It’s not an easy task revitalising a city centre you’ve only lived in for three months – but Alan Gray reckons he’s up for the challenge.
Alan is Nelson City Council’s city centre development programme lead, a newly created role which he took up in December.
His job is to create and lead a programme to transform and revitalise the city centre, a focus which has been dropped over the last few years.
Alan was born and bred in the United States and comes from a ten-year role at Auckland Council, working on the waterfront, Wynyard Quarter, Queens Wharf and Quay St.
He has a background in landscape architecture and holds a graduate degree in urban design.
When the Nelson job listing popped up, he “cleared out the decks” to go after it.
“My fiancé and I have been coming down here over the last three or so years and I quietly wore her down, saying, ‘we’re going to find a way of getting down there’.
“I really wanted to be part of this. It’s exciting.”
Alan will work across council to co-ordinate and prioritise city centre projects and policies, as well as form relationships with visitors, residents, businesses, property owners and developers.
“You go back and read articles and old reports and it’s not for a lack of effort the city hasn’t changed,” he says.
“There’s been a lot of initiatives – so understanding that background is really important.”
He’s even gone through all the public responses on the Long-Term Plan.
“I’ve actually typed them up and ran them through a word cloud algorithm to see what really resonates with people. Generally, people really love their city centre here, so I take that very seriously.”
Alan says his first job is “getting the picture right”.
“Nelson’s creative culture is something to really tap into and Upper Trafalgar has been a really good example of doing some trialing and getting people really onboard, so maybe we can do a bit more trialing to inform what we’re going to do with bigger projects on the horizon.”
He says refocusing the stalled Church Street project is also a priority.
“It’s easy for the scope of projects to get quite big and challenging. You have to really have sense of what can be done. There’s a way, I think, you can deliver a project – you might have to be a bit creative, you might have to do a bit of extra work.”
He also wants to focus on getting more people living in the city centre and says the Betts Carpark development is a good start.
“Cities that feel safe, that are healthy and that have activities and events are usually good cities to live in. I want to build on the city centre as a social place.”
And while Alan says it’s hard to build a city right out of the blocks, he’s looking forward to getting stuck in.
“I don’t have some of the history, but as a fresh face, I think there is an opportunity with that.”