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A Chinese Garden in a Chinese place

It’s time to make progress on a winning Chinese garden. There’s been no progress except for one (recent) court case. But that’s not progress, it’s expensive argument with winners and losers – not good for the city.

Photo: Wellington.scoop

And the proposed waterfront site has no connection with the Chinese community, upsets many people unnecessarily and is a long way from being started.

If the garden was moved to a place of early Chinese settlement in Wellington, Frank Kitts Park could be saved from losing much of its its sheltered open public space – it’s the only shaded public park on the waterfront, with an ampitheatre, trees of sufficient stature to provide shade, a loved children’s play area with trees to climb, green bumpy hillocks to roll down, open space for picnics, tried and true swings and a quirky lighthouse and other slides.

There is a site that’s better, more appropriate, more interesting and more exciting, centred in the history of Chinese settlement and the history of Wellington, that would celebrate the stories of Chinese presence in Wellington, from early days to now. What better place than the site of the Chinese Mission Church in the heart of the Haining/Frederick Street precinct, where Chinese first settled coming north from the Goldfields in the South Island?

The abandoned lot off Taranaki St – site of Helene’s proposed Chinese Garden. Photo: Google Maps

Haining Street and Frederick Street used to be the centre of Chinese life in Wellington, in the late 19th and early 20th century, “the Chinese People’s streets” with opium dens and gambling as well as Chinese restaurants and political and social groups.

Photo: Wellington.scoop

One derelict building remains, on an abandoned site. The unique building, in the Gothic revival style of architect of Frederick de Jersey Clerc, is closed, “protected” historically but fenced off and covered in graffiti. Its condition neither celebrates the architecture, nor the Chinese history of the surrounding area.

My proposal would save the façade and develop the Chinese garden around it, in a place of early Chinese settlement and life. The site is smaller than the waterfront space, but small can be more beautiful.

There are many reasons why this site is better than the waterfront site:

Because it’s smaller, creating a garden is likely to be less costly – so the Chinese community’s fundraising could be more readily achievable, and it could happen quicker;
One of few surviving remnants of Chinese life in the area, the façade (an earthquake risk) could be saved and incorporated in an imaginative way into the Chinese Garden;
The derelict and graffitied site would be significantly improved, with a unique garden/park for the public;
The history of the surrounding area could be told, as could the wider stories such as the Chinese market gardens of Lower Hutt, which once supplied half of Wellington’s vegetables;
Harry Wong’s films and Brent Wong’s art could have pride of place.

Te Aro’s densification would be enhanced by a unique green public park space;
The Chinese Garden would give a pleasant visual focus on an otherwise barren Taranaki Street, the “tourist route” from the Airport;
It would invite people to enter the Chinese precinct.

Our city has changed much since the Chinese Garden was first mooted about 30 years ago. The waterfront is now a well used and well established public recreational area, and the inner city has become much more populated.

What better place to have a Chinese Garden than on the site of the Chinese Mission in Frederick Street.

Wellington.scoop / Helene Ritchie

Helene Ritchie is a former Wellington deputy mayor, city councillor and regional councillor.