Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Wellington Blown Away

In the heat of the campaign leading up to New Zealand’s general election another vote-off has gripped the fertile hearts and minds of Wellingtonians. The vote is to decide on an iconic sign to grace the hillside near Wellington airport that greets you as you fly into and out of the capital. This is territory where angels fear to tread – whatever ends up on the cutting will brand the city; get it wrong and the passionate locals will have you for breakfast with a hot latte.

Which is almost what happened. The original idea put forward by the airport (which owns the land) was “Wellywood”, a nod to Wellington’s acclaimed film industry. It was panned by the critics. The city paper, The DominionPost reported that a Facebook page was shut down after plots were put forward to blow up and set fire to the sign. A brewery offered free crates of beer for whoever knocked it down, no questions asked.

To its credit the airport opened the whole thing up for debate, inviting ideas for alternatives. And the team from Saatchi & Saatchi Wellington – creators of the Absolutely Positively Wellington campaign that sold Wellingtonians on Wellington in the 90s – has come up with the goods. The team’s “Wellington Blown Away” design has emerged as the overwhelming favorite to go up against the Wellywood option in a public vote, along with a second creative alternative, the eye of a Taniwha (a mythical monster of Maori legend) staring out of the hillside. The two alternatives were selected through a preliminary vote on ideas from the public, with Wellington Blown Away picking up 46% of votes, the Taniwha 10%. Now it’s time to pick a winner – today’s final vote will be binding.

Anyone who’s ever been to Wellington knows it’s windy as anything. It’s also a vibrant, innovative place, where people make things happen. Poet Lauris Edmond called it the city of action, the world headquarters of the verb. I reckon a moniker that celebrates that creative restlessness and that sense of constant movement you find in any of the world’s great cities is the way to go. Let’s hope Wellington Blown Away is a sign of things to come.