Building More Sustainable Communities: Like Minded Efforts in Palmerston North and Missoula


Palmerston North considers itself a community focused on sustainability. Thanks to a great connection made by another Missoulian who lived here in Palmy, I recently had an opportunity to learn from the educator who focuses on sustainability.

Missoula’s Paul Miller, a retired sociology professor from The University of Montana who spent a year here teaching at Massey University in the mid-1990s, introduced our family to Christine Cheyne, associate professor at Massey’s School of People, Environment and Planning. She has visited Missoula a couple of times and has provided us with a warm welcome here.

Knowing my interests and the work we do in Downtown Missoula, Professor Cheyne invited me to tag along with her sustainability class on a field trip recently. I was able to learn about the efforts in Palmerston North to build a sustainable community, as well as share some of what we’re doing in Missoula. Cheyne’s focus on this particular day was about what the local community is doing in the areas of land use and landscape, multi-modal transportation infrastructure, urban design, placemaking, and river corridor health.

She showcased the types of streets in the road hierarchy from the State Highway Network to arterials, local streets and off-road walkways and trails and talked about how road space is allocated and ways to calm traffic. By the way, nearly every intersection here in Palmerston North is a clock-wise round-about, and many of them are on four-lane roadways. Cheyne spoke of how plantings and signage (i.e. wayfinding) can help folks get around and provide a sense of place. She showcased a relatively new residential neighborhood called Summerhill and emphasized the importance of integrating transportation planning with land-use planning. We talk about that every day in Missoula, where we have large residential neighborhoods (think Canyon Creek Village, Miller Creek, Target Range) that don’t have transit services and commercial amenities.

Prof Christine Cheyne the Leaders Accord

Professor Christine Cheyne if Massey University tells about the The Manawatu River Leaders’ Accord.

Professor Cheyne – who speaks fondly of Missoula and Bob Giardano’s work in particular – previously worked as a city planner in the 1980s and has served on the nationally-appointed Taranaki/Whanganui Conservation Board since 1994. The next stop on the field trip was Oxford Street, a small residential block immediately adjacent to the central business district (CBD), where City Councilman Chris Teo-Sherrell spoke of the efforts he and his neighbors put forth towards creating a place for folks to slow down, get to know each other, and develop urban agricultural opportunities (i.e. gardens on the boulevards). Teo-Sherrell highlighted some artistic endeavors such as artwork on the light posts, footprints and games painted on the sidewalks, shared outdoor furniture, curb extensions and how all these placemaking efforts have created a neighborhood where the residents actually know each other and spend time together.  Creating a place where folks want to be and get to know each other is a fundamental focus for the Missoula Downtown Association and the Downtown Business Improvement District, and that’s why so many Missoulians love Downtown!

The next stop for Professor Cheyne’s students was the Manawatu River and the river exhibit at the Te Manawa Museum of Art, Science and History. Essentially the river that runs through Palmerston North has been tagged as one of the most polluted in the Southern Hemisphere, and a multitude of agencies, organizations and governments pledged in 2010 to improve the health and well-being of the river. The Manawatu River Leaders’ Accord outlines the vision, goals and action plan for improving the health of this important resource. The 33-partner collaboration is an exceptional example of multiple parties focused on implementation of one goal and plan.

Sustainability in Palmerston North, New Zealand and Missoula, MT

Te Manawa Museum of Art, Science and History.

The museum exhibit showcases how pollutants such as nitrates and phosphates, fertilizers, animal waste and illness-causing bacteria have negatively impacted the Manawatu. Missoula has focused a great deal on cleaning up the Clark Fork River, as evidenced by the removal of the dam and all the toxins behind it. Missoula has also done an exceptional job of building riverfront amenities such as the lighted trail system, Caras Park, the Carousel and Dragon’s Hollow, Brennan’s Wave, Osprey Stadium, the Madison Street underbridge, the California Street pedestrian bridge and the soon-to-be completed Silver Park. Thank You MRA! Palmerston North has a long way to go to match the efforts of the Garden City in in this arena.

The next stop for Cheyne’s field trip was just downriver from the city center to a place that was formerly the city dump….right on the river. Sound familiar?  Like Missoula, efforts are underway in Palmy to extend the riverfront trail, clean up the garbage along the river, improve the natural habitat for plants, animals and water creatures, and build a better, more effective recycling program.

On this field trip, I had the pleasure of meeting a University of Montana student studying abroad at Massey University. Meredith Rose came to UM from Chicago’s prestigious Barrington High School and will be graduating this May in Geography. Needless to say, I gave her a great big hug, and we talked a bunch about what we love about Missoula, people we both know (Nick Hawksley, MDA Staff) and why we’re both in New Zealand.

I had a wonderful afternoon with Professor Christine Cheyne and her 40+ students, of which nearly a dozen were from America. It was a great opportunity to learn about Palmy’s efforts to build a more sustainable community and to share what Missoula is doing to be more sustainable too!




Linda McCarthy has served as Executive Director of the Missoula Downtown Association since 1999. Prior to that, she served as a Sports Information Director for Grizzly Athletics for 10 years. She is a two-time graduate of The University of Montana, where her husband, Tom Gallagher, is a professor in the Applied Computing and Electronics Program at Missoula College. Her daughter, Maddy Gallagher, is an outgoing and kind 11-year-old who has spent all of her school years at Lewis & Clark Elementary. They can be reached via email at: