Such a great start to 2022! I’m delighted to share with you that “Urban Eels: Our Sustainable City” received the New Zealand PIanning Institute Rodney Davis Project Award 2021 and won the Commonwealth Association of Planners (CAP) Award for Conservation of the Built and Natural Environment and Cultural Heritage, announced at the Malaysia City Expo November 2021.
NZPI kindly invited me to provide an article on Urban Eels for their Planning Quarterly magazine – and so I put pen to paper over the Summer holiday! And here it is – “Reweaving Nature into Our Cities” features in Planning Quarterly February 2022! I discuss the project, the place, the people and the process that brought Urban Eels to fruition. I hope it provides some good food for thought and inspires others to share their ideas and chase their dreams too! Thanks to NZPI and the PQ editorial team for their encouragement and their stunning presentation of the article.
On 31st July we held a dawn blessing for “Urban Eels: Our Sustainable City”. Together, we have created a new space within our urban fabric to reconnect with nature and share and experience Tikanga Māori. Feeling grateful and honoured to have shared this journey with so many inspiring people.
Mihimihi / speeches – Fiona Gordon
“Tēnā kotou [good morning],
Urban Eels is a very special place.
Today is a very special day.
Both mark the success of a truly collaborative project.
But it was not always a project. It started as an idea. It blossomed into a four-year journey. Now, it has become a destination for everyone to enjoy.
Urban Eels was only able to develop and grow because of the people. Those people brought their skills, their knowledge, their time, their energy, and their resources to the table – along with a big dose of passion and persistence and, importantly, a shared vision.
Together, we have created a sanctuary for tuna [eel]. A place that tells us of the enduring relationship between man and tuna.
It is a place for us to reconnect with nature and to share and experience Tikanga Māori – philosophies and practices. These, in my mind, are essential components for the development of a wider sustainability practice in New Zealand.
There are so many people to thank today, most of whom have already been acknowledged by previous speakers. However, I do wish to say a very special thank you to two people in particular, Paul Horton and Danielle Harris of Tanenuiarangi Manawatū Incorporated.
I feel both honoured and extremely grateful that Tanenuiarangi Manawatū Incorporated allowed me the opportunity to partner with them on this journey to bring Urban Eels to life.
Thank you to all who have contributed to and supported our journey together.
Today, 55% of the world’s population lives in urban areas. With that proportion expected to increase to 68% by 2050 it is clear that effective conservation will depend in large part on support from these urban voters, consumers, donors, and communicators.
Conservation then faces an obvious challenge: People living in cities have diminishing contact with nature. We must look to create new, innovative and engaging ways to re-connect urbanites with nature.
I say fortunate, because while these experiences offer up much needed opportunities to re-connect and re-energise away from the hustle, bustle of the city, they do come at a price. These adventures certainly didn’t happen for me without some careful planning and budgeting. It can be difficult to take a week or two off work and not everyone can afford to travel great distances to these stunning locations.
Yet, crucially, future conservation success will need as many people as possible to appreciate their vested interest in it. The true value of nature can be realised when it is both experienced and better understood. This will require more contact, more often, by the majority of the people – the mainstreaming of nature back into our social, cultural, physical and economic landscapes.
Accessibility is key. Time to bring nature to the people, not the other way around.
What started as an idea to do just that, back in 2016, is now a fully fledged project set to be created within the city landscape of Palmerston North, New Zealand.
“Urban Eels: Our Sustainable City”will create a new space for nature within the urban fabric, making nature more accessible and providing interpretation and education though the expression of the Maori world view.
There will be native eels to observe and feed (if you dare), interpretive art work and sculptures and interactive features to enjoy, along with enhanced native planting and improved in-stream habitat. All uniquely focused on the enduring relationship between man and tuna (eel) and the importance of ritenga (customary practice), tikanga (customary system, law) and Rangitaanenuirawa (the expression of Kaitiakitanga or stewardship).
Māori are keen to express their cultural world views, and understanding these beliefs and values represents an important aspect of sustainable development in New Zealand.
For a people who relied on seasonal foods, tuna (eel) was a gift from the gods. Tuna maintain a special place in Māori culture and are an important part of preserving the practice of cultural traditions. Sadly, the longfin eel (tuna kawharuwharu or tuna reherehe) is in steady decline due to the historical destruction and degradation of its habitat. Historically, long-finned eels were reported as weighing as much as 40 kg yet today tuna bigger than 10 kg are uncommon.
While tuna still inhabit our local streams, declining populations mean few people readily encounter tuna and some even consider them “scary”. Urban Eels will not only create an improved space for tuna, but help to re-connect urbanites with nature, enable Māori to express their cultural world view and help to educate and re-acquaint people with the enduring relationship between man and tuna.
Intended to attract purposeful visitation and encourage the ‘incidental immersion’ of commuters alike, Urban Eels is strategically located at the Turitea Stream along the He Ara Kotahi – a shared pathway which forms a key route in Palmerston North’s urban transport network, connecting Linton Military Camp, Massey University and FoodHQ to the city.
Urban Eels is a collaboration between Gordon Consulting and Tanenuiarangi Manawatū Incorporated, the mandated iwi authority for Rangitaane O Manawatu since 1989, and working in partnership with central and local government and other key organisations. Urban Eels draws it’s inspiration from the IUCN Urban Protected Areas and work of the IUCN Urban Specialist Group.