News | 23 March 2021
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A passion for designing great spaces

Creating great places for Wellingtonians through design is the mission of Wellington City Council’s Urban Design team. We spoke with Urban Design Manager Dr Crystal Filep about her team, their projects, and how it benefits our city.

Crystal Filep, from Wellington City Council’s Urban Design team, standing on the red Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco with a rainbow behind.

What does an Urban Design Manager at Council do? 
I lead a team of 13-15 people who contribute to the making of great places for people in Wellington from a design-led approach. Most people on the team are trained as urban designers, landscape architects or architects. 

Describe your team to us…
The Urban Design team consists of three branches – Public Space Delivery, Design Review, and Design Strategy – all of which take a cross-disciplinary approach and collaborate widely across the Council and externally.

- The Public Space Delivery branch is responsible for the planning, design and delivery of built projects in the public realm (such as laneways, streetscapes, town centres, public spaces, etc.). These projects can be long-term or temporary trials (such as the parklets of the Innovating Streets programme).

- The Design Review branch is responsible for ensuring good design outcomes happen through both regulatory and non-regulatory processes. It assesses all Resource Consent applications that require assessment against the District Plan Design Guides, and it engages with Resource Consent applicants from the pre-application stage through to monitoring and compliance. It also assesses proposals to upgrade our roads and public spaces through a series of internal design review panels.

- And then there’s the Design Strategy branch of Urban Design, which is increasingly responsible for leading and/or contributing to strategic projects and initiatives, particularly those required as part of Council’s Planning for Growth programme. 

Tell us something interesting the team is focusing on right now…
We are working out how to collaborate better with Wellington’s local neighbourhood communities, with the aim of empowering those communities to help shape how growth happens around them. We are also developing an evidence-based plan to improve the provision of green spaces and infrastructure in our central city as more people are anticipated to live more densely.

Crystal Filep, from Wellington City Council’s Urban Design team, sitting on rocks at a waterfall.

How long have you been at Council? 
Since July 2019.

What were you doing before? 
I was in a tenure-track academic job at the University of Otago as Lecturer in Urban Design (within the School of Surveying), where I undertook research and taught university courses. Prior to that I led the Urban Design Team at Dunedin City Council.
Best bit of your job? 
The people. I love collaborating with and empowering good people, and my team is full of opportunities to do this. The Urban Design team is predominately relatively young, strong and intelligent women. As a woman, I take pride in empowering other women. I’m also proud of my team’s diversity. We currently consist of six people from New Zealand – one of whom is Māori and one of whom has a Pacifica background, two people from Zimbabwe, one person from Sweden, one from Iran, one from France, and myself from the United States.

Most interesting project you’re working on? 

I find the Green Network Plan to be one of the most interesting projects we are working on. It involves establishing an evidence base for why we need more quality green spaces and infrastructure in our central city, as well as how we might go about providing it (through investment, regulation, advocacy, facilitation, partnerships, etc.). It’s a challenging strategic project that will help to shape important aspects of how we work across strategy, design review and public space delivery in the future. 

What’s your biggest challenge this year? 
The biggest challenge this year is our contribution to the Planning for Growth programme.

What’s your favourite thing about urban design?  
I love the range of scales on which an urban designer is challenged to think. From the strategy, framework or large-scale masterplan down to the design of a plaza or streetscape.