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The fantastic City Centre Masterplan

As Brian Rudman noted so eloquently in his NZ Herald column yesterday, there are so many plans out there relating to Auckland’s future at the moment that it almost makes your brain freeze. Auckland Plan, City Centre Master Plan, Waterfront Plan and an economic development strategy for the city. It’s a challenge to know where to start.

This post focuses on the City Centre Master Plan, which as I’ve noted in previous posts, is an incredibly exciting plan – focusing on making Auckland’s downtown a more people-friendly place, taking back much of its public space from the private vehicle and giving it over to pedestrians. While the plan is over 200 pages long, fortunately those pages comprise of a lot of picture so it’s a relatively easy read. Furthermore, it focuses on eight strategic ‘interventions’, which will hopefully mean that many of its great goals don’t become lost in time – with the plan confined to becoming yet another door stop – as was the case with a large number of previous plans and strategies in Auckland.

While the plan certainly does have all the high level aspirations and visions that you’d expect, but be slightly skeptical of in terms of that key word implementation, one thing that makes me more confident many of the ideas from this plan will actually happen is the listing of these eight key interventions:

1. Uniting the waterfront and the city centre – the North-south stitch
2. Connecting the western edge of the city to the centre- the East-west stitch
3. Queen Street Valley CBD and retail district – the Engine Room
4. Nurturing an innovation and learning cradle
5. Growth around the City Rail Link – new public transport stations and development opportunities at K Road, Newton and Aotea Quarter
6. Connecting Victoria Park, Albert Park and the Domain as part of a blue-green park network – the Green Link
7. Connecting the city and the fringe – City gateways to the villages
8. Revitalising the waterfront – Water City

Perhaps the best way to illustrate what these key interventions are trying to achieve is through showing a number of before and after pictures. I will go into more detail on some key issues in this plan in future posts – this is just designed to give an overview of the Plan as a whole.

The ‘north-south stitch’ is designed to link the city back with its waterfront, right from Wynyard Quarter in the west to the Port in the east. Key barriers to overcome in achieving this vision are Fanshawe Street and Quay Street – with the image below showing a possible future treatment of Quay Street as much more of a ‘boulevard’. The light-rail line could potentially link Wynyard Quarter with St Heliers along Tamaki Drive, an idea quite similar to something I came up with some time ago: Another key part of the north-south stitch is the removal of the Lower Hobson Viaduct and the redevelopment of the Downtown carpark. This particular point in the CBD is a cross-point between the north-south stitch and another priority, the east-west stitch, so is quite critical in driving the outcomes desired by Council. Compared to what we have now, the proposal looks pretty spectacular: Strong north-south links through this area – from Federal and Hobson streets down to the viaduct, will be crucial for its success. Shifting further westwards, we see the proposed “downtuning” of Fanshawe Street to make it a more pedestrian friendly area. Obviously Fanshawe is the crucial public transport link between the city centre and the North Shore – so I imagine any redevelopment would probably need to provide a dedicated busway corridor, something that seems to be missing in the image below (although there’s another tram): The second key intervention is the “east-west stitch”, to link back the part of the city west of Hobson and Nelson streets with the Queen Street valley – where most of the ‘action’ is now. A key part of this is once again a project that I’ve been a fan of for quite some time, ‘downtuning’ those two defacto motorways to more normal streets. Whether we could get away with narrowing the streets down to quite the extent in the image below is debatable, but certainly something that I think would be great: Another key part of the east-west stitch is a focus on turning Federal Street into the High Street of the west, progressively turning it into a shared space along its whole length: from Aotea Square in the south down past Sky City and St Patricks, to Fanshawe Street in the north.

The next key intervention focuses on Queen Street and its immediate surrounds as the real “engine room” of downtown Auckland. There are some great ideas about making Queen Street more pedestrian friendly, at first through temporary closures (goodness knows why we have been so reluctant to do these during the World Cup), and then eventually through introducing shared spaces along parts of the street (hey look, another tram, surprise surprise): A great upgrade to High Street is also proposed – though I wonder whether it would work best as fully pedestrianised rather than as a shared space:The fourth key intervention, which is to focus on developing the area around the Universities into a key innovation ‘cradle’ is logical and sensible, even if it does lack some of the prettier pictures elsewhere. I often think that in the ‘dark days’ for the CBD of the late 1980s and early 1990s (after the sharemarket crash but before the apartment boom) it may have been the presence of the universities in the city centre that kept the place from completely dying. We are pretty lucky to have such big tertiary institutions right in the middle of the city.

The fifth intervention is one of the more longer-term ones, but perhaps over time one of the most important – and that is truly taking advantage of the City Rail Link project to create high density development nodes around the three proposed stations. The images below show the likely development potential around Aotea and K Road stations: Interestingly, the proposed Newton station ends up having the largest amount of development capacity – even though it sits just outside the current edge of the city centre: The next big strategic intervention is to create “green links” that connect up many of Auckland’s great parks: the Domain with Albert Park via improvements to Grafton Gully, Albert Park to Victoria Park via a narrowed and ‘greened’ Victoria Street, Victoria Park to a new park at the headland of Wynyard Quarter – via a linear park along Daldy Street. This is shown below: I would look at adding Myers Park into the network, via a connection along Elliott Street, the walkway between the Bledisloe Building and the movie theatre complex and Aotea Square. But otherwise the idea is fantastic – and includes some potentially awesome changes to the structure of central Auckland: One of the best things about the changes to Victoria Street is that they could probably be done fairly quickly, and relatively inexpensively – just the cost of ripping up half the street’s worth of asphalt, putting down some nice pavers and planting a few trees.

A more expensive, and long-term, project would involve the ‘capping’ of the motorways through parts of Grafton Gully, and then building open space sports fields on top of that cap. That’s Wellesley Street winding its way through the new area, looking towards the domain. The capping of parts of the Grafton Gully motorway system also plays a key role in the next strategic intervention – connecting downtown better to its surrounding suburban villages. Auckland’s city centre is encircled by motorways, leaving it somewhat cut off from the rest of the city. This is a shame as often the most interesting and exciting parts of cities are the places where downtown meets the suburbs – places with a great mix of uses, a great variety of building types and places experiencing a lot of interesting change. Certainly it’s these ‘city fringe’ parts of Sydney that give that city a huge amount of its character.

A series of projects are proposed to help overcome this issue of having the city centre ‘cut off’ so much. An exciting idea is the reuse of the abandoned Nelson Street offramp into a linear park and walkway – much like what has been done with New York City’s High Line. Once again, I really like this idea because I think it could be done relatively cheaply and quickly: The final strategic intervention relates to the waterfront, and encapsulates much of what’s outlined in much greater detail in the Waterfront Plan. Key projects include a cruise ship terminal on Queens Wharf, the continuing development of Wynyard Quarter, better connections to the city from the waterfront, and something I really like – ‘bookending’ the waterfront with parks to the far east and west. Here’s a summary of what’s proposed: I can definitely say, without a doubt, that the City Centre Masterplan is the most exciting vision of the future for Auckland’s City Centre that I have ever seen. Of course there’s always that lingering nagging worry that none of this will happen, but fortunately along with a list of extremely expensive and long-term projects there are also a number of shorter-term, and cheaper, things that can happen which will make a big difference. The narrowing of Victoria Street is a good example of that, the redevelopment of the downtown carpark is another thing that definitely should happen, if for no other reason than the fact that it’s likely to actually make a profit for the council.

A great series of little projects is also highlighted in the plan, including important steps like ensuring pedestrian crossing opportunities on all parts of intersections, slowing traffic down along key corridors, decluttering streets, providing more drinking fountains and so forth:

 If even half of what’s proposed in this overall plan actually happens, Auckland’s city centre will be an utterly fantastic place in the future. Auckland Council should be seriously congratulated for coming up with such a fantastic City Centre Master Plan.

31 comments to The fantastic City Centre Masterplan

  • Patrick R

    The biggest threat to these plans is not a lack of money but rather NZTA’s intention to try to force ever more cars and buses into the CBD with their absurd and unnecessary determination to build additional road only harbor crossing. It must be stopped, and now, it already has backers and will gain momentum if not opposed early and firmly.

  • James B

    I saw a comment in the herald complaining about City Centre Masterplan. The comment basically said that revenue from each part of the city should be given to the people of that part to spend on their local area. Sounds familiar?

  • Arry

    I am absolutely encouraged by the City Centre Masterplan. What we need now is a commitment from the council as well as public support. It is definitely easier to notice the negative comments (see the comments on Rudman’s article for instance). We just need to be more vocal in our support of the plans, I think.

  • Hmm I don’t know how successful turning the Nelson St off ramp into a park will be. I love the highline, but highline this is not. This is an old narrow flyover in the middle of a messy, busy, noisy, smelly motorway junction. It doesn’t act as a link for anything pedestrian. It doesn’t have any reason for people to go there, no jobs, no restaurants, no shopping, no homes. The comparison is a bit silly, and spending massive amounts of money to turn it into a park would be seriously wasted. Better to demolish it.

    • I think it’s quite a spectacular view from there and would be a useful link between K Road and Hobson/Nelson street. Regarding the smelly motorway junction, I think that’s a bit of an over-reaction. People quite happily walk across Hopetoun Street bridge.

      • arnie03

        You can get a feel for what it would be like in a little carpark off Day St. It is noisy. Hopefully at the southern end it would link into the northwestern cycleway- though that would be a major extension at that end. Otherwise it would be kind of a park to no where.

  • Chris Harris

    What this shows is how many good ideas pop up when some bright people are encouraged to think outside the square. Unfortunately, suburban areas outside the CBD don’t get the benefit of the same level of intellectual grunt. Ironically, this explains the self-defeating paradox whereby there is all this for the CBD, and yet once outside the CBD, there is still heavy reliance on motorways and ‘general purpose’ roading, ironically funnelling traffic into the CBD. I think this is one of the biggest deficiencies of the planning systemm i.e., not looking seriously enough at the suburbs and at what could be done to nip off traffic at the source.

    • One would imagine similar exercises, if perhaps not quite so comprehensive, will be undertaken for each of the metropolitan centres in the Auckland Plan. New Lynn has had some pretty serious master planning work over the past few years – for example.

  • obi

    If you closed the port and consolidated container handling to Tauranga then you’d free up a space about as big as the existing CBD for redevelopment. And it would all be waterfront. A tram running along Quay St would have a catchment area, rather than being bordered by the port and a rail wasteland. A pedestrianised or shared Quay St could be narrowed and would have buildings on both sides. It would be a better space than it would if it were a vast space next to a container terminal. You could downgrade the roading through Grafton Gully, since it wouldn’t be a truck route to the port any more. Developed apartments would have views of the harbour. The city would be better integrated with the waterfront. I’d add that to the plan.

    Oh, and I’m with Erentz. I don’t see the point of a linear park running through the middle of Spag Junction. It’s not exactly the sort of place you’d want to stroll with friends.

    • That’s an interesting question about the port Obi. I guess it makes logical sense to have a big port in your country’s biggest city to reduce the amount of transportation that is necessary for imports?

      • obi

        London’s docks have long since closed and sea freight has moved to Southampton and Felixstowe. Those ports are modern, efficient, and not space constrained. The replacement industries that have grown up in the old London docks add far more value to the economy than is saved by a shorter land freight journey. Sydney has seen much (although not all) of its port activity migrate to Botany Bay and Wollongong.

        I suspect the same economic argument in favour of added-value business activity over logistics would hold true for Auckland. And also for Wellington, where a vast area within walking distance of parliament and the railway station is used to stack logs.

        • dan carter

          Unfortunately you can’t compare london with auckland in this case. Londons docklands were not closed by choice to free up land for offices, apartment blocks, and the odd park. Rather the move to containerised shipping lead to ever bigger ships which could no longer navigate up the Thames.

          The docks became an unused wasteland first, then urban renewal took place.

          Is Auckland harbour ever going to be too shallow to take container ships?

          • The Trickster

            I thought that the Rangitoto Channel was too shallow now? Don’t they already have to dredge that? I think they have similar issues at Tauranga though with the channel between the Mount and Matakana Island.

            Maybe time to upgrade the North Auckland line and move it all to Marsden Point.

  • DogOfTears

    Looks a bit like the Melbourne, CBD, no?

  • Topcat

    Is that the best we can do? Copy a few plane trees a la Swanston Walk, run a tram up the middle (where is it going to?) and put a few grass strips in to green it up a bit.

    Whats missing is something for people to do when they get into town. How about a skate park? Or technology precinct? Or some cultural activities? And being Auckland- somewhere to escape the weather. At least something to recognise we are a bit different.

    • Arry

      There are a lot of things to do already, isn’t there? We’ve got the museum, art gallery, theatres (with the future addition of St James), retails (queen and high streets), cinemas, library, university, the waterfront, numerous parks, restaurants & cafes, vector arena and we’ve even got a skatepark @ Victoria Park (being re-built). I think (and hope) this plan would further stimulate private investments in the city to further enhance these experiences, such as increase in restaurants, cafes, high quality retails and maybe even some technology companies to establish a branch/HQ in the CBD!

  • All easily funded by a toll each time a vehicle is brought into the CBD.

  • Topcat

    Arry- good points though I was thinking of activities in the immediate vicinity which allow people to linger, hang out and meet up etc…
    Our Museum, Art Gallery, Uni are all a good walk from each other.

    Personally I’d like to see the Council show any interest in attracting children and younger people to the city. catering for businessmen, tourists and the odd shopper (who are more likely tourists anyway) does not really create any vitality.

  • Topcat

    Exactly Joshua- good coffee is usually the clincher for parents.

    What about something for teenagers and older kids though. How about some recreation facilities (ten pin bowling? cinemas? skate board parks/ramps? Or a water slide park say? Lenny-world theme park?). I just think the plans lack a bit of creativity when it comes to these things.

    I know a lot of people feel threatened by youth, but if we exclude them no wonder they feel dis-enfranchished.

    And of course safe, reliable PT is really important for young people as well.

  • Matt L

    I think there are some great ideas in the plan but my only real concern is it is sort of where we need to be now but I guess you have to start somewhere.

    As for the reuse of the old motorway off ramp as a linear park, I think it would be excellent. At the northern end it could be tied in with a more pedestrian friendly Hobson and Nelson St’s and it could also be tied into K’Rd but I think the real value of it could be to tie it into the north western cycleway. The NZTA have publicly stated they want to extend the cycleway into town but are struggling to find an easy route, there would be challenges weaving a route through the myriad of ramps but I think it could be done which would make the ramp not only a park but once again a part of a useful transport network (just one for which it was never intended)

  • Chris

    My 5 major projects in 5 years:
    Removal of Hobson flover
    High Street full pedestrianisation (except for delivery vehicles within certain time slots)
    Auckland’s ‘high-line’
    Victoria and Daldy Street upgrades – the Green Link
    Hobson and Nelson Street upgrades

    Queen Street temporary closures, as well as smaller projects e.g. greater Wi-fi access

  • Rebekah Purton

    Hey, I’m a landscape architect, mere weeks from finishing my final research project, was just curious if any one knew details about the extension of the tram line from Wynyard Quarter?! I need to insert it into my design as a possible intervention (waiting to happen).

    Details such as single or double track, where it crosses the viaduct and where on the road it is?

    Any information or links would be amazing, there must be imformation some where if they want to start laying tracks at christmas time!?

    Thanks

    Beka

  • max

    On the Downtown car park, Ludo Campbell-Reid noted that there has already been sparked a lot of comments from people saying they need the car park to access the waterfront. He was saying potentially they’d replace the large car park with a smaller one inside the new development 🙁 On the other hand, he noted that developer interest was quite high.

    “As for the reuse of the old motorway off ramp as a linear park, I think it would be excellent. At the northern end it could be tied in with a more pedestrian friendly Hobson and Nelson St’s and it could also be tied into K’Rd but I think the real value of it could be to tie it into the north western cycleway. The NZTA have publicly stated they want to extend the cycleway into town but are struggling to find an easy route, there would be challenges weaving a route through the myriad of ramps but I think it could be done which would make the ramp not only a park but once again a part of a useful transport network (just one for which it was never intended)”

    It would be a great idea, IF it linked into Kroad (Hopetoun Bridge alone would be pretty useless) and even better if it went as far as the Northwestern Cycleway. Apparently NZTA is open to the idea, though I am a bit scpetical about Ludo’s comment “NZTA will do that for us”.

    As an update for those interested in the extension of the Northwestern Cycleway – it’s very feasible, but has been parked for at least 1 more year due to lack of funding (lack of money in the walking and cycling activity class – plus with NZTA cash flow being so bad right now…)

    “Hey, I’m a landscape architect, mere weeks from finishing my final research project, was just curious if any one knew details about the extension of the tram line from Wynyard Quarter?! I need to insert it into my design as a possible intervention (waiting to happen).

    Details such as single or double track, where it crosses the viaduct and where on the road it is?

    Any information or links would be amazing, there must be imformation some where if they want to start laying tracks at christmas time!?”

    Rebekah, nobody is thinking of starting to lay extension tracks by Christmas, where did you get that idea? The project is 2-3 years out at minimum, primarily because of the new bridge needed. Look into the Waterfront Plan (available online) for details (as far as they exist) about the tram extension. It will cross to the Viaduct just south of the new Wynyard Crossing pedestrian bridge. It will be single track for the forseeable future, as such a short length (up to Britomart) won’t need double-tracking in any case.

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