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Cultures, Communities and Design

Justice through (Re)Planting Aotearoa New Zealand’s Urban Natural Heritage
M. Rodgers et al.
3:30 pm - 5:00 pm


The threat of climate change has led to urgent calls for environmental action and justice which will likely include increased urban vegetation. The benefits of this planting could go beyond ecological benefits, to contribute to decolonisation, and environmental and spatial justice, and build on the well documented links between ecological and human wellbeing. In Aotearoa New Zealand, past and ongoing injustices have disconnected Māori (the Indigenous people) from their land. Māori see themselves reflected in the landscape; natural heritage is part of Māori identity but has mostly been erased from urban areas through the process of colonisation. Many plants growing in urban areas represent the colonial situation rather than natural heritage, and many native plants that are planted are from other parts of Aotearoa and were not naturally occurring in the past on site. Responding to ongoing urban climate change concerns, as well as to the need to decolonise, requires place specific responses. Through a review of the literature this paper establishes reasons for further research to determine the benefits of celebrating natural heritage and of planting ‘plants of place’ that were naturally occurring in the past in the places we inhabit. The research concludes that making pre-colonial natural heritage visible , alongside the well accepted practices that acknowledge built and predominantly colonial heritage, may contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation, and to decolonisation efforts, as well as to spatial justice and environmental justice. Celebrating natural heritage and planting ‘plants of place’ can contribute in some part to the righting the injustice of the past and to safeguarding our future.



Maria Rodgers is a PhD candidate and teaching fellow in landscape architecture at Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University of Wellington. Her research examines the benefits of celebrating natural heritage in the urban realm in Aotearoa New Zealand. She is a member of the Te Ātea – Spatial Justice Co-design Lab and is particularly interested in the use of plants by Indigenous people, planting design, participatory design, tactical urbanism and cultural landscapes. Her thesis for her Master of Landscape Architecture (MLA) investigated ways in which landscape architecture may connect Māori and Pākehā to the land and to the past in rural Aotearoa New Zealand. She continues to teach studio and lecture courses in the landscape programme at Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University of Wellington.

Assoc. Prof. Ocean Mercier (Ngāti Porou) is Head of School of Te Kawa a Māui (School of Māori Studies) at Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University of Wellington. Her teaching and research focus on how mātauranga and science can collaborate for improved environmental outcomes. Her current research includes understanding how te taiao advocacy connects communities to place; ocean knowledge to support iwi interests; understanding groundwater with mātauranga and Māori perceptions of novel biotechnological controls of pest wasps in Aotearoa. She is a presenter of Māori Television’s Project Mātauranga and TVNZ’s Coast New Zealand.

Dr Maibritt Pedersen Zari is an Associate Professor at Huri Te Ao – The School of Future Environments, Auckland University of Technology, in Aotearoa New Zealand. Her research area of regenerative design redefines sustainable architecture and urban design through emulating ecosystems, working with ecologies and nature, and integrating complex social factors into architectural and urban design. Her most active current research stream relates to urban climate change adaptation in Oceania. She is the Primary Investigator for the Marsden funded project NUWAO (Nature-based Urban design for Wellbeing and Adaptation in Oceania) and leads a complex and diverse team aiming to co-design nature-based urban design solutions, rooted in Indigenous knowledges that support climate change adaptation and individual and community wellbeing in different contexts across Oceania (including Aotearoa). Pedersen Zari is co-author of Ecologies Design: Transforming Architecture, Landscape, and Urbanism (2020) and author of Regenerative Urban Design and Ecosystem Biomimicry (2018) .