Matt’s recent post on running patterns for the Manukau Branch line uncovered a fairly polarised set of views on operating this new station. So I thought it might be useful to a look at the situation in wider context and ask- Why is Manukau such a problem?
Manukau City was planned and begun in the 1960s as a greenfields urban centre on the auto-dependant dispersed city model as the best and most modern way to meet Auckland’s postwar growth. It’s location and form is the result of thinking that we still hear today, sometimes in the comments stream on this blog, that instead of bothering to improve existing city centres we should actively spread employment and habitation out across ‘empty’ farmland. This is not an easy thing to do; at least not well and on the cheap. It is generally accepted [although less so during this period] that the best urban places are accretive, are the result of accident and evolution, gain a complexity through growth over time; having in their forms signs of the forces that founded and sustain them. Through cycles of triumph, decline, and stasis.
Well here’s what we got when we tried pretty hard to invent a new urban centre somewhere whose only discernible feature was a nascent but ever growing motorway. Nonetheless everything was done to make it work; in particular local government moved there, even all sorts of central government departments were sent to try to make it happen. Which is how there came to those self-consciously out scale buildings popping up in the paddocks [somehow seeming both too tall and too squat]:
The big idea was to escape what was considered the dreadful constriction of the old city and be nice and handy by car to new low density suburbia. It was classic Modernist planning; build an ideal place from scratch, not quite a Brasilia or Canberra of course; it was to be much smaller and had to be much cheaper. And of course nothing on the scale or ambition that has subsequently been done in China. Although there were attempts at the heroic architecture all the same; especially the white Council buildings by 1970s star Neville Price, with their cool Clockwork Orange vibe. Manukau City Centre didn’t exactly boom despite this top down help. But slowly the paddocks were emptied of cows and filled with carparking:
The only supported movement system was road based, the Centre was carefully sited away from the already existing rail line, unlike the earlier more organically arising south Auckland centres like Manurewa and Papakura [among the busiest stations now, after Britomart and Newmarket]. The construction of ever more driving and parking amenity has been constant in Manukau and continues today. The new Manukau City Council enthusiastically promoted this philosophy, this is still apparent today in the total lack of any transit corridors within the old MCC boundaries as far as I know, with the possible exception of the planted median of Te Irirangi Drive, and why the area is host to the busiest non state Highway road in the country- the unlovely six lane Pakuranga highway.
It is also why Auckland Transport has just built this:
Yes that’s right, a multi level car parking building set in a sea of at grade car parking amid the broad sweeping roads [note street angle parking too]. They built it because they inherited this project from the old MCC, who wanted it why? The same Manukau Council who voted against the train station actually reaching the Centre itself, instead leaving it perched on the edge, for cost reasons they said. Of course, everything is going to park and circulate those cars, the most inefficient and expensive way to order movement in a city [“Transit based cities spend around 5% to 8% of their wealth on transportation but auto-dependent ones range from 12% to19%” Resillient Cities 2009 Neuman, Beatley, + Boyer ]. Here it is:
There is a lot to see on this aerial. The sheer quantity of parking, the massive, ongoing, and land gobbling roadworks. The the only decent green space [Hayman Park- named after Manukau Council's first Planner!] is completely severed from the Centre itself and is still diminishing, including encroachment by the Train Station with the Tertiary Centre on top. The next biggest greenspace is a triangle kindly left over from the massive traffic engineering of the motorway interchange, dutifully mown and of no use to anyone. So this is the new ideal world that the car made….
But back to our new 680 space, 14 million dollar investment. Of course it’s empty:
And it is absolutely wrong as an urban building in almost every detail: It is setback in own lake of asphalt, greeting the windswept footpath with a high security fence, so no shops or other civilising amenity at street level. Really can we believe that there is the commercial demand here to fill this thing. Remember all the other buildings provide their legal supply of car parking due to the Council’s own Minimum Parking Regulations. There are a couple of apartment buildings nearby, but they have their own floors of parking. In fact walking around, it is pretty clear that parking is the one thing that Manukau does to any degree of thoroughness. Outside of the mall itself it’s a very lonely place for the pedestrian. Dreary.
Perhaps a little less than proud of this thing AT don’t mention it on their website’s list of completed projects. I did find some quotes from AT’s major projects manager Rick Walden in a Manukau Courier article about the need for this thing:
“The carpark is in a strategic location and future development of the site will attract a mixed use of commercial and retail business to the area.”
“It will also free up ground level land currently leased for parking, allowing the sites to be developed.”
Really? I wonder how much we will have to subsidise any move into the building for these parkers to bother? And don’t forget all that angle parking we [AT] also provide on the newly upgraded roads above, with cheap to free rates.
The Courier also notes:
The new tertiary campus, Manukau rail link and workers in the area will also benefit, Mr Walden says.
The work will include an upgrade to the nearby Ronwood Ave intersection to ease traffic movement through the area.
Park-and-ride options for the new Manukau station and other sites are still under consideration.
It really does make you wonder…. even AT seem to think we need to drive to a train station in an urban centre to use it! Are they mad? We didn’t build Manukau Station to host fun rides for the kiddies. It’s for getting to and from a place- it’s transport. Isn’t the whole idea that Manukau City is actually a destination, a place in itself, not just a distant carpark for the CBD? Yet here they seem to be half trying to think of it as a park’n'ride peripheral. Maybe if the parking was so cheap and train so cheap it might be worth driving here to get to the city but that looks like a pretty poor idea on so many levels, not least of which is the poor land use, low quality of place attributes, and appalling waste of our money so desperately needed elsewhere.
I’m sure the statements above are just a bunch of half baked post-justifications for a project they somehow had to do after it was dreamed up by some Manukau City traffic planners. Nothing from those perennial complainers Quax and Brewer I note. Of course; it’s a car park. And no doubt Quax voted for it, as he voted against the Train Station.
What is especially galling is that wide areas of asphalt parking do at least retain flexibility for potentially valuable fuutre uses, like apartment blocks or offices but to waste one on this building when there is clearly no demand and to design it in such an anti-social and place-denying way is a disaster.
So in order to answer my own question above: How to solve a problem place like Manukau? Here’s a start: STOP OVER-BUILDING DRIVING AND PARKING AMENITY. Remember; what you feed grows. And that goes for the rest of the city too.
And we really need to think long and hard about where we rush off and sprawl to next, on existing Transit corridors is a good place to start; as well as filling some existing and poorly occupied parts of the city rather than freshly ruining more productive farmland.
Postscript: It could be even worse; there was going to be another one, even bigger; with 2000 spaces [plus an option to add 500 more!], costing $24 million, this time eating up more of the Mr Hayman’s Park: And expressly planned to be a park’n'ride. Len does not come well out of the Herald report on this:
Auckland Mayor and former Manukau Mayor Len Brown, who has made improving public transport his top priority, supports the carpark.
In a statement, he said it was part of the Manukau transport hub, which combines rail, park and ride, commercial and retail facilities, and a campus for the Manukau Institute of Technology.
“It’s the kind of integrated development we need in our region and will help transform the Manukau community,” he said.
It looks like another case of the Mayor trying to please everybody, like how he seems to support all the massive plans of the road lobby that are frankly incompatible with his aim to transform Auckland’s away from total auto-dependency. Mike Lee does better:
Auckland Council transport committee chairman Mike Lee said he had been given no information about the carpark and was puzzled why it was costing so much.
Mr Lee, who is also on the Auckland Transport board, was unsure why the carpark was needed with the Manukau train station about to open.
Since this article sanity has prevailed and this project has quietly been halted. The Herald also dryly notes:
The city of Manukau has developed largely around the private motor car and has been slow to adopt public transport. For example, it has 3km of bus lanes compared with Auckland City’s 36km network of bus lanes.
Of course these two things are not unconnected: As we have observed on this site many times it matters enormously what you don’t build as well as what you do, not only because we can not afford to build everything but because what is invested in incentivises behaviour and shapes our world.
Manukau City was conceived and built in another age and only for the car, it’s going to take quite a while to rework its anti-human qualities. The tentative arrival of the Train Station, along with its soon to be connecting bus routes are a start, but we are really going to have to get more serious about kicking the old car subsidising habits too to really improve the commercial and social intensity here.