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Is High St a lost cause?

Over the last few years there’s been a lot of teeth gnashing over what to do with High St. The success of Britomart, the shared spaces and the emergence of Wynyard have started to drain it’s prestige (and high profile retailers). Hopefully work on turning O’Connell St into a shared space will start soon (although I’m not hopeful based on what I’m hearing). One of the problems with High St seems to be that there are a few noisy retailers that are so afraid of change – even change that will benefit them – that they oppose it.

Yesterday Metro has published an article that was in the magazine in November 2012 on exactly this issue and it really underlines some of the immense stupidity that some of those noisy retailers have. It starts off by highlighting some of the problems that High St has.

Here’s what happens in High St. First thing every weekday morning, service vans enter the street and fill up half the parks. They’re not delivery vehicles, they belong to tradespeople working in nearby shops and offices. They have council-issued permits to park there all day.

From mid-morning, a steady stream of shoppers drives into High St, which is one-way heading south, looking for a park. They turn left into Freyberg Place, left again into O’Connell St, which is one way north, then down Shortland St, turn once more into High, and on it goes. Many of them go round and round; a few get lucky, more don’t, and they give up and drive away.

High St is the heart of what is supposed to be Auckland’s premier shopping precinct, and it’s got problems. Parking, sure. And a whole lot more. Three high-profile fashion retailers moved out a few months ago and set up new shops in Britomart. Others, on High St and in the Chancery complex, have followed them out of the precinct and several shops remain empty. Earthquake strengthening is due for many buildings, which impacts on tenancy security and rentals, and the heritage status of some is also uncertain. The fast-growing student precinct nearby has changed the makeup of the local population.

It goes on. The recessed strip of shops and cafes under Metropolis and the council carpark at the Victoria St end is dark, dreary and under-patronised. The whole south end of the street is ugly and uninviting. The stonework in Freyberg Square (the square is the public space; Freyberg Place is the street running through it) is wearing away and needs to be replaced. O’Connell St, despite being home to several cool little boutiques and good restaurants, is bleak.

I would add to that list that the footpaths are too narrow and if you’re with someone it almost certainly means walking single file killing any chance of conversation or enjoying the area. I’d much rather stroll down a shared space that walk along High St and I’m guessing a lot of other people feel that way too.

High St

Cars rule in High St

The article contains a lot of are a lot of theories and finger pointing from retailers on what’s affecting High St from the economy to online shopping to that perennial boogie man of the large suburban malls like St Lukes. It’s even suggested that the fact Britomart (the development not the station) has valet parking is contributing to the issues (why can’t the High St retailers fund a valet service using the Victoria St carpark).

But what can be done to improve the area. The council is meant to be turning O’Connell into a shared space and upgrading Freyberg Square, the response:

Chris Cherry is not happy. “Fort St and Elliott St were dogburgers,” he says. “But High St isn’t broken and turning O’Connell St into shared space is the thin end of the wedge. O’Connell St is worthy of preservation as it is. It’s a point of difference.”

John Courtney disagrees with Cherry on this. “O’Connell St is a dark carpark. You still need to drive through, but let’s move some of the cars out.” He’s looking forward to the shared space and says the four restaurants there now, including his own, Kitchen in Hotel DeBrett, are all keen to create an Imperial Lane-style experience.

How anyone can suggest that O’Connell St is worth preserving as it is now is just crazy. Like High St it’s lined by cars but with even worse footpaths and it actively turns people and therefore shoppers away.

O'Connell St

O’Connell St

It continues

Any chance of a pedestrian mall, with service vehicles limited to early morning? Apparently not. Retailers, even after nearly 50 years of the successful experience of Vulcan Lane, are dead against them. Chris Cherry is so vehement, he says that if the vehicles-free zone of Vulcan Lane turned the corner into High St — that’s the corner his shop is on — he’d be “out of there tomorrow”.

Cherry, like most of the other retailers I spoke to, doesn’t like shared spaces either. “Show me a city anywhere in the world where they work,” he says.

To which, DeBrett’s Michelle Deery, who does like them, responds:  “Covent Garden.”

Cherry says Covent Garden is “different because of its scale — it’s got a whacking great Tube station right in the middle of it. And it’s got all those attractions.”

When I told Campbell-Reid about this, he kind of stiffened and looked away. “If you create shared spaces you can put in the attractions. Where do shared spaces work? Only everywhere.”

Including here. A just-released analysis of Fort St by the council shows pedestrian numbers up by 50 per cent, with consumer spending up by 65 per cent overall and 400 per cent in the hospitality sector.

Fort St has been an outstanding success but the other shared spaces have been successful too. As is pointed out in the article, perhaps part of the problem is actually the retailers themselves not being open at the right times. It’s the next part that really made me go wow.

To Chris Cherry, the biggest problem is those service vehicles clogging up the parking. And it’s an easy fix: all they need to do is give the tradespeople permits to use the council parking building.

Cherry, Murray Crane and Heather Gerbic share a strategic goal which is diametrically opposed to Ludo Campbell-Reid’s: they want to make the street more attractive for cars.

Elliott St, says Cherry, can have its shared space — it was “a dog” anyway. “High St’s not a dog. It needs protecting. People coming into High St are coming past Ponsonby and past Newmarket. They’re coming for that special old-fashioned experience.”

What he means is the ability to drive right into the street, park there and shop. Crane even told me High St should be a “thoroughfare”.

To be honest I can’t even see how you could make it even more attractive to cars. Also just what is the “special old-fashioned experience”? Even if you could get more people driving and parking in High St, it’s unlikely to actually have an impact on the businesses. This is because the figures from the councils study into O’Connell St – which I assume would produce similar results to High St – showed that most people shopping in the street got there by some other method than driving and parking in the street. Even more interesting was that of those that did park in the street, most were going somewhere other than O’Connell St.

I do agree that tradespeople can be an issue but they also need to be accommodated in the city and many have/need vans that simply can’t fit in carparking buildings (not that it means they need to be on High St)

As for the disagreement with the council’s plans:

Cameron Brewer relishes this. He clearly doesn’t see eye to eye with Campbell-Reid on the role of cars in the inner city and says he would “hate to see High St become a shared space. Part of its attraction is its European flavour. It’s busy with cars. Drivers have to play Russian roulette. It’s quite gritty like that.”

Really? We want a street for Russian roulette? Brewer reflects on this. “Perhaps it should be a kind of shared space. If you took away the kerbs but still allowed people to park there, that wouldn’t be so bad.”

Perhaps someone should have told Brewer that shared spaces came from Europe. The only people playing Russian roulette are the pedestrians who want to cross the road, even at the crossings, especially if a driver happens to spot a free carpark up ahead.

It’s not mentioned too much in this article but some people love to compare the plight of not just High St but the CBD and town centres to success of the suburban malls. They point out the masses of parking outside them and assume that to be successful that they have to have parking outside their shops too. What I find both comical and sad about it is that one of the things that makes mall so successful isn’t that people can drive to them but that people can’t drive through them. Ultimately malls are just the equivalent of pedestrian only streets. I suspect that in many ways malls were simply a response to us having turned so much of our CBD and town centres over to the movement and storage of cars.

Sadly despite this article being over a year old, I have heard that many of the views mentioned haven’t changed and the retailers are still fighting any change to High St as well as O’Connell St. If they get their way then High St will likely be a lost cause for some time to come because at the end of the day people buy stuff, not cars.

CCMP High St potential

A shared space idea from the Cty Centre Master Plan

Read the full story in metro.

48 comments to Is High St a lost cause?

  • Can’t the council wave the finger at them and just do it? You have to consult, I get that, but you don’t have to take every loon seriously, surely?

  • Ari

    LOL. Cameron Brewer. He just likes naysaying anything other than the status quo and not having any good ideas of his own.

  • Bryce P

    Here is a photo of O’Connell that I took a few weeks ago while working there. It is 5:30 am and we had the street closed for filming. Just a truck and a ute in there. It was nice to be able to amble along the street. You get to appreciate the wonderful old buildings from the centre of the street. Quite nice. https://onedrive.live.com/redir?resid=F31283F46AE7B673!11959&authkey=!ACxOFnpwdCtLrZ8&v=3&ithint=photo%2c.jpg

  • Craig

    Cameron Brewer should be given the dunce cap and be told to stand in the corner of High Street indefintely.

  • Craig

    Cameron Brewer should be given the d-unce cap and be told to stand in the corner of High Street indefintely.

  • Ian Auld

    Having worked in this area for a number of years, I Judy can’t understand the opposition to pedeatriansing High St. How many carparks are there on the street and howany people actually use them to shop

    • conan

      Good question! More to the point how many people drive to the city expecting to find a park right outside the place they are going? Maybe that is what Chris Cherry means when he says ‘They’re coming for that special old-fashioned experience.’ His he planning to do the dairy owner approach of standing outside his store chasing away people trying to park on the 10 mins parks without looking like they are coming to his store?

      • Walkablecity

        Ugh. I don’t cross High St to get to Chris Cherry’s Workshop store because of the “old-fashioned (car dodging) experience”. Interestingly, I asked a Karen Walker salesperson at the new Britomart location, formerly on O’Connell St, what she thought. She loved all the activity and that people are so relaxed at Britomart. She also mentioned that it is much safer than on O’Connell St where there had been a serious security risk, assault and theft.

  • O’Connell Street according to Ludo Campbell-Reid from last year’s Fort Street Tour (with the Mayor) was meant to start next month. Might flick an email to the BEU (Built Environment Unit) to see if it is still going ahead.
    As for High Street – JUST DO for heavens sake or just let the area die as it has pretty much already owing to it being an unattractive traffic sewer.

    As for Brewer – expected – such a yawn

  • conan

    It would be interesting for the retailers to actually ask their customers how they got to store that day. You’d suspect that quite a few of them would be on foot from their office/place of study/inner city home. Chris Cherry talks of people coming from Ponsonby and through Parnell. He has stores in both of those locations so not sure what issue he’s trying to highlight here.

    The Britomart area shows how stores like theirs can work in a pedestrian focussed area (though I do wonder why Garret and Tyler st aren’t shared spaces east of Commerce St without parking- the number of parks provided are tiny and the cars cruising for parks annoying. There’s a massive parking building a couple of hundred metres away). The valet parking is genius- the area caters for multiple modes really well without domination by one. Shows what a bit of vision can do.

  • Chris D

    Are all of the retailers on high street against the shared space? Or just a few vocal relics? Let’s just build it right under their service delivery trucks and ship them out on the next electric train to Newmarket, then they can have their great old fashioned experience, cars and all.

  • Sacha

    Why would a gaggle of clothes designers get the final say? They clearly don’t know much about designing cities. Just ignore the twats and get on with it.

  • Gary Young

    Between 2005 and 2010 Brewer was the chief executive of the Newmarket Business Association. I wonder if he still has a vested interest in opposing any shopping developments that could potentially draw customers away from Newmarket.

    As for the shop owners who are holding up renewal of High Street, well, if they want to shoot themselves in the foot in a commercial sense why not just allow them to fail. Once they have packed up and gone modernisation can begin.

  • Ian Auld

    Sorry about the ridiculous typos etc. Was on my phone on the train to work.

  • Oh my God. I just want to find these people (Cherry, Crane, Gerbit) and bang their heads together.

    Seriously if you think malls are so awesome, f_____g move your shops to Botany already.

  • JohnP

    Are shared spaces successful? PINZ pedestrian counts on Elliot Street answer that. 2008 534, 2009 507, 2010 470, 2011 470 and 2012 876. Most streets in the CBD show a decline from 2009 to 2012 but Elliot St is up 72%.

  • I think Matt has hit the nail on the head here. Why do people like malls? Normally the first thing you her is “acres of free parking”. Bit I thnk the fact they are car free is probably more important. You can shop and browse without dodging cars and sucking in fumes from poorly maintained plumbers vans. You have a pedestrian only boulevard twenty metres wide or more, not corralled into a 1m wide strip littered with poles and garbage bins. You can sit in a cafe or pop up store right in the middle of the mall ‘street’ and watch the world go by.
    Would a mall let people drive up the middle and park in front of shops close enough to bang on the window? Would a mall have a two lane carpark exit spewing cars onto the main galleria? No, sounds ridiculous… But that is exactly what High St has!

    High St has a heap of parking, and it’s cheap/ the Victoria St carpark is $3 an hour on weekdays and $2 an hour on weekends. Sure that isn’t free, but it’s cheaper than parking in street and I’m sure the visitors to those boutiques can afford the price do a latte for two hours parking.

    The retailers need to get behind shared spaces to give their clients the convenience of what malls offer but better, a comfortable open car free space to enjoy in a unique historic urban environment. Screw the teaser parking of having people drive round and round in burst ration, just tell them to go straight to the building for Cheap and bountiful parking an elevator ride away.

    If they are really serious they should advocate the closure of the high st carpark exit, and have it on Kitchener instead.

  • This actually makes me want to protest.

    • Stu Donovan

      yeah me too. Why don’t we arrange a protest march up and down High Street? Ironically it would require the street be closed off to traffic.

  • It seems even the critics dont believe their own rehtoric (from the Metro article):

    “I asked Chris Cherry if he really thinks the future of inner-city retailing relies on customers being able to park right outside the shop. He sighed and shrugged and said no. But, he added, “It’s hugely important that we do this as an evolution.” The only thing that needs to evolve here is him and the other urban neanderthals.

    It is amazing that after the success of all the shared spaces and pedestrian streets that this discussion is still taking place. And when did driving your car to a shop become “old fashioned”?

    Cameron Brewer must be the most irrelevant politician in Auckland. The guy has never had a positive idea in his entire political career – all he does is criticise other people. If he thinks High Street is “European” then he must mean Bucharest – that city (regularly called the ugliest capital city in Europe, and rightly so) also ruined its main shopping street, Calea Victorie, but turning it into a throughfare. Now noone goes there.

    It is like stepping through the looking glass.

  • Chris O

    The retailers seem downright obsessed with the idea that people drive from the suburbs to shop in High Street. Instead of, you know, the TENS OF THOUSANDS of people working and studying within walking distance of High Street 5 days a week. If they fail or move elsewhere, they’ll complain the council didn’t do enough. I think the only people who use High Street for car parking are delivery vehicles (and the evidence from Fort Street shows that delivery drivers actually prefer the shared spaces because they don’t have to fight other users for parks during the delivery window).

    Plus the fact that they have a REALLY BIG PARKING BUILDING right at the end of the block.

    The North Face. Ben Sherman. Uggs. Lacoste. Coach. All high-end overseas fashion brands. All of them have chosen Fort Street / Jean Batten Place over High Street for their stores. The only major retailers I can remember moving into High Street are Peter Alexander and Bing Harris & Co (plus the new Coffee Club under Metropolis). There are quite a few cafes on High Street that would benefit from being able to spread their tables out into the street a bit more like in the other shared spaces – and the combination of eating and retail options would put High Street / O’Connell Street on par or ahead of the other shared spaces.

    Pedestrians would prefer a shared space. Couriers would prefer a shared space. DRIVERS would prefer a shared space (Can’t count the number of times I’ve seen traffic backed up on High Street because someone is entering / exiting / or blocking the street from, a parking space. The only people who appear against the idea are short-sighted retailers.

  • Exaucklanderinsydney

    I hate to say it but its almost like they deserve to go out of business with their attitude

  • Al C

    Acording to item 6 from yesterdays Central Business District Advisory Board meeting O’Connell St is due to start the first week of March: http://infocouncil.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz/Open/2014/02/CEN_20140226_AGN_5123_AT.PDF

  • Anthony McBride

    Those retailers are absolute f*cked up in the head. Might as well go ahead and install the shared spaces and then watch them sob like its the end of the world.

  • JimboJones

    The great thing is there are plenty of streets in Auckland that could do with being a shared space. Leave High Street and O’Connell street and spend the money on another area where the retailers have two brain cells to rub together. Same with Queen street – let it rot until these retailer associations work out their mistake and beg for forgiveness – although I think by then it will be too late and Britomart will be the main shopping area of Auckland.

  • JimboJones

    What’s happening with Osborne Street in Newmarket? Last time I was there it looked like the shared space was a bit of a fail. Maybe that’s why Cameron doesn’t like them (or maybe its because he’s a moron)

  • mv

    I personally don’t think High street should be a shared space, something about all the narrow old pathways and road gives it some personality. making it a shared space will change the dynamics of High street. perhaps just widen the sidewalks slightly on both sides and remove one row of car parks. Perhaps add 2 or so more crossings too in busy areas. I don’t mind shared spaces but I just feel that High St should remain as High St

  • Mostly a case of not being able to imagine things different to how they presently are. These retailers probably aren’t exposed to a lot of research as published on this blog and in other places. To them, cars still represent 4-wheeled ATMs.

    And Brewer playing his usual adversarial role.

    • Martin W

      Why not giving them what they want? Make queen street a pedestrian area and make High street as some like a two lane one way throughfare. Will see what they would propose then.

      • Martin W.

        sorry was on the phone so sent off to fast. It should read:

        Make Queen Street a pedestrian area, and High Street a two lane one way thoroughfare.

        • Loraxus

          If you remove the footpaths, three lanes one-way are fully possible there!

          Would serve the fools well*

          *(Of course it would also screw the majority of retailers there that would like shared space, or less cars – but it would be nice if they spoke up more with said views!)

  • The business owners in Vulcan Lane should be getting shitty at these noisy relics too. With them willingly killing High St, there are fewer pedestrians turning the corner down the hill into Vulcan Lane to stop for a drink. I mean they’ve already contributed to the demise of Rakinos, is Cherry a sadist?

  • SteveN

    It’s not like they even have to try and picture the end result. They can see it 5 mins away at Fort Street.

    (Their customers) coming past Parnell and Newmarket to High Street sounds like a coded message of “rich people don’t use public transport”.

    I am far more likely to spend more time shopping/spending if I am not worried about a) being run over by cars b) my parking meter running out.

    Will someone on this blog PLEASE run against Cameron Brewer at the next elections?

  • Sam

    I see the brave store had a closing down sale. Another victim of inaction

  • Simon

    One benefit of the status quo: providing unhelpful guidance to wombles trying to squeeze into too small parking space. Brewer (and Quax for that matter) aren’t NIMBYs, they’re NAMBYs – Not in Anyone’s Back Yard. They’d be more use to this city if they just went on holiday for the remainder of their term.

    • Sacha

      Be interesting if someone asked em where they’d most like to live in the world.

      • It wouldnt be so much “where” as “when”. The Auckland of 500,000 people with massively overbuilt motorways and 1/4 acre sections. A myth really but one they grew up believing in.

        • Stu Donovan

          No it did kind of exist here n Auckland – but at the same time Auckland was a failing city, economically and socially. One which offered few opportunities to its young people, so they left the country in droves for the more urban lifestyles on offer in cities like Melbourne, London, and Paris.

          Fast forward to 2014 and Auckland is fast becoming a city of opportunity, largely because of more informed council investment in things like public transport, Britomart/Wynyard, and shared streets. A city where not only where young kiwis might live, but also one where young people from around the world can be found. It’s not perfect, but it’s considerably better than it was.

          And here’s the key thing: *It’s busier*. The city centre has the fastest growing population rates in New Zealand. Cherry needs to think about that for a second before wondering about people driving in from Parnell and Newmarket (incidentally, if that’s where all his customers are coming from why not move there?!?).

          There’s simply more stuff going on in Auckland now than there was when Cherry et al set up shop. There’s more demand for retail space. There’s more demand for car-parks. There’s more demand for pedestrian space. Ironically given what Cherry wants, the one thing that here’s not more of is traffic: In many places in the city centre traffic has been flat or declining for a while now.

          Quite simply: The city is changing and it’s largely for the better. Cherry needs to accept this and stop moaning. And if the city centre really is changing in ways that don’t suit his product (which is a possibility) then he has two options: 1) change his product or 2) change his location.

          You would have thought that a business owner in an industry as dynamic as fashion would realise that shange is the only constant …

  • High St is not a lost cause, in fact it’s ripe for a re-birth.

    Some retrograde retailers and one Councillor [in particular] are lost causes however.

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