Huritanga mo te mauri-ora: regenerative system change for holistic urban wellbeing in an era of ecological emergency – circular, carbon-storing, connected, ecological cities

In a time of ecological emergency and pandemic disruption, this research programme explores how urban communities can activate and accelerate change for holistic urban wellbeing and regeneration. We emphasise system-wide urban transformation focusing on the uptake of regenerative ecological infrastructures, connected community systems, and circular eco-economies for living, carbon-storing connected cities.

We work with a holistic notion of wellbeing that includes the social, cultural, and ecological. Our mahi is guided by Māori understandings of mauri ora as the vitality of all life or socio-cultural-ecological thriving. Here wellbeing is dependent on a vital connected ‘life-field’. Our current context of ecological emergency and socio-cultural crises makes a focus on holistic urban wellbeing particularly necessary and relevant.

Regenerating ecological systems is vital to the enmeshed challenges of climate change, the current extinction crises, and concurrent pollution crises all registering in contemporary cities. Social and ecological connection improves human wellbeing in a range of ways. How can cities respond to these diverse and interlinked urban wellbeing needs and leverage co-benefits and wellbeing synergies?

We aim to activate urban wellbeing through a connective “mauri mesh model” for interlinked wellbeing; thriving wellbeing in ecological environments; in human-made systems, technologies and materials; and in public health and happiness. We focus on how cities can become more ecologically and socio-culturally connected to enhance holistic urban wellbeing, the meshed wellbeing of whānau and whenua, people and ‘place.’ We emphasise key transitions towards ecological regeneration, carbon-zero energy, and a circular bio-economy in a context of socio-cultural justice and equity.

Our research attends to the city holistically, then in all its relational complexity, across all its ‘hard’ infrastructures of buildings and roads; its living green and blue ecosystems, including rivers, parks, and walkable landscapes; and its ‘soft’ social, economic, educational, civic, and community systems and relationships. The research programme explores how ecological infrastructures (ngahere urban forests, constructed wetlands, green roofs, for example), ecological systems (renewable energy, a circular bio-economy), and connected community systems (co-housing models, third places, and public spaces such as libraries or community gardens) can contribute to intermeshed socio-cultural-ecological wellbeing.

Our researchers are working with partners on the ground to co-create holistic wellbeing action tools and test these out in transformative actions with local communities. Our partners include iwi, city councils, and non-government organisations.

As visualisations and valuations, the holistic urban wellbeing model and wellbeing action tools communicate and inspire development and investment in socio-cultural-ecological wellbeing. Our tools aid practical change on the ground, including changes in how we communicate and comprehend urban wellbeing data, how we think about and plan our neighbourhoods for enhanced holistic wellbeing, how we can encourage regenerative energy, waste, and mobility processes, how we can transition to a more circular and community-enhancing bio-economy. Associated pilots or case studies test out this change on the ground.

Mesh model and urban wellbeing transformation tools:

  1. The Huritanga programme works with a ‘mauri mesh model’ of interconnected social, cultural and ecological wellbeing. The programme addresses the interconnection of local and global wellbeing, with a particular emphasis on how local wellbeing actions can contribute to wider planetary wellbeing.
  2. The Ngā Tohu Kāinga-Ora: Mauri Ora & Urban Wellbeing project is developing holistic urban wellbeing analysis/action tools. A future-focused navigator or compass directs actions for wellbeing-led urban planning or development. An urban data index puts current measures of urban wellbeing into relation while a data display visualises those current urban wellbeing indices. Analysis of the data landscape and innovations in data acquisition support this applied urban wellbeing research.
  3. The community returns on investment (CEROI) project is exploring community development processes, through interviews and co-creative processes. A key research area involves the development of a CEROI tool that measures positive returns on wellbeing investments;
  4. The community composting and urban agriculture project is developing local composting tools and guides.
  5. The implementation of the mesh model for holistic urban wellbeing is explored across the tools in place-based case studies and pilots.

Key partners are Rotorua-based Te Tatau, a multi-hapū governance group linked with the Rotorua City Council; Ngāi Tūāhuriri, Ngāi Tahu Research Centre, LIVS and an urban compost initiative, and Te Pūtahi, Christchurch Centre for Architecture and City Making.


Ngā Tohu Kāinga-Ora: Mauri Ora & Urban Wellbeing

This Phase Two Mauri Ora & Urban Wellbeing project builds on a Phase One Mauri Ora & Urban Wellbeing project.

A holistic wellbeing framework – the mauri mesh model

This Kāinga-Ora Urban Wellbeing research is organised around a “mauri mesh model” of urban wellbeing which weaves together the social, cultural, and ecological as a connected urban whole. The integrity or wellbeing of this inter-woven urban fabric depends upon careful future-focused urban governance and transformative action. The model emphasises four key transitions, in energy, ecology, and economic systems, all embedded into urban infrastructures and systems.

Mauri Ora Holistic Wellbeing place-based co-created tools from a kit of parts

This Phase Two Mauri Ora & Urban Wellbeing project involves developing a methodology for co-creating place-based urban wellbeing tools formed with community partners from a curated kit of parts. Working in Rotorua and Christchurch, the research focuses on the co-design of place-based governance relationships, practices, and tools to activate socio-ecological wellbeing in urban systems.

Contact email: Amanda Yates

The Team

Dr Amanda Yates (AUT), Dr Andrew Burgess (AUT), Dr Rita Dionisio (Canterbury), Dr Rebecca Jarvis (AUT), Professor Angus Macfarlane (Canterbury), Dr John Reid (Canterbury), Grace Walker (Otago, Canterbury, PhD candidate), Dr Jay Whitehead (Matatihi), Associate Professor Amanda Monehu Yates (AUT)


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CEROI: Community Economy Return on Investment methodology and tool

This project is concerned with creating a Community Economy Return on Investment methodology and tool with two core case studies:

  1. urban composting initiatives in Wellington and Christchurch; and
  2. Life in Vacant Spaces (LIVS) property/commons management and matchmaking services for wellbeing projects in Christchurch’s still vacant redzone and central city sites.

The case studies have been selected because of their potential for different approaches to urban wellbeing commons, and their shared desire to communicate the value of their projects in ‘investment’ terms. They also are intimately interrelated: a previous project with Cultivate was on a LIVS site, and the current composting initiative led by Bailey Peryman, founder of Cultivate, is on another LIVS site, and the Wellington composting initiatives are part of a wider national urban farming organisation that seeks to enhance socio-ecological wellbeing through community farming in urban areas. We aim to further develop the tool for use with a wider range of organisations, and ultimately have a useable output of a toolkit that urban wellbeing organisations can adapt for their own use.

Contact email: Kelly Dombroski

The Team

Dr Gradon Diprose (Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research), Associate Professor Kelly Dombroski (University of Canterbury), Bailey Peryman (University of Canterbury), Dr Matt Scobie (University of Canterbury)

Community composting and urban agriculture

This project emerged through conversations with the Urban Farmers Alliance, Kaicycle, The Rubbish Trip, and the Wellington Sustainability Trust in relation to regulatory and planning uncertainties and barriers to local organic waste infrastructure (community composting) and urban agriculture. Urban researchers and others are increasingly advocating for circular and local production, consumption, and disposal of resources and waste for improved ecological, climate, and human outcomes.

The experience of our research partners to date, however, indicates that there are planning and regulatory uncertainties and barriers to scaling out community composting and urban agriculture in Aotearoa. This project involves reviewing planning legislation (district plans, bylaws, and waste minimisation plans) in Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch to identify where and how regulation could be changed to better enable urban agriculture and community composting, while managing adverse effects. The outputs will include publications and an educational resource to help groups and businesses who wish to start community composting and/or urban farms.

Contact email: Gradon Diprose
Research partners: Kaicycle, Wellington Sustainability Trust, The Rubbish Trip

The Team

Dr Gradon Diprose (Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research), Associate Professor Kelly Dombroski (University of Canterbury), Martine Barnes (University of Canterbury), Bailey Peryman (University of Canterbury), Dr Emma Sharp (University of Auckland)


Shaping Place: Future Neighbourhoods

Liveable and well-designed neighbourhoods, including houses, benefit their inhabitants. These also contribute to successful towns and cities. In other words, both the physical and social structure of neighbourhoods are critical to their success.

This research will focus on the larger cities – home to around half of all New Zealanders. It will lead to an understanding of the principles and processes that create more successful neighbourhoods.

One way it will do this is by investigating the complex factors involved in urban design, especially in relation to New Zealand cities. This will improve future urban environments through better planning and better integrating affordable housing in future communities.

The Shaping Place: Future Neighbourhoods programme includes a multitude of research projects around higher and medium density living, urban design, using virtual reality in urban design, and Te Aranga Māori Design Principles.

The Team

Errol Haarhoff, Ella Henry, Karen Witten, Suzanne Vallance, Marc Aurel-Schnabel, Patricia Austin, Lee Beattie, Paola Boarin, Robin Kearns, Mohsen Mohammadzadeh, Emma Ferguson, Hirini Matunga, Andreas Wesner, David Conradson, Rebecca Kiddle, Wokje Abrahamse, Jacqueline Paul

Hobsonville medium density development. Photo: Errol Haarhoff.


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Co-designing with children

Two public space co-design case studies with children will be conducted in collaboration with Panaku and Auckland City Council. The research will establish the ‘do-ability’ and desirability of engaging children in participatory design in different socio-economic neighbourhoods and development contexts; identify the challenges of integrating children’s particiaption into routine planning processes; and draw on the knowledge gained to develop a participatiopn ‘tool kit’/online digitial resource to give urban designers/planners the skills and confidence to engage with children in public realm development projects.

21 May 2019: See the “read more” link below for an article in Architecture Now about this research programme.

Available Reports

2 March 2020: Co-design with Young Aucklanders: Eastern Viaduct Renewal & Puhinui Stream Regeneration.

2 March 2020: Engaging children in public space design: Tips for designers.

The Team

Karen Witten, Emerald McPhee, Penelope Carroll


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Understanding place

The project’s general goal is to develop innovative, scalable tools to make manawhenua and residents’ latent meanings of the natural environment available to assist urban regeneration. Its specific goal is to develop a structured database and web interface in order to present and gather micro-level cultural data about the Avon Otakaro corridor in Christchurch.

15 August 2019: The Red Zone Stories App is now live and downloadable from Google Play and The App Store. With the app, a user can record their stories via text, photograph, video, etc. for an interactive map on the website. For more information see the Red Zone Stories website. There are already many photos and videos available on the map, showing what the red zone now means to people. This information helps researchers record the many different ways local residents and manawhenua respond to this place. It will also help urban planners understand what parts of the red zone are important to people and why. The research is independent from Regenerate Christchurch, but has been developed in consultation with them.

The Team

Donald Matheson, Chris Thompson, Ben Adams, Paul Miller

Aerial image of Christchurch. Photo: NZ Defence Force.


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Autonomous vehicles and urban environments: Implications for wellbeing in an aging society

We will develop scenarios in conjunction with government departments, based on existing Ministry of Transport scenarios, and covering a range of time periods and settlement characteristics. We will critically review scenarios alongside existing policy documents and knowledge on settlement characteristics, wellbeing and ageing in place to produce a ‘think piece’ report.

Stage one partially addresses the following research questions:

  1. What are credible scenarios for autonomous vehicle adoption?
  2. How might settlement characteristics change under each of those scenarios?
  3. What might be the implications of scenarios and settlement changes for wellbeing in an ageing population?

The Team
Helen Fitt, Angela Curl, Rita Dionosio, Amy Fletcher, Annabel Ahuriri-Driscoll, Bob Frame

Photo reproduced with permission from ohmio Automotion Ltd/HMI Technologies.


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Mauri ora and urban wellbeing

Increasingly, wellbeing registers are influencing national, regional, and urban governance, policy, and design with potentially transformative effects on how we think and do urbanism. This is important in an era of climate chaos and biodiversity failures, loneliness, obesity epidemics, and housing crises – the age of the Anthropocene summatively. While many wellbeing frameworks remain largely human-centric, in this project we ask: how might a more holistic wellbeing concept of mauri-ora as human and more-than-human wellbeing enable transformations in urban analysis, policy, and actions? Further, how might a mauri-ora urban science data tool catalyse innovations in city wellbeing?

We emphasise social and ecological connection as key urban factors for wellbeing in built environments, landscape infrastructures, and social systems. Engagement and activation processes as small-scale tactical interventions – in edible urban landscapes, and in wellbeing science communication, for example – are key methods by which we explore urban wellbeing place-making. Connecting through collaboration is also a central method, with an aim to provide tools (guidelines, data tools, processes) that improve civic–public partnerships for improved urban mauri-ora as life-field vitality.

28 May 2019: The Mauri ora and urban wellbeing team have run a series of workshops in libraries in Auckland over the April 2019 school holidays. Read about their biodiversity and urban wellbeing workshop.

Available Reports

13 June 2019: Whanake Mai Te Ara Hiko: Think piece – Wellbeing-led, home-based energy infrastructures and low emissions transport.

4 July 2019: Whanake mai te mauri ora: Think piece – an expanded wellbeing framework and urban science data tool for integrated wellbeing governance.

The Team

Amanda Yates, Erica Hinckson, Monique Jansen, Rebecca Kiddle, Nirmal Nair, James Renwick, Charles Walker, Gayle Souter-Brown

Maungawhau. Photo: Amanda Yates.


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Delivering urban wellbeing

To conduct research into a community enterprise in Christchurch, for the purpose of documenting the transformative social and environmental outcomes in order to enable adaption and replication elsewhere.

  1. 1Increase understanding of a transformative community enterprise. Findings of research summarised in report and multimedia outputs.
  2. Increase visibility of transformative community enterprise and its land use requirements in urban environments. Findings disseminated through NZ social media and local government contexts.
  3. Increase ability of community enterprises to assess the wellbeing return on their investments in urban common spaces. Developed assessment methodology based on the Community Economy Return on Investment (CEROI) tool.By examining the urban farm and mental health care aspects of Cultivate’s work, the proposed research will enable us to assess the potential contribution of social and community enterprises to urban wellbeing both within Christchurch and across other cities in New Zealand.

Available Reports

31 October 2018: When Cultivate Thrives: Developing Criteria for Community Economy Return on Investment.

10 July 2019: Delivering Urban Wellbeing through Transformative Community Enterprise.

11 November 2020: Food for people in place: Reimagining resilient food systems for economic recovery.

December 2020: Caring labour: redistributing care work.

The Team

Kelly Dombrowski, Gradon Diprose, David Conradson, Stephen Healy, Alison Watkins


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Activating water sensitive urban design for healthy resilient communities

This research will increase awareness of the environmental and social costs of conventional approaches to urban development, and identify features of Water Sensitive Urban Design that reduce maintenance costs, to help justify implementation of WSUD in New Zealand to underpin healthier communities and cities. Water sensitive urban design creates living (green) infrastructure along streets, and around buildings which improves community health by mitigating air and water pollutants, physically protecting residents (from traffic, wind and UV irradiation) and supporting daily connection with nature. WSUD reduces energy consumed in heating and cooling houses by modifying microenvironments, reduces risk of flooding and stream erosion, and avoids pollution events that kill freshwater animals and plants. WSUD can also reduce construction costs to developers and avoid expensive upgrades to wastewater networks.

Available Reports

March 2018: Activating water sensitive urban design for healthy resilient communities – Discovery phase: Results and recommendations.

September 2019: Te Ao Māori and Water Sensitive Urban Design.

September 2019: An investigation of alternative funding and incentive mechanisms to support implementation of WSUD in New Zealand: Activating WSUD for healthy resilient communities.

September 2019: Recommendations for future research: Activating WSUD for healthy resilient communities.

September 2019: Assessing the full benefits of WSUD: Activating WSUD for healthy resilient communities.

September 2019: Study trip to Melbourne, November 2018 – Findings: Activating WSUD for healthy resilient communities.

The Team

Robyn Simcock, Jonathan Moores, Sue Ira, Chris Batstone

Christchurch roadside raingarden and densely planted trees provide beauty, shade, and WSUD. Photo: Robyn Simcock, Landcare Research.


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Give us space

Through a process of co-creation, this project will support communities to improve their well-being through better access and understanding of key semi-public open space. Benefits of the research are directed to end-users in their communities, organisations (grassroots, civic and private) and the scientific community. The work contributes to the achievement of the objectives of local and central government (e.g. Department of Internal Affairs, Auckland Council and Local Boards) and communities. Its applied research is aligned with that of Auckland Council’s Research and Evaluation Unit and Geospatial Unit. Dissemination at the local level will be supported by Local Boards and community groups. The pilot digital toolset will have implementation potential in other centres throughout Aotearoa New Zealand. The project contributes to Sustainable Development Goal 11 – Cities and the associated UN-New Urban Agenda, where public spaces are considered crucial for people’s well-being. It is also expected that the research will lead to further collaborative work and action-based research between the Universities and local communities.

Available Reports

September 2019: Simulation, control and desire: Urban commons and semi-public space resilience in the age of augmented transductive territorial production.

December 2019: Urban commons and the right to the city.

December 2019: Envisioning atmospheres of spectacle and activism.

The Team

Manfredo Manfredini, Dory Reeves, Rebecca Kiddle

Civic Centre development, Lower Hutt. Photo: Louise Thomas.