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Paerata rises: Landscape architect James Lord's big plans for a planned community near Auckland

James Lord of SurfaceDesign, Inc has big plans to develop a whole new community south of Auckland – a community that may one day become one of Aotearoa’s largest cities.

Lord is an award-winning landscape architect who works in San Francisco – but thinks the planned Paerata Rise has real potential for planned communities around the world. “Roads and traffic and freeways take up a lot of space,” he says of the transportation challenges.

Ground has already broken on Paerata Rise, with up to 4,500 sections to be built up. That, of course, has the potential to be a lot of people – not to mention all the services like grocery stores, petrol stations, post offices, clinics, schools, etc. they’ll all need in close proximity to them.

Lord says it’s all doable in an area that’s about a 40-minute drive from central Auckland. “As a landscape architect, there’s beauty and poetry in rural and urban conditions,” he says. “This is thinking about it in a different way.”

James Lord.

That’s all fine and good, but let’s call a spade a spade: this kind of sounds like a bedroom community. Lord bristles at that. “It’s more than creating a community,” he says. “It’s creating an institution and experience.”

Lord swears Paerata Rise won’t end up like Vancouver, Washington – a cool, vibrant area that has gentrified dramatically but will forever be overshadowed by the much larger (and far more vibrant) Portland, Oregon just across the Columbia River. “We have to create places for people,” he says, emphasising the importance of keeping people engaged and feeling like they belong to a community.

Another important thing with a planned community such as Paerata Rise, Lord says, is providing access to the outdoors. “We’ve gone from living completely outside to slowly being interior creatures,” he says. “Hopefully it [Paerata Rise] sets a precedent.”

Lord adds there’s a reason for that. “New Zealand is one of the most beautiful countries in the world – and that’s why it’s so easy to screw it up. We think it can’t happen here. We have to keep New Zealand beautiful.”

Naturally, there are some lessons Lord has learned, too, in designing the community. “If you don’t bring people along for your journey, you’re going to fail,” he says. “Listening is the answer to everything.”

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