Land and Water Aotearoa describes the Puhinui as: “A highly modified industrial area of the catchment. Commercial land use, as well as highways and residential housing dominate the 1,304 hectare upstream catchment. Much of the upstream reaches are constrained to concrete lined, unvegetated channels.”
Hardly the natural state of affairs.
It’s been a long road to begin addressing the damage done.
In 2016 3.6 tonnes of rubbish were removed by 2,000 volunteers. This included 200 supermarket shopping trolleys and 300 car tyres. That year the stream was named New Zealand’s most improved river at the NZ River Awards. It took years of work involving community, local schools, and some local businesses.
The area has an unfair share of economic and social challenges. In South Auckland unemployment is high and wages low. The local community scores low on key measures of health and well-being. Local job prospects are limited. They often take the form of low paid work without career development prospects.
But this is also a community with enormous potential. The Puhinui Catchment is home to one of the youngest and most diverse populations in the Auckland region. Approximately 25% of the population are under 15 years old and over 35% are Pacific People, around 30% are Asian, and 20% Māori.
In 2016 the community response evolved into a deep working relationship between te waiohua mana whenua of South Auckland and Eke Panuku Development Auckland. Together they co-created, with input from local communities, a visionary strategy. Te Whakaoranga o Te Puhinui: Te Rautaki, Te Puhinui Regeneration Strategy. Launched in 2020, its aim is to restore Te Puhinui and her communities to their former glory.
This unique strategy employs Te Ao Māori concepts to weave its story. The project is the waka. It holds its participants, journeying from past through present, towards a far horizon of success. The strategy has three key elements, referred to as Ngaa aho. They are the three lashings that bind and weave the waka together:
- Taiao/nature – healthy environments
- Tangata/people – empowered communities
- Whenua/place – resilient and integrated systems
The strategy was produced with Auckland-based sustainable design practise Resilio Studio. It featured at COP26 in 2021. It won an Outstanding Award from the Asia Pacific International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA). It won the 2022 Charlie Challenger Supreme Award from Tuia Pito Ora New Zealand Institute of Landscape Architects (NZILA).
Today, while it compares well to other urban waterways, the Puhinui is still far from pristine. It remains among the worst 50% of sites in the country for E.Coli contamination, lack of clarity and some forms of nitrogen pollution.
There is much to be done, and much to be gained by doing it.