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The power of connections

  • Andrea Reid

Andrea Reid’s Landscape Architecture studies at Unitec saw her start her journey into pollinator paths – a movement that aims to bring crucial pollinators into urban areas by connecting parks and reserves. It also saw her make some valuable connections of her own.

A young love for nature

Andrea’s interest in the natural world began at an early age, but it wasn’t until high school that she started to think about Landscape Architecture as a career. 

“As a kid, I loved bugs and the environment – David Attenborough was my role model rather than any traditional celebrity! At high school I was good at graphic design, art, a bit of science… so Landscape Architecture seemed to be a natural fit for me. 

I chose Unitec because it was one of the only places in New Zealand with an internationally recognised degree. I also wanted to do a practical, specialised course that I knew would give me the skills I needed to get a job at the end of it.” 

During her four years at Unitec, she not only gained industry-relevant skills, but made some important connections both through her study and within the Landscape Architecture industry itself. 

“There were certainly some key people at Unitec who helped me get where I am today. The lecturers and tutors were always readily available to offer advice and help, but they also really challenged our thinking. Rather than spoon-feeding us information, they encouraged us to go and find things out for ourselves. In that sense, Unitec learning is really self-driven. The amount you get out of it is determined by how much you put in.”

The birds, the bees and everything in between

In her final year, Andrea moved into ‘negotiated study’ – where students can pick any landscape architecture topic to work on for the year, as long as it has both a theory and practical design component. This is where Andrea began exploring the area of pollinator paths, and where the mentoring aspect of Unitec played an important role in her life.

“Pollinator paths are about making our urban landscapes a friendlier place for pollinators – bees, birds, butterflies, lizards, bats and a range of insects. It’s about connecting parks and green spaces using planted pathways, so pollinators can travel more easily and don’t become isolated in our patched ecosystem, reducing the rapid decline of pollinators – something that’s a real issue for our food supply.

As part of our negotiated study we were given a mentor to oversee our work. I was assigned Landscape Architect Renee Davies, and the support and information she gave me was invaluable. I felt like I learnt so much – you’re finding your own problems and creating your own solutions, with your mentor challenging you the whole time.” 

Andrea’s work in pollinator paths not only saw her presented with Unitec’s Environmental Award, but continued after graduation when she brought her first pollinator park to life. While attending a talk about pollinators, she met a woman from council in Kai Auckland – an organisation that aims to foster a sustainable food system in Auckland city.  

“I told her that if they wanted more food to be grown in the city, they really needed to think about how it would be pollinated. Pollinators aren’t going to happily fly up to the top of an apartment building unless there’s a good reason. I showed her my research, and she said I needed to connect with Auckland council. I ended up presenting my findings to a room full of council staff – one of whom was Rob Thomas from the Waitemata local board.”

A vision brought to life

Rob loved the idea, and helped Andrea to partner with Gecko NZ Trust and put in a council funding application to complete the first pollinator park as a prototype. The board were 100% behind it and the application was accepted. Thanks to that and a lot of volunteer hours, the park was created in Hakana Reserve, Grey Lynn in 2015.  

“It was fantastic to see my vision come to life, and I was honoured to receive a lot of media attention as well as a number of awards for my work – including the 2017 Auckland Council Biosecurity & Biodiversity Innovative Volunteer Award, the 2017 Waitemata Local Board Good Citizen’s Award, Resene Colourful Character of the Year and the 2015 Idea Starter Young Entrepreneur Award. I was also a finalist for NZ Garden of the Year and the 2015 NZILA Resene Pride of Place Student Award. The park is just the beginning though. The next step is to create a green pathway between Grey Lynn Park and Cox’s Bay Reserve that passes through the pollinator park.” 

Right now, Andrea is kept busy in her new role at Landscape Architecture firm, WSP Opus, where she designs everything from parks, streetscapes and playgrounds, to highway planting, wetlands, schools and even cemeteries. She loves the environmental aspect of her work and finds particular satisfaction in seeing how her spaces are used. She also believes that making connections with people in the industry is one of the most important things you can do as a student.

Connecting with like-minded people

After graduating, Andrea continued to build on her industry connections, joining the Kelmarna Gardens & Organic Farm Board, becoming a board member of the NZILA Auckland Branch (where she helps organise industry events) and completing a certificate in Permaculture at Auckland Permaculture Workshop. In fact, it was networking with the industry that landed Andrea her first job after graduation.

“I went to an NZILA event that had been organised to help students connect with the industry. Scott Wigglesworth, a Landscape Architect from AECOM, got up and spoke about how busy he was and how he really needed some support, so I made the effort to go up and introduce myself afterwards. I showed him my portfolio, then sent him an email the next day with my CV. I started working for him the following week. It really helped that I was proactive and prepared. It’s important to have your portfolio and CV in order and take it with you to events.” 

During her time at AECOM, Andrea assisted with the detailed design package for ‘Victoria on the River’ – an amphitheatre-style park that connects Hamilton’s main street to the Waikato River. Constructed in early 2018, the space has transformed Hamilton’s city centre and has already received several architectural awards. 

Andrea says her short term goal is to become registered, something she hopes to do by 2020.  

“I’m excited about getting my teeth into the registration process – you focus on real world projects and there’s a lot of theory behind it. For now, though, I’m just grateful to be doing something I love! I think it’s so important to find out what makes you happy. A pay increase is always exciting, but it’s not the same as being able to say ‘I really made a difference to that community and created a space people can enjoy’. For me that is what’s really rewarding.”

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