• Dr Cadey Korson used unique drone footage to give viewers a unique view of the land.
  • Hairy Feet Waitomo features in the film.

New film rethinks how land use is classified in New Zealand

Massey University News

A new film that explores the complexity of human environmental relationships was premiered at the Massey University stand at the 2021 Fieldays.

The film, titled “The Spatial Awareness Project”, is the culmination of two years of work by Massey University Senior Lecturer in Human Geography Dr Cadey Korson.

The film features stunning drone footage of New Zealand landscapes with voiceover narration from academics and students.

Dr Korson says the idea for the project came about through her work with students where she said she was shocked by how little they had explored their own backyard.

“Talking about pollution, tourism, climate change and urbanisation in far-off countries was irrelevant when they had little experience with the spatial patterns and complexity of these issues in their own backyard."

Dr Korson, who is originally from Michigan, says she wanted to create something for her students that used examples and landscapes from their own country.

“I wanted to create something that could be a basis for common understanding – a starting point that we could use to talk from.”

The Spatial Awareness Project critiques Aotearoa’s current Land Use Capability (LUC) classifications, where our landscapes are divided according to their ‘capacity to support long-term sustained production after taking into account the physical limitations of the land.’

The classification was first devised in 1969 with only two revisions since, in 1971 and 2009.

“Aotearoa and its people are constantly evolving and this way of thinking of our land and its use needs to move along with it.”

“While they may seem like harmless categories, these classifications are underpinned by a set of values that speak to the ways in which we prioritise certain economic activities over the intrinsic value of natural environments.”

The film uses drone footage to highlight Aotearoa’s beautiful and diverse landscapes and gives viewers a unique perspective of our country.

“Using drones and the technology we did has been so amazing to help further understand our land. No other way can we see how ecosystems and habitats are connected and how humans’ impact on one area effects other areas ‘downstream’.” 

Dr Korson says the collaborative nature of this project was amazing and helped feed into the film’s question; “How can richer perspectives create opportunities to realise new human/environment futures?” 

One way the film suggests this, is through inclusion of mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge) in our classification of land and its use, says Associate Professor Krushil Watene, one of the collaborators on the project.

“Much of our land-use assumes and constrains the way that we utilise land. If the aim is to relate to land as stewards, then we need to rethink how current land-use is enabled.

“Māori communities are both guardians and hosts and their relationships with local environments are grounded in rich knowledge and understanding of our natural environment.” 

Dr Watene says kaitiakitanga (guardianship) plays a fundamental sustainability-guiding role in restoring our socio-environmental relationships.  

“We see how land-use can enable deep connections to land and water in marae communities through reconnection projects like Pa to Plate that centre relationships and responsibilities grounded in those relationships.

“This is reconnecting people and place in important ways and does so by rethinking the value of land and water.”


The Spatial Awareness Project is a collaborative effort between Dr Korson, Associate Professor Krushil Watene (Philosophy), Dr Alice Beban (Sociology), Nicole Ashely (postgraduate student, Sociology), Rowan Stanley (Bachelor of Arts graduate, Philosophy), Bronte Taylor (Bachelor of Arts graduate, Geography) and Sam Smart (undergraduate student, Sociology). Andrew Korson (Multimedia Developer) also helped with some of the filming and editing.

This project was funded by the Massey University College of Humanities and Social Sciences’ Flexible Learning and Innovation Fund, which funds education-related research and resources. The project would not have been possible without the support of this grant, Lisa Emerson (Director of Teaching and Learning) and the countless individuals, families, organisations, iwi and businesses who agreed to let us film on their property. Project organisers would like to acknowledge and thank the Department of Conservation and Auckland Council for waiving the filming permit fees for this project.