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Are we getting the Public Space Outcome at Britomart the City Needs?

One of best things Auckland is getting as a result of the great upgrade that is the City Rail Link is, at last, a proper urban public square in precisely the right place. The section of Lower Queen St in front of the grand old CPO that is now the Britomart train station, once void of all vehicles, will become the most important bit of paving in the city. Or at least it certainly has the potential to become the symbolic and functional starting point of the whole city: Not only will every protest or celebration will start or end there it is also where the city conceptually starts, down on the water’s edge. And out in front of a well used big public building that looks and feels enough like a northern european Rathaus, Italian Palazzo Publico, or north american City Hall, that relates to this public space way more successfully than our actual Town Hall ever has. That grand old ship of a building has always been rather closed off and remote, wedged up the hill too far from shore, with its entrance on the wrong side for the subsequently added public space.

Additionally it is certain to be full of people; they are delivered here everyday in ever increasing numbers by train, bus, and ferry. And in the 21st Century, I argue, the big Transit Centre is really the where the public interface with both each other and engage physically with local government in the way populations used to at Town Halls and big Post Offices. Those bureaucratic functions of city and state more usually take place online now, so the only routine way we collectively share that kind of interface is at the central station.

Central Post Office 1921

In fact I’ll go so far as to say that the new space, will it be know as Britomart Square?, will in fact help redeem the always awkward carpark roof that is Aotea Square, by giving it a balancing other self. These two places will act like the alpha and omega of the heart of Queen St, forming a shape like the cartoon drawing of a dog’s bone, or weights on a bar: in turn making this difficult-to-love gully floor into a more contained and bounded city spine. This, the flatter section of Queen St, will at last have somewhere to be from and to. Of course the redemption of Queen St also requires the painfully obvious removal of pointlessly circling lost private vehicles, a task that all our elected leaders and city apparatchiks have thus far failed to achieve, to the on going bewilderment of everyone. But I digress.

Now that Auckland is re-discovering the value of the urban public realm and is starting to reverse the decades of the ‘public squalor and private affluence’ philosophy imported from the US last century, a change that replacement of the dreadful and menacing downtown bus centre and carpark with the gleaming Britomart Train Station perfectly illustrates, it matters enormously how well this new public space is formed.

Britomart public realm

So here is the plan in its latest publicly released form. I am hearing rumours that the use of Galway and Tyler Sts for buses with them then entering the new public square as shown above may no longer be the plan; we can only hope that this is case. So apart from removing all [or almost all] vehicle traffic from lower Queen St the new public space is formed by the sale of the existing QEII Square to Precinct Properties who plan to rebuild the western street edge up to three stories [19m], as shown in the render below.

Lower Queen Street - public space and facade

With a promised kink to the current line of the old Air NZ building, now the HSBC building, being the only relief in the line of new glazed shop fronts facing and defining the Square’s western edge.

Downtown Open Space Options Report - Possible open space

The plan above identifies some waterside options [A, B, + C] for new public space that the Council is exploring to replace the loss of QEII square. Improvement and increase to these areas would all be welcome, and of course we’ve already paid a fortune to buy Queen’s wharf from ourselves, yet none are really urban civic public spaces like the piazza being promised here. Lower Queen St, D, was always public space, like every road. And in fact has been a people space [ie without traffic] at various times in the past:

CPO 1980s

CPO 1980s

This is a condition I can remember and was about as successful as the dreary and shaded QEII Square it connected to, but at least the unbuilt expanse of QEII Square meant in the afternoon once the shadow of the then Air NZ building moved onto Quay St it was sunny and bright.

Architect and urbanist Graeme Scott, Chair of the Urban Design Forum, fears we could be making another sub-optimal public place here with this current plan but also believes that with a relatively minor hack the potential shortcomings could be substantially improved. In his submission to the Private Plan modification to rezone QEII Square last November he writes:

 

Graeme Scott_01 Graeme Scott_02

So rather than the ‘pedestrianised street’ as proposed in the Council and Precinct deal an actual Square in shape, and critically one that doesn’t increase the shading problems already caused by the HSBC building, this is achieved by restricting the new building on the downtown site back to the line of the current HSCB building:

Graeme Scott Plan

Where #21 is the existing Zurich House #1 is the HSBC, blue shading is the part to be built on by Precinct. Scott also feels the lane through to Albert St [Pink ] is too narrow on current plans so here it is shown at a 12m width. The resultant new public space [Green] is both less shaded and more complex and offering a section of north facing wall backing on to Zurich House which will be especially valuable in the morning and less susceptible to wind coming down Queen St.

This of course means less gross floor area for Precinct to use to get a return on their development and no doubt a renegotiation of the deal agreed to by Council last year would be required. But on this issue, without getting into specifics Scott says:

Graeme Scott_04

I find Scott’s arguments compelling.

First that it is very important we work hard to get this place right. I understand that the pressure to conclude a deal with Precinct over this site must have been furious, but now that the dust has settled I think it is time to take another look at the options and most importantly the public realm outcomes here. The plan change process is not complete, so while I’m sure the desire, especially by Precinct, to move forward as currently planned is no doubt strong, the public interest must be protected too, because, as Scott says, once it’s gone; it’s gone.

Second, his solution is looks both powerful and subtle; the essence of the deal remains, but the outcome is substantially improved for everyone.

*****Update: a couple of additional images showing the bulk of the scheme as currently planned [1]  and the variation proposed by Graeme Scott [2]:

Bulk of the current scheme

1. Bulk of the current scheme

 

2. Bulk of the Scott scheme

2. Bulk of the Scott scheme

 

72 comments to Are we getting the Public Space Outcome at Britomart the City Needs?

  • Steve

    Another insightful article so it feels churlish to ask if you have someone who can proofread these for you? 🙂 Right up to and including the last sentence (proving I read the whole thing)

  • Christopher T

    While they didn’t have the same colossal impact of the Euston Arch (demolished 1961), I’d rather like to see the flanking arches on the old CPO reinstated. They’d extend the façade of what you’ve rightly identified as a key public building in our urban landscape; and they’d put an end to this perennial fantasy of traffic engineers that Tyler and Galway Streets can be used as the bus equivalent of a rat run. Walking out of the current Britomart Transport Centre is always a uncomfortable thing as taxis and buses hurtle out of these flanking slots. We need to add a little civility to the area and I’d contend that reinstating these handsome features might well do that. And while I’m at it; why do landscape designers insist on slapping large rocks into the middle of these renders. You don’t see this egregious feature in successful public spaces anywhere else in the world. Totally redundant and dysfunctional.

    • Nick R

      It’s not a traffic planners fantasy Christopher, more like a bus planners unfortunate reality. There is a finite amount of land downtown, and particularly a finite amount of streets and kerb space for buses.

      We need bus stops, those ones bring in thousands of people a day, and we need them well located where they can serve passengers properly and work for reliable and efficient operations.

      A simple question then, if not in Tyler and Galway Streets then where do those buses go? It’s very hard to find a piece of kerb that isn’t already occupied by buses, loading zones or riddled with vehicle accesses, especially not one that gives you a stop close to where people want to go.

      Remember this is in the context of already removing eight major bus stops from lower Queen St, where are another four supposed to go?

      • Anthony

        Double decker buses make an underground terminal even harder. I thought a lot of the bus routes are to be redirected to Aotea? Thus freeing up space around Britomart.

    • Gibbo

      Agree about the arches, I wasn’t aware they had previously existed. Adding them back and removing the traffic would be a great visual way to turn Tyler and Galway streets back into Laneways

      • The arches led of course to the train terminus, in pretty much exactly the same place they are again now, only previously they were at grade and steam trains, until removed in 1930 and replaced by the bus station and car parking building. An interesting aerial view here from the 20s:

        http://timespanner.blogspot.co.nz/2013/01/aucklands-waterfront-from-air-1920s.html

        • Nick R

          The arches lasted until the Mercure hotel was built, presumably some time in the 60s. Well the Galway arch was removed when they demolished the building it was attached to to build the Mercure, and the Tyler arch was demolished at the same time to even it up.

          • Grant

            Great pic that. Slightly off topic but relates to the way finding post as well. I have previously been confused which is Galway or Tyler St when in a hurry transferring and noticed it seems there are no signs for these streets any more at the front of Britomart?? Can someone confirm this? An old street view shows one at least, from memory I had a look a while back.

  • Dan C

    once it’s gone; it’s gone.

    Isn’t it already gone? Has the sale not gone through already?

    • Correct.
      As is the way our council do things. And remember: what ever money Precinct pays the Council for QEII Square is effectively given back to Precinct for using their land for the CRL anyway.

  • George D

    Too late. They rushed through the deal with much cheerleading. It is done now, unless you want to pay tens of millions of dollars.

    • Not quite George, as I say in the post the plan change is not final and is being opposed by various groups, led I think by the Architectural Association. And remember it was the architects in he 70s who tried to get Air NZ house moved accurately pointing out how suboptimal it would render the public space of QEII Square. There is no small irony in the failed nature of the previous plan being used to repeat the sort of outcome; particularly through environmental effects of wind and shade.

      • Not withstanding my reply to Dan C above, I hope you’re right Patrick. My only fear is that if there is a change it will cost a lot of money. I doubt Precinct would accept it other wise.

        • Yes they would need some kind of compensation. Perhaps additional height on the western side of the mall? Anyway cost always needs to be weighed in the context of value, and we have some $28m [?] from Precinct in exchange for QEII Square to be used for new public space in the vicinity. As Graeme Scott points out that really needs to be used to acquire that high quality space not in construction on some site we already have; that is an entirely different sort of spending.

          • SDW

            Knowing they had to go through the plan change process, I doubt there would be a requirement for Council to compensate precinct should the plan change fail as a result of opposition groups successfully challenging the plan change.

      • Early Commuter

        The issue isn’t the design per se it’s the privatisation of public spaces.

        We should be turning QE2 square into a glorious square of monuments: Freyberg, Park, “The Kip”, perhaps even some sporting stars of yesteryear – Cowie, Nepia, W.Hadlee etc.

  • Guy

    It is important for the bus traffic coming out of Tyler and Galway to find a new home, as that step alone will help the Square work (or not, if it isn’t removed). As long as you have major bus routes dribbling through the pedestrian crowds in an otherwise perfectly pedestrian public space, it’ll stop it looking / feeling like public space. But where will they go instead? Having all the buses queue up along Customs and Quay instead, will just succeed in walling off the Square from the rest of the city. Personally, to me anyway, it would be best if bus waiting areas were kept just to Albert St and (I know some won’t like this), Commerce St.

    Scott’s comments about the sun reaching into the Square are important too – vitally important, and something that has been lamented ever since Air NZ built their bloody building there (now HSBC #1) and took away all the sun. I totally agree that the line of new buildings should be kept back – but judging by the WaM render, this is way too late. Auckland will just have to continue having what it has always had, namely a half-arsed attempt at public space.

  • Joel Cayford

    Comments to the effect the sale of QE Square is complete and it’s done and dusted are misinformed. Auckland Architectural Association (AAA), and other incorporated socities including Urban Auckland (successful in judicial review of Bledisloe Wharf extension), Civic Trust Auckland and Auckland CBD Residents Advisory Group, have lodged an appeal against Private Plan Change 79. This plan change was aimed at changing the zoning on QE Square from Public Open Space to a zoning that would enable the land to be sold and developed commercially to a height of 19 metres out the edge of Lower Queen Street. The appeal was lodged 4th March. The s274 period ended just after Easter (when the parties mentioned above formally gave notice they supported the appeal). A judicial conference has been called for by the parties to the appeal (AAA, Auckland Council, Auckland Transport and Precinct Properties). This is likely to occur in a few days. The presiding planning judge has put the appeal on the “fast track”. Draft timetables suggest evidience will be exchanged in the next couple of months with a priority fixture likely to occur in early July. There will be a query as to why Auckland Transport is a party. The reason for AT’s presence is that another statutory process has been put in train. QE Square is titled “Road” on planning maps (even though it’s been a reserve). AT has proposed that this “road” be stopped. AAA and others objected to the road stop proposal. AT did not accept those objections (a process conducted in terms of the Local Government Act), and they have been automatically referred to the Environment Court. The presiding judge has informed the parties that the case notes from both appeal processes will be linked. This is likely to mean that both appeals will be heard together in some way.

    AAA has retained the services of several expert witnesses and Brianna Parkinson (barrister) as senior counsel.

    AAA is seeking donations to support this legal action. Check out: aaa.org.nz about this.

  • Graeme Easte,

    Getting the buses out of Galway & Tyler will only happen when we find them a new home. I submitted several times to the Transport Committees of both the old Auckland City and the Supercity to create a small bus interchange similar to the Christchurch Bus Xchange (subsequently munted by the earthquakes). This had a relatively small number of platforms in a concentrated area (half off street/half on street) with waiting rooms, information booth, etc. Although no interest was shown 5 years ago when I last presented on this idea it is not too late to consider this model as it could serve at least part of the demand without requiring almost every metre of downtown kerb space being used to create a very dispersed bus interchange which is much harder for first time users to make sense of. With PT ridership ramping up something much better is required downtown.

    • all well and good Graeme; but where?

      • Jonty

        Just off the top of my head, but would it be possible to drop them underground? I know Albert St is going to be dug up for the CRL, but above the tunnels was just going to be filled in with dirt again. Instead, could there could be dedicated bus tunnels above the train lines? A problem would be re-aligning them with street level, which might mean digging up Galway and Tyler Sts? Just thinking out loud here.

        • Nick R

          Not a bad concept Jonty, and one that has been considered. However the leftover space above the train lines isn’t exactly suited to a bus station, limited height for example.

          For a station to work, it would need ramps for buses to access and exit the lower level, probably from at least two or three streets. These are long noisy “dead zones” and have high impacts on the city amenity. Then you need space under ground to move the buses through, stop them, lay them over and stage them, and turn them around. Turning buses around needs either a roundabout of about 20m diameter, or a tunnel that goes around the block. And naturally, you also need passenger platforms, escalators/access ramps, waiting areas etc.

          All up its a lot of stuff to get underground. A lot of disruption, a lot of relocations of sewers, pipes and cables. A lot of shoring up buildings. In short, a project similar to building Aotea station or bigger.

          It would be a very good outcome, and there are some excellent examples in Brisbane, however I imagine you’d not be able to do it for less than about half a billion dollars.

          • Nick

            We’re generally talking about city buses here, not long distance, so why does Auckland seem to have such an issue with needing “somewhere to put the buses”? City buses, by their nature, should continually be on the move from stop to stop. Yes, some stops are naturally busier than others, but I don’t see the need for a place for buses to hang out, like they do around Britomart. Are the schedules really so dumb?

          • Local city buses absolutely must have places to recover, stage and re position. It is impossible to run a service schedule without recovery time and an allowance for operations, not least because there are great variations in run times from traffic congestion and passenger loadings. Even with a regular, frequent service you need recovery time and staging. Consider the Link buses, and how even a small delay can end up with three in a row and none for thirty minutes. That is because they don’t have recovery time at terminals (they do try and introduce it midway along the route, much to everyone’s chagrin!).

            Dumb would be to try and run a bus network through a city centre all day with nothing in the timetable to recover from delays!

          • Nick

            I get that they need the ability to stop/recover, but why does this have to be in the busiest area in the CBD? Why not at other points out on their routes?

          • Because that is where they start and end their run! They need to be in a position to start on time in the right place. If you stopped them halfway to town to do a timing stop, not only do you waste all the passengers time, you also can only account for half the potential delay. In other words, the buses still get stuffed up for the other half of the run that you have not recovery time for.

          • But Nick [R] isn’t that the argument for more through-routing and fewer centre city terminations?

          • Not really, through routing just increases the potential for delay with longer routes without a chance to stop. Given that the city centre stops are the busiest for passengers, you would want to stop and wait with a timing point there anyway, which defeats the purpose. If you don’t stop and wait then you lose the ‘every fifteen minutes’ or whatever you are aiming for, it becomes one bus in five minutes, the next in twenty five etc. Catch an Outer Link at Pt Chev to see how that goes!

            Also at peak times the demands are quite one sided, and service delivery is one sided. Making it two sided by running through town out to some opposite suburb then back in again just costs you a lot of resources to run a lot of empty counterpeak buses.

          • Dan C

            You don’t need to through route to the other end of the city, just through route to the other edge of the CBD. That way you spread out all the city termini, and don’t need to dedicate a load of space to bus parking in one of the busiest parts of the city. Some buses from the south could terminate at parnell, some at wynyard, etc etc. Each terminus point then only needs parking for a couple of buses max.

            You also increase the transfer opportunities that way, someone coming from the south and heading further east can change in parnell.

            Are their any large cities with successful central terminus?

            Take a look at this map from London for instance. The buses servicing Camden Town don’t all head to Trafalgar Square and terminate but instead pass through, some terminate in the south, others in the east, others in the west.
            http://content.tfl.gov.uk/bus-route-maps/camden-town-a4-300116.pdf

          • Yes I agree with that Dan, by through routing I assumed Patrick meant from one suburb to the other rather than just across twon. You’ll note that in the New Network Auckland Transport is planning to do exactly as you say, buses on one side run through to Wynard while those on the other run through to the universities.

            However with Britomart, there is nowhere further to go due to the harbour, the geography of our city means that some routes will pretty much always end downtown. Arguably those are through routed anyway, being that they don’t stop in the middle of town but carry on through to the waterfrot.

    • I agree with you Graeme. I’m unhappy with the idea of a dispersed ‘interchange’ (ergo it’s not actually an interchange) as is proposed, and you’re correct about the silliness of having buses parked hither thither around the CBD. It makes no sense to get off a bus, train, or ferry, and have to walk a few blocks to find the bus you want to connect with. And irregular users will be going in the wrong direction, I’m sure.
      That said, I’m not sure where we’d put it since the CBD seems quite developed. The irony is that we had a bus terminal right behind the Old Post Office but they tore it down to make way for the train station beneath. What a shame they didn’t have the foresight to drop it down a bit a further and build a bus station one level underground (it was the cost, right? it’s always the cost – get it done now cheaply and worry about fixing it later).

      • Alan J

        Agree on the idea of bus terminal.

        An underpass from the ferry terminal into Britomart wouldn’t be a bad idea either.

        • Again, an obvious idea but one that won’t happen because money.
          Besides, Ludo still dreams of closing Quay St, which would make an underpass redundant.
          (Does anyone know if the Queen St underpass/entrance [downtown mall side to Britomart] is being reopened once the CRL is completed?)

          • Jonty

            No, the underpass is going to be closed indefinitely.

          • jezza

            I assume it’s not really needed once Lower Queen St is pedestrianised as people will be able to cross freely at ground level. An underpass under Customs St connecting up with the rest of Queen St would be useful on the other hand.

          • Yes it will be gone as is no longer requires, also it did not get much use, we’re told.

            Various people have suggested that a bike storage facility would be a good use of the space between the tops of the tunnels and the new Piazza. Could be good.

          • James B

            I’m surprised they don’t keep it and simply make exit at the new laneway. Sure the road won’t be there anymore but a covered route from the bus stops on Albert Street to Britomart would be appreciated during inclement weather.

          • Well one reason for not keeping it is that it creates a blockage when it surfaces, a problem common with most underground infra. There is a tendency to think if something is underground then it’s entirely out of the way, but as all the apparatus of the current underpass arriving in the square shows this is a non-trivial event. It acts as a blockage in the public space.

            But also I recall that the plan is to make the ground floor of Britomart the ticket hall, with the barrier gates moved up to ground level, so all train users entering at the CPO need to go through this floor.

          • The underpass has to be removed to build the train tunnels, why go to the cost of reinstating it when there are no buses to tangle with outside of Britomart

          • James B

            I didn’t know that Matt. I assumed that it would remain in place and would simply be filled blocked off. I see little point in reinstating it.

          • Alan J

            I used it every day, now I have to tangle with buses to cross the road. Always plenty of folks in it when I was there

          • Guy

            Yeah, it is pretty obvious that as the first section of CRL tunnelling is cut and cover, everything from the front of Britomart forward, all the way round to Albert St, will have to be fully excavated i.e. dug up and removed. In fact, also within Britomart itself as well, I think, as they didn’t think it through properly the first time. They’ll be closing off big swathes of the shops and lower Queen St etc, hoarding them off for a few months or years, and digging an almighty big hole and pouring concrete in. Not much likelihood of keeping a smallish surface tunnel.

          • Grant

            “also it did not get much use, we’re told.”, Yes as a casual PT user I didn’t even know the underpass was there [too caught up looking at everything else on around the area I guess], until the notice it was getting closed [which was not clear if forever either]..so especially went and had a look at took some pics of it.

  • Joel Cayford

    By the way, as the AAA Appeal is a public document, it can be shared with anyone who is interested. Send me an email (joel.cayford@gmail.com) and I can send it. Toi clarify, Auckland Council has decided to sell QE Square to Precinct Properties. But this sale is subject to the two statutory processes referred to in my earlier posting.

    • Greg N

      Appreciate the effort AAA are putting in here Joel.

      I guess in the very least, even if the appeal(s) fail, but the appeals take until beyond the end of October this year to resolve, the new council(ors) freshly elected in the local body elections may have a different idea as to how QE2 Square and any proceeds should be used.

      And I can’t see why any of this will hold up CRL works progressing through the site – as thats covered by a separate NOR process anyway.

      I don’t think Precinct can very well now say “well, because you won’t give us QE2 Square, we will rescind our agreement to put your CRL tunnels through our basement.”

  • Warren S

    I really support the idea that we get QE Square as square as possible and surrounded by appropriate buildings. That is the successful formula that has been used in Europe so frequently. Great post.

    • Warren S

      Another idea would be to arcade the western ground floor wall of the set back building (D) in a small version of St Marks Square in Venice, though possibly in more modern form, to fit with the type of architecture proposed.

      At the same time, I consider it essential that the entrance from the Square to the lane be defined by some form of architectural embellishment to clearly define the entrance, so that it is immediately and in turn, clearly discernible to users. Some modern or contemporary building designs fail in this regard because of an unwillingness to violate clean-cut minimalist doctrine in any way. The Victorians on the other hand, usually made their main building entrances in a grand manner so that the pedestrian always knew exactly where to go.

  • mfwic

    It must be 20 years since the buses were allowed back through QEII square which means it must be time to close it off again. Then of course some time around 2036 some bright urban designer will open it up to vehicles again.

  • mfwic

    If they put the ends back on Tyler and Galway imagine how much noise the diesel buses could make in there. With a blank wall on two sides they can already scare the bejesus out of you when they rev.

  • Matthew

    Auckland’s squares don’t really come close to some of the magnificent plazas in the great cities of this world. Mexico D.F. comes to mind, a place where it is difficult to capture a photo, so expansive that it is. Of course Auckland is a town on a world scale, and sometimes the council seems rather provincial in its actions, so perhaps we cannot expect any Plaza de la Revolucions any time soon (not to mention the revolution is yet to rear its head in these parts). However, public space is one thing this city prides itself on, we have some fantastic parks, and Wynyard Quarter / Silo Park have been fantastic additions to communal area. A shopping mall doesn’t excite me as much, although I understand that they make the world revolve to a certain extent. Very wise words from Mr Scott.

    • Frank McRae

      I don’t think the Zocalo in Mexico City is a good example to follow. Sure it’s ‘great’ in the sense of being large and grand, and it has some incredible buildings and public institutions around it, but it is too big and unenclosed to work as a good public space.

      • I agree with this. If anything the Britomart Square needs to be smaller, more compact, enclosed and intimate. Aotea Square fails because it is open, expansive and often empty and bleak. It may have some sort of grandeur, but it frequently lacks people or activity. Our most successful public spaces are actually small, think Freyberg Square or Fort Lane, or the square of grass in Britomart.

        • Aotea Square is poorly contained either because it isn’t; it leaks out all over the place, or because the quality of the buildings at its edges are so poor. Especially the ghastly Aotea Centre itself. But the Town Hall too somehow fails to provide a good edge; perhaps because it is really still a street there, and perhaps because that side is so blank. The edge to Queen St also doesn’t work, nor does the south where it just dribbles out to car parking and the underground carpark’s gapping maw… is a study in what not to do, really.

          • SDW

            Aren’t you a fan of maintaining the poorly defined and activated edges and the overall pattern of the square through your staunch defence of the old Council building?

          • Re-hab of that building can be part of the solution, but anyway why sacrifice an important piece of architecture to a poor piece of planning?

  • Joel Cayford

    This link: http://joelcayford.blogspot.co.nz/2014/05/love-aucklands-queen-elizabeth-square.html
    contains a few views of QE Square from an elevated window in the CPO building.
    And this link: http://joelcayford.blogspot.co.nz/2014/08/making-qe-square-successful.html
    contains New York based Proejct for Public Places analysis of what makes for a successful urban square.
    I agree with Frank’s comment that the Zocalo is not the type of public space that QE Square, St Patricks Square, Freyburg Square are.
    And check these pics: http://joelcayford.blogspot.co.nz/2016/03/picture-postcard-queen-elizabeth-square.html
    for the kinds of public activities that are happening now in QE Square – despite its unfriendly urban design.

  • Personally I don’t care (and I live across the road). A square is not about the square itself as much as how it’s used. Aotea is dead every day, ever night, every weekend – no one has a reason to be there so why would they? It’s edges are dead and the grassy parts are detached from the street and active areas around it.

    Put a (proper) weekend market, cafes on the edges (or center), activities for families (playgrounds ala britomart or wynyard quarter)…actual civic uses and it will be a success regardless of shading or anything else. I suspect most days it will just be a throughfare with no one stopping, because there will be nothing to stop for – the only people I saw loitering aimlessly in squares in europe were tourists and homeless people, so don’t design it with that in mind. Also remember, in Europe, that people live around the squares, so can and will support, encourage or initiate any activities taking place. There is only one residential building directly off the square and one diagonally opposite, with the rest off queen or their own shared spaces. If we want somewhere for people will seek out to sit and relax … well… this will never be it – that needs grass, trees, flowerbeds, a sense of remoteness, perhaps the quay street waters edge do that that.

    Certainly we should do the best we can, but this is nitpicking where there are bigger factors of public spaces that should have our attention (i.e. they need to be managed as a resource rather than expected to somehow self-fulfil)

  • Don M

    Simple answer to the need for an underpass from the rail station to the ferry building / downtown mall and the footpaths either side of Queen St.
    Rain.
    The typical architects / planners depictions of these open spaces are warm windless sunny days. They don’t seem to think that there is any other condition for these spaces probably as on the less than perfect days they travel tucked into their warm cars.

    The ‘old’ underpass probably didn’t get much use as it didn’t really go anywhere useful and when the user got to the end there was a flight of steps to climb (or wait for the lift). Had it terminated on the opposite side of Customs St or Quay St via ramps it would have had many more users. And before anyone says Auckland doesn’t get much rain, do some research first! Don’t rely on Ludo’s comments on this as he can be shown to be wrong.

    • Mike F

      There was a proposal at one stage when Britomart Station was being built to have a underground link to the ferry building. I had to survey the exact location of the electrical tunnel running along Quay Street which would conflict with a underpass. Think it got too expensive at the time.

      • I really don’t get the desire to be walking along boring tunnels when you can be on the street with the world. But then a rain never bothered me either…. each to their own I guess.

        • It was good on particularly wet days not to have to either tangle with buses or wait at an additional pedestrian crossing, if you were headed to the Downtown mall or points further west. I used to use it quite a bit but probably it was a bit dead and pointless for others. Why ever did it not actually extend up and into the mall where it would have yielded both the mall and train station some extra traffic?

          The other big problem of course was that it always tended to flood out and get slippery at the western exit when it did rain (thanks to some typically lousy design of the era up at street level) so any relaxation from keeping out of the weather was lost in trying to keep your footing!

        • Don M

          It depends if your desire is to stand in the wind and rain waiting for the traffic lights to change at, say, Queen St / Customs Street corner or walk in the dry and warm(er) environs of a boring tunnel.
          If the access ran from the ferry building as well I know which one I’d use and many others would too.

  • *****Update. I have added some new images to the end of the post showing the difference in coverage and bulk of the two proposed schemes.

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