georgeporter-s.jpg (17678 bytes)In Memory of

David George Porter - George


As an Architect and Town Planner - Tribute from Lewis E Martin

George and I met and became friends when we joined the School of Architecture in Auckland in 1939. We met here briefly after the war and later in England. Not long after I returned to New Zealand in 1954, George took me into partnership.

By then, he had already established a reputation for himself as one of an elite of Wellington architects who designed exciting modern buildings; and he had also qualified as a town planner.

As George's town planning practice developed and occupied more and more of his time and energies, he gradually stepped back from day-to-day hands-on architectural work, while still involving himself fully in the discussions, criticisms and decisions that each project engendered. In his planning work - country, town, city and regional - he was always in direct control.

We were partners from 1954 till 1981. A duration of 27 years, in itself, says much about the quality of the partnership. We brought differing virtues and interests to it. I was more simply an architect. George bought all sorts of entrepreneurial qualities; and his questing and energetic mind constantly developed and championed new ideas and concepts which he courageously fought through, past huge opposition.

In 1964, when George was an architect in the Housing Division of the Public Works Department, he was a prime mover, at only 24, in the setting up of the Architectural Centre. A few others, united with him in their concern for the arts, architecture and town planning in Wellington, met in his rooms and elected him to the chair. He helped draft the Centre's constitution and was secretary 1947-1951 and president 1951-53 and 1958-60. The Centre set up a school of architecture and town planning. It published a magazine. It built a demonstration house. It set itself to educate the public with a series of enthusiastically-received iconoclastic exhibitions - Te Aro Replanned, Living in Cities (promoting medium-density blocks of flats), Homes without Sprawl (medium-density to save valuable farm land) and many many more. All this was in the 40s and 50s. Today, the Centre remains active and influential. A particular commitment of George's in the late '50s was an exhibition of photos of and a campaign to save this building [Old St Paul's] without which it might not be here today.

The Centre's anxiety to have Wellington properly town-planned led to the election of a rather reluctant George to the City Council, on which he served for 5 terms or 15 years. There, among many other things, he brought into being great numbers of low-rental housing units together with unprecedented accompanying social services. A tribute from Gerald O'Brien will elaborate on this.

There was huge excitement when, as a consultant town planner in private practice, George won his first commission for a district planning scheme. Over the succeeding years he advised many councils and researched, produced and administered many district schemes, including Petone, Foxton, Featherston, Pahiatua, Waipawa, Havelock North, Wairoa, Richmond, Motueka, Greymouth and Mataura Boroughs; and counties of Manawatu, Kiwitea, Pohangina, South Wairarapa, Masterton, Pahiatua, Woodville, Dannevirke, Mauriceville, Akitio, Waipukurau, Waipawa, Patangata, Wairoa, Waiapu and Wiamea. His district planning schemes were regarded as "state of the art" by his peers.

George won  the A O Glasse Award "in recognition of his outstanding contribution to town planning in New Zealand." He was president of the New Zealand Planning Institute; chairman of the Wellington Regional Planning Authority, chairman of the national Urban Affairs Committee; and chairman of the Lambton Harbour Combined Planning Committee.

He particularly enjoyed his work on the east coast north of Gisborne and became greatly respected by the Ngati Porou. Small settlements in rural areas did not easily fit into planning schemes; but George came to understand the deep need for Maori to be able to re-settle on their ancestral lands. He overcame problems and heavy opposition and his schemes provided for papakainga - traditional Maori housing surrounding marae.

In the last 15 years, he was co-founder of and guided the Pacific Institute of Resource Management, bringing together multifarious aspects of economics, ecology and peace. Derek Wilson will speak on this last work of George's.

George Porter pioneered new concepts and led seminal movements all his life. 



georgeporter-s.jpg (17678 bytes)As a City Councillor - Tribute From Gerald O'Brien

George Porter was a respected colleague and a friend whose contribution to Wellington and to his country has not been adequately recognised, but nonetheless will endure. I have always regarded it as a privilege and a learning experience to have had the pleasure of working with him.

To me, his thinking and his actions were always clear. He knew what should be done and he knew what could be done, and he always ensured that it would be done. Nothing daunted his enthusiasm except except vexatious nonsense so prevalent in public life.

He came to politics at a time of national maturing. New groups, without ties to existing politics but with respect for moral imperatives, started asking probing questions. George Porter was part of such a group. He was elected to the Wellington City Council in 1959, bringing with him stirring yet practical goals. Internal politicking was part of the Council's vision, an encumbrance that became a burden of stress when he eventually became leader of the Citizen's group.

With the objective he had in mind George never flinched from the challenge initially faced from highly authorative local body officers and from councillors within his own group who, although they had served the city well, were suspicious of new ways of going about Wellington's development. It was as though his parents, in naming him David George, were placing on him an obligation to topple Goliaths and to slay dragons. George on Council was determined not to be ruled by precedents but where necessary to create them. He was just as riled by claims that proposals were held to be contrary to Council policy when he had in fact been elected to make Council policy. And that he surely did - he resoundingly did.

His orderly mind impelled him to plan structure essential to preclude anarchy in civic development, and to always relate that development to social justice and social obligation. This was always a compelling factor in the enormous contribution he was to make our city, a contribution whose benefits spilled over into other areas of New Zealand because of George's pioneering struggle to engage the city in proper Town Planning and housing development in partnership with central government. And if that meant descending on Ministers once a month or once a fortnight - then that's what happened.

When he came to Council he seized the opportunity provided by the Housing Minister Bill Fox to greatly expand government's duty to ensure proper and adequate public housing. By committing government to provide cheap finance to the City and through the City undertaking all the planning and building, he helped not only urban renewal by keeping the working population in the city but he also gave Wellington new assets in place of those which had run down. At the opening of the Newtown Park flats he induced a former Minister of Finance to observe that Government could if it wished and at no cost to the taxpayer provide housing finance at one per cent.  His pioneering led other but more timid cities to follow the Wellington example and to start rehousing their people. Wellington's great effort was to build everything on a self-supporting basis - its housing was always stand-alone financially.

George Porter's efforts for public housing - 2,200 housing units built by the City - and for urban renewal and town planning, were phenomenal. He cared little who gained credit for the work, but first he had to establish a Housing Committee in order to start a comprehensive housing plan in every area - public and pensioner, rental housing, housing for sale, and housing for staff. He had to get his ideas recognised by his own Citizens group, then by his committee and then by Council, before the battle even started to get government approval and support.

He had virtually, out of thin air to create the Council infrastructure for both housing and for Town Planning. Existing departments had their normal duties and were not equipped to oversee vast housing programmes. It also became essential to divorce Town Planning from its junior rank in both the Works and Town Clerk's departments. This was done, as I well know, with the greatest political skill tempered at all times with a recognition of the inevitable hardship the changes would cause to senior officers who had worked within the existing structures.

I doubt if the public of Wellington realised at the time how well served they were by the Councils of which George Porter was a member in the 1960s. George's special legacy to our city was his care for the needs of citizens through housing and town planning. His purposes and objectives were always socially motivated. When he retired from Council he carried that dedication into peace and environmental fields. I will treasure the reference he made in a speech at a private party that he and I were never on different sides notwithstanding the party labels attached to us. My city, your city, owes so very much to this man whom we salute and remember as a person who magnificently fulfilled his duties in his debt to the gift of life.

Gerald O'Brien 


georgeporter-s.jpg (17678 bytes)As an Environmentalist - Derek Wilson

I am truly honoured as a contemporary and a friend to be able to say a few words about George's later years - his retirement I suppose. Some people however never retire. But before doing so I'd like to read part of a letter dated 28 February from the Secretary General of The Japan Council against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs:

Mr Porter's dedication in and commitment to the anti-nuclear peace movement, especially the valuable role he played in defending the nuclear-free-policy of New Zealand, has been a remarkable contribution to the peace movement of the whole world.

We in the Japanese peace movement pledge ourselves to carry forward the desire of Mr Porter, and make every utmost effort to achieve a 21st century free of nuclear weapons.

Sincerely yours,

Koichi Akamatsu
Secretary General

George had a clear vision, an objective, to leave this world a better place than he found it. He was a man of the highest moral principles with a tremendous sense of responsibility - the kind of thing we seem to be hearing quite a bit about today.

In 1984 together with Grant Berkinshaw, George founded the Pacific Institute of Resource Management (PIRM) and was elected president, a position he filled for 13 years. He immediately issued a discussion paper - The Predicament of Humanity - which embodied many of the principles incorporated in the Resource Management Act seven years later.

PIRM's objectives, drafted by George, were:

"to provide information, viewpoints and news of significant events on global, regional and national issues related to global ecology and human justice, issues critical to the future of people and the planet,"

objectives in which he succeeded admirably. 

In December 1986 PIRM produced its first journal, Pacific World, under George's editorship and with the assistance of Alan Miller of the University of California, Berkeley. The next issue in a month or two will be No. 50.

PIRM has organised seminars discussion and submission, attended overseas conferences, hosted visits by eminent overseas people, and formed close alliances, with, amongst others:

  • The Club of Rome,
  • David Korten's, People Centered Development Forum.
  • Teddy Goldsmith, founder-editor of the Ecologist.
  • John Papworth, that inspiring London writer, and
  • The Asia Pacific Regional Association. ("APRA")

On behalf of APRA, PIRM published the Asia Pacific Bulletin, edited by George.

In Pacific World No. 46 March 1997, George wrote:

I share the view that though the human race is on a downward slide, that is gathering momentum, the situation can still be reversed, but only by people working together to overcome greed and corruption and by demanding democratic institutions and people-centred development. Co-operation and consensus are necessary for concerted citizen-based action. Such a world movement is already underway in many countries whose people are suffering increasing deprivation. Mounting numbers of caring people are now waking to the need for world-wide solidarity and concerted action. In future, I shall be devoting my attention to strengthening the movement.

And in the closing year of his life this is exactly what George did, by writing and assembling material - much of it by some of the world's foremost writers - which it is hoped will be published in memoriam as Last Chance.

May I remind you of Margaret Mead's pearl of wisdom.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

David George Porter was one of those citizens.

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