Wellbeing at Ngarara

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Careful thought has gone into nurturing a sense of community at a sustainable development being built among wetlands on the Kapiti Coast.

The first townhouses at Ngārara.
Architect’s sketch of Ngārara subdivision on the Kāpiti Coast.

ON THE KAPITI COAST north of Wellington, residential property market activity is undergoing a boom, with Waikanae, one of the more popular beach towns, home to around a dozen residential developments alone.

Connecting land and community

Responding to the growing need for a more sustainable approach to development and raising the sustainability bar for New Zealand is the Ngārara subdivision on coastal land between Kāpiti Island and the Tararua Range.

Comprising some 130 hectares with a mixture of privately owned farmland and freshwater wetland, Ngārara is expected to take around 25 years to complete.

The development is spearheaded by the Smith family, which has owned and lived on the land for four generations. This connection with the land and the surrounding community has been a strong driver to ensuring that the natural character of wetlands and native bush is protected and enhanced.

There is a clear aspiration to create high-quality living in both the built and natural environment. The overall goal is to create a well integrated development with a low impact on the environment.

Architect’s sketch of Ngārara subdivision on the Kāpiti Coast.

Four guiding principles

Ngārara will be an urban village with well connected external living spaces that enhance community and a sense of belonging. It is guided by four cornerstone principles that have been established to help Ngārara stay true to its vision.

‘It’s useful to understand the typical and strongest drivers of residential development and why Ngārara is atypical,’ says Jonathan Smith. ‘Without the establishment of these guiding principles at the beginning of the project, I’m certain, in the face of sometimes monumental challenges, that we would have taken an easier but poorer pathway.’

These guiding principles are:

  • natural systems – protecting and enhancing the natural environment through public and private initiatives
  • connectivity – through careful design of the interface between public and private space and through roading and paths and the creation of places where people can relax in company
  • social equity – providing the surrounding community with its fair share of the benefits of development and equal access to resources and services
  • character – preserving the character of the natural landscape and encouraging organic architecture.

Multi-stage development

The development consists of three neighbourhoods with the first, named Waimeha, consisting of around 11 hectares. Waimeha is planned to have some 300 dwellings, with a mixture of stand-alone houses, attached townhouses, apartments and also retail, offices and possibly an early-learning facility. Currently, only a handful of stand-alone homes and townhouses have been completed, with the first homeowner moving in late last year.

The first townhouses at Ngārara.

Thoughtful subdivision scale design

The design for Waimeha is comprehensive with thoughtful consideration for not only the built forms but also the integrated wetland reserves, pocket parks and greenways. Some of the issues at the suburban scale include:

  • a low impact urban design and development approach, which leverages natural ecosystems to inform the development process – from the landscape planting and open space planning right through to the way individual lots interact with each other
  • stormwater control techniques that minimise site run-off and prevent untreated run-off entering the wetland by incorporating rain gardens, swales and permeable and semi-permeable surfaces.
  • planting indigenous species that integrate well with adjacent wetland remnants and are selected to withstand dry summers without requiring irrigation and minimise shading and canopy overhang on surrounding residential properties
  • 6 m wide greenway corridors, linking villages and wetlands to provide strong pedestrian access and cycleways throughout the neighbourhood
  • generous public parks, reserves and shared spaces
  • the chance to have a community garden for those in higher-density housing and the opportunity to learn about growing vegetables
  • balancing privacy and security needs with the need for sun access, achieved by built form, window placement, positioning, landscaping and hardscaping.

People take priority over cars

The Smith family has been influenced by the most successful international subdivision developments and is applying these lessons to Ngārara. Creating living streets is an example. This is where spaces encouraging outdoor activity, play and social interaction are achieved by slowing traffic so the street can easily be transformed into an environment where people take priority over cars.

Mixed typologies and designs

Three architectural firms have been engaged in Stage 1 to provide the residential designs – the award-wining Wellington-based First Light Studio and Andrew Sexton Architecture and Christchurch-based CoLab Architecture.

The designs consist of different typologies to facilitate a range of densities and styles in the development – with the idea of achieving a strong subdivision-wide character.

The homes are compact and smart to make the best use of the spaces, and the specifications are far higher than Building Code. The homes:

  • are 6-star Homestar® rated, as a minimum – this provides a robust, third-party assessment of various attributes, including thermal comfort, energy efficiency, water management and low-impact building materials
  • are solar photovoltaic and electric vehicle ready
  • are equipped with 10,000 litre underground water tanks (council requirement)
  • recognise the changing needs of the residents so there is opportunity for all stages of life to be met within the subdivision.

Hope to inspire others

It is encouraging to see sustainability being considered, planned for and acted on so thoughtfully in a new mixed-use development. We will be following Ngārara with interest and hope it will inspire other developers to consider a more integrated design approach.

With the growing concerns around climate change and physical and mental wellbeing, this alternative to the traditional suburban development model provides a more responsive way forward, learning from some of the most progressive initiatives implemented internationally.

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The first townhouses at Ngārara.
Architect’s sketch of Ngārara subdivision on the Kāpiti Coast.