Urban Designer - Vernacular Architect - Maritime Planner - Owner-Builder - Servant of Piglet - Educator - Author - Revolutionary - Peacenik - Tour Guide 

Tony Watkins

 ~ Vernacular Design 

Piglet's media campaign Print E-mail

ImageThe most boring people of all are those who think they are interesting. They want to tell you about it.

The most boring planners are those who think they have an interesting slant on life. They want the media to tell you about it.

Planners need to ask, before complaining about the media, just how desperately interesting their limited view of sustainability really is.



A generation ago the Club of Rome convinced us that having children was not such a good idea. It would lead to the world collapsing from lack of resources. A generation later those who believed are fumbling with their dementia in retirement villages while the whole world they believed in is collapsing around them for want of young people. Why should anyone bother listening to planners? Most people are quite capable of making mistakes on their own.

The first media rule is to get yourself a good story.

A pig which ate all the kitchen waste was a modest human interest story for all those people who were sending their waste off to landfills for it to be processed into leachate ideal for polluting the water cycle.

Instead of just talking about sustainability here was an example of somebody actually doing something about it.

"How quaint" readers said "that someone should be so absurdly different."

"Imagine having a pig."

The second media rule is to not let anyone know about it.

Everyone is interested to know about what everyone else does not want them to know about. It may not actually be interesting, but it seems to be.

The motorway which people do not know about is news while the one they do know about is nothing more than either a convenience or an irritant.

Letting rumours spread that there was a pig in Saint Heliers was a much better move than inviting a reporter around for lunch.

The third media rule is to get some good visuals.

The most amusing section of our newspapers is the Business Section. Photographs of money are not nearly as interesting as the real thing so other more interesting aspects of life are culled to make a point. The wreckage of a truck adds emphasis to the planning prediction that rising interest rates will lead to a crash.

Planners, and students too, understand this well, and always include a few photographs of Venice, or Paris, or almost anywhere, to perk up their latest proposals for Dullsville. Xerox copiers have turned plagiarism into an academic art form.

Pigs are great visual value. They are pink. They smile a lot. They have amusing habits. They are endlessly entertaining. They know all about acting.

Who could forget the time when the cameras were rolling but Piglet desperately needed to relieve herself. Smiling all the while to camera she manoeuvred herself until she had the corrugated iron wall behind her. While everyone else was rolling around with laughter the cameraman never did realise what was going on. (1)

The fourth media rule is to never approach the media.

Let them approach you. If you have a good story and good visuals they will find out soon enough.

If you approach the media it is your story and you are trying to convince them that it is a good one. If they approach you it is their story and they are going to make certain that it gets the coverage they want. People take pride in their own achievements, not the achievements of others.

Media people like power and control, think they are important, and imagine that everyone just loves listening to them. They are just like planners. Opposites attract. Similar people feel threatened.

In the whole of this global media campaign no approach was ever made to the media. The problems when you have good news relate to handling media pressure and demands rather than trying to promote media interest.

The fifth media rule is to always say yes.

When the local community newspaper wanted to run a front page photograph on sustainable cities it seemed at first that it could not possibly compete with the hundreds of things which St Cuthbert's College girls can do with calico bags. (2)

That decision should however be left to the reporter and the photographer. (3) Your role is to take time off work, make the coffee, smile, and if requested jump in for a mid-winter swim. The temperatures do not show up in photographs and it is a simple matter to photoshop blue into pink. Planners who refuse to go for a swim cannot expect to save the environment. (4)

Media people command enormous salaries. The people they talk to do not get paid. Saying yes means never asking "What is in this for me?"

The sixth media rule is that media feeds on media.

Almost everyone in this world is insecure. Risky provocative stimulating winning entries in competitions almost always come second. Experienced competition cognoscenti ignore the safe winning entry.

An academic paper which really has something to say will never survive the referee process.  Why should a referee take a risk when there are plenty of safe establishment alternatives which just reinforce the conventional wisdom? Why would a referee get involved in pushing the edges of the envelope beyond their own comfort zone?

A bad review makes everyone change their mind about something which up until then they had really enjoyed. For the nouveau-riche it is important to have the Armani label showing so that it is someone else's taste rather than their own which is being called into question.

Newspapers read other newspapers. Newspapers follow up on stories in other newspapers. Television reporters cull the newspapers looking for stories.

The seventh media rule is that your worst enemy might turn out to be your best friend.

One of the oddities of planners is that they genuinely think they know what is going on. A bad mistake. None of us do.

Ignorance however has never stopped planners from taking decisive action.

The Sunday Star Times reporter followed up on the Courier article and came along to capture Piglet's captivating smile. (5)

She found a founding member of the Headhunter Gang threatening to kill her. A new chum would have fled in terror, but the experienced reporter knew she had a story, although she was not certain what it was.

No one ever really found out, but probably someone who has spent most of their life in prison does not like "the pigs". They prefer Rottweilers.

The eighth media rule is to allow a story to grow and change.

Allowing stories to grow is an extremely important, but very risky, enterprise.

Sustainable design just might turn out to be different from the safe assumptions we had made.

Sustainability has been normalised since we first reintroduced the concept in the early seventies after it had become dormant since grandmother's time.

Sustaining the unsustainable has become the challenge of our time.

When you find yourself supporting something you thought you were opposing you need to be able to accept that being smart can be more important than being right.

The ninth media rule is that timing is more important than the story.

Within an hour of the Sunday Star Times reaching the street the first television station was on the phone.

They filmed only a minute of a very amusing news clip to round out the evening news. (6)

That however was the day that Princess Diana was killed in a car crash in a Parisian underpass. It seemed as though everyone tuned in to the news, and so they also heard Piglet's request for a neighbour "to keep her snout out of my business".

A minute at the right time is worth more than a dozen papers at an irrelevant conference.

The tenth media rule is that news is made. It does not actually exist.

By now sustainability, at least as seen through the eyes of spokesperson Piglet, was big news.

Other television stations wanted the story. (7)

Through the following week backgrounder radio programmes sought out the details.

The eleventh media rule is that if news does not provoke a reaction it will die.

Planners usually make the mistake of wanting people to agree with them.  Their vision is a perfect world with its mediocrity guaranteed by meticulous design guidelines.

Any sustainable planner however will be an irritant, a provocateur.
They want people to disagree with them.

Only a good idea is worth responding to.

Letters to the Editor began to pour in. (8) They were brilliantly written. It is a pity that the witty have been disempowered.

The twelfth media rule is that the truth should never be allowed to get in the way of leading edge research.

In the sustainability debate the Courier had been marginalised and forgotten by the big players, and yet they had started everything off.

They fought back with another front page cover story and another full colour photograph. (9)

A new slant was introduced when they went to the local council to round out the story. The Auckland City Council, as usual, had much to hide. They had acted illegally by sending inspectors across the boundary into the territory of another authority to try to illegally enforce a non-existent bylaw. The Regional Council had quietly responded by pointing out that Piglet was perfectly legal. The Auckland City Council did not take kindly to being told to go home.

The Auckland City Council, aware that corruption involving the police would be bad Public Relations, took the customary tactical approach that attack is better than defence.

They pretended they had issued an eviction notice.

The usual public participation process involving stakeholders followed. My bank was notified that I had died and my account was mysteriously frozen. The bank could find no explanation. My mail began to disappear. No one knew why. The Council came with a chain saw and cut down a protected pohutukawa tree on my property. I was beaten up by thugs and left badly injured.

A flood of letters supporting the principles of sustainability followed. (10)

The thirteenth media rule is that conflict is great media.

People love watching a fight, and if possible media folk will find one, or even create one if none exists.

Envy and jealousy can be relied upon to fuel any sparks.

A television crew arrived and asked if they could do an interview.

The first question on their long list seemed a little strange. The second question led me only to declare that it must have been put by Joan Chapple. There was embarrassment. How did I know? It was of course slander which I had heard elsewhere.

What was the format? Was she going to be putting the questions on television. No, it transpired that she was not willing to appear. She had merely provided a list of questions which had nothing to do with sustainability or pigs.

Many people hide behind anonymity rather than face the floodlights.

The television crew packed up and crept away.

The fourteenth media rule is to follow your hunches.

Anyone with wide experience of planning has a sense of strategy.  It is wrong to assume that reporters will be equally astute about the games people play.

Sometimes media folk need to be directed to the really great story.

I was scheduled to appear in court. A reporter rang to enquire if he might come along and report on the hearing. I suggested he would do much better to come down and lie on the beach in front of my house. At first he thought I was joking but eventually I managed to convince him.

It was a hunch. I could have been wrong.

I explained to the reporter that the Auckland City Council uses the court process to hassle people over planning issues, wearing them down by forcing them to take days off work so that they become financially ruined. I explained that after he had wasted an afternoon sitting in court the case would be adjourned yet again and he would end up without a story.

I explained to him that the previous time I had been scheduled to appear in court I had raced home to find that Piglet has been poisoned. Fortunately I was able to help her vomit up the poison and she recovered.

The reporter decided that an afternoon on the beach just might be preferable to an afternoon in an unhealthy air-conditioned toxic-chemical-protected court room. He took his towel and togs, put on his dark glasses, and kitted himself out with a good book and some sunblock.

To his absolute amazement, at exactly 2pm., which was the scheduled time for the hearing, a Council employee came trotting down the hill. The Council man stood outside my house, close to the reporter, and reached for his cell-phone. He rang a Council stooge planted in the court room to check that I was there. "Great" said the Council man "I have the house to myself".

He went inside, broke into the house, and went about his business, although what exactly that business was remains something of a mystery.

After fifteen minutes the reporter also went inside and accosted the Council man, demanding to know what he was doing there. The startled Council man mumbled a few words in dismay and fled.

The reporter had his story.

Had he chosen to do so he could have exposed a whole web of corruption, but the challenge to his set of values was so extreme that he failed to realise the implications of the Watergate he had been presented with.

The fifteenth media rule is to never get drawn into playing someone else's game.

If the planner controls the game participation is irrelevant. The charettes are really just charades.

The Council became confused because Piglet continued to smile.

It takes two to make an argument and if one person refuses to play it can be very difficult to sustain the argument.

Those who lust after power can never understand those who are happy to give power away. Yet the very first move which must be made to achieve sustainability is to seek a more equitable distribution of power.

Piglet stood for mayor. (11)

At first the Council thought it was a joke. Then the papers came out in support of Piglet. Her photograph was featured with the photographs of other mayoral hopefuls.

"Auckland City Councillor Bruce Hucker said Piglet's stand would lift the level of local government in the city." (12)

Before long every mayoral hopeful was being photographed with dogs, chooks or donkeys to show that they really supported Piglet's position in relation to the importance of animals in a sustainable city. (13)

With the prospect of a split vote Piglet withdrew her candidacy.

Looking back it was probably a mistake.

The sixteenth media rule is that you cannot turn the programme off.

The time to decide whether you are willing to go the whole way is before you get started.

Once you are on the roller coaster ride your private life becomes public property.

Having photographs available and stories to tell is important. (14) It was useful to have all the usual magazine articles and the like to call upon. (15) They can be dredged up like references to conference papers.

Conferences presented at some obscure provincial township like Oxford to an even more obscure conference to feed the conference industry can be dusted off.

Editors who lack a sense of personal judgement can be reassured by the judgement of others.

Professor Kodama had come down from Japan to see Piglet and written about her and her sustainable home. (16) Japanese always looks more impressive than English.

The seventeenth media rule is that news today is gone tomorrow.

If any sustainability campaign is to succeed consolidation is necessary.

Magazines, postcards, calendars and books have a longer life than the daily newspapers or television.

One of the world's leading animal photographers, Rachel Hale, asked if she might capture Piglet and the image became an award winner.

It featured in books (17), on two different calendars (18), and became a cover photograph for Animals' Voice (19). A CD was also released featuring Piglet.

Piglet's own postcard was produced first in New Zealand and then in both the USA and the UK. (20)

Background articles explaining how the famous photograph had been taken appeared in Animals' Voice. (21) Films about the making of films are their own genre.

Jocelyn Carlin, one of New Zealand's best known photographers, featured Piglet in her book "Beach". (22)

An editorial in Wildlife New Zealand compared the Council's antics in relation to Piglet to the very sad case of Pam Howlett. (23)

Pam Howlett is the Panmure Bird Rescue woman who totally devotes her life to saving injured and starving birds. The failure of the Council to deal with water catchment problems results in ducks suffering from botulism, and Council staff then take the birds to Pam and she feeds them every two hours through the night until they recover. It is a level of commitment which no Council staff could understand.

The Council presented her with an award for services rendered to the community, and also a notice to say they would shoot the birds she was rescuing if she had not disposed of them herself within 30 days.

As Pam was being interviewed on television the gate opened and two Council officers came in carrying ducks for her to care for. When they realised they were on camera they covered their badges, dropped the ducks, and fled.

The eighteenth media rule is to let other people do the arguing.

It is fun watching other people saying things you would never dare to say, if for no other reason than that they are patently a lie.

The Council declared that the matter was now before the Environment Court.

The Environment Court responded by saying they had never heard anything from the Council.

The nineteenth media rule is to have a story worthy of being featured on Reuters or one of the other global press networks.

Mayor Bob Harvey was riding on a London tube. Bob always wants to know what is going on and felt starved for news. He picked up a London paper left on a seat and found himself looking a half page article on Piglet and her important place in a sustainable environment. (24)

Interestingly Muslim papers in, for example, Singapore, Sarawak and Indonesia, also gave Piglet extensive coverage. (25)

Piglet also featured on CNN News and appeared on television in Hawaii, Hong Kong, Tahiti, and elsewhere. She was on SBS Australia in a report from Japanese television.

The twentieth media rule is to be totally unpredictable.

When Christmas arrived the by now globally famous sustainable pig once again graced the front page of the Sunday Star Times, this time resplendent in decorations and a santa hat. Her Christmas lunch was described in detail. (26) Details such as what the famous are eating are themselves news.

The summer guide to city beaches in the Central Leader gave directions for people wishing to bring sticky buns to Piglet. (27)

The North and South slide through the outstanding events of the year featured the Reuters photograph of Piglet. (28)

The East and Bays Courier made an interesting link between the violence of Auckland City Council and the 33,000 hectare Peace Park being established at Gallipoli. (29) I was a judge for the international competition.

Professor John Hunt made a fool of himself by denying academic freedom and trying to rewrite history.  (30) When people put themselves down it saves the media time and trouble.

Piglet would not want to be associated with a professor like that. The sadest outcome of John Hunt's attitude was architecture students being denied the opportunity to learn about their own country and their own vernacular architecture.

The twenty first media rule is to remember that you are irrelevant and disposable.

A murder attempt was witnessed by a number of people, but not the media. They were disappointed to have missed their chance.

With a former convict threatening anyone who approached the property apart from those from Auckland City Council the reporters were convinced there would be more murder attempts.

The police said there was no effective protection they could provide, but would send in a team if someone was actually killed.

Cameras from the Holmes Show were set up around the property to get the valued footage.

It is a strange sensation waiting to be killed so that you will make the evening news with some graphic footage of the event.

In life, as in death. when the crunch comes you are on your own.

The twenty second media rule is that you are very powerful when you have nothing to lose.

The Auckland City Council had endeavoured to say that there were by-laws against sustainability, but had failed to produce any evidence.

They had spent tens of thousands of dollars of ratepayers' money on the best legal advice they could buy trying to establish a case, and had asked for a four day hearing to be set down. Several Queen's Counsels and their assistants were pitted against Piglet.

The paper ran an editorial supporting Piglet. Julie Middleton praised an "eccentricity that makes life infinitely more colourful". "Piglet is fun" she suggested, just as sustainability ought to be. (31)

A few hours before the case was set down for a hearing Robert Hucker rang and offered to act on behalf of Piglet.

The judge berated the Council for their harassment and failure to act within the law. The case never proceeded.

Another New Zealand Herald front page photograph and article followed. (32) The reporter had prewritten an article on the assumption that Piglet would loose. The photographer wanted a sad picture, and finally agreed to a compromise if I would just stop grinning from ear to ear.

However it was clear that a humiliated Council would now spare no amount of ratepayers' money to ensure that sustainability would not pose a threat to the existing order.

An agreement was negotiated which would allow for more time to be devoted to academic papers on the implementation of sustainable design through developing new controls in consultation with stakeholders, research into regulations and restrictions, and greater stakeholder participation through design review panels.

The twenty third media rule is to turn a good story into a documentary.

Another television company wanted to produce a documentary on Piglet. It went to air many months later, and has been repeated many times since then. (33)

New York Times best selling author Jeffrey Masson came to Karaka Bay to met Piglet and decided to stay. His latest book "The Pig Who Sang to the Moon" will be released in New York in November and then around the world in the following months. (34)

The twenty fourth media rule is that all publicity is good publicity.

Fame has had no effect on Piglet. She still enjoys a good scratch, loves the smell of fresh straw, and wonders what special treats will be included with her dinner.

Those who never smiled and fought so bitterly against the principles of sustainability Piglet stood for have been forgotten. Cedric and Bill and Penny and Warren and Anne all drove themselves out of the Bay and dissappeared without trace, because there was nothing to remember them for.

When the story of sustainable cities is told on the Marae the part which Piglet played in bringing about the necessary changes will always be remembered.


1)  The Green Boatshed. Touchstone Productions for TV1, November 1997.

2)  Sue Fox, Green scheme is in the bag, Jason Dorday photography, East and Bays Courier, Wednesday 18 June 2003, front page.

3)  Alan Perrott, Passers-by tickled pink with rotund Piglet, Garry Brandon photography, East and Bays Courier, 12 February 1997, front page.

4)  Frances Walsh, Bay of Pig, Metro February 2002, p29

5)  Philippa Keane, Phil Doyle photography, Sunday Star Times, front page, 31 August 1997.

6)  TV3 News, 31 August 2003.

7)  Max TV, 3 September 1997.

8)  Sunday Star Times, 7 September 1997.

9)  East and Bays Courier, 10 September 1997.

10)  East and Bays Courier 17 September 1997.

11)  Philippa Keane, Pig takes a poke at the mayoralty, Sunday Star Times p 6, 15 March 1998.

12)  Alan Perrott, Star search for mayor, East and Bays Courier p5, 18 March 1998

13)  Michele Hewitson talks to five mayoral hopefuls who are saying it with animals, Weekend Herald p H3, 19-20 September 1998

14)  Tony Watkins, Focus Arakainga, Exploring some aspects of sustainable design, Architecture New Zealand, November/December 1996, p42-43

15)  Tony Watkins, Mainstreaming the Message, The Owner Builder Magazine, February/March 1997, p 17-20.

16)  Professor Kodama.

17)  New Zealand's Photographic Awards 1997, The Association of Photographers, p88.

18)  Pet New Zealand Calendar 1998, January.
Animals as Art Calendar 1998, April.

19)  Animals Voice, the SPCA Official Magazine, Spring 1997

20)  Image Gallery Postcards, Animals as Art, Piglet

21)  Pet New Zealand, Issue One.

22)  Jocelyn Carlin, Beach, Bateman

23)  Piers Hayman, Wildlife New Zealand, Pigs, Pussycats and Statutory Pigeons, Editorial p3, Spring 1997.

24)  The Evening Standard, London.

25)  The Jakarta Post, 7 October 1997.

26)  Sunday Star Times, 21 December 1997.

27)  Delwyn Masters, Finding that perfect beach spot, Central Leader, p3, 29 December 1997.

28)  North and South, p81, January 1998.

29)  Alan Perrot, Giving Peace a chance at Gallipoli, East and Bays Courier p3, 29 July 1998.

30) East and Bays Courier 12 August 1998 p7

31)  Julie Middleton, East and Bays Courier, p7, 11 November 1998.

32)  Simon Hendery, New Zealand Herald front page, 13 November 1998.

33)  Love thy neighbour, TV1.

34)  Jeffrey Masson, The pig who sang to the moon, Random House, 2003,

Marketing the sustainability message.


For Maori whakapapa is everything. Only through our story do we know who we are. Ours is an oral culture. The story comes first and then cities give form to our stories. For Maori all urban design is story-telling. Great urban designers are great story-tellers. In the same way geology is the story of the land, written in the strata of the rocks. Ecology is the story of place written in the patterns of water and in the form of plants. History is the story of people written on the landscape rather than in books. Only story-telling is capable of transforming sustainable development from an oxymoron into a rich and meaningful way of seeing. Maori live to sustain whakapapa. This gives meaning to life. Maori live to develop whakapapa. This gives direction to life. Whakapapa is dynamic and alive. Every new human being who has the courage to be fully alive enhances our communal understanding of who we are. Urban designers sustain culture through giving form to the development of whakapapa.

Whakapapa is central to planning education in Aotearoa. The methodologies of whakapapa are different from the methodologies of pakeha. Story-tellers never make their aims and objectives clear. They leave that to technicians. Stories have their own inner logic, like life. Life is a way of going, not a conclusion.

This paper is a story about marketing the sustainability message. It is part of my sacred whakapapa.

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