Huritanga mo te mauri-ora: regenerative system change for holistic urban wellbeing in an era of ecological emergency - circular, carbon-storing, connected, ecological cities


Amanda Yates
Kelly Dombroski
Gradon Diprose
Matt Scobie

Project Location

Ōtautahi | Christchurch, Aotearoa | New Zealand
Rotorua, Aotearoa | New Zealand

In a time of ecological emergency and pandemic disruption, this research programme explores how urban communities can activate and accelerate change for holistic urban wellbeing and regeneration. We emphasise system-wide urban transformation focusing on the uptake of regenerative ecological infrastructures, connected community systems, and circular eco-economies for living, carbon-storing connected cities.

We work with a holistic notion of wellbeing that includes the social, cultural, and ecological. Our mahi is guided by Māori understandings of mauri ora as the vitality of all life or socio-cultural-ecological thriving. Here wellbeing is dependent on a vital connected ‘life-field’. Our current context of ecological emergency and socio-cultural crises makes a focus on holistic urban wellbeing particularly necessary and relevant.

Regenerating ecological systems is vital to the enmeshed challenges of climate change, the current extinction crises, and concurrent pollution crises all registering in contemporary cities. Social and ecological connection improves human wellbeing in a range of ways. How can cities respond to these diverse and interlinked urban wellbeing needs and leverage co-benefits and wellbeing synergies?

We aim to activate urban wellbeing through a connective “mauri mesh model” for interlinked wellbeing; thriving wellbeing in ecological environments; in human-made systems, technologies and materials; and in public health and happiness. We focus on how cities can become more ecologically and socio-culturally connected to enhance holistic urban wellbeing, the meshed wellbeing of whānau and whenua, people and ‘place.’ We emphasise key transitions towards ecological regeneration, carbon-zero energy, and a circular bio-economy in a context of socio-cultural justice and equity.

Our research attends to the city holistically, then in all its relational complexity, across all its ‘hard’ infrastructures of buildings and roads; its living green and blue ecosystems, including rivers, parks, and walkable landscapes; and its ‘soft’ social, economic, educational, civic, and community systems and relationships. The research programme explores how ecological infrastructures (ngahere urban forests, constructed wetlands, green roofs, for example), ecological systems (renewable energy, a circular bio-economy), and connected community systems (co-housing models, third places, and public spaces such as libraries or community gardens) can contribute to intermeshed socio-cultural-ecological wellbeing.

Our researchers are working with partners on the ground to co-create holistic wellbeing action tools and test these out in transformative actions with local communities. Our partners include iwi, city councils, and non-government organisations.

As visualisations and valuations, the holistic urban wellbeing model and wellbeing action tools communicate and inspire development and investment in socio-cultural-ecological wellbeing. Our tools aid practical change on the ground, including changes in how we communicate and comprehend urban wellbeing data, how we think about and plan our neighbourhoods for enhanced holistic wellbeing, how we can encourage regenerative energy, waste, and mobility processes, how we can transition to a more circular and community-enhancing bio-economy. Associated pilots or case studies test out this change on the ground.

Mesh model and urban wellbeing transformation tools:

1) The Huritanga programme works with a ‘mauri mesh model’ of interconnected social, cultural and ecological wellbeing. The programme addresses the interconnection of local and global wellbeing, with a particular emphasis on how local wellbeing actions can contribute to wider planetary wellbeing.
2) The Ngā Tohu Kāinga-Ora: Mauri Ora & Urban Wellbeing project is developing holistic urban wellbeing analysis/action tools. A future-focused navigator or compass directs actions for wellbeing-led urban planning or development. An urban data index puts current measures of urban wellbeing into relation while a data display visualises those current urban wellbeing indices. Analysis of the data landscape and innovations in data acquisition support this applied urban wellbeing research.
3) The community returns on investment (CEROI) project is exploring community development processes, through interviews and co-creative processes. A key research area involves the development of a CEROI tool that measures positive returns on wellbeing investments;
4) The community composting and urban agriculture project is developing local composting tools and guides.
5) The implementation of the mesh model for holistic urban wellbeing is explored across the tools in place-based case studies and pilots.

    Key partners are Rotorua-based Te Tatau, a multi-hapū governance group linked with the Rotorua City Council; Ngāi Tūāhuriri, Ngāi Tahu Research Centre, LIVS and an urban compost initiative, and Te Pūtahi, Christchurch Centre for Architecture and City Making.

    People sitting at tables outdoors, tents and stalls in the background