Wellington Civic Action Lab | Different Solutions Require Different Approaches

Wellington needs to become a capital city which leads through bold action.

Recently, I was approached to consider taking over an established annual event which gives a platform for ideas to shape the future of the city. I’ve been involved in the past both as a speaker for one event and voluntary organiser for two others, so know the people and format very well.

My response was:

“…bring those with power together and have them outline clearly and transparently what powers / resources they have (and don’t have) THEN what they are prepared to devolve / make available along with the processes for access. Only then, invite the wider community to impact on those areas as then you’re proposing / designing from the actual rather than perceived.”

Like most cities in the world, much of the power and resources are held by traditional institutions with established processes which aren’t very accessible and / or transparent. Revealing this and spending time *’sharpening the axe’ enables the citizenry to assist in directly shaping the priorities plus collaborate in the action needed.

So here are half a dozen ideas, in no particular order, which I’ve been thinking about for years (stretching back to my Collider days), and which could provide a starting point if some humans had the time / the money / the energy, to start an ‘action lab’ for the city (half of which can be easily achieved with a few grand, educated souls and the space in ones diaries)—feel free to steal, go off and start to actualise them out:

1. Central City Calendar

An event and activity listings for the city in one online portal. Developed through a reverse data-capture process which pulls in details from other places, this takes no extra collaboration or permission from anyone and would create a one-stop-shop for the vibrancy of activities in the city. With email subscriptions available and sorting by categories (like sport or art in a particular region) and an available RSS plus an open API for others to remix as well. In the background, these events would be analysed to illustrate what communities / topics are being served (and more importantly who / what are not – see ‘2. Capital Dashboard’).

Ref: RSS + API.

2. Capital Dashboard

A simple adoption of the doughnut economy framework into all the governing councils activities and plotting the activities via an online dashboard which tracks, records and displays visually the ‘health’ of the city. This would include data on such things as:

  • carbon emissions
  • traffic / public transport use
  • house prices / commercial rates
  • councils and other agencies budgets and where it’s going
  • building projects and their state
  • amount of green spaces vs urban
  • recycling / waste
  • weather and ocean data
  • police recordings of incidents
  • listings of new companies in the region by topic (pulled from companies house) etc

Over time the data will reveal trends which can inform policies and decisions. It also becomes a visual connective point for the civic understanding / education on interconnected topics.

Ref: President of Ireland backs Doughnut Economics + City Of Nanaimo + City of Amsterdam + what happens when you ask what economic model the Wellington City Council, it’s Economic Development Agency and Regional Council adhere to.

3. Amplifying Community Space Use

A map of publicly owned spaces / venues in the city with overlaying data of past / current / future use along with hireage costs, where this money goes plus processes of access and limitations (meaning conditions of use like only allowed to use certain ticketing, audio & visual and catering suppliers). This would again over time uncover insights on gaps / opportunities, types of use, who accesses, financial transparency of operations etc. and would create a blueprint for a community activation plan.

4. Beautify / Rewild

A open invitation for artistic collaborations to radically beautify the urban landscape through nature and / or art. The city has become grey or any new builds just full of glass and steel. We need more colour and beauty. Any new capital builds will have to adhere to a new artistic policy to gain permits to build plus demonstrate commitment to carbon zero / regenerative approaches (see #2). All this would be again transparently known, shared, tracked becoming another differentiating point of the city.

Ref: The New Science of the Creative Brain on Nature + Biophillic Cities: Wellington + 30-Foot Sculpture Of A Woman Opens Its Chest, Revealing A Fern-Covered Tunnel People Can Walk Through + ‘Endless ribbon’ decorates Coventry for City of Culture year

5. Windy Welly

Wellington is the windiest capital in the world with a rugby team with an associated nickname, so imagine an annual festival exploring through art, clean energy, installations, discussions, sport powered by and in celebration of this wondrous gift of nature we have here, and stop fricking complaining about it!

Ref: 10 of the Windiest Places in the World

6. Building Homes For All, Not Houses / Property

Introduce radical legislation to address ownership disparity and free up access to homes, not properties (such as to hinder things like 3rd, 4th, 5th etc. property owners). This is about local and regional government legally ensuring all new construction include social housing considerations and also introducing laws to impact on owners of rental properties to set a certain criteria of health and well being. If this can’t be done at a city / regional governance level then prioritise community initiatives to support and amplify up to national policy changes.


After nearly a decade here, the city has lost its shine, and hearing lots of people say how it’s become harder to do things and collaborate across disciplines plus even to live in the city due to the vast increase in living costs. Against the backdrop of the political infighting, crumbling infrastructure plus the awful rise in this country in wealth inequality, domestic violence, youth suicides and child obesity, unhealthy rentable housing stock, dangerous price rises of homes etc., other places in the country (and neighbouring countries) are starting to become more and more attractive (for those with the means and ability).

However, there’s certainly enough talent in this city to divert it from the current trajectory. There just needs an honest and brave attempt to uncover what I advocated for in the above quote. Then the citizens and supportive bodies can amplify this as an opportunity to ignite a more city-level collaborations through radical experimentation and positive action.

Go, Wellington!

*Abraham Lincoln once said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

Related post: Creative Ideation Workshop | Facilitating Inspiration (aka Herding Cats)
Image credit: Photo (edited) by Sulthan Auliya on Unsplash
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