Manawatahi: A Participatory City Journey

I thought it was about time to write something down about the work I am doing with the amazing team at Onehunga Oranga Hub on Manawatahi, which is what we are calling the Participatory City Approach in Tāmaki Makaurau(Auckland). The name was created for us by the very talented Morehu from our Māori Outcomes unit (thanks Morehu!). Manawa means heart, and tahi means one or oneness or in unison, so it’s about connecting diverse hearts in the community together.

The Participatory City Approach is a remarkable systems innovation which creates a platform for citizen and community innovation which builds social cohesion.

You can find out more about the thinking behind the approach in this excellent video here.

This isn’t my first time experimenting with this approach, I worked with the library team at Glenfield to test this very early on a couple of years ago for a few months, below is one participation project that came out of that, but having moved now into the Community Innovation team at Auckland Council, it was time to do a deeper learning and development journey.

Last year I asked our Connected Communities Department at Auckland Council if there were teams that were interested in testing and developing the Participatory City Approach in our context of working with communities in contexts like libraries, community centres, community-led places, and more. Onehunga Oranga Hub team was one of the teams that put their hand up. The hub consists of Onehunga Library and Community Centre, and Oranga Community Centre; Onehunga has more of a town centre vibe, with a big shared foyer, and Oranga is more of a village vibe, backing onto Fergusson Park and next to a well trodden trail which afterschool kids traverse and often drop in to the centre. Since April, we’ve been building capability, systems, and a shared way of working to create a platform which supports people in these communities to come together and create everyday, inclusive participation projects.

A key feature of the approach is building many participation projects with residents, highly inclusive and collaborative projects with regular sessions around common denominator activities: cooking, growing vegetables, making and repairing, and so on. Our first project that we ever did stemmed from kids who are in the hub intimating that they wanted to grow some vegetables in a garden. We facilitated the kids with markers and paper to plan out what they wanted to grow and where in some soil in a courtyard at Onehunga Community Centre.

As it happened, Te Pātaka Kōrero o Waimāhia (Clendon Library) had just started a mara kai (vege garden), and had a lot of extra seedlings, so we were able to bring them over and then the kids got to planting.

The veges are growing well now as well as some strawberries (they were really keen on strawberries!), and we have regular sessions to weed and maintain the garden. All sessions are open to everyone, and people can contribute in different ways.

It’s been interesting to see how Māori and Pasifika residents have interacted with the project sessions. It seems like the very informal, welcoming, and flexible nature of the sessions is appealing. We had quite a funny “Cook with Us” shared cooking session where one of our young women shared her favourite recipe and showed us how to make it, but it turned into an adults vs. kids cook off; the kids won, but a Māori gentleman spontaneously led us in a karakia(Māori prayer), to bless the food in the traditional way for everyone.

In one of our “Creative Kōrero” morning teas where people can come together to get to know each other and share ideas, another Māori gentleman has shared an idea to make manu aute, traditional Māori kites. This led to us starting a project called “Manawatahi Makers”, which will start with a manu aute making session, and then we’ll see what other creative ideas different participants come up with for further sessions.

We have seven participation projects going now, on cooking, growing, making, ideating, shared meals, and more. But I can see that this is just the beginning. Developing a co-production way of working takes time for staff and community to begin to adapt. I want to especially recognise the awesome stretch and growth and collaboration the team in the Hub has been doing with me to start building and testing this approach in Auckland.

Aimee, who’s one of the co-leads in Halifax where the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre is developing a participatory city platform, was describing (in a forthcoming episode of Beyond Consultation Podcast that I did with her, her amazing co-lead and Learning and Evaluation manager Tammy Mudge, and hosted by the excellent Paul McGregor) and how even with their beautiful “shopfront” (they sell participation culture and opportunities to belong for free, if that makes sense) that looks like this:

And inside it looks like this:

Just the most amazing inviting, warm, heartful space and invitation, it’s a new thing, and a new way of being that residents are stepping into. She was describing how sometimes first they walk past the window a few times, then they go to the front of the door but turn around; stepping into the unknown, no matter how inviting we make it, is hard for everyone. But, if we are patient, I do believe, and the evidence from Participatory City in Barking and Dagenham and Halifax (new report from them out yesterday, amazing adaptation from the B & D work, with a strong focus on decolonisation and Truth and Reconcilation) as well as what we are just beginning to create in Aotearoa(NZ), shows, we can create a radically inclusive ecosystem of community innovation where anyone and everyone can build a better world together, place by place. Would you like to collaborate with us?

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