David Whitley finds that he instantly loves Wellington – and there may be two good reasons why
I was knackered when I arrived in Wellington. I’d spent five hours driving to get there, and as beautiful as the last hour of that drive is (and, seriously, the scenery is sensational), I had no real enthusiasm for going out.
But I had to get something to eat, so go out I did. I found myself walking down Cuba Street. It was absolutely teeming with people; a hugely engaging swirl of buskers, street performers, night markets and youthful energy.

It was instant; I knew this was going to be my kind of city. It was an opinion that only grew by the time I left four days later. It has a gorgeous natural setting, excellent food, wine and craft beer scenes, some excellent cultural attractions and a remarkable green belt of parkland that surround the city centre.

But there were two aspects that struck me about Wellington that I’ve seen time and time again in cities that I really, really like. And I’ve seen them too many times for it to be a coincidence.

The first thing was that, when you speak to people, very few of them are actually from Wellington originally. The city’s population is somewhat transient – partly due to it being the capital. People move in, people move out. But those that are not moving in purely for work tend to be there because they want to be there. Cities full of people that have chosen to be there tend to be much more exciting and appealing than cities full of people who just happen to be there and have never got round to trying somewhere else.

Cities full of outsiders tend to be more receptive to new ideas too. There’s less of the parochial “this is the way we do things round here” mentality.

The other thing in Wellington’s favour is its geography. The city is sandwiched in somewhat by mountains and water. There are only so many places available for building in, making sprawling out over a large area and giving everyone their own bit of land to put a semi-detached house on impossible. That’s a good thing. It means people have to be closer to each other and mix.

It’s what makes Wellington’s city centre so alive and Auckland’s – a city that has fallen victim to urban sprawl – so miserable.

If cities are given room, they generally take it – leading to depressing, spread out, motorist-only horror shows like Orlando and Dallas. If they’ve only got a certain amount of space to fit everything into, they have to think carefully about what they do with that space. And these geographically limited cities – New York City and San Francisco are very obvious examples – tend to be much more engaging.

Outsiders and geography aren’t the only reasons why Wellington works, of course – but when you find the two ingredients together, it’s unusual to find a disappointing city.


Disclosure: David visited Wellington as a guest of Positively Wellington

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