Strengthening eastern Porirua neighbourhoods

This Issue This is a part of the Neighbourhoods and ageing populations feature

By - , Build 106

The vibrant community of Eastern Porirua shows that, with community engagement and environmental changes, disadvantaged communities can be safer, healthier, more confident neighbourhoods.

New low, transparent fences helped define front yards, making people feel safer.
New low, transparent fences helped define front yards, making people feel safer.
MaptothefutureCMY
The community celebration where the results from the ‘Map to the future’ survey were shared with residents.
IMAGE 039cmy
IMAGE 039cmy
WAGcmy
The Waitangirua Action Group painting out tagging to improve the environment in Eastern Porirua.
WarspiteAvenueCMY2
Replacement Housing New Zealand houses are much better suited to the needs of tenants today.

Located just north of Wellington, Porirua City has a diverse population, which boasts the fourth highest average household income in New Zealand. However, this wealth is not shared by all, with pockets of disadvantaged communities, such as Eastern Porirua.

Predominantly built during the 1960s, Eastern Porirua is a low socio-economic area, with mainly decile one schools and a score of 10 on the Deprivation Index. For many people, Eastern Porirua has a bad reputation, but not among the people who live there. For the area’s 18,000 residents, ‘Eastside’ is home and has strong and vibrant communities.

Eastern Porirua is no longer the stopping-off place for transient public servants or blue collar workers employed by the manufacturing plants in Porirua City. It is now well established with third and fourth generation families.

‘Community’ not considered in post-war planning

Eastern Porirua was planned and developed at a time of severe post-war housing shortages. Demand was high, and the economy was booming. The Housing Act 1955 facilitated the building of large numbers of houses to satisfy demand, but they were built quickly with little recognition of the need for community services and facilities or the notion of community cohesion or ‘good neighbourhood design’.

The community celebration where the results from the ‘Map to the future’ survey
The community celebration where the results from the ‘Map to the future’ survey were shared with residents.

Between the 1960s and early 1990s, state assistance was targeted at housing low-income families. Houses were allocated according to social, economic or health needs. As a result, some suburbs became increasingly stigmatised. Disadvantage was concentrated in areas such as Eastern Porirua and, some would argue, perpetuated.

IMAGE 039cmy

Community Renewal project

To address areas of disadvantage, particularly those with high concentrations of state-owned properties, Housing New Zealand launched the Community Renewal programme in 2000. Eastern Porirua is one of six locations involved around New Zealand. This programme broadly aims to reduce social exclusion and to promote safe, healthy and confident communities by working in partnership with residents, local service providers, and central and local government agencies.

In Eastern Porirua, the project covers the geographic areas of Waitangirua, Cannons Creek and Porirua East. Housing New Zealand is landlord to over 1,900 properties (48% of ownership) in this area. The average age of the housing stock is 45 years, and the size and layout of many are poorly suited to today’s needs. By the end of the 1990s, the houses had high vacancy rates and tenant turnover, and the area was perceived by many as being unsafe.

Improving the physical and social environment

Ageing and obsolete stock, high maintenance, urban design problems and social disadvantage prompted a two-pronged approach to the community renewal. Firstly, Housing New Zealand is redeveloping, refurbishing and modernising properties to improve the quality, image and physical environment of the area. Secondly, it is working with communities to enhance the social environment.

Many of the concerns identified by communities are at neighbourhood level and need locally developed and owned solutions. Hence, the project provides community members with the opportunity to play a significant role in the renewal of their particular area.

Hearing residents’ views

A 2005 survey of 1,000 Eastern Porirua residents using the Community Participatory Appraisal methodology revealed some surprising results. Dubbed ‘Map to the future’, over 87% of respondents rated Eastern Porirua 5 and above on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being ‘no thanks’ and 10 being ‘love it’. Over 37% rated it a 10. The single most common feature favoured by residents was the people, who were described as ‘friendly’ ‘supportive’, ‘good neighbours’ and with a ‘great sense of community’.

The Waitangirua Action Group painting out tagging to improve the environment in
The Waitangirua Action Group painting out tagging to improve the environment in Eastern Porirua.

Tenants and residents were very clear about their priorities for improvements. They wanted modern, healthy homes and wanted to feel safe in them. Many of the properties were poorly laid out and did not have front fencing or off-street parking. As a result, many tenants were concerned for their families, especially children, and the security of their vehicles.

Low fences define boundaries

The first step in addressing such concerns was to tackle properties adjoining walkways, where tenants felt particularly unsafe. Security lights were installed, fences were upgraded and vehicle access to properties was improved. The principles of Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED) were incorporated in the choice of fencing designs. New fences were installed to maximise natural surveillance (and reduce the opportunity for criminal activity), increase access control and enhance residents’ sense of ownership.

Over the last 5 years, over 400 properties have been fenced. Off-street parking has been added to them and security lights installed. The impact on tenants has been substantial. They report feeling safer and more secure in their properties. They now know where their property boundary begins and ends. They know their children can play safely in their front yard and they report feeling less fearful of people passing by or of being burgled.

Retrofitting and replacing houses

Redevelopment has added 32 new homes to Eastern Porirua, 500 homes have been retrofitted and insulated, and over 100 have been modernised with new kitchens, bathrooms, decks, carpet and heating options. Redeveloped properties have also benefitted from CPTED principles. They have been redesigned to maximise street appeal, improve the connection between the property and the street and to provide a sense of security and privacy.

Plans are now underway to substantially redevelop the Castor Loop area, a highly concentrated area characterised by four 2-storey multi-blocks in a row.

Since redevelopment started, 17 apprentice trainees have been placed with builders through a partnership with the Porirua Apprenticeship Trust.

Street makeovers build neighbourhoods

Community Renewal has also been coordinating annual ‘street makeovers’. These week-long events focus on one or two streets. They bring tenants, residents, community organisations, and local and central government together to clean and beautify streets, build relationships and bring their services closer to residents.

New low, transparent fences helped define front yards, making people feel safer.
New low, transparent fences helped define front yards, making people feel safer.

The makeovers have been hugely successful in drawing neighbourhoods together to make their environment cleaner, safer and friendlier. They provide an opportunity for neighbours to meet, discuss, plan and do something practical together that has long-term benefits. Here, they can demonstrate pride in their community. Community Renewal is attempting to change not only the physical environment, but how people feel about living in Eastern Porirua. Importantly, the results of street makeovers are proving to be sustainable.

Go the grafitti grandmas!

Working with residents to identify issues and develop solutions forms a large part of Community Renewal work. Graffiti vandalism was the most common issue identified in the ‘Map to the future’ survey. Residents despised tagging but had almost given up removing it because of its constant proliferation.

The solution came from a group of local women who wanted to work in the community. They formed the Waitangirua Action Group (WAG) and worked closely with the Community Renewal team to find something that would also result in them moving from the unemployment benefit into employment. After completing a successful audit of graffiti in Porirua, they moved into community-based graffiti eradication through a contract with Porirua City Council. WAG is now renowned in Porirua as the Graffiti Grandmas or Graffiti Guardians. They are proving to be hugely successful because of their street credibility, their tenacity and their desire to make their city the best that it can be.

Safer, smarter, cleaner

According to a survey conducted in March 2008 by Housing New Zealand at the local health and cultural festival Creekfest, it seems that the Community Renewal project is having a substantial impact. Over 82% of respondents noted the positive differences the improvements were having on families and the community. ‘Safer’, ‘smarter’, ‘cleaner’ and ‘more attractive’ were common comments. What also became clear were the changes people noticed over time: that it is ‘tidier than 4 years ago’, there has been a ‘huge attitude change’ and there is now ‘an increased pride in the community’.

Replacement Housing New Zealand houses are much better suited to the needs of te
Replacement Housing New Zealand houses are much better suited to the needs of tenants today.

Eastern Porirua still faces significant multi-layered issues that will take time to address. Bad reputations are easily earned and harder to dislodge, but what is clearly evident now is a tangible determination in the community to make positive changes. Housing New Zealand, the Porirua City Council and other Community Renewal partners are providing some of the tools, but, ultimately, it is the people of Eastern Porirua that are making their neighbourhood a safer, healthier place to live.

Download the PDF

Articles are correct at the time of publication but may have since become outdated.

New low, transparent fences helped define front yards, making people feel safer.
New low, transparent fences helped define front yards, making people feel safer.
The community celebration where the results from the ‘Map to the future’ survey
The community celebration where the results from the ‘Map to the future’ survey were shared with residents.
IMAGE 039cmy
IMAGE 039cmy
The Waitangirua Action Group painting out tagging to improve the environment in
The Waitangirua Action Group painting out tagging to improve the environment in Eastern Porirua.
Replacement Housing New Zealand houses are much better suited to the needs of te
Replacement Housing New Zealand houses are much better suited to the needs of tenants today.

Advertisement

Advertisement