The initiative proposes investment in public-space improvements, principally in the area around Parliament (the Capital Centre), and to research and tell the stories of New Zealand's democracy.
The initiative aims to turn what is currently a 'storehouse' of nationally significant treasures, ideas and stories into a 'showcase' of those treasures. It is intended that the initiative make improvements in time to mark Wellington's 150th anniversary as Capital City in 2015.
Mayor Prendergast was pleased to note that a working relationship had already developed between the Council and the central government. Several stakeholder workshops have been held involving a number of key government agencies.
She pointed out that while several individual institutions in the Capital City already have an "open door" policy - they welcome visitors, provide tours and display artefacts - not all did. The aim of the Capital City Initiative is to encourage more to do the same and to coordinate this collective effort in a strategic way, she said.
"We are not asking the Government for money for a grand and expensive building programme. We are taking a sensible approach, one that has a strategic, 'big picture' framework behind it, which aims to make smarter use of existing resources," she said.
Mayor Prendergast said New Zealand does have an "extraordinary" democracy, one that New Zealanders are very fortunate to have. "It's a positive story that we need to tell, and there's so much potential for telling it better than we are."
Mayor Prendergast said the initiative has arisen out of the Council's long-term planning processes. Officers have recently begun work on Wellington 2040 - The Future of Our Central City, which aims to create a 30-year plan for the central city.
One key consideration was work to improve the streetscape in the Parliamentary quarter to better reflect the importance of the institutions located there, and better match the walkability and accessibility that characterise the rest of the central city.
Mayor Prendergast said research into how other countries use their capital cities to express and celebrate their democratic traditions, and as a centre of national identity, has been instructive. "A capital city is recognised as the symbolic showcase of a nation, and an expression of that country's unique character. It is accepted as the right place in which to experience the heritage, culture and achievements of a country."
She pointed out that 2015 will be 150 years since Wellington became the capital as well as the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli campaign which marked a critical moment in New Zealand's emerging national identity.
By 2015, it is hoped that all of the main national or government institutions will be committed to a central marketing strategy including a coordinated open door policy where appropriate; a Capital City interpretation centre will be established; and the urban-design improvements will be in place.
A number of related projects are already underway.
The Government has invested in the construction of the new Supreme Court (completion 2010), the $43 million renovation of Government House (2011), and a major upgrade of the National Library of New Zealand (2011/12).
Wellington City Council will spend $3.5 million on the greening of Taranaki Street (2010), and $2.1 million on a revamp of the Molesworth Street area (2012/13). A $1 million upgrade of the Whitmore Street area is also scheduled for 2016/17.
Mayor Prendergast said she also hopes the Government will give the go-ahead for work to start on Memorial Park in Buckle Street, adjacent to the National War Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior. "As the capital, ours is a city of ceremony and public gatherings, and events that are significant in the lives of all of us.
"We are the city of important conversations. Democracy is played out here more than anywhere else in New Zealand. I would argue that we have a special responsibility to celebrate Wellington's capital status for the benefit of all New Zealand."
Our Extraordinary Democracy – The Capital City Initiative - 10 differences by 2015
- Completion of Government House upgrade
- Completion of an upgraded, more inviting National Library of New Zealand
- Completion of urban design upgrade of Molesworth Street area to better reflect its position as the 'front door' to Parliament
- A recognised processional route along Taranaki Street to National War Memorial
- Completion of National Memorial Park on Buckle Street
- Establishment of a Capital City Interpretation Centre
- Popular walking tours of the Capital Centre established
- Coordinated signage of key attractions in Capital Centre
- Annual open days of Parliament to include related national institutions such as National Library, National Archives, Courts buildings, Reserve Bank etc - and local cafes - in the Thorndon area
- Pedestrian crossing lights at Aitken Street, near Parliament, to feature a 'little green woman', in reference to New Zealand being the first nation to give votes to women.