Dannevirke: Nice carpet, but...

LUCY TOWNEND
Last updated 12:00 20/02/2013

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You could be forgiven for thinking you spotted a rock star wandering the streets of Dannevirke this week, but the man dressed in black, with the metallic-gold shoes, tinted glasses and streaks of purple hair was urban design rock star, Queenslander David Engwicht.

He stopped off for a two-hour talk in the Tararua town yesterday, where he chatted to visitors from Kaikoura, Paeroa and Palmerston North about his place-making do-it-yourself kits, compiled to help communities put planning ideas into action.

In the seminar, which he described as "a fun-filled balloon ride through my brain", he discussed developing towns' neighbourhoods, shopping streets and public spaces, as well as thinking of residents as "citizens, not customers".

The planning guru is on a whirlwind six-week tour visiting 41 Australian and New Zealand towns talking about his place-making ideas.

Mr Engwicht said his day in Dannevirke was "not bad at all" and the 90-strong crowd surprised him.

"It still blows my mind when I roll into a little town that I've never been to before and there's a big crowd waiting there for me."

In an impromptu walk down Dannevirke's main drag after the forum he told the Manawatu Standard some of his tips for the town and for rural centres on the whole.

"The vitality of this street is entirely dependent on how the retailers relate to the street, not what they've got in their shop.

"It's about creating a sense of home, and Dannevirke is like most towns where they spend a lot of money on the carpet, but very little on the furniture in the lounge."

Mr Engwicht said he enjoyed visiting rural regions because they engaged with his messages more than urban cities.

"The ironic thing is, when you go to bigger places no-one is really motivated."

Tararua Mayor Roly Ellis said the seminar was "a thought-provoking and enlightening talk".

"In smaller rural towns like ours in Tararua . . . we're always on the lookout on how we can improve our commmunities."

As the inventor of the Walking School Bus, Mr Engwicht is considered one of the world's innovative thinkers on place-making, citizen engagement and creative problem-solving.

He launched a place-making pilot scheme in Palmerston North last year, which started a city-wide race for residents and retailers to turn their neighbourhoods into good, safe and interesting places for people to be.

It resulted in Waitoetoe Park being given a spruce-up and planter boxes being installed down George St, and other low-cost, inventive urban design projects.

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- Manawatu Standard

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