A Snark at the Park

by noizyboy on June 30, 2006

A guest post from Kenno…

Waitangi Park, yeah, sigh, it leaves me flat. Be warned, that will become the most overused description of the next few years. It’s an urban space surrounding the marvellous Te Papa and thereby it’s not simply a Wellington space but a space that should mightily reflect the national character.

Well, if the idea was to reflect bland conservative conformism and lock-step simple mindedness with all the individuality and self expression of a schoolgirl uniform, then it will succeed. I, for one, thought we might want to reflect other, perhaps more appealing aspects of the national character. Don’t get me wrong, this place would really wow them in Nelson or Timaru, but, this city is a little beyond that, a bit more mature, slightly more cosmopolitan and farther away from pig-dogs and paddocks. Right? God, I was really trying to understate the case.

Okay, it’s flat. It looks like it was done on the cheap. It couldn’t have been though, you can not bury that many meters of concrete and not spend a lot of money. There is obviously some kind of surplus of concrete that had to be disposed of that no one was telling us about. However, as a park that is also an excess of concrete, it doesn’t separate the city from the sea, like the brutalist Frank Kitts fortress park. Who are trying to repel from our boarders with that anyway?

The constrained pathways of Waitangi Park appear as if people should look at them but not walk on them. Certainly, there is to be no lackadaisical meandering, handholding quiet romancing, joyous romping in the spring sunshine and delighted playfulness or any other form of recreational frivolity. This is a serious park, an educational park that has but two purposes. The first is seemingly to employ generations of broom pushers and rake pullers, there’s a whole quarry of loose agraget in there. The second and most educative purpose of the park, I shall return to in a moment, with the same pompous arbitrarism that the park’s designers seem to crave. You see, discipline implies your dark desire to be controlled and you can get that now in a public space — it’s a wonder.

Waitangi Park misses on many things such a pivotal park should do, like manage bikers, skaters and joggers on their own paths thereby allowing us bipeds to remain so. The sheep fenced children’s area is a third of the size it should be. It’s also as varied and interesting as a bowl of porridge, but nicely close to the toilets. The skate park, well, I’ll leave that alone, there should be a place where the new generation, can inflict neurological damage at taxpayers expense. The large rock arrangement, I just don’t get. It’s not a rock, it’s a sculpture because it is buttressed by thick iron pipes, or it’s a rock the Earth Quake Commission would only approve with thick iron pipes holding it up, or it’s an ironic statement, like dropping the screw of a ship into a hole filled with agraget. Maybe it’s the birth of a new style of landscape architecture, Montypython-juxapositionalism.

Now, back to order. You’ve seen children cramped into a holding pen, watched the future of our country inflict brain damage and pondered over why giant rocks need industrial support. You’ve had enough fun for the day. Now, you need to be told a few things. This park, with all the exuberance of a failed geography teacher who was too lively to teach Church School, is here to educate you. It knows better than you, so look, don’t touch, don’t talk, just learn and go away. The western end is some kind of lesson, fashioned in sort of a United Nations Aquaculture display that would have done the sixties ecological movement proud.

Hordes of tourists and locals a like can look over the raw rusting iron of a pretend ship’s hull, and see grass, a huge expanse of the stuff. Grass that grows in water, grass that grows in sand, grass that grows in pebbles, grass that grows in stones. Yes, grass, the most versatile form of cellulous on earth today. Now look. All the grass is in straight lines, well ordered grass, no grass growing outside the lines, quiet respectable grass that knows its place. Flourish my children, only keep in step. On the eastern side, things are a bit more liberal. Yes, there is more grass there, but it’s arranged in a wild, creative, why almost a wanton, dare I say, natural way. On the east side edged up between the concrete footpaths is a pretend coastline. It’s the coastline that would be there if they let the park hit the sea. You could think this to yourself. Yes, facing the opposite way around, there is this pretend grassy coastline where the grass grows all the way from the stones, through the pebbles and into the water. It makes you think.

It made me think this stagnant grass-clogged water will turn into a marsh in the summer and stink. Ah, but that’s the message, an uncontrolled unordered collection allowed to express its nature will only revert to the wild primitive stink of nature. Ah, but grass is a metaphor for the citizenry. What pith! It’s a hard lesson, but it’s not the last.

There is one last lesson and one more vast expanse of, you guessed it, grass. This time however, it is the grass of the Christchurch front garden, sans the picket fence. This huge open space, I swear it would support three hundred sheep or an equivalent sized dairy herd, is there for you, but not for your pleasure, no, for your erudition. Obviously it’s some sort of gigantic field for public performances – they’ll have to fix the drainage before anyone will sit down on it though. It’s backed by a large building which ensures you will pay attention and not let your lazy mind wander off by looking at the harbour. Like those schools they have in some towns where the windows are blocked up to keep little imaginations from forming.

At present, the building is not just an attention deficit deflector, it’s a, you guessed it, a public education poster holder. If you were to sit on the sodden grass, while your bottom-half becomes increasing submerged in the brine, your eyes can not miss the weirdly rhetorical Civil Defence question. Would you get through? There is a five story high picture of a Tsunami behind the writing.

It’s completely unnerving. While sinking into water, your view of the ocean blocked, you are reminded that you can’t even see it coming. From where you are sitting, which is so low and flat, even the three hundred sheep that could live on that space would know they are wet wool if the wave hits. Yikes, this is not just twisted irony, it some kind of phobia inducing psychological programming. Ah, but there again, there must be a lesson there, too.

It just a slight challenge to try to describe the overall effect of the place. It’s clearly some type of neo-socialist People’s Park with Purpose, but it tries not to exert itself or be not too bland. You couldn’t say, it’s Soviet, for instance, it’s not grand enough or proud enough, a marching order of the New Zealand Defence force in full dress would look quite out of place, then again so would a family of picnickers. It’s a dry and bland kind of socialist space, sort of a post-colonial reactionary style, like maybe Mexico, Bolivia or perhaps Argentina might try to pull off. What’s Kiwi about this massive park in the Capital surrounding our National Treasure store? You got me, unless it’s the stuff I mentioned.

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