Dave Armstrong: Is plonking a Chinese garden in an already popular park a good move?

The proposed revamp of Frank Kitts Park, which includes a Chinese garden.
STANTIALL'S STUDIO LTD/SUPPLIED

The proposed revamp of Frank Kitts Park, which includes a Chinese garden.

OPINION: Ni hao! Wellington has had a significant Chinese community for over a century.

We also have strong civic links with China. Xiamen and Beijing are 'sister cities' and Tianjin a 'friendly city'. Tourism to Wellington from China is growing and many Chinese students study here, which is great both culturally and for the local economy.

Anyone who attended the recent noodle night market on the waterfront will probably agree that places and events that celebrate the multicultural nature of our city are a good thing. So given our strong links to China, surely having a Chinese garden in Wellington is a no-brainer? Even better, the Chinese want to pay for half of it.

Frank Kitts Park as it looks today on Wellington's waterfront.
FAIRFAX NZ

Frank Kitts Park as it looks today on Wellington's waterfront.

Wellington's Chinese community has wanted a Chinese garden dating back to before the Prendergast Dynasty. Our Chinese sister cities recently pledged to help Wellington's Chinese community pay for half of the $10 million project. Wellington's Mayor and Fearless Revolutionary Leader of the Great Civic and Cycling Cause – Celia Wade Brown – even signed a memorandum of understanding with the major of Xiamen, in front of Chinese president Xi.

READ MOREStoush brewing over Wellington's plans for a Chinese garden on the waterfront

But the trouble is, the planned site of the Chinese garden is slap-bang in the middle of the park commemorating Great 1960s Labour Civic Leader Who Did Bugger-all and Got Rid of the Trams – Sir Frank Kitts. Even though the politbureau of the Wellington City Council might think the Chinese garden will be a Great Leap Forward, not everyone agrees.

A drawing of the proposed new Chinese Garden for Frank Kitts Park.
STANTIALL'S STUDIO LTD/SUPPLIED

A drawing of the proposed new Chinese Garden for Frank Kitts Park.

Frank Kitts Park will lose its amphitheatre and will be 'opened up' to the sea, meaning that the concrete Great Wall of Frank Kitts, which protects park users from the wind, will be knocked down.

This will allow the delicate and fragrant sub-tropical Chinese plants to be serenaded by Wellington's gentle harbour-front wind and moisture.

The plans have upset some Wellingtonians, who have started an online petition. Environmental group and Misguided Bourgeois Deviationists, Waterfront Watch, has opposed the project's resource consent. Already worried that Jack Ilott Green will be lost as part of Chairman Kevin Lavery's Three Great Privatisations, Waterfront Watch is concerned that because the Chinese garden will be locked at night, there will be even less public access to the waterfront.

The proposed revamp of Frank Kitts Park will cost about $10m. Roughly half of that will be spent on the Chinese garden.
STANTIALL'S STUDIO LTD/SUPPLIED

The proposed revamp of Frank Kitts Park will cost about $10m. Roughly half of that will be spent on the Chinese garden.

Imperialist Capitalist Roader City Councillor Nicola Young agrees, labelling the project a 'complete waste of money. It seems an odd place to put a Chinese garden,' said the mayoral candidate.

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Though I like the idea of a Chinese garden, I'm not sure that plonking it in an already popular park is a great move. Those who checked out the amazing people-powered Spanish playground at Frank Kitts Park during the Arts Festival, or the amazing school lunchbox tree during the night-time Lux Festival, might agree.

But whatever your view on the Chinese garden, most people want an open debate carried out before action is taken. Not possible, according to Andy Foster, Glorious Lifetime Transport and Urban Development Chairman. A memorandum of understanding has already been signed and it would be a "terrible look for the city if we pulled out now".

The Frank Kitts Park amphitheatre will be a casualty of the $10m redevelopment.
ROSS GIBLIN/FAIRFAX NZ

The Frank Kitts Park amphitheatre will be a casualty of the $10m redevelopment.

It's true that to go back to Xiamen singing 'I beg your pardon, we never promised you a Chinese garden' would be embarrassing, but real democracy often is embarrassing. Just look at the Brexit vote and Donald Trump.

Yet the alternative is for unelected authoritarian bureaucrats to make major decisions about the future of the city, as happens in Wuhan and a few other cities beginning with W and ending in N.

And there's probably a Confucian saying somewhere along the lines of 'politician who signs deal for Chinese garden without due consultation ends up on arse in stinging nettles'.

Whatever the outcome of the garden, if the Gang of Three or Four promoting the project want a truly enduring friendship with China, then perhaps they should do practical things like making sure that Wellington's tourism infrastructure supports more Mandarin speakers.

They could also ensure that our educational institutions don't just take the hefty enrolment fees from Chinese students but show those coming here such a great time that they go home and tell everyone what a great place Wellington is to study in. I'm far from convinced that's what happens at present.

 - The Dominion Post

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