Te KĀinga

One of the fundamental bases on which any society is organised is that of locality, since certain spatial relations are inherent in the very nature of every group, whether settled or migratory. And the great importance of association in common locality is that it represents not merely a physical fact, but also leads to the formation of a whole body of psychological bonds, due to the common interests of the members and their contact in everyday life. Among the Māori the local group, patent to the eye of every observer, is the village [te kāinga].

1929 Raymond Firth Economics of the New Zealand Maori

In Precolonial Aotearoa, te kāinga was the principle form of community. In the 21st century, it offers a useful framework for a sustainable future – updated to address the pressing needs of a technology-based society.

21st C. Kainga

In every era and in every part of the planet, except our own, people inherently understood how to design communities. In Aotearoa, it was called the Kainga. In Old Europe it was called the Market Town.

But whatever the name, its fundamental characteristics were human-scaled. They began with a self-supporting local economy, but the economy was a means to a good life, not an end it itself. People developed a social identity by proximity. They developed skills and traded the output of their work. They took care of their own.

Today New Zealand is facing the effects of global population growth. Unaffordable housing, climate change, gridlock in Auckland transport, the list goes on. Even the recent COVID pandemic is a product of a transport-based society.

Instead of viewing these potentially catastrophic challenges as something to be feared, view them as an opportunity to build new communities based on timeless development patterns that can thrive and enable its people and communities to provide for their well-being.



The Resource Management Act is responsible for 47% of New Zealand’s CO2 emissions


The transport sector currently produces 47 per cent of New Zealand’s CO2 emissions and between 1990 and 2018, domestic transport emissions increased by 90 per cent.

says Transport Minister Michael Wood


It’s time to end transport-based development in New Zealand


The RMA became law in 1991. In 2021, Transport Minister Michael Wood said The transport sector currently produces 47 per cent of New Zealand’s CO2 emissions and between 1990 and 2018, domestic transport emissions increased by 90 per cent.

This is because almost every district plan written under the RMA since 1991 adopted the American transport-based zoning principle. Homes in one zone, work in a second, shops and services in a third – in order to accomplish the mundane chores of daily life, people must transport themselves.

Transport has a heavy environmental footprint. Electric cars are not the answer – all that does is export the pollution to 3rd world countries. Buses & trains are not the answer; their supply chain is still far too carbon heavy and in pandemics, they are spreaders. The answer is to eliminate the need to drive in all new developments.

Design communities with a sufficient economic and social critical mass so the vast majority of its residents do not need transport to thrive.  Don’t take away people’s cars or penalise them for driving, eliminate their need to drive.

This is not a new idea. It’s how people lived until civilisation stopped building human-scaled communities and shifted to making people the fodder of global industries.

It’s an idea whose time has come again.


Executive Summary for Kainga Ora

Scale and Scope

Social Number: The optimal social critical mass for a community where everyone knows everyone else and people take care of their own is about 250-750 people. If the streets are car-free, people can live there from cradle to grave – safe and supportive as a complete, not elite community. Think of it as a whanau.

Economic Number: But the optimal economic critical mass with all day-to-day destinations in walking distance is about 5,000 – 10,000 people. More than that it becomes bureaucratic. This creates the need for subdivisions within the whole – call them clusters, neighbourhoods, villages or barrios within the town. Think of each village as whanau, and  the town as a whole as hapu.

Environmental Number: The optimal size where people can walk or cycle to their destinations in about 10 minutes is 85-100 hectares. No cars within means smaller streets. No outbound commuters means significantly lighter carbon footprint and no need for council to upgrade access roads. Off grid power, water and wastewater means no burden on the host district council.

This suggests car-free streets, medium-density, mixed-use town houses as still found in the historic districts of old Europe. The optimal location is is the countryside – a country town. But to prevent cross boundary conflicts and give the town folk a direct experience of Nature, this calls for a surrounding Greenbelt where people visit, where public utilities, the motorpool and even a walk-to industrial park are sited.

This suggests the following scale and scope:

  • 10,000 population on 200 ha greenfield site
  • No need to be near an urban centre
  • Two-lane road access is sufficient

Urban Core

  • 85 ha medium-density, car-free urban core
  • 4,000+ multi-floor, attached townhouses
  • Cosmopolitan town centre
  • Surrounded by 20 “villages”
  • Each village about 500 people / 200 homes
  • 2-3 floor attached town house design


  • Native bush protective wall at perimeter
  • Motorpool at front – all vehicles stop there
  • Solar array – no demand on grid
  • Rainwater harvesting – no council pipes in
  • Wastewater reprocessing – no pipes out
  • Gardens, parks, sports fields, cemetery
  • Temporary pop-up building factory
  • Walk-to industrial/tech park


Time Frame

Local businesses require a critical mass of customers in order to remain profitable and keep their doors open.  In a new development that is not dependent on the existing surrounding regional economy, the town’s start-up needs to resemble a college town where everyone moves in within the same month or so.

This requires a way of thinking not seen before in NZ. It involves coordinated logistics that eliminate obstacles rather than work around them. It will take 3 years from day one to move-in month.

  • Choose easy land with few, if any complications
  • Look for relatively flat, featureless, dry land
  • If there are features, site them in the greenbelt
  • Look for a good 2-lane road with low traffic
  • Avoid future-risk land (flood, earthquake, etc.)

Once the land is selected, begin the pre-marketing campaign – inviting people interested in the idea to become invested early on. Invested does not initially mean paying money. Rather it is based on a principle best stated by the architect Christopher Alexander (1936-2022) in his seminal book A Pattern Language where he wrote:

At the core… is the idea that people should design for themselves their own houses, streets and communities. This idea may be radical (it implies a radical transformation of the architectural profession) but it comes simply from the observation that most of the wonderful places of the world were not made by architects, but by the people.

Written in 1977, the idea is no longer so radical, and with advanced technology the role of architects and designers is shifting to that of enablers – within a safe and durable framework, to enable people to make decisions that embed their personality on their homes,  workplaces and their shared spaces. They set out the look, feel and purpose of their village. They do it with the aid of a design language called a pattern language.

Inviting the future inhabitants to participate in the founding of their home, village and town has many benefits, not the least of which is economic certainty.

Further, by dividing the town into multiple villages, each village will develop its own personality; its unique character based on the people attracted to live in it.

The project has three stages:

  • Year 1: Initiation
  • Year 2: Implementation
  • Year 3: Construction

The infrastructure and necessary buildings are built in year 2. In year three all 4,000 buildings are manufactured in the on-site factory.

Permissions and Funding

Funding is not the Issue, Permission is

Before Kainga Ora and the Urban Development Act, such a project would have been functionally impossible working with the existing council permission system that involve multiple agencies. The point of Kainga Ora and the UDA was to provide a single agency with authority to handle projects of national significance. This is one.

No Kainga Ora funding is needed. For a project of this magnitude – figure $3 billion or so, dynamic engagement of the future town folk – the buyers of the buildings, comes earlier, thus risk capital is in the order of $200 million before funding shifts to mortgage backed securities or securitised bonds. Part of the project will entail the development company establishing a financial services provider to access private sector funding, that also will include pension funds, insurance funds and sovereign funds.

In the development industry, it is said over 50% of the job is securing permission. In this proposal, it is recommended that the process is turned on its head. Instead of finding land and developing a master plan around it, the prototype master plan is already written. Revise that plan before finding the land, and then search for land that best fits the plan. Once found, adapt the prototype plan to fit the land. It’s much easier to do it this way. Avoid rather than mitigate.

To do this, the project must become a Kainga Ora driven project, not a private sector initiative presented to Kainga Ora for approval. In other words, it must be collaborative not regulatory.


Skunk works

“Skunkworks” is widely used in business, engineering, and technical fields to describe a group within an organization given a high degree of autonomy and unhampered by bureaucracy, with the task of working on advanced projects.

Within Kainga Ora, establish a skunk works, selecting the most lateral thinking, top-rate professionals and give them a tightly-defined mission – to build the prototype town, freed from the “you can’t do that” mentality that hobbles most government operations.

Appoint two separate teams – the approvers and the executors.

The executor: Rather than contract with a private sector developer (that brings its own ways of doing things), incorporate a private-sector developer and staff it with the most talented developer personnel. In many cases these will be senior developers looking to give back after decades of success in their industry. Charge them with the duty to make it happen.

The approver: Similar to independent hearing commissioners, establish a second group charged with giving permission to the executor. Again, select the most lateral thinking, successful professionals one can find – headhunt the whole world if necessary. Think of it as checks and balances: at arms length, but sharing the same end goal.

The approvers work for Kainga Ora but work on behalf of the future villagers and town folk. They should report directly to top management within Kainga Ora.

Legal Framework: The executor is a NZ company whose shares are held in trust for the future villagers and town folk. It will be a Benefit Company (B-Corp) measured on the triple bottom line. When the town is finished and the citizens move in, Kainga Ora will issue shares to the town citizens and the company shifts from being the developer to the town administrator. This makes matters like divesting commons property (streets, greenbelt, halls, etc) from the developer to the citizens easier, because it involves shares issue, not title transfer. 

Why Skunkworks? In March 2020, two days before COVID locked down the nation, a meeting was held with the then very-new Kainga Ora to put forth this proposal. COVID put the idea on hold for two years. When, like Rip Van Winkle, it re-awoke in March 2022, Kainga Ora had become a huge bureaucracy with the same sort of entanglements that has made local government unworkable.

Any  project of this magnitude will die if run by the system. However, like the original skunk-works in World War Two, outside the Crown entity, the housing / transport / energy / climate and economic crisis has become an emergency equivalent to a war. The only way to respond, to forestall and turn these conditions to a positive outcome is to set up a team of the best people in the industry, and enable them to do the job. … to set up a Skunk Works.

What does Kainga Ora Mean?

Kainga is a word found in Te Tiriti o Waitangi. Kainga is one of the three most important values the Rangatira sought to preserve. It is what today is called a development model – a way of living. It translates to village or town, where its primary qualities were:

  • Self Contained – Clearly defined boundaries, and due to the time – no cars within
  • Self Supporting – A local economy 
  • Self Operating – Local control over local matters

Ora means healthy, fit, well, alive – in a state of wellbeing, and when combined with Kainga, means a community that is providing for its social, economic, cultural and environmental wellbeing, health and safety.

We propose a 21st century Kainga

We all sense…

“We all sense that something has gone terribly wrong with our communities. Hamlets and cities, slums and suburbs all lack a sense of cohesion. Not only is there no centre – there is no there there. Cities, towns, villages and communities designed hundreds of years ago are obviously based upon some basic purpose of living that eludes the designers of our own time.”   Victor Papanek

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Timeless Patterns

For thousands of years we designed communities with  self-supporting local economies to enable people to enjoy a good life, understood as the social  pursuits of conviviality, citizenship and artistic, intellectual & spiritual growth. We stopped that when we started calling ourselves consumers rather than citizens. Now there is a pressing need to change how we live.

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A Kainga is

a community built upon a self-supporting local economy where all activity is local. No cars within, no outbound commuters. It is a complete (not elite) community for all ages, stage and walks of life. It is an answer to housing affordability for all, to climate change, traffic congestion, and is designed to keep its economy and society going in a pandemic. It’s practical, doable and ready to go.

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