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Why Cameron Brewer is wrong

NB: Upon reflection I have modified my original post in response to critical feedback, which you can read about in the comment thread below. Most of this feedback suggested that the message of the post was obscured by my personal frustration with Cameron Brewer, which I have accepted. Hopefully the revised post better reflects the issues that are important, rather than my opinion on the personalities driving the issues.

Let’s start with a question: Should property owners on Queen Street be allowed to use their properties for the highest and best use (as defined by their customers), provided that in doing so they don’t cause much (if any) harm to other people?

Most Aucklanders would say “yes” when confronted with such a question. Some of my ACT Party friends would nod sagely before launching into a spiel about how property rights are the yarn that knits successful societies together; bless their capitalist socks. National Party people would say yes and then try to shut down anything remotely fun. Labour Party people would say yes and then tax all activities to within an inch of their life. But I expect the predominant answer would be “yes”.

Cameron Brewer, however, seems to be saying “no” when it comes to respecting the rights of property owners on Queen Street. At least, that’s what I have concluded in the wake of his recent crusade against small shops. Things kicked off in somewhat Animal Farmish fashion back in April with this NZHerald article, in which Mr Brewer criticised “little shoebox shops selling absolute rubbish.” It appears that all shops are created equal, but certain ethnic small shops are less equal than others.

Brewer’s comments were quickly rebutted from a number of angles. Auckland Council’s Ludo Campell Reid was first out of the blocks in this Herald article, where he was quoted as saying:

Smallness is not necessarily a bad thing. Executed well this can be a great way for independent operators to enter the market,” he said. “They can create a sense of vibrancy and uniqueness and can play a positive role in developing an authentic and bespoke offer – a point of difference. I am assuming that this trend is market-led following an increased demand from smaller tenants. The owners of these properties are therefore merely seeking to meet market demand.

A wonderfully enlightened NZHerald editorial (maybe John Roughan was sick?) followed up the next day:

… there is a limit to the ability of a council to influence the quality of shops. A regulated minimum size such as Mr Brewer suggests would run the risk of leaving much more space standing empty. It is better to leave the shops to find their own scale and character. The high rents being charged are a good sign. It seems unlikely immigrants are paying those rates just to prove they are setting up a business here. They could easily find cheaper leases for that purpose.

More likely, Mr Brewer is witnessing a development long common in “world-class city centres”. New arrivals colonise central areas that have lost commerce and population to suburban centres. The inner city becomes a new place of language schools, apartments, ethnic restaurants and grocery stores, nightlife and entertainment.

Queen St reflects the times. It always did, always will and still it holds a central place in Auckland’s identity.

At this point I thought that the “Sanity ” versus “Brewer” boxing match had finished with the latter being cleanly knocked out 2o seconds into the first round. But now it seems that Brewer has somewhat unfortunately hauled himself up off the canvas and thrown himself back into the ring for more punishment. Cue small-shop article #2.

This second NZHerald article manages to highlight, again, all the reasons why Brewer was wrong in the first place. If I was to try to spell it out clearly: Small shops are a natural market response to a) high land values that encourage people to economize on space and b) consumer demand for the sorts of things that small shops can sell efficiently. And when one travels around a bit (I mean further afield than Remuera) then you see that small shops are at the heart of successful, vibrant cities worldwide.

What annoys me most about the whole episode, however, is that Brewer’s is not just wrong: He’s apparently hypocritical. For those who don’t know, Brewer purports to represent Auckland’s “Residents and Ratepayers”. Last time I checked, those very small shops on Queen Street paid a shed-load of rates. Not only that, but the small shops are trying to meet the needs of inner-city residents. Yes that’s right, small shops and their customers are ratepayers and residents too, not rubbish peddlers.

But why, you might reasonably ask, is Brewer on a crusade against small shops? Why is he advocating for regulations on minimum shops sizes? Regulations that would ultimately serve to de-value the affected properties and prevent them from meeting the needs of local residents?

The only rational reason I can see for why Brewer would assume such a position was because he’s what I call an “opportunistic dictator”. He’s opportunistic because he’s trying to suggest (somewhat bizarrely) that small-shops demonstrate that Len Brown has failed as Mayor, thereby undermining the latter’s political support. But he’s also a dictator because he’s wandering around imposing his values on other people. He’s saying that the sorts of shops that we like are not the sorts of shops that he likes. And his response is to regulate small-shops out of existence.

To sum up:

Small shops are good for Auckland’s economy and society. They are a natural market response to high rents and consumer demand. Small shops support businesses and jobs and ultimately make many people happy. Just because you prefer to shop elsewhere does not mean that there is no place for small shops in Auckland.

And with that off my chest I’m now going to go spend some of my not-insignificant disposable income at the smallest shop I can squeeze my not-so slender Anglo-Saxon frame into.

52 comments to Why Cameron Brewer is wrong

  • Doloras

    Ah, now that’s the Transportblog we’ve come to know and love. :D

    Cameron Brewer represents no-one but the voters of Orakei, the PT-hating suburb of old money. He reflects the prejudices of his constituents, like a good politician. Let’s blame the people of Remmers for being so nasty and small minded.

    • Stu Donovan

      Thanks Big-D, I suspect you’re right.

      But I’m optimistic this post will snap Cameron back to his senses and encourage him to focus on local issues that matter. In my personal experience a good old-fashioned ego-bruising is sometimes worthwhile, even if it hurts at the time.

      Cameron would do well to take a leaf out of Christine Fletcher’s book: Conservative but dignified, fiscally conservative but with a healthy dose of common-sense. If Len Brown was to stand down then I could even vote for her as Mayor.

  • Liam W

    Probably the most accurate description of the man yet written… He needs to put up or shut up – if he’s running for mayor then fine, otherwise his ‘criticisms’ are always blatant and tenuous attempts to give the mayor a bad wrap – his little sound-bite about the apparent doubling of the CRL cost was a bit of a facepalm moment. In short, media whore…

    On the subject of Queen Street…personally, I’m not a fan of the tourist trinket stores (who is?)…but otherwise Stu you’re bang-on, the small shops are a response to high rents and market demand, largely driven by the Asian/student community living in the area…and frankly the CBD is a more vibrant place for them. Higher-end retail seems to be favouring the Britomart precinct for good reason, and while I’ve no doubt the CRL will provide impetus for some higher-end stuff on Queen Street in the future, it is pointless to try and stop a trend that has already gathered momentum, contributes to CBD vitality, and caters to real market demand. The mix of small and high-end shops adds to the dynamacism – can only be a positive in my books – people make the city.

  • ian

    Good on Brewer for raising this matter. Of course Queen St has cheapness splashed all over it. The big urban malls are killing central retailing without even trying and people are rightly alarmed. Readers of this blog should be alarmed too because for the CRL to be successful the CBD has to be the very best place possible. An ex Aucklander, I can remember back to a time when Queen St had quite a bit of style about it. Those days are long gone. Earlier this year I visited the Wynyard Quarter but didn’t bother with Queen St knowing the dump it had become.

    • Matt L

      How can you pass judgement on the quality of Queen St without visiting it? The thousands and thousands of people that you will see walking it every day (yes even on weekends when the office workers aren’t in town) says that it is anything but a dump. I get really annoyed when people pass judgement on a place they haven’t visited.

      By the way, since the Queen St upgrade a few years ago, pedestrian numbers in the CBD have improved dramatically and so have shop keepers fortunes, a testament to that is the number luxury brand stores that are also opening up, especially in the more northerly section between Customs St and Victoria St.

      • ian

        I’ve walked Queen St more times than I could begin to remember. Most recently about a year ago. Yes, others walk Queen St too but hardly any of them look enthused about the place, in fact most look downright bored. A business doesn’t have to be big to impress, it simply has to offer quality product and service. The tat on offer at so many of these shop is simply awful. Hard to believe that this is the main street of New Zealands largest city.

        • Are we talking about the same Queen St here? Doesn’t sound like the one I walk through every day. Actually was just down there today, very busy for a Sunday and the City Link bus was standing room only.

    • Liam W

      “…for the CRL to be successful the CBD has to be the very best place possible…”

      Yes, but aren’t we confusing cause and effect? In terms of making the CBD the best place possible shouldn’t we see the CRL as an enabler of that rather than seeing it as a prerequisite for the CRL?? From a purely patronage point of view the CRL has to happen either way. But in terms of making the CBD the best possible place for retailing, surely the CRL is a catalyst in terms of its ability to vastly increasing the number of people (read: customers) that can enter the CBD without ruining its pedestrian amenity with more cars/buses??

    • Stu Donovan

      Ian, I’ve lived in Auckland City coming up to 15 years and have never seen Queen Street looking healthier. When I first started uni the DEKA at the bottom of Queen shut down and was replaced by a $2 store, when then subsequently shut down and the shop remained boarded up for years. Now there’s a Prada and Louis Vuitton store in that same block, and all the stores are tenanted.

      The make-up of the stores have changed, away from serving the needs of suburban residents and towards inner-city residents, mainly because the latter have grown in number. But Queen Street is heading in the right direction: Lots of crazy stores, lots of fun people, and lots going on at most hours of the night. Almost all my money is spent in the inner-city, mostly on Queen Street.

      And to finish, may I just point out that your argument is incredibly narcissistic: “I don’t shop there so the small shops obviously suck.” There’s just as many if not more people that like the small stores, and we spend our money there quite happily. I’m happy if the noveau riche while away their hours at the Wynyard Quarter, leaving the real heart of the city to people with more character ;).

    • The irony here is that these ‘tourist trinket’ stores are exactly the same market niche that suburban shopping malls fill their concourses with. The cellphone kiosks, the chinese massage booths, laptop repair shops, the little manicure outfits, jewellery and accessory stands.

      Things that are service oriented or sell small products, things that don’t need a lot of space but work well with high turnover and high exposure to foot traffic. Doesn’t that sound perfect for the CBD? Sure it’s all very proletarian, but as Brewer seems to forget most Aucklanders are proles who don’t spend much time buying Louis Vitton and Bulgari.

      Right, well I’m off to get my nails did and pick up a hello kitty iphone cover.

    • The Trickster

      The reason I like Queen St, K Rd and Newmarket (well bits of Newmarket anyway) is the fact that it ISN’T a Westfield mall – its not homogenised crap like at every crap suburban mall that is spread around the country surrounded by a veritable sea of carparks.

      The food in those above mentioned places absolutely blows away anything that you can get at a suburban mall – the street is far more interesting, and you find far more interesting hole in the wall stores which would never get passed mall ‘management’.

      Westfield / Sylvia Park et al – the of going to those places makes me want to slit my wrists.
      Queen St / K Road / Newmarket – where there is awesome food, variety and most of all, not a massive sea of carparks.

      *rant over*

  • Matt L

    Some of the most interesting places in the CBD, especially for food, are in small shops. The CBD needs a mix of places to make it interesting, if you want the same bland big stores everywhere then go to somewhere like Albany.

  • Ben

    Bravo Stu, excellent posting calling out Brewer…

    Wait what the heck did I write on the subject either last month :P

    Ah well might be some retractions from me coming but in short:

    Let the Free Market rein, if there is demand then there is supply (so long as it is not illegal) then so be it on Queen Street.

    Ok I like lower Queen Street compared to mid Queen Street but that is personal preference. However I am not going to go for the Stanlist approach Brewer is effectively calling for per se…

    Ah well time to go for a walk up Queen Street :D

    • Stu Donovan

      Thanks Ben, yes let the free market reign with the following caveats:
      1. Auckland Council needs to step up and provide a nicer street environment to get the types of development that we want; and
      2. Private sector development should not be allowed to have negative effects (e.g. safety/security issues) on public realm.

      Otw go for gold.

  • I too am an infrequent visitor to Auckland, spending most of my working life in North Asia. Unlike ian however, I have visited Queen Street not once but twice in the last few weeks and having not been in the CBD for quite some years, I agree with others that it is much better now than it ever has been. Through immigration, particularly from North Asia, Auckland has become a much better city to live in. The variety and quality of Asian restaurants for example is much better than it is in Melbourne and Chinese food, Korean food and even Japanese food-wise, Auckland is fast reaching the standards of good restaurants and eateries in Beijing, Shanghai, Seoul and Tokyo.

    Small size retail outlets serve the needs of many people and in the CBD, not just students from mainland China. The Daiso for example which is just up from the Civic Theatre, is a $2 store chain in Japan that has come into New Zealand originally to serve the Chinese and Korean communities I believe (The Daiso have branches in China, Korea, HK, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and in North America, Europe, the Middle East and Australia). What struck me when I wandered into The Daiso’s very small AKL branch a few days back, was that there were many young Pakeha wandering around buying things. The Daiso may be a $2 style store but it certainly doesnt sell rubbish.

    Because of small stores like The Daiso, Queen Street is maturing and becoming a place that people want to visit and not just work in during the day. Once the CRL is built, the vibrancy of the inner city will increase yet again and I thus look forward to visiting the Queen Street area again in another 10 years. Small scale retail and a proper PT system feed off each other, so long may that relationship continue – for the betterment of central Auckland.

  • JeffT

    Please can we start building the CRL! Every day we don’t is a wasted opportunity for economic growth. It’s consumption spending from people buying things in shops that increases gdp. Not people driving on motorways.

  • Geoff

    I think the title should be changed to something less insulting. Attack the issues, not the person.

    • Stu Donovan

      Hi Geoff, normally I agree – as noted in my postscript. But in this case issue == person; that’s why I have focused specifically on Brewer. No one else really seems to be pushing this particular issue apart from him.

    • Stu Donovan

      Also, the only word that is possibly insulting is “snob”, but from the way Cameron is carrying on (as if his shopping preferences are the only thing that matters) I think it’s a fairly reasonable conclusion?

      And to be fair, I even call myself a snob sometimes so if Cameron is reading this then I hope he’s not too insulted. I think it’s important to call a spade a spade, even if it hurts. But thanks for your feedback, will keep it in mind.

    • Louis

      The issue is that Brewer has been constantly standing in the way of progress for Auckland in every possible way, not just one. I think Stuart is right to attack the person here.

  • LucyJH

    got to agree with Stuart (I mean not necessarily about Cameron Brewer’s personality, I think he is basically well meaning although I disagree with many of his policies). But I agree that Queen Street looks better now than it has in decades. When I went there in the early 1990s the street was filled with cars and virtually empty of pedestrians. Occasionally one tumble weed would roll past. Now it feels like a big, vibrant Asian-Pacific city. Sure it might also be a poor Asian-Pacific city. But I’d suggest the solution to that is probably not to bitch about cheap shops but to look at growing our economy in a way that doesn’t a) simultaneously destroy our environment and b) enriches the people living in the CBD, who are often very low income. Fairer distribution of wealth anyone?

  • I think it will be disastrous if the CBD becomes overrun by shoebox retailers. I don’t think the thing missing from Queen St is a third world ambience of low quality cheap and nasty small stores. Most premier shopping locations around the world DO NOT have shoe box retailing taking over their main streets – Shanghai, Tokyo, New York, London, Paris. Ideally you’d want a great balanced interersting mix of small and large format retailing. Yes and I do agree some of the best stores in the CBD are small NZ boutique retailers. Most of these appear to be of a high standard of appearance and this standard needs to be maintained.

    The arcades being developed with small stores I fear will turn in to empty ghettos as they aren’t natural throughfares to anywhere and just enclosed boxes. No natural light, outdoor flow. Look at how the Atrium struggles. The council is right to question the proliferation of these.

    We need more flagship retailers to differentiate the CBD from the malls eg. Zara’s, TopShop. These places need large retail spaces and a quality environment with high foot traffic volumes to get them here. The products in these stores are not expensive but could draw more people to the city as they won’t be available in malls. As strange and sad it may seem tourists also like the familarity of global brands.

    • Stu Donovan

      Again, nothing is being over-run: It’s just a natural diversification of shop size in response to demand.

      To provide an ironic example, last weekend I purchased three pairs of shoes. I picked up a pair of trainers from Rebel Sports on Elliot Street (large floor plate) and two pairs of smart shoes from Wild Pair on Queen Street (small floor plate). Completely different store sizes serving completely different functions but both necessary (and both overrun with shoe boxes).

      Don’t fret about the big stores: They will find somewhere to go in the city. Look at the Dick Smith store at the bottom of Queen and the mix of shops emerging in the Britomart Precinct. The short answer is that it is not the Council’s role to interfere in the retail market by prescribing the size of shops. Why would they? What’s the external effect? There is none – so quit talking regulation.

    • walkablecity

      Assuming that small = poor quality is simplistic and monkey logic. Anyone who has actually been in NYC or any of the aforementioned cities recently will have observed that shop size does not dictate the quality of goods sold.
      This “small is big” article explains:
      http://interfaceflorblog.com/three-trends-in-retail-design

      “There is a huge trend in small-scale retail,” says Mark Janson, a partner in the New York City-based design firm Janson Goldstein, whose clients are particularly interested in expansion into European cities and trendy North American cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Miami. This is happening in much more low key ways than in boom years gone by, however, as today, designers must be very sophisticated with limited design budgets. Labeling current retail concepts “edgier, more sculptural, artistic, and having attitude,” Janson cites a trend toward found spaces or pop-up spaces that are, nevertheless, “designed to look like nothing was done.”

      • I think you missed my point I never said small = poor quality. I said some of the CBD’s best stores are small eg. Cody, No1 Pancake, etc (although these are off Queen St). I’m advocating a balance of sizes and quality presentation especially on Queen St.

        The city’s I mention main shopping streets from memory don’t have many small stores. They are the places for flagships due to high foot traffic and draw people in to the city because of this. Fifth Ave, Oxford Street spring to mind immediately. They normally have the stores not found in the suburban malls.

        • Scott

          I love that Pancake shop on Lorne street, and its tiny.

        • Indeed, RHarris, you didn’t specifically say that small and quality are not mutually exclusive. Just want to keep away from the sweeping statements of dualities (ie small vs large, good vs bad) that Brewer is so fond of. This creates unnecessary, and quite frankly, easy oppositional sounds bites that ignore the complexities of retail spaces within urban environments.

          • Yes No1 Pancake is the pancake place. Yes Brewer’s views are simplistic.

            My main concern is mainly for Queen Street. In my opinion there is enough small retail spaces on Queen street when you look to the top of Queen St and the restaurants and the numerous arcades that already run off Queen St at the bottom. Creating more small freehold spaces will create more issues now and in the future which give no real space for flagship stores to move to. Look at Kathmandu. Wanted street front on Queen St and couldn’t find a big enough store and now have their store split. Queen St itself needs an overarching audit and plan where retail may go.

            Queen St is the street I constantly see tourist and locals funnel down to get a feel of the city. I feel more small freehold retail spaces will be a disservice to the city. Yes Britomart is great for flagship stores but Queen St is our real window to the world. Regardless of small or big stores in the whole of the CBD quality presentation must be maintained.

            Mid City markets while not ideal are bearable as they are more off Queen St and look to be temporary and can be converted in the future if need be. They can provide stimuleous to the CBD for now.

            I also think the old BNZ building that’s empty now could accomodate a place like H&M. One sided with womenswear, the other with menswear.

  • Stu is right. Retail is a fast moving business and very very responsive to what works and what doesn’t. What the Council can do is control the public environment and some commercial macro issues to some degree and this will have a bearing on what works and what doesn’t. The CBD is a hugely alive place compared to what is was like around 15 years ago when it very nearly died at the hands of the suburbanists. It is bouncing back and the CRL will be the killer AP that really cranks it up. Brewer could be proactive on that issue if he really wanted to improve the CBD! But there is much more that can be done now to speed this up. Queen St is still dominated by too many cars with very few people in them going nowhere much, this could be greatly improved tomorrow:

    http://transportblog.co.nz/2011/08/30/guest-post-why-are-there-cars-on-queen-st/

    Otherwise these shops are vitality and business, all good, if there’s nothing you want there; shop elsewhere and get over it. And as the CBD fills with more people and fewer cars these shops will upgrade too, and move elsewhere to revitalise those changing places in turn.

    Could Stu have been less personal about Brewer in the post? Well Brewer is fronting the issue pretty much to raise his personal profile so I guess you can say he started it. Anyway it’s not like Stu said anything really offensive like the new trains could be designed better…..

    • “if there’s nothing you want there; shop elsewhere and get over it”

      This is ridiculous reasoning. The CBD is an important window to the world. We should be concerned with how appearance. If suddenly your street become filled with brothels is your reponse “if there’s nothing you want there; shop elsewhere and get over it”. Brothels to are the free market in action.

      I’m all for vitality in the CBD but unfortunately I don’t think it should be entirely left to the market. The shoe box apartments are prime example of badly leaving things to the markets. These destroyed peoples perceptions of inner city living.

      • Stu Donovan

        No, so-called shoebox apartments saved the CBD in the late 90s and early 2000s. They allowed an influx of residents that created a huge boon for retailers downtown, provided that the latter adapted to the new market. With retailers and restaurants returning to the city centre the next wave of apartments has been much higher quality, cue Britomart Precinct etc. The market is filling out and a more diverse range of people are moving into the city centre.

        Plus Patrick is not suggesting you leave everything to the market: Just that the Council should focus on creating a high public realm. Indeed, if the old Auckland City Council had not created such a dreadful street environment around Hobson/Nelson Street then the subsequent apartments may have developed to a higher standard.

        So before you go blaming developers for delivering crap, I’d point an accusatory finger at council for not creating conditions in which high quality development was viable.

      • I’m sorry but the reasoning is perfectly sound: a defining characteristic of the city, as opposed to the suburbs, is having to rub shoulders with lots and lots of different people, with different looks, different values, and different tastes. To some this is exhilarating; others terrifying. If you only want to see things that appeal to you there will not be a city on the planet that will work for you, there may be a suburb of like minded people all with the same values for you, or better still a gated community…. In a city we all have to take the crass with the classy, the cheap with the flashy…. The great news is that a city is always dynamic, well thriving ones are. There are ways that this area could be changed but they have to be real organic ones not some bylaw forcing people out. And anyway these shops serve a market and will just move- is that all that matters- that they aren’t opposite from the Town Hall and councillors have to see them?

        Fix the St James as part of a convention centre without pokie machines, get the cars out of Queen, forming a cultural zone from Aotea.Town Hall, Art Gallery, St James: watch the rents go up and the trinket shops go off to revitalise another struggling area.

        • I see your point about creating quality environments hence the need for quality retail. Again Queen St is our window to the world. I’m also for letting areas ebb and flow without pigeonholing them. This is why I find “cultural zones” stupid and offensive. I think people get caught up in their PCness and think this is a race issue. It’s a quality issue.

          My fear is some of these retail developments appear to be freehold taking up valuable space making it more difficult to convert in the future. I just hope this won’t be another regret we have to live with and then conveniently blame the council.

      • walkablecity

        When I first arrived in NZ over 13 years ago the “window to the world” was nearly empty, aside from glue sniffers, people throwing up, and rubbish. I remember thinking that coming to NZ was a poor decision. I lived in the CBD and there was nowhere, aside from the DEKA, to buy food. Fast forward 10+ years on and it’s another world, somewhere I’m proud to take visitors, and enjoy spending time.

  • morecityplease

    The emergence of these micro retail stores is one of the best things to happen in the cbd. Consider them indicators of the increasing amenity being provided to the people on the street. Cars have been slowed, better pedestrian crossings provided and exploding PT usage combine to accommodate the huge population of students, residents and business people. Of course the streetscape is first class, but by simply accommodating people over cars, businesses emerge to meet the pent up demand. This is how cities work and increasingly how we need to capture economic value in Auckland.

    • Are they really one fo the best thing that’s happened to the city? Do they draw me in? No. Are most of them empty? Yes. What has drawn me to the city is the improved quality shops eg North Face, improved cityscape, Britomart precinct, Wynnard Quarter, exciting restaurants, bars and cafes, etc etc.

      • morecityplease

        Maybe it’s a difference between what “draws” people vs what serves people. There is already a huge, captive market that is only now being valued and accommodated. I know some people would like a Pottery Barn or North Face but for people that choose to live and spend time in the city it is these everyday amenities that are most important. Empty? I have a photo of the kebab shop with a line out the door.

      • Stu Donovan

        Again, all I can say is that it’s not all about you. As for whether they are empty: If there’s no demand for these shops then they will disappear; market forces at work.

        From what I know City Centre vacancy rates are fairly much within their historical levels, which is especially pleasing given the current macro-economic conditions.

  • Peter M

    Old habits die hard for Brewer. He spent years criticising the CBD when heading up the Newmarket Business Association and still hasn’t got over it.

  • Tom

    Name-calling is a sure way to improve your credibility and help get your message across. Good job

    • Stu Donovan

      As pointed out in both my postscript to the post and my comments earlier in this thread I would normally prefer to play the ball rather than the man. In this case, however, Brewer == issue; Brewer alone is pushing this crazy bandwagon. And for that he deserves to be called out.

      By the way, the credibility of the post stands on the strength of it’s arguments, not whether you like its message. Sometimes the truth hurts, and all I hope is that by (somewhat harshly) calling Brewer out he will, in the future, reflect more carefully on his responsibilities as an elected official. That is, he needs to:

      1. Get his facts straight before taking a strong position on important issues;
      2. Not take positions that are in contradiction to his stated values;
      3. Not take positions solely in order to score political points;
      4. Not impose his upper-class preferences on everyone else.

      That’s the guts of the post, and I think it’s fairly credible.

  • Sanctuary

    I think Brewer would like to imagine Queen Street as a sweeping canyon of steel and glass, full of towering temples of finance, haute cuisine restaurants catering to braying suits of the long lunch trade and sumptuous, sleek designer stores you buzz to enter. Such a vision would certainly fit with his upper-class Remuera-esque world view.

    But the problem is his view is at odds with the reality of New Zealand in 2012. New Zealand is a low-income country where many Asians who live downtown (students, struggling small business owners etc) are over-represented in lower end of the income stats. The $2 stores, dairies, discount marts, trinket sellers, budget eateries and hawkers that infest our old, non-mall shopping strips (including Queen Street) are an accurate reflection of the level of disposable incomes the vast majority of New Zealanders old and new have. $10.00 for a curry for dinner in a food hall? Yup! Louis Vuitton store? No so much.

    Queen street’s retailing profile also reflects the fact that while Auckland population is growing, it’s average income is not growning at the same rate. In other words, we might have more people in the city but the money to spend on consumption is not growing at the same pace. Thus, retail in Auckland is a bit of a zero sum game. Opening of the new Viaduct development dealt a blow that Parnell’s bars and restaurants have not fully recovered from; the Britomart & the Wynard developments will finish off Parnell, have emptied many Ponsonby bars and threatens High Streets high fashion primacy.

    The CRL will help downtown, because more convenient PT will bring people to the newly fashionable areas down on the waterfront between Beaumont street and Britomart place. But Cr. Brewer would do well to spend less time attacking the retail consequences of the economic policies his political ideology firmly embraces and more time wondering about how to ensure the rise of downtown is purchased at the cost of retail in other parts of the city.

  • Luke

    I think you are being a little kind to the developers, and put a bit too much blame on the council. Having the apartments built was a great development for the CBD, however too many were of low quality (not talking about size). The issue was many were built to sell to gullible investors and not designed to be lived in. Therefore many have poor aesthetics, and dreadful street interaction. This is especially true of the Hobson/Nelson ones. I think this would have been done regardless as builders wanted to cut costs to the bone. The council needs to ensure the developers spend that extra 1% to make the city look much nicer. I do also think these apartments have made the argument for medium density housing harder as the general population looks to the worst of the shoeboxes as an idea of what the council and ourselves would like.

    • Peter M

      Are those Hobson Street apartments empty though? If not, then obviously they’re providing a useful niche in the market for renters.

      I tend to think they’re an architectural failure rather than a planning failure.

      • They’re certainly a Council consent failure: The then City Council could easily have ameliorated much that is bad about them from an Urban Design point of view if not an Architectural one. For example the grilled carparking at the ground floor should never have been allowed; they could have been made to have active street frontages. They also could have not consented external circulation… and so on.

        But for the future a key change will be de-motorway Hobson and Nelson which will return greater value to the whole area.

    • You can’t blame the builders for those, they only build what is on the plans and have no say in the design or specification. It’s the developers who are to blame, and perhaps more so the council and government. Except in a real top end market you can expect a developer to do the bare minimum they can while still selling properties, they are there to make money and make money only. That is why we need good regulations to shape what that bare minimum is.

      Anyway, I don’t think all is lost. With a major streetscape upgrade in the area (i.e. two waying) you’ll have a much more pleasant area sandwiched between the CBD core and the revitalised Victoria Park – Rubarb Lane precinct. Over time that will lead to improved values, better frontage utilization and new, better quality developments. In the future we might even see those “shoeboxes” as an asset, a large stock of affordable housing right in the CBD leading to a diverse range of residents.

      I think the only thing worse that a CBD full of only cheap undersized apartments is a CBD full of only large unaffordable ones.

  • James B

    I went to both Glenfield Mall and Albany Mall on the weekend and the one thing I took away from the experience was cheapness. Glenfield Mall has a few $2 dollar shops and cheap chain stores. The menswear options consisted of Meccano, Hallensteins or Farmers. Excite. Albany was better but not by much. Sure the shops were bigger but the selection was crap.

  • KLK

    I was in Auckland a few weeks back and, for the first time in about 2yrs, got the chance to take a (very brief) walk down Queen St. Its definitely moved on from the last time I was there in terms of the make-up of shops. There didn’t seem to be as many of the “cheap” stores and in fact, I thought there was quite a good mix which, as many have pointed out above, ensure a wide variety of people are attracted to the street. Sure, its still got a way to go, most notably in terms of attracting some more high end stores like Gucci etc. But its headed in the right direction.

    Many like to make a comparison between Queen St and malls. Just what have malls got (other than free parking and a K-mart) that Queen St hasn’t in terms of stores? I saw Farmers (I think), the womens chains like Glassons, men’s like Hallensteins as well as the obligatory Canterbury, pharmacies, Whitcoulls, Kathmandu/North Face/Macpac etc. Seemed to me that Queen St had everything Silvia park (for example) does, and more(e.g Champions of the World, Gucci, etc)

    It definitely needs to attract high end retail but this is a challenge anywhere – though maybe Britomart will dominate that sector?. And it goes without saying that a high end (e.g. David Jones) dept store (complete with high end underground food area) would add immense value, though we may have to wait for Westfields plans for lower Queen St for that. The other thing is restaurants and cafes. I didn’t notice too many of quality that were street facing. Perhap if Queen St was pedestrianised we would see more attracted to the area no doubt, with the chance to expand seating onto the street.

    But overall, I thought Queen St was definitely much improved, very busy (and it was a Saturday) and, with things like pedestrianisation, has a very bright future.

  • Ben

    Cameron Brewer is one negative councillor who disagrees with just about everything that is proposed for the long term best interests of Auckland. I so regret voting for him in the last election.

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