Greymouth's new gathering space

When Greymouth’s new Town Square and Tainui Street Shared Space opened just before Christmas two years ago there was a carnival-like atmosphere. The opening was celebrated with a weekend full of events designed to showcase the new spaces and get the community into the Christmas spirit for the upcoming festive season. Since then, the Town Square and Shared Street have been embraced by the community for a range of uses including regular markets, community group events and generally to hang out in.

The space has been transformed from an earthquake prone building and vehicle dominated road corridor into a new pedestrian focused public realm.  Image courtesy of Grey District Council

The space has been transformed from an earthquake prone building and vehicle dominated road corridor into a new pedestrian focused public realm. Image courtesy of Grey District Council

The $1.7 million Grey District Council (GDC) project was a big investment for a settlement of around 10,000 people and was only made possible through the leadership and commitment of GDC staff to a process of thorough community engagement, key interest group consultation and quality project management. But it’s proved to be a catalyst, as GDC CEO Paul Pretorius adds in relation to new development in the CBD “the proposed developments are testament to the immense potential unlocked by the Town Square and Shared Street development”. The new public realm also catalysed further refurbishments, like the clock tower, art gallery and fostering a feeling of pride and community amongst locals.

The Grey District Council has even had to employ a facilitator to organise the festivals, markets and food trucks the spaces now host. They’re always well attended, their success evident through the emergence of the instagram hashtag #LoveGreymouth.

The colour of the street furniture is bright, referencing the community’s preference for such colours to offset the climate.

The colour of the street furniture is bright, referencing the community’s preference for such colours to offset the climate.

Following March’s mosque shootings in Christchurch the Greymouth community spontaneously used the Town Square as a space to write messages of hope, to leave flowers and to honour those affected. “This shows that the Town Square has become an important gathering and focal point for our community,” says Kiri Pope, Grey District Council’s Community Development Manager.

Engaging with the local mana whenua Ngāti Waewae at the very beginning of the project was important to ensure it was consistent with the WSP-Opus and GDC Greymouth CBD Urban Design Framework aspirations. In particular, the principle “Real stories shaping real places – to create a distinctive place that reflects the values of the community”. 

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Ngāti Waewae saw a great potential to inform the identity of the project with their narrative and connection to Mawheranui (the Grey River). Jamie Whittle, Mahana Coulston and Francios Tumahai informed the design and placement of the rain shelters and produced artwork to enhance a sense of place within the Town Square and Shared Street. They explained how three important cultural sites within the Grey District could be referenced through the orientation of the rain shelters. The form of the three shelters draws upon the transit beacons and leads that have directed ships and fishing boats across the Grey River Bar for over 160 years. The two outer shelters allow rain water to cascade purposefully over their edges onto the middle shelter, where the rain water then flows down the central column creating the sound of a waterfall in a typical West Cast rain event. 

The sculptural Town Square shelters reference significant Ngāti Waewae sites within the wider Grey District. Image courtesy of Firth.

The sculptural Town Square shelters reference significant Ngāti Waewae sites within the wider Grey District. Image courtesy of Firth.

The selection of native plant species was influenced through local plant experts, nurseries, DoC and consultation with the Blind Foundation. Utilising local knowledge has helped ensure successful plant establishment and growth. 

The native-only plant palette utilised in a bold, contemporary way introduces strong colours and texture into the CBD streetscape. Special attention was paid to the plant layout in order to avoid trip hazards as required by the Blind Foundation. 

Only native plants were used.

Only native plants were used.

Both litter and recycling bins were provided within the shared space. Prior to this project GDC only had single bins for both litter and recycling. This project was seen as an opportunity by GDC to introduce recycling bins into the public realm, and shortly after this introduction kerb-side recycling wheelie bins were introduced throughout the wider town area. 

This project has a set a local bench mark in terms of community consultation and strengthening connections and working relationships between the local community, Ngāti Waewae, The Mawhera Incorporation (the landowners) and the local authority. 

The success of the project has provided a catalyst for wider township investment, economic activity and social engagement.