Meet the man with a vision

Family focus for rejuvenation

LOUISE BERWICK
Last updated 11:03 09/06/2014
craig pocock
NICOLE JOHNSTONE/ Fairfax NZ

SITE SUMMIT: Inner city upgrade boss and city councillor Graham Sycamore, left, and upgrade designer Craig Pocock in Esk St, where the upgrade will begin.

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Who is the man who will change the face of our city? Reporter Louise Berwick catches up with town designer Craig Pocock.

It is a simple order of a coffee, it comes with a strong message.

"Makeover us man."

Craig Pocock could be any quintessential New Zealand bloke, sipping coffee at the back of the Invercargill cafe.

But when his coffee arrives with a plea to rejuvenate the city from Zookeepers' owner Paul Clark, there's a realisation this man represents our future.

Pocock is just another Kiwi dad - he can tell a great yarn, started a successful family business and speaks dotingly about his three daughters.

And like many Kiwi men, he leaves things to the last minute, including his tender to rejuvenate Invercargill.

In 2012 the city council asked for tenders to design the master plan for the inner city.

He assumed he would be the underdog if he gave it a crack, but in the final days before the deadline for the concepts closed, he threw something together, bound it in a book and fronted up for an interview.

He told them the council's $6 million budget would not be enough for his $12 million plans as he pitched new ideas and talked of a his vision for the city.

He walked out of the Esk St office, sure he had missed out on the gig.

But he got the contract and from that day forward he set out to make himself a local, to be a familiar face.

He's certainly familiar to the cafe we sit in. Pocock says he only eats and drinks in inner city cafes and restaurants, supporting the businesses who have been loyal to the heart of the city.

When he's not suited up in front of council, he's pounding the pavements of Invercargill, getting to know the Turkish kebab shop owner, hearing what businesses have plans to expand or move, and eating. Like a typical Kiwi bloke, he likes eating - he lists off his favourite places for lunch, coffee and dinner.

He jokes that he is always late in Invercargill because he is being stopped on the street by people wanting to know more about the upgrade, or more importantly to some, when it is actually going to happen.

It's that pride residents and business owners have in the city that makes Invercargill special, he said.

"I am quite defensive of Invercargill, the problem is, it's the end of the road, it has to be a destination."

To make the city centre become a destination for both Invercargill residents and for tourists, it has to be somewhere people want to spend time, he said.

He keeps referring back to "more amenity" as the way to do it, simple things like public toilets, shelter, plants and colour.

He's not out to make "a fashion statement," he's focused on simply making it an easier place to be for families and for the elderly.

He's had some wins already. The Southland Farmers Market has moved into the city as his master plan had shown and another group has plans for a performing arts centre.

He's confident more things will start happening, more investment, more projects but someone has to make the first move and that has to be the council, he said.

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Financially the council was investing only 10 per cent of what the the total possible investment in the city would be once the commercial sector made a move, he said.

"It's a chicken and egg thing."

The timing of the project, in the middle of election year, was not the best timing for major projects, he said.

"The minute these projects get to election year it always becomes an electioneering topic."

He acknowledges the controversy, "it's not unusual", but after more than 10 years in the design industry, it was still impossible to please everyone.

"There will be people that will love it and people that will hate it."

Invercargill had the potential to be a vibrant city, a bright and colourful city, it's all about space, he said.

But while he says he sees himself as an ambassador for the inner city, he can't be the driving force to make it change.

"It doesn't matter how good or bad the designs are, the city thrives off political will."

Before he was given the task of breathing life into the city, Pocock had not spent a lot of time in the deep south.

When he left school as a teenager he had his sights set on the army, not drawing concept plans and mapping out cities.

"You know you are in trouble when the army won't have you. They said I wouldn't be any good at taking orders that I didn't agree with."

So after a stint surveying forests he headed to university to study landscape design and soon after, made the pilgrimage for London do to the traditional overseas experience.

That led him to the Middle East where he worked on the construction of five star hotels where visits from Yasser Arafat were not uncommon.

He eventually met the love of his life in the region, and when she agreed to visit him in the West Bank where he lived in a refugee camp, he knew she was the one.

The assignment came with its challenges, he was arrested constantly, questioned about what he was doing and as the troubles continued in the area, eventually he had to leave.

"It [the hotel] just got shot up."

However, he did not leave empty handed, he got the girl, who is now his wife Alexa.

And the rest is history, now a father of three young girls in Christchurch, the more laid-back surroundings of working in Invercargill suits his lifestyle.

"Somehow it ends up here."

- The Southland Times

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