July 26, 2023

Voyaging to-and-from Henderson’s Rathgar Road

Our streets can be places for everybody to enjoy. Places we want to spend our time playing, walking, cycling, scooting, and connecting with one another. For our young people, part of the joy of being a kid is having the independence to explore local neighbourhoods and have the freedom to move around without adults, particularly travelling to and from school.

These days, less and less families feel comfortable with allowing their children to take part in this. Our cities and streets were designed when Aotearoa New Zealand had fewer people, families had one working parent, and we led less-busy lives. The quieter streets meant kids could get to school and after-school activities on their bikes and by walking. As more people have moved into our cities, more families have working parents, and we go to more places more often, our streets have become busier with cars and trucks and are harder to move about on.

Working parents are also facing time pressures and are driving their children around, interrupting this valued time of independence. Communities in West and South Auckland are carrying this burden more so than that of their affluent neighbours, with several journalists and media outlets calling to ‘defund Ponsonby’ – acknowledging wealthy suburbs receive more funding for infrastructure improvements than that of their suburban neighbours, disregarding the increased level of housing development occurring in these communities relative to their wealthy neighbours. Funding disparities are one way inequity gets under the skin and built into our neighbourhoods.

Across Aotearoa, people in community are coming up with their own solutions to open our streets for people to move about however they choose to.

In West Auckland, Henderson’s Rathgar Road is home to five schools, with students ranging from primary to high school. Alongside 50 Māori and Pasifika students from Waitākere College and Henderson Intermediate, Healthy Families Waitākere is exploring what active travel to and from school could look like for students using this busy road daily.

Understanding the importance of cultural narratives in our neighbourhoods, Pasifika navigation and wayfinding are being weaved through the workshop process. Healthy Families Waitākere Systems Innovator Ruta Tai continues.

“These initial workshops with students from schools on Rathgar Road are underpinned by their common ancestry as Pacific navigators, a magnificent web of islands connected by voyaging pathways. Bringing this concept of shared history into modern-day wayfinding to-and-from school will enable young people to feel a sense of belonging and connection to their local neighbourhood.”

During the workshops, students are encouraged to share their knowledge and understanding of wayfinding and movement, to explore and inform what active travel to and from school on Rathgar Road could look like for young people in the area. Feedback from students has been critical in informing the next steps of the initiative, including:

“I like walking to school because I get time to hang out with my friends.”

“I think a lot when I walk on my own.”

The initiatives outcomes will be designed to align to the school’s curriculum, including setting goals for movement and physical activity. Tai continues,

“Our goal is for these students, and the future students of Rathgar Road to have a sense of connection to their culture as they navigate their neighbourhood. Travelling to-and-from school will be a way to participate in movement and connect with friends to nurture their independence and connection to culture.”

Since beginning this journey, Henderson North School has requested to join the workshop series, bringing the total to over 70 Māori and Pasifika students from the schools’ collective bilingual units. 

Healthy Families Waitākere will host co-design sessions with the students to understand how we might change how Rathgar looks and feels to encourage movement and cultural connection.

With locally led innovations such as these occurring across the motu, people in Government and local councils can support and accelerate these changes by using tools that work to open our streets. These tools will allow young people to get around safely on their own.

These tools include things such as prioritising protected bike paths, calming measures for busy roads, creating more space on our roads for public transport, and opening parts of our neighbourhoods for active travel only.

These are ways to prioritise the people in our cities and neighbourhoods, so we can all move about freely and independently.