The job of promoting and encouraging the improvement of towns and cities also fell to citizen-based groups. Many of these were run by volunteers, though some employed paid staff.
Progress and expansion groups
Progress leagues, expansion leagues and advancement committees were established throughout the country, and many were active from the 1910s and 1920s. Their purpose was to promote their towns, cities and regions, and to encourage economic and social development. They were typically run by businesspeople and other prominent community members – usually men.
League of ladies
Progress groups were not always made up of influential men. The Foxton Beach Ladies Progress League started in 1946 in the Manawatū town. The league, which operated until the 1970s, concerned itself with local issues, including street and beach lighting, providing seating for the elderly outside the post office, and getting rid of wandering stock from the town.
The scope of these groups was wide. The Hastings Progress League, for example, busied itself with establishing and encouraging industries, beautifying the town and publishing favourable statistics and information about Hastings. They also advocated an underground railway and a cycle track to nearby Havelock North.
A number of these groups lasted into the 1980s and 1990s. Some were superseded by publicly funded promotional organisations. In the 2000s the voluntary groups most similar to the progress leagues of the past are progressive associations, ratepayer groups and civic trusts.
The numbers game
When a settlement reached city status, it celebrated. In 1956 the secretary of internal affairs hinted to the mayor of Hastings that the town had reached the required population of 20,000. Plans for a blossom festival and party were well advanced when the government statistician revealed that Hastings was in fact short by several hundred people. The mayor kicked up a fuss, celebrations proceeded, and it was only afterwards that the published census revealed the true story.
Some towns had groups devoted to increasing their populations. Napier established the first 30,000 Club, which aimed for a population of 30,000, in 1912. It was followed by Gisborne (1936), Rotorua (1946) and the Hutt Valley (1951). At the time a town of 20,000 or more was defined as a city, and setting a goal beyond this was seen as a sign of confidence.
To encourage growth, these clubs were involved in projects designed to make their towns more attractive and prosperous. The Napier 30,000 Club held Mardi Gras festivals, ran an annual Shopping Week, and was involved in beautifying Marine Parade.
By the late 19th century towns and cities were well-established, but uncontrolled growth and expanding industrial zones left little room for well-thought-out urban environments. Beautifying societies and similar groups emerged in New Zealand – and throughout the western world – in response to these issues. As the Evening Post reported in 1897, they were concerned with anything ‘that will conduce to adorn the city or add to its attractiveness in any way’.1
Tree, shrub and flower planting, usually on council reserves, was a favoured activity, but these groups soon expanded their brief, particularly once local councils established parks departments to manage reserves. The Christchurch Beautifying Association, formed in 1897 – and still going in the 2000s – also concerned itself with conservation of native bush, town planning, and visual pollution from advertising hoardings and overhead power lines.