Explainer: What Wellington is doing to clean up its unsafe streets


Wellington has recently been grappling with an increasingly concerning issue on its city streets – people don’t feel safe.

The capital, known for its compactness and walkability, has become a place where people don’t feel comfortable walking alone.

The solutions under way to fix this include moving a block of public toilets, new deep cleaning for some footpaths, extra CCTV cameras, an interim youth hub, and a new central community centre.

But there are also more sophisticated goings-on behind the scenes. Advanced gaming technology is being used to create a large-scale visualisation of Wellington, like a digital twin that’s fed by real time data.

Police data shows the number of sexual assaults in Wellington has increased by nearly 50 per cent in the past five years.

The number of acts intended to cause injury, including common and serious assault, has also grown by 35 per cent over the same period.

Meanwhile, records also show the number of members and prospective gang members in the Wellington region has almost doubled since 2016.

In March, the situation reached boiling point and hundreds of people took to Courtenay Place to rally against sexual violence and call for safer streets in the capital.

In response, something called the Pōneke Promise, was formed.

It’s a social contract between the city’s hospitality industry, retailers, police and councils to take collective action to address the safety issues in Wellington’s CBD.

Tomorrow, Wellington City councillors are considering a paper at a committee meeting that outlines the progress made on the Pōneke Promise to date.

Wellington’s central city is home to about 17,000 residents.

The paper said the city has experienced a change of demographics with the clustering of
emergency accommodation in the area of Te Aro Park, increased gang presence, and at-risk youth in the central city.

It acknowledged the increase in reporting of crime, antisocial behaviour, sexual violence, and that Wellingtonians generally feel less safe than they used to.

Projects within the Pōneke Promise have been incorporated into four themes being physical improvements, harm reduction, community spaces and places, and business confidence.

The troublesome Te Aro Park toilets are being relocated. The block’s physical layout has made sight lines concealed and secluded.

Furthermore, the current location of the toilets are unacceptable to iwi because of the area’s history as a Pā and the Waimapihi stream that runs beneath the park.

A project manager has been appointed to lead the relocation of the toilets to the corner of Taranaki St and Inglewood Place.

The lighting on Courtenay Place is being converted to adjustable LED bulbs to make the street more inviting and better lit.

The council is also trialling a new deep cleaning method for footpaths on Courtenay Place, Cuba, Manners, Dixon, Taranaki, Tory, Allen, and Blair streets.

It’s hoped this will help prevent the area feeling dirty and unwelcoming.

A sexual violence prevention action plan is being developed as well as a programme for environments which involve alcohol.

This includes developing licenced venues capacity to be effective bystanders through a training and a proposed accreditation scheme.

The next phase of the Know Your Limit campaign will include “eye-catching” signs in the central city to raise awareness of alcohol bans.

The closures of the central library and Reading Cinema due to earthquake risks have resulted in a lack of places for people to gather, other than bars and restaurants.

Council officials have explored suitable premises for a lease to home an interim youth hub.

This would be for high school aged children and run by an external partner.

A lease has already been signed for a new community centre on 107 Manners St where people will be able to connect and participate in various event programmes.

Work is under way to fit out that space.

Meanwhile, a new community support base called Te Wāhi Āwhina has already opened opposite Te Aro Park for key social agencies to provide easily accessible support for vulnerable communities.

An extra CCTV camera has been installed at Te Aro Park as well as one in Courtenay Place.

A new website is also being designed for the Pōneke Promise.

It will include an interactive map of the city that pinpoints data, like dark spaces as identified by local hosts and where possible liquor ban breaches have been spotted.

The map will show where physical changes are being made in the city with more information on the thinking behind them.

There’s also a submission page planned where users can drop a pin in the exact location of the city they’re concerned about and write about what’s going on or what they want to see change.

The data has been used in-house for several years but the council hopes the publication of it in this format will demonstrate an awareness of the issues at hand.

Furthermore, advanced gaming technology is being used to create a large-scale visualisation of Wellington, like a digital twin.

It is linked to a live stream of data, which allows the model to adapt and change at the same time as the physical city itself.

This gives it the ability to analyse what is currently happening as well as test future scenarios.

For example, it holds information about shop fronts identifying where dark spaces might be if a site isn’t leased.

The council wants to use information like this to drive wellbeing and social change.

These projects are by no means an exhaustive list of changes, especially with the finer details of the $6.4 billion transport plan Let’s Get Wellington Moving still being worked out.

But it is the first comprehensive report to be made public since Wellington mayor Andy Foster asked everyone to promise to act in a way which would collectively deliver a safer and compassionate city both during the day and at night.

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