ/Tracy Neal
Nelson residents said they are tired of hearing negativity about the city. Photos: RNZ/Tracy Neal
A group of Nelsonians tired of hearing that the city centre is dying have joined forces in a bid to change the narrative.

They have opened a community hub called What if Whakatū Nelson on Hardy St, to collect ideas and start conversations on how to help make the city more vibrant and liveable for everyone.

Over the next month, the space will host a series of lunchtime talks, panel discussions and workshops with speakers and participants who have interesting ideas and visions for Nelson.

Anne Rush started Make/Shift Spaces four years ago, at a time when there was lots of talk about the city dying.

She said at the time, there were 35 empty shops in the central city and after a conversation with then-mayor Rachel Reese, they came up with the idea to occupy vacant spaces with temporary art installations, between leases.

"We came to the realisation that the arts and culture plays a great role in revitalising our city, and some of it can be done quite simply."

Rush said the current rhetoric about the city centre was similar - and people had joined forces to do something about it.

"Many Nelsonians are concerned about the state of our city centre at present. Maybe we need to look each other in the eye and say to ourselves; What are we doing about it as a community?"

She said the space was an ideas hub, an independent, neutral space that enabled people to start conversations and identify what actions were needed to ensure Nelson remained a vibrant city into the future.

"There's a group of us who are determined to create a strategy from all this, we have the 10-year plan for the council coming up, but we also think that we will be able to create some action, very soon."

Many Nelsonians are brainstorming ways to keep the city vibrant.
Many Nelsonians are brainstorming ways to keep the city vibrant.
Talks begin at 12.30pm each weekday and last for 20 minutes or so, with 10 minutes of discussion after. People are encouraged to bring their lunch, engage and add their own ideas.

Speakers include architects, landscape architects, artists, people from the business sector, retailers, developers, migrant communities and iwi organisations, with opportunities for others to get involved.

Talks in the first week had an architecture focus, while the second week will examine the role of community-led development.

Rush said there had been incredible engagement so far, with a real buzz in the city as a result.

Architect William Samuels said there was an opportunity in Nelson for truly positive transformation, but getting there required a shared vision and aspiration for what the city could become.

"Starting with the built environment, we need to explore the question of what our city will look like in 10, 20 or even 50 years' time.

"How will we live, work, and relax in Nelson, and how can the design of our city facilitate this?"

That included considering what well-designed housing within the city could look like, how to create public areas that were enjoyable to occupy and allowed people to linger and better engage with our retail and hospitality sectors, along with spaces that better catered for families, youth, elderly, tourists and students.

"These are all big questions that we need to discuss if we want to create a collective vision for Nelson and to enable real, tangible progress for our city."