NW Cycleway to be extended

There were quite a few interesting little transport news stories today that are worth covering off. The first one is that one of long promised projects is about to be delivered. The NZTA and Auckland Transport have been working with Cycling Action Auckland on extending the extremely popular NW cycleway through the CMJ and all the way to Beach Rd. This is great news and will only help to boost the popularity of the existing cycleway. Here is what the NZ Herald has to say about it:

Auckland cyclists should be able to ride their own off-road “super highway” from Te Atatu to the Waitemata waterfront by the end of 2015.

The Transport Agency expects to start construction in October on a 2.1km extension of the popular Northwestern Cycleway, to be built in two stages through Spaghetti Junction and Grafton Gully to Beach Rd. From there, it will be up to Auckland Transport to complete a link across the eastern railway line to the waterfront, along a route yet to be finalised.


The 13km Northwestern Cycleway now ends at the intersection of Ian McKinnon Drive and Upper Queen St, although its final section from Newton Rd includes loops and bends avoided by many commuter cyclists.

Although Cycle Action Auckland hopes for a third stage, involving a cantilevered addition to the edge of Ian McKinnon Drive, Transport Agency project manager Scott Wickman said that was deferred after being estimated to cost about $3 million. Riders wanting to stay on the cycleway will therefore still have to dismount at two sets of traffic signals on Ian McKinnon Drive.

They will have their own cycle lane on the road bridge across Spaghetti Junction but will have to dismount again at an enhanced pedestrian crossing of Upper Queen.

From there, the cycleway extension will follow the motorway corridor east and then north through Grafton Gully, skirting historic cemetery land, to Wellesley St.

Cyclists will be then be able to head to the city centre either along Wellesley St, via the university precinct or through the gully to the waterfront.

Mr Wickman said it was expected to prove popular with university students, and giving cyclists an alternative to the dangers of riding among traffic down Symonds St had boosted the economic case for the project. It had a projected economic return of $4.61 for every dollar of cost.

Being in Henderson I am quite far from town but perhaps I need to think about getting a bike as with the completion of a few other cycle lanes that are currently under construction near where I live there would be nearly continuous cycle lanes all the way from my house to town.

How Effective Transport Planning Has Transformed London – Videos

On Tuesday night Patrick, myself and a number of readers attended the Auckland Conversations event about transport. The guest speaker was Daniel Moylan who was the deputy chair of Transport for London (TfL) and he was talking about how effective transport has transformed London, he was a great speaker and it was a really interesting talk. It was also pleasing that many of the things that he said that are needed for a good PT system are the same things we talk about on here about frequently and are also things that we know AT want to implement as well. One thing that I think is important to remember is that Daniel is a conservative which reinforces to me my belief that good transport solutions should cross the political divide, I would love for the debate in NZ to move above the petty levels it seems stuck at.

Click on the images to bring up the videos (sorry they can’t be embedded). Video 1 is 41 minutes long and is his talk and Video 2 is 30 minutes and the part where he answers questions. Also some comments from a few readers that also attended are in the link above.

Futurissimo! The New City Street

Dmitri Kessel Italy 1940s

All over the globe the shape of cities are reformatting as patterns of life within them shift. In a complex interlinked way new technologies, resource constraints, and new cultural values are causing a big change away from late twentieth century certainties of city life. So where is this heading; what is life on the city street likely to be like as this century unfolds? And can we be more successful by embracing these changes actively?

The signs are that the old idea of the future, all anomie and flying cars like something out of H G Wells, is just not happening. It seems that street life may well more resemble the view outside Wells’ window as he dreamed those visions than either what we’re used now or than he imagined. We look likely to be mixing up some quite mature technologies along with new ones resulting in a back-to–the-future kind of new but familiar scene.

There are two areas where this is particularly the case. Spatial patterns are changing as there is a move to more central living, which is a return to less dispersed model; living, working, and playing all jumbled up in more intense centres like in earlier centuries. And habits of movement are changing away from the long commute in four wheeled private vehicles towards both smaller private vehicles and larger collective ones. As well as a greater use of active modes; walking and cycling.

Roman Holiday 1953

Every day now from all over the western world, there are reports of how more and more young people aren’t bothering to get their driving licences, how the stats show that we are all driving much less, how public transport use is way up. And especially how sales and use of bikes and scooters are going through the roof.

The 21st century is looking much less like the century of jet packs than of ‘two wheels good; four wheels bad’. Not that there is an anti-technology meme here, more that progress seems not to follow a straight line but rather folds in on itself in a more complex way.

The last time there was a big change across our societies in patterns of movement like this was after the second world war when we all leapt into cars and invented the world of auto-dependent suburbia. Everything changed, as both cause and effect; ideals, design, daily routines, our hopes and dreams, our desires.

Right now we’re in the middle of one of these moments of big change again. And while it is a kind of reverse of this last revolution the old model will not disappear but the more successful suburbs will be the ones that adapt best to these new patterns. In order to flourish these areas will need to develop a higher quality of place in themselves instead of simply being a dormitory serving somewhere else. The essential ingredients of success in the coming world are almost a kind of contradiction: a lift in local quality –especially finding and emphasizing some individual local vitality and identity- and a lift in the level and sophistication of connectedness to other centres.


It is becoming clear that communities that better support walking and cycling and that have modern, frequent, and well run public transport networks are booming while the old disconnected and dispersed auto-dependant areas are loosing people and value. This is reflected in dwelling and rental values.

Consider this. Later in the year will be the 40th anniversary of the last time a human stood on the moon. If you’d asked the people of 1972 to look ahead to 2012 I’m sure they would have expected a Lunar colony or at the very least some kind of drop-in centre up there by now. Not one human has ever been back. They’d be astounded; are we in reverse? The future ain’t what it used to be.

If you think about it a rocket is a big brutal bit of kit. More about hopefully directing a huge explosion out one end of something in order to push it off the other way than a sophisticated and complex device. ‘Rocket Science’ is used as an image of difficult thought but really it isn’t. Rockets are more like the ultimate petrol head’s toy: Igniting a vast tank of hydrocarbons make a very big, if somewhat controlled, bang. Perhaps they are then the perfect expression of the automobile age.

Since the confident years of the Space Race instead of technology developing yet more muscle it has gone down the subtler digital road. The transformative devices of our age are electrical and personal. Little machines that do very fast math to communicate facts and feelings in interesting new ways at great speed and over extraordinary distances. And both as a means and a location for new expressions in living.

BMW Motorrad Scooter

There are always technological and resource reasons behind periods of dramatic change in spatial and movement patterns. And sure enough, along with our new digital lives we find ourselves confronted with the end of cheap and abundant oil. That vital and defining ingredient of the previous age.

So what are we in for and should we be worried? Well we could just be  heading for a better world, the streets being be even busier, but with pedestrians, bicycles, electric bikes, and motor scooters rather than SUVs. There will, after all, still be oil for a while yet, it’s just going to get ever more expensive and more constrained than we’re used to. So a world more like Rome 1955 than Detroit 2005; and what’s not to like? Streets full of people moving between a variety of centres on modern electric trains and trams and all using their smart phones as they move. Roads full of cleaner, safer, and less dominating smaller vehicles. It will be a better connected world, both virtually and actually; much less isolating, more social. Fuller streets with fresher air; just fewer cars.


Perhaps even more like the 19th century city street busy with people, just without the coal smoke and the horse shit and, ideally, with a less punishing social hierarchy. After all it was H G Wells, a son of that century who said: “Whenever I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race.”


But this brave new-old world is in part dependant on how ready a city is to fix the physical constraints to this new vitality. Populations being mobile those places that cling to the old structures of auto-dependency will fall behind in both economic and social dynamism. Not only do investments need to be made in transit systems and vehicle privilege restricted but also educational and cultural infrastructure should be boosted. City leaders need to think young, and think smart.

*This is a version of an article in the current Urbis Magazine



Is it time to kill off MAXX?

Getting on the train the other night I and many others were presented with a survey asking for my thoughts on a number of different aspects of the train service and PT in general. This isn’t the first time I have done one of these and the majority of questions were pretty straight forward covering a number of different topics with things like how clean I thought the train, the friendliness of staff, train performance etc. Most of these questions are ones most likely asked annually and help go towards building up a picture of whether services have improved over time but there was one section that really caught my eye. The questions in this section were wanting to know about my thoughts on the MAXX brand and it then proceeded to ask the same questions about Auckland Transport (sorry I can’t remember the exact questions and I forgot to take a photo). Now I can’t say what it was specifically but I got the distinct impression from the wording of it that they may be considering doing away with the MAXX name and perhaps looking to adopt Auckland Transport instead.

Personally I think it would be a great idea as the name MAXX has always sat uneasily with me and the page on Wikipedia gives a great description as to the problem with it.

At launch time, Auckland Regional Transport Authority deemphasised the question of whether or not the name was an acronym:

“MAXX does stand for something. MAXX stands for comfortable and attractive facilities for commuters; fast, frequent and more reliable transport services; and comprehensive transport information. MAXX is not another acronym, but a symbol of quality.”

The brand was originally intended to refer to Metropolitan Auckland XXpressways, a brand developed by Auckland-based Sanders Design / Stephenson & Turner. The brand featured dark blue livery and a ‘pesky cartoon pukeko called Maxx’

Aside from the name I think there are other issues, it seems that almost everyone can’t stand the MAXX website either with the biggest complaints seeming to be around the journey planner which will often come up with odd results.

There are probably lots of other little things that I don’t like about the brand that I don’t like and I would see a change away from it a good chance for AT to start fresh without the baggage that the current brand has picked up along the way. I would also like to see a single brand (what ever it is) used across all buses, to me it shouldn’t matter if the bus is run by NZ Bus, H&E, Ritchies or any other company and all buses should either have the same livery or even better a livery that defines the quality of the route (i.e. the high frequency network is differentiated from the lower frequency network). This is something that should hopefully be able to happen once AT start rolling out the new PTOM contracts.

The Pukeko seems to have gone, hopefully the name will go too

Back to MAXX, what do you think, should it stay or should it go?

Auckland Plan Launched

The final version of the Auckland Plan was launched by Mayor Len Brown today. Here’s the Mayor’s message that accompanies the launch:

For the first time in our history, we have a widely-shared vision – to be the world’s most liveable city – and a single plan to deliver this vision for all of Auckland and its people.

Literally thousands of Aucklanders have contributed their ideas, knowledge and expertise to The Auckland Plan and I thank you all for taking part.

The Auckland Plan is a strategy to guide Auckland’s future over the next 30 years. It addresses a multitude of challenges facing Auckland – like transport and housing shortages, giving children and young people a better start, creating jobs in a growing economy, protecting the land and marine environment, and improving the quality of our urban surroundings.

Since the first discussion document – Auckland Unleashed – was distributed in March 2011, The Auckland Plan has evolved through many changes as we listened, learned and evaluated your contributions.

The final document retains all the elements of daring and drive, backed by a sense that the time has come to move the united city forward on a journey to benefit all Aucklanders, present and future, over the next 30 years.

There’s an exciting digital version of the plan on this website which makes it easy to inspect. Printed versions are available for reference at libraries and service centres.

“I urge you to maintain your enthusiasm for The Auckland Plan and consider how we can all work together to turn our vision into a reality.”

The Plan’s website is a fairly flash affair actually – a vast improvement on the normal way plans like these are presented – as many hundreds of pages of PDF documents.

Key parts of the plan likely to be of interest to readers include:

Section D – The Development Strategy
Chapter 10 – Urban Auckland
Chapter 13 – Auckland’s Transport

There is also a fairly nifty video on the Plan, which is embedded below:

The only slightly snide comment I have is that the video seems to say that public transport patronage in 2012 was 70 million – a bit early in the year to make such a prediction one would think!

I’m sure we will all get around to making further posts on the Plan in the future, although not too much seems to have changed since we saw it last. What will really matter, of course, is whether the radical transformation of Auckland the Plan wants to achieve actually happens, or whether it just becomes a really pretty doorstop.

Analysing Auckland’s car dependency

My post the other day about the importance of public transport in reducing car dependency’s financial cost, generated a lot of interesting discussion. There was a bit of debate over whether New Zealand mirrored the USA’s split in household expenditure (it seems we spend a bit less of our incomes on transport), but what there was general agreement on is how car dependency might vary from place to place – particularly across different parts of Auckland.

Using 2006 Census Data (yes I know it’s horribly out of date but for comparative purposes that might not matter too much), we can look at transport modeshare results by Census Area Unit (generally around 4000-5000 people). This tells us some interesting stories. Full excel worksheet here for your information.

Firstly, let’s look at Census Area Units (CAUs) with the highest public transport modeshare: It would seem that key characteristics of parts of Auckland with high PT use include proximity to the city centre and also proximity to high frequency services (bus, train or both). I’m pretty sure every single one of these CAUs is on the isthmus – and most of them fall within parts of Auckland developed prior to the Second World War. Interestingly, they have a pretty wide range of levels of car use and walking/cycling use.

If we turn to walking/cycling next, we see an even more dramatic concentration in and around the city centre – which is no surprise: 
These areas with the highest levels of walking and cycling generally correspond with being those that have the lowest level of car-use, with Whenuapai West being an interesting exception (due to the airbase I imagine).

If we look at Census Area Units with the highest levels of car-use, unsurprisingly the first 20 are pretty much exclusively rural areas: Ormiston (the Flat Bush area) is an interesting inclusion there – though not surprising as back in 2006 there was probably no public transport and almost certainly nowhere to walk to. What the rural nature of these areas highlights is that by living in the countryside you really do become massively dependent on the private car.

The next 20 highest CAUs start to show us a few more urban areas: We definitely start to see a few more urban places here – though generally on the periphery (Weymouth, Dannemora, Wattle Farm, Silverdale etc.) This suggests that Auckland’s urban form in these peripheral areas isn’t really encouraging either the use of public transport or walking and cycling as viable alternatives to driving.

Taking things one step further, I was curious to see whether modeshare had any basic relationship with income – building on my hypothesis that many people in Auckland perceive the PT network to be so bad that their families own multiple cars – regardless of their income. So let’s firstly look at CAUs with the highest proportion of households earning over $100,000 a year: No super-clear pattern seeming to come through there. Many quite wealthy areas (Ponsonby & Grey Lynn) seem very willing to catch public transport, with many (Stanley Bay, Parnell, St Mary’s Bay) also very willing to walk or cycle to work. Perhaps this highlights the connection between richer areas being central and central areas being less car dependent, more than anything else.

Now let’s look at poorer areas, those with the lowest proportion of households earning more than $100,000 a year: The data is complicated a bit by a few very unusual CAUs (Gulf Islands in particular), but generally once again there doesn’t seem to be much of an obvious pattern. Some of these areas have comparatively low car dependency (Lynnmall being perhaps the best example), but many are pretty high – ironically including Mangere Station CAU, which has no public transport use at all even though it’s named after a (now closed) train station. Places like Manurewa and Papakura remain extremely car dependent – even though these centres have become two of Auckland’s busiest rail stations.

I probably need to learn more statistics to properly analyse the information, but the various tables above highlight a few things in my mind:

  • Proximity to the city centre seems the strongest determinant of car dependency
  • Rural areas are extremely car dependent
  • Public transport use is highest in city fringe areas and along well established bus routes like Dominion Road
  • Income, both at the high and low ends, seems not to be related to modeshare much at all, except through other correlations such as central areas being high income areas

What I’d really love is to see some of this information mapped. Guess I should take a GIS course next semester.


A reader has kindly mapped the car modeshare, which highlights to us in progressively lighter colours the areas with lower car modeshare – pretty much proving that proximity to downtown Auckland seems to be the most important factor in determining whether or not you drive to work:

NZTA’s updates on Integrated Ticketing

If there is one issue we have noticed gets people more wound up than anything else on this site it is Integrated Ticketing and understandingly so.  The CRL, Electrification and other projects are great but for most day to day users but the one thing that directly effects every single PT user (or potential user) is the ticketing and fares system. As part of my recent OIA request I have had copies of the papers that have gone to the NZTA board meeting giving updates on the project which sheds some interesting information on the subject. Each of the papers are below (the update was in the middle of some of them hence the other stuff in them)

September, November, December, February, March

The first thing I noticed when I took a skim through the reports was this comment in the summary of the key risks in every single report which suggests that both the NZTA and AT are pretty concerned NZ Bus/Snapper are not going to do what they agreed to. Hopefully the recent media attention including Gerry Brownlee’s comments will help to ensure they stay on track.

Novembers update gives an indication on some of the pressures being placed on the project and despite assurances by AT  that Snapper would not delay things, it seems that it wasn’t the case.

The AIFS programme is progressing steadily and to plan. There are some cost and time pressures, as a result of unanticipated changes in the scope of the implementation work,and NZTA is working through funding options with AT:

  • The AIFS programme needs additional people to keep the programme on schedule. This is as a result of the extra workload incurred in supporting the Snapper implementation and integration earlier this year. This effort has absorbed greater resource than originally scoped and may continue to exert upward cost pressure in the later stages of the AIFS programme.
  • There is a need to upgrade some of the rail platform vending machines due to safety and customer service level issues, which result from platform configuration changes associated with the rail electrification work.

We are supporting AT in resolving the resource and funding issues and note these changes are circumstantial, and not the result of mismanagement by AT or Thales.

In December you get the feeling that the NZTA and AT were getting more comfortable following on from the confirmation that Parkeon had signed up to supply the other bus companies with equipment. The issues raised above in November appear to have been resolved but there is then this interesting bit of info. That might also explain why Infratil have gone so quiet on Snapper in their monthly updates.

February’s report is where we first start getting the news that the wheels are starting to fall of the Snapper piece of work as well as what some of those issues are. Having issues with data use and commercial sensitivity seems like a pretty serious problem to me but not one that I am going to suggest it was intentional. It does highlight one of the key reasons why AT and then the NZTA went with Thales in the first place, to have the system independent from the operators.

The other really interesting thing from Feb is news that the Office of the Auditor General are looking into integrated ticketing with a report due mid 2012. I will definitely be looking out for that.

The Office of the Auditor General have advised that they will be conducting a “special study” on the AIFS programme and related matters, starting in early 2012. This is part of a new pro-active approach by the OAG in areas of considerable public interest. The study is due to report to Parliament in mid 2012

March has similar information on the project and the only only really new bit is in regard to rail operations post integrated ticketing, it has this to say:

This post isn’t intended to be an attack on Snapper but it just so happens that they seem to be the key issue that keeps cropping up that could prevent the project from being successful. I do really hope that Snapper, AT and the NZTA are able to resolve these issues for the good of the city.

Why Now Westfield?

An interesting article appeared prominently in the Herald’s business section this morning. Here’s what part of it said:

Ownership of many properties, including Auckland’s largest inner-city mall, could change as plans for Auckland’s underground rail loop edge closer.

The central city line could pass directly beneath the large multi-level Westfield Downtown on reclaimed land spanning Albert St, Customs St West and Queen Elizabeth II Square.

At the end of last year, Westfield valued the centre at $40.3 million and some property experts now believe negotiations between the council and Westfield could see ownership change.

The low-rise 13,964sq m mall in the waterfront block makes total annual sales of $68.1 million and Westfield has planned to redevelop the building, vastly undersized for the high-rise zoning and valuable location.

Linda Trainer, general manager of Westfield NZ’s shopping centre management, would not say if the company had held discussions with the Auckland Council over selling the property so the rail project could go ahead.

But Westfield was well aware of the rail plans and it had permission to redevelop the site, she said.

The article continues on talking about the the CRL and Westfield’s previous plans but the thing that came to my mind was, why now? Its been known for years that the CRL would have to go through the downtown shopping centre site and from memory Westfields tower plans are what kicked the ARC into gear to really start looking at getting the CRL built.

What we do know is that Auckland Transport is getting ready to lodge the designation which I understand will happen in just a few months time. When that happens we should find out much more detail about what work has been going on behind the scenes to advance the project and that should include information on exactly what properties are going to be needed. Once the designation is granted AT/Council will need to start buying up the properties they need and that is where I think that this article comes in.

I suspect that the Westfield have seeded this story to the Herald for one reason, to help in their negotiations with AT/Council. They know that if they can either increase the value of the site they can demand more cash, alternatively if they can show that their future development of the site is impacted by the CRL then they could get a similar result. At the end of the day I can completely understand this approach and it is what any land owner would do but it is something worth keeping an eye on. I suspect we will start hearing a lot more from affected land owners in the future and there is nothing the Herald will like more than to run stories about people forced out of their homes or businesses due to the CRL.

Proposed Westfield Tower

A City Rail Link Page

A number of times over the past few weeks we have criticised both Auckland Council and Auckland Transport for the poor job they’re doing when it comes to selling the benefits of the City Rail Link project, with a result of that being a sometimes pathetically poor understanding of the project’s benefits, what it actually costs, what it will do, what it won’t do, why an overhead option is a silly idea and so on.

As we’re not a hypocritical bunch here, we also felt that while this blog contains a huge amount of information on the City Rail Link project (this post is the 228th to use the tag), we should try to put things all together in a way that’s a bit easier to access and can also find a tricky balance between being simple enough for those not familiar with the project to get a general feel for why it’s so necessary, while at the same time providing various numbers, diagrams, graphs and pictures, along with weighty arguments – to provide some real grunt behind our conclusions around the project’s need.

So we have created a “City Rail Link” page – which you can visit by clicking on the link just under the blog title – or by clicking here. We’ve also set it up so that www.transportblog.co.nz/crl redirects to our City Rail Link page, for really easy access.

The main CRL page has an overview of the project, some bullet points of its benefits, a bit of detail on cost and a summary of where it’s at. Over time the main focus is going to be creating a bunch of sub-pages on the project’s benefits – as well as probably researching a bit more into its rather long and convoluted history (dating back at least as far as the 1920s).

At the moment, there is a sub-page on how the CRL increases the capacity of Auckland’s rail network – but over time further sub-pages will be created on all of the following reasons to build the CRL:

  • To ease the pressure on the city centre’s roading network by reducing the level of future increases in buses and cars.
  • To significantly reduce travel times on Auckland’s rail network – especially for trips from areas along the Western Line to the city centre.
  • To allow higher train frequencies to be operated on all lines of the Auckland rail network.
  • To provide sufficient capacity in the rail system for future extensions (rail to the airport, Avondale-Southdown line etc.) to be possible.
  • To stimulate business activity in the city centre and other rail served centres and generate agglomeration benefits.
  • To stimulate higher intensity residential development around the rail network and reduce the need for Auckland to grow via urban sprawl.
  • To enable a much more efficient and effective bus network.
  • To improve rail access in the city centre.
  • To allow trains to be routed through the city centre and offer one-seat rides between centres on different sides of Auckland.

What we’re asking in this post is basically for a bit of help in relation to the following questions:

  1. Is there anything we’ve missed in the above list of broad reasons to build the CRL?
  2. Is there anything in particular which compelled you to think that the CRL is a really important project for Auckland, and do you think that’s something that should be included somewhere within the CRL page or sub-pages (and what is it)?
  3. Are there any particular blog posts (if you can find the link that’d be great!) that you’ve found really helpful in explaining the CRL in the past, which should be referred to in the page or sub-pages?
  4. If you’re still sceptical of the project (don’t worry, it’s OK), what information are you really interested in finding out more? What issues need to be addressed in a comprehensive assessment of the why the project is needed?
  5. What good information is out there on the internet (aside from this blog) relating to the project – perhaps particularly in relation to its rather long and convoluted history?
  6. What do you think would be really good ways to communicate some of the really key points about the project?

If this goes well, similar pages for other major transport projects might be worthwhile doing.

Junkspace: Rem, Lee, and Me

We know that by choosing to rely on the private vehicle as the primary means of movement in a city we are choosing the single most expensive way for us all to get around. It makes for a largely unseen but nonetheless real additional tax on everything, especially through inefficient land use. And because in Auckland alternatives remain stunted through under-investment this ever increasing tax remains unexamined or is considered unavoidable.

But there are other costs too. There is one that just creeps up on the auto-dependant place until it dominates and has become our whole world. This is the quality-of-place cost, the aesthetic deficit of auto-dependency, and with it a very difficult to measure economic burden; one that is hard to overstate yet all too easy to overlook. How to measure the loss of value of places like the Hobson/Nelson corridor for example?

The best term I have found for this phenomenon was coined by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas in 2006 in his fabulously energetic essay of the same name; Junkspace:

If space-junk is the human debris that litters the universe, junk-space is the residue mankind leaves on the

planet. The built product of modernization is not modern architecture but junkspace.

Junkspace is what remains after modernization has run its course or, more precisely, what coagulates while

modernization is in progress, its fall-out. Modernization had a rational program: to share the blessings of

science, universally. Junkspace is its apotheosis, or meltdown… Although its individual parts are the outcome of

brilliant inventions, lucidly planned by human intelligence, boosted by infinite computation, their sum spells the

end of Enlightenment , its resurrection as farce, a low-grade purgatory… Junkspace is the sum total of our

current achievement; we have built more than all previous generations together, but somehow we do not register

on the same scales. We do not leave pyramids. According to a new gospel of ugliness, there is already more

junkspace under construction in the 21st century than survived from the 20th…

Koolhaas has a record of pretty daring contemporary architecture so it may seem surprising that here he is clearly expressing disappointment and disgust at the contemporary built environment. But read carefully it is clear that he is not advocating a Prince Charles-like bogus theme park world of replica McBuildings. That is to mistake the surface for the substance, to aim for an inauthentic life; one only really possible on a make believe economic basis, like for someone with a vast fairy-tale inheritance. No, Koolhaas is making a really interesting distinction between the dream of Modern architecture and the much more common outcome he calls modernisation; between the designed world and the world of unintended consequence, and bemoaning the fact that it is in the latter that we are forced to live.

Lee Friedlander Albuquerque New Mexico 1975

What does this mean? A useful way of illustrating this is through the work of one of the great American photographers of the modern era; Lee Friedlander. There are plenty of others that we could use here too; William Eggleston, Stephen Shore, Garry Winogrand, to name just a few. This is no surprise as showing us the world we live in afresh is a core role of good photography, and in the twentieth century, especially in the US, this often meant the urban world, the built world. Friedlander’s work is especially good for this purpose; his whole oeuvre can be read as one long enquiry into this world; into Junkspace.

Lee Friedlander New Mexico 2001

His approach is rich; there’s a lot of humour, a lot of tenderness, but it also adds up to a comprehensive and sorry description of the under-designed but over-built aspect of modernisation. In particular we can see in his streetscapes and motel interiors the clear role of the car complex in forming this world. These are documents of the sad little universes of pavement and signage that we all try to ignore but that add up to our disappointment in the fabric of urban life.

Lee Friedlander Pittsburg PA 1980

It is especially well brought home in his 2008 work America by Car:

This is a fantastic collection of images made all across the States from the interior of a series of bland late model cars using the windows as an additional framing device [shot with a Hasselblad SWC, in case you’re interested]. Not only has the car formed this world but it is now as if it completely contains it as well, while also entrapping its artist-critic.

Lee Friedlander Texas 2006

It is my dissatisfaction with the dominance and endless growth of Junkspace across the whole of Auckland that has led to my involvement in this blog. It is a result of my passionate engagement with the built environment through the discipline of looking long and hard at it in my work as a photographer that has led me to this position. In the same way that good transport infrastructure is not an end in itself, but rather a means to better connection and accessibility and therefore a richer and more successful city my interest in this work is not primarily about transport at all; but rather its effects.

The tragedy of the modernised world in general and Auckland in particular is that the dominant place-making that has gone on since the mid 1950s, and continues today, is undertaken by people with no training in or understanding of the effects of their actions on place, who are not charged with any responsibility for the places they alter, and, in fact, deny that they are even doing it [the closest they get is conceding the need for mitigation for some of the local dis-benefits of their labours]. For a grand example see this post but it goes on in much smaller ways all across town.

By giving billions of dollars a year to an agency of doubtless efficient and hard working engineers and charging them with one task only; to enable more and more vehicles to move as fast as possible through an ever bigger city is basically to ensure the decline of that very place. This has very real outcomes not only in the quality of people’s lives but also in the vitality of its commercial performance. That this occurs gradually but relentlessly and in the belief that it is serving the very opposite outcome does not make it inevitable, or indeed unfixable.

Until quality of place as well as efficiency of movement are given equal consideration in Auckland it will remain suboptimal and therefore a less economically effective city. This is my challenge to Auckland Council and Auckland Transport: Do they have processes to make the consideration of place outcomes as well as movement ones right down to each intersection, each footpath? Are the needs of humans not in vehicles given the same weight as those behind the wheel?

But equally importantly, because all the biggest decisions are all still made by central government, this needs to happen at the national level. We need cost benefit analyses that count the full impacts of their big transport decisions, not just narrow and selective equations. As well as more regional input to these decisions or perhaps even more devolved spending authority?

At the core of this is need for our national agencies and the government itself to recognise that what works for the countryside and the provincial town is not going to be the same for our one city of scale.

A last word from Rem, nothing escapes his tirade but I couldn’t resist this small bite:

Traffic is junkspace, from

airspace to the underground; the entire highway system is junkspace, a vast potential utopia clogged by its

users, as you notice when they’ve finally disappeared on vacation.