A Boy in the City

*** Here at TransportBlog we’re big advocates for making Auckland more “family friendly”. In general, this means designing our city to be safe and pleasant for the most vulnerable people: Children. While many parts of Auckland are a long way from idal, the City Centre has – in my opinion – come a long way over the last 10-15 years, I’m struck by the number of families and children I now see wandering around enjoying all that the city has to offer. This post documents the experiences of one such family. Edward and his family have lived in an apartment in the City Centre for almost a decade. This post provides a glimpse into their experiences, warts and all. We hope it encourages decision-makers (elected representatives and public servants) to continue to “family proof” Auckland, while also encouraging more families to consider living in the City Centre. As Edward notes, there are some significant upsides to living in an apartment. Less time spent maintaining property and/or travelling = more time spent with loved ones. ***

My name is Edward and this is a photo of my son eating a Popsicle while watching cricket on a large screen down at Britomart.

watching the cricket at Britomart

My son has spent all of his seven years living in an apartment in central Auckland. He goes to the only primary school in the city centre.

We are not particularly well served with playgrounds where we live. Until recently the closest playgrounds were Victoria Park (which he doesn’t rate highly – the equipment looks good but doesn’t offer good climbing challenges); Wynyard Quarter (which is fun because there are a lot of other kids playing here on the weekends); and Gladstone Park (opposite the Parnell Rose Gardens, which is a hidden gem with long slides and climbing apparatus).

The newly upgraded playground in Myers Park is a great addition to the city centre. Last time we visited there were about 40 people of all ages using the playground, with the large swing especially thrilling for children of my son’s age. The primary issue with Myers Park is the poor pedestrian connections to Aotea Square, which makes it less easy and safe to get to the park from that direction.

Living in the City Centre has encouraged us to to improvise. We wade through every water feature we can find, climb a lot of the pohutukawa trees, and play on the steps of buildings. Indeed, it’s almost as it the city is his playground. The photo below shows us enjoying Auckland Anniversary activities on Queen Street.

Auckland Aniversary activities on Queen St

Cycling is particularly important to us: It allows us to roam further afield and unlock more places to explore and play. From our apartment we can easily reach the Parnell Baths and Pt Erin Pools within 20 to 30 minutes away along mostly flat routes with only about five road crossings to tackle. We take cycle paths when they are available but we will bike on footpaths, parks, squares and shared spaces to get where we are going.As a parent, however, I’m aware of how the design of our streets creates unsafe situations for children.

Britomart Farmers Market

Pt Erin pools

The city centre is alive in the weekends and we try to make the most of it. But when we need quiet time it is easy to retire to our apartment and shut out the noise.

There are so many activities for him to do. Every year we go to the Diwali, Lantern and buskers festivals. During the Lantern Festival we ate dinner in Albert Park and walked home in 10 minutes, with none of the stress and hassle involved in driving through traffic and having to park miles away. In December we walked to the Domain to Christmas in the Park.

We have been spoilt over the last few years and now the idea of driving somewhere and searching for a car park when we get there seems like too much hard work, so we try to avoid it if we can. When we feel like an excursion we tend to take the ferry to Devonport or a bus to Takapuna. On a recent weekend we took the ferry to Waiheke, which simply involves a 5 minute walk to the Downtown ferry terminal.

Winter activities are a bit scarcer. We swim at the Tepid Baths or the Newmarket Pool (after mid-day when the smaller pool is released from lesson duties), visit the Art Gallery or  library, and attending the great Pick & Mix activities at the Aotea Centre on Saturday mornings. The Britomart farmers market on Saturday morning at Tukatai Square also has a great hum and there are always other children there. I’m interested to know whether they also live in apartments nearby or whether they are simply visiting.

The primary thing the city lacks is other children.

He is the only child in our apartment building. Pregnancies begun and babies have appeared but they have all disappeared into the suburbs within a short time. Children come into the city whenever there are events on or to visit Wynyard Quarter but we don’t see regular faces on a day-to day basis. The birthday parties he attends are all in the suburbs, as is his sport and extra activities he has participated in. Cricket at Victoria Park would be the closest organized sport he could attend or tennis at Parnell (the closest tennis club at Stanley St doesn’t have a children’s holiday programme).

I think his life will be more interesting if he had friends living nearby. I understand the Pioneer Women’s and Ellen Melville Hall on Freyberg Place will provide a space for children’s activities soon. I hope so. We will support it if it does. The recent closure of Quay Street was a fun opportunity for us to explore a place that is usually hostile to families.

Cycling around on a closed Quay St 2

Some people are unsure how to treat kids in the City. Security guards tell him to stop playing on steps because he could fall and hurt himself. Adults tell him to walk on the edges of shared spaces because a car might drive down it.

Apartment living has many aspects we like. We can lock up and go away for the weekend without too much effort. We don’t have to spend time commuting or maintaining our property. We are lucky that we have a lot of friendly people in our building willing to give my son some attention. I know more of my neighbours than I ever did when living in the suburbs. The city centre has most shops we need. I do need to get in a car if we want things from a hardware shop.

Living in an apartment means I spend a lot of time with my son, which I see as a good thing. But it is not just the quantity of time we spend together, but also the quality of time – both of us enjoy the interesting things on our doorstep together, with little to no stress involved. Living in a smaller space encourages us to get outside more and experience the spontaneous entertainment one often encounters in the city.

It is different from my childhood in Hawkes Bay and I am constantly looking for signs of deprivation, but so far I haven’t found any.

Last day for the LTP

Today is the last day to submit on the Council’s Long Term Plan and Auckland Transport’s Regional Land Transport Plan and if you haven’t already, you need to get your submission in before 4pm.

If you’ve been reading the blog recently then hopefully the need to submit has been made clear. The council is trying to force a very binary decision with the two options being

  • The budget plan that scales back spending in a way that seems deliberately designed to force support for the more expensive option. It’s a stance that’s managed to annoy all the transport advocacy groups regardless of what modes and priorities they support.
  • The Auckland Plan Transport Network that includes almost every project every thought of and many of which either aren’t likely to be needed or at least not to the scale envisioned. This plan also brings with it additional funding requirements either through tolls or

In effect it’s a clayton’s choice with the city being asked to either condemn itself to poor transport outcomes regardless, either through not enough investment or too much in the wrong types of projects. The kind of binary decision the council is pushing has been exemplified by the absurd stunt that has been set up outside the Downtown Mall.

LTP Transport Arches

I believe the numbers combined are up over 50,000 now

 

I think it’s absurd because it’s effectively been boiled down to a mind-numbingly stupid level. There is very little information given about the financial implications of each option so faced with a basic or advanced choice most will obviously choose the advanced one. Of course that’s if they even bother thinking about which portal they walk through and most people I’ve seen walk through it were just carrying on in a straight line from where they came from, oblivious to the options. It gets even stupider when the council say that it has no weighting on the LTP in which case one has to ask why they even bothered. Note: There are some more comments from me on this in an NBR article last week (paywalled)

Thankfully our good friends at Generation Zero have come up with a Goldilocks option that focuses the projects needed to fix our city. You can read more about it at http://www.fixourcity.co.nz/ or read the posts they’ve written here or here.

Gen Z Goldilocks

If you haven’t submitted yet, here are a few extra reasons why you should.

Based on the numbers the council have released so far there are a lot of demographic groups who are under represented. This was shown by Peter in this great post.

LTP submitter demographics vs Auckland demographics

While initial figures showed strong support for more public transport, walking and cycling investment a lot of the submissions are likely to come in during the last few days including those from organisations. Some examples of some of the feedback we’re seeing from these groups and from politicians who are scaremongering is below.

Cameron Brewer is flat out making stuff up to suggest that we and others are pushing for motorway tolls to pay for PT projects.

“As it stands, it seems the Green Party, Generation Zero, students, the cycle lobby, and public transport bloggers have all got their submissions in pushing for road tolls to fund their own Auckland Plan pet projects at the expense of everyday Auckland drivers.”

The Road Transport Forum (the Truck lobby) who seem to support building everything but only if it’s paid for by selling assets. In other words they want lots more roads but don’t want to have to pay for them.

Interestingly both the AA and the NZCID are also saying that we need a third option. They don’t quite say what that they think that option should be but that neither of the options presented is good enough. Below is a press release from them both this morning.

The Automobile Association (AA) and the New Zealand Council for Infrastructure Development (NZCID) believe that neither of the Auckland Council’s Long-Term Plan budget options is up to scratch, and are calling on central government and Auckland Council to develop an alternative strategy that delivers better outcomes for Auckland.

“Neither the cheaper option nor the more expensive option is going to address Auckland’s traffic problems in the long term, or deliver on the public’s expectations, ” said NZCID Chief Executive Stephen Selwood. “So our message for officials is: It’s time for Plan C.”

AA infrastructure spokesman Barney Irvine said the congestion gains of the more expensive option (the Auckland Plan Network) were underwhelming, despite Aucklanders paying an extra $300 million per year through rates, fuel taxes or a motorway charge.

“Congestion is expected to get worse over the next 20 years, regardless of which option we go for,” he said. “After that, it might ease under the Auckland Plan Network, but only by a little. When you think that most households would be paying $350 extra a year – with regular motorway users paying up to $1500 more a year – you have to question whether it’s worth it.”

Mr Selwood said that the starting point for a new approach needs to be a transport accord between local and central government.

“At the moment, the Government is rightly concerned about the outcomes that result from the proposed transport investment and land use plan,” said Mr Selwood. “You can’t make long-term decisions about the Auckland transport network when the results are so poor and Council and Government are so far apart.”

Pleasingly, said Mr Selwood, Mayor Len Brown has clearly stated his desire to reach an accord with central government and transport Minister Simon Bridges has also signalled Government’s willingness to engage.

As part of an accord, Mr Selwood said that central government and Auckland Council need to agree on an improved transport investment strategy, and ensure that urban intensification and transport investment are better integrated. If they decide to look more seriously at a motorway network charge, he said, they need to make sure it’s also considered from a demand management perspective – not just as a way to raise revenue – and that the combination of intensification, transport investment and demand management improves accessibility and provides meaningful travel-time savings for users.

Mr Selwood said that many other stakeholder groups – from the public transport lobby to the freight lobby – are saying similar things.

Meanwhile, the AA has carried out its largest survey yet of its Auckland membership – an online survey of 6000 Auckland Members, backed up by an in-depth survey of a 100-strong AA Auckland panel – to better understand how people feel about the Council’s budget options.

Mr Irvine said the survey results showed that Auckland AA Members preferred the Auckland Plan Network to the cheaper option (the Basic Network) – 46% support versus 30% support – but not to the point where a meaningful consensus could develop behind it.

“There’s a big difference between support for the Plan and willingness to pay for it,” he said. “A lot of our Auckland Members would be happy to pay a little for improved congestion outcomes, but less than 20% would be prepared to pay what’s required for the Auckland Plan Network.”

Mr Irvine stressed that it wasn’t just cost standing in the way.

“Many of our Members look at this plan and don’t see a great deal in it for them,” he said. “There’s also a perception that Council needs to get its own house in order – in terms of financial management and accountability – before asking Aucklanders to open their wallets.”

Both Mr Irvine and Mr Selwood cautioned officials against pushing ahead with the current plan, when it does not have strong support, as it could hold back progress on the transport programme long term.

It’s not mentioned in the press release but one aspect that’s really interesting is that the AA’s own polling says their members want more choice in how they get around.

If you haven’t done so then make sure you give your feedback and lets make the ETB, Option C.

Auckland’s public transport growth – How good is it?

As discussed in this recent post, public transport patronage in Auckland grew at an annualised rate of 9% last month. This growth was led by the rapid transit network (rail and busways), but underpinned by solid growth across the rest of the network.

While this is obviously a positive result, I found myself pondering the question of just how good is it?

One way of answering this question is to place the recent patronage growth within a historical context. In the figure below I’ve plotted annual PT patronage growth from 1921 to the present (NB: I’ve excluded a couple of outliers). The red line on the right shows what would happen if the current annualised rate of 9% holds for the whole financial year.

Annualised PT Grpwth

On this basis I’d conclude:

  1. In the last 20 years, Auckland’s patronage growth has ranged from -2% to +11% with an average of 4-5% p.a; and
  2. In this context, patronage growth of 9% p.a. is at the upper end of what one might expect, but not completely unprecedented.

In my experience, people who doubt the strengths of Auckland’s PT renaissance tend to fall back on some common refrains when presented with such data.

The first refrain is that Auckland’s public transport is starting from a low base. This argument observes that our current high annualised growth is being occurring from a low baseline level of PT usage. This comment has some merit; Auckland does indeed have a low base of PT use, especially compared to many cities and/or levels of private vehicle use. But this argument is also rather disingenuous for two reasons.

The first reason is that PT patronage is high in the places and at the times when it matters the most. Screenline surveys, for example, show that approximately 50% of peak motorised trips into the city centre are on PT. Similarly, data shows that at peak times almost 13,000 passengers are travelling by train. And that’s just rail – you need to multiply that by a factor of approximately 5 to get an indication of total peak travel on PT. Yes that’s right – at peak times approximately 65,000 people are travelling by PT. To shift that many people by private vehicles we’d need the equivalent of 30 additional lanes of motorway. By extension, the fact private vehicles are used for most travel across the rest of the day and week is not evidence which can be used to downplay PT’s transport contribution. 

The second reason is that with growth rates of 5-10% p.a., low levels of demand can quickly become quite large. That is, if Auckland’s PT patronage grows at circa 9% for ten years then twice as many journeys will be undertaken by PT as currently. Experience also suggests that in a transport and land use context growth rates of 5-10% are actually relatively high. If we consider data from the Auckland Harbour Bridge (AHB), for example, then you’ll find the highest recorded annual growth rate in vehicle traffic was approximately 16%. That’s right: Even a transport project as transformational as the AHB didn’t hit annual growth rates above 16%. What the AHB did achieve, however, was to sustain high-moderate levels of growth for a very long time (approximately 30-40 years). That’s how it became the critical piece of infrastructure that we know today.

The second refrain is that Auckland’s PT patronage growth is being driven largely by population growth. Again there are several factors that do not support this perspective.

The first reason is fairly obvious. That is, Auckland’s population is growing at only 1-2% p.a. As such, while population growth explains approximately one-half of the growth in PT patronage, it does not explain the balance. We can show this by calculating PT trips per capita p.a., as illustrated below.

PT trips per capita

 

 

This shows PT trips per capita p.a. growing by a touch over 2% p.a. since hitting a low point in the mid-1990s. Another way of putting this is that the average Aucklander is now using PT 50% more than the average Aucklander was 20 years ago.

There is one more reason why Auckland’s current rates of PT growth may be rather special: In the last 5 years vehicle travel per capita has fallen by 23%. I’m personally fairly optimistic this decline will be sustained for a while yet, especially if Auckland accepts the need for the city to intensify (and subsequently removes density controls).

Vehicle trips per capita

This graph also makes it clear, however, that the average Aucklanders makes approximately 1,800 vehicle trips p.a. compared to only 50 trips by PT. So even while I am a believer of the ability for PT to contribute to meeting big chunks of travel demands in key locations and key times, we shouldn’t over-estimate its importance either.

One thing is relatively clear, however: PT patronage in Auckland has been on the rise for over two decades. In my opinion the job is only half-done: If PT is to rise to real prominence in Auckkand, then we’ll need to sustain current rates of growth for a good decade. This would place Auckland’s PT use per capita on par with South East Queensland’s (Brisbane) levels of usage. I think a combination of electrification, integrated ticketing, the New Network, and the CRL will get us to a respectable level of PT usage.

It is, however, what I call the “next round” of PT investments which will get Auckland to a point where it challenges the likes of Melbourne and Sydney, and perhaps rightly lays claim to being the “world’s most livable city”. The sorts of projects in the next round include light rail, SH16 rapid transit corridor, and major city centre bus infrastructure.

But for now let’s just enjoy the moment: Public transport in Auckland is doing pretty well; long may this continue.

P.s. And thanks to all the people who have worked hard over the last two decades to help Auckland get to this point. You know who you are …

 

 

 

 

On The Waterfront

Crab-Golden-Claws-Karaboudjan-docks

I’ve always loved a working port, growing up on Tintin, where intrigue and big issues always led our hero to docks, and [sadly] being old enough to just remember Auckland’s finger wharves busy with cranes and the last of the goods trains still running on Quay St, I’m a sucker for the romance and tough rough-neck image of it all. Which of course has always been grounded in the realities of the physical movement of goods, and at ports these realities seem more laid bare than most anywhere else; an example of the laws of physics meeting human desire = economics.

So what’s going on down on the wharves? For quite a long time it’s felt very unsatisfactory. The Council, who in our stead owns 100% of the port company, is of course also the regulatory authority over its operations as it is over all businesses and residents in the Auckland Region. Unfortunately this combination doesn’t seem to be working at all well.

It seems clear that the current management of the port company has little interest in any responsibilities beyond direct port operations despite that these being very real; they seem to treat the city’s desire meaningful cohabition with the working port as something to be gamed. This narrow idea of social and environmental responsibility is unlike many privately owned companies, let alone publicly owned ones. But there also appears to have been an almost total abrogation of governance by the Council over port decisions.  Sometimes it seems more like the port company is playing both the people and Council and other times it looks more like collusion between parts of the Council ad the company. I, like almost everyone else in the city has no idea what is really going on. This is my biggest complaint here, there is little daylight or transparency about what is going on down on the waterfront, and a huge amount of spin coming from PoAL.

The latest is the sneaky slip of a resource consent through the Council on December 23rd for two extensions to Bledisloe Wharf without any public discussion initiated by either party. It is clear that the port intends these extensions as a prelude to filing in the resultant space between the piers at a later date, but even without this it’s worth seeing what they are doing to our harbour. Specifically I am interested in the outcome for Queens Wharf. The space that we [Council and government] bought for $40million from ourselves [Port Company] in 2009 specifically as a public space, the ‘people’s wharf’. Here’s how Waterfront Auckland describe it, in the first words on their dedicated Queens Wharf page:

Queens Wharf lies at the foot of the Auckland CBD and offers a unique vantage point overlooking the sparkling Waitemata Harbour… Queens Wharf has been transformed from a private working wharf to a public waterfront space for all to enjoy.

This is a big investment in an important idea: allowing people to bust through the red fence enabling the north south axis of Queen St to continue out into our wonderful harbour forming an intersection with this eastern city edge, and penetrating into the harbour to reconnect this harbourside city with its deep water. Expressly in fact to cement Queens Wharf as a ceremonial space of symbolic arrival and departure. After all, we or our ancestors have all come to this city from over the sea. Here’s how WA put it:

The wharf has social significance for its central role on the Auckland waterfront; for its function as a major place of arrival to, and departure from New Zealand; and as a place of formal welcome and farewell.

Here then is an introduction to PoAL’s plans [and style; a very don’t worry nothing to see here kind of document]:

PoAL expansion Plans

This shows a plan to extend Bledisloe Wharf [on the left],

So what does it matter what happens east of Queens Wharf in the operational zone of the port? We want to have a successful port don’t we, and that’s going to take space, right? Agreed. Which is why we have invested in Fergusson Wharf, the big and modern container wharf at the eastern edge of the ports operations area. But since the decline of New Zealand’s vehicle assembly industry and the rise of car imports PoAL have used the old finger wharves for temporary car storage. A very Auckland and very space hungry activity. But would we allow Wilsons, say, to use this land for car parking? We need to have an honest and open discussion about the trade-offs involved in this use, as there are other options like [but not limited to]:

  • not importing so many vehicles through Auckland [some through Tauranga- an actual national ports strategy]
  • incentivising shippers to space out deliveries so the peak arrivals are smoothed
  • storing them more space-efficiently on the existing land [a parking building rather than reclaimation]

A key thing that is very easy to miss in the image above is the two light grey fingers either side of the dark grey pointed out ‘Proposed reclamation’ that we don’t ‘need to decide on right now’. This is what that December consent about is and is to begin construction next month. What do these two extension mean for Queens Wharf? Here’s a schematic of the sightline from the end of Queens Wharf:

Bledisloe Wharf extensions_6

The new wharves will clearly cut Queens Wharf off from any view of the Harbour entrance, that point of ‘arrival to and departure from’. Queens Wharf will no longer be out in the harbour but just in a contained little ferry basin. Just a big concrete deck leading nowhere. Below is its current state. As I took this picture a car carrier was docked at the existing Bledisloe wharf disgorging its contents:

QUEENS WHARF_9717

Working from the visual above, and doing a bit of very quick photoshop here’s what I reckon, roughly, will happen to the experience on the end of the People’s Wharf’ when a ship is docked at the new western pier extension on Bledisloe. Forgive my crude Photoshopery, it’s intended to be approximate rather than perfect, I did adjust the ship extension for perspective, making the stern smaller and have invented a new shipping line with an appropriate name…

QUEENS WHARF_9717_FUKO_blog

Is this really the outcome we want in order to accommodate the peak flow of car imports through one port? Currently 90% of the entire county’s car imports arrive through Auckland. If this is the cost of that continuing, is it one are prepared to pay?

A further example of the lack of any coordination between the ambitions for our city and the plans of the frankly visionless port company or it’s governors is shown by the contradictions between the plans for a major artwork based on the idea of arrival and departure at the end of Queens Wharf as described here in the Herald by Brian Rudman:

In the furore over Port of Auckland’s plans to extend Bledisloe Wharf nearly 100m out into the harbour, one of Mayor Len Brown’s pet projects was overlooked.In more ways than one. The controversial Barfoot & Thompson state house lighthouse at the end of Queens Wharf will be blinkered.

In persuading councillors of the need to commandeer the tip of Queens Wharf for the lighthouse, the mayor and council arts panel argued the site was “a key portal into New Zealand for international visitors arriving via vessel” and was “visible from multiple vantage points”.

Mr Parekowhai explained that his work would be “a lighthouse that signals safe harbour and welcome”.

It seems to me that a very Auckland kind of tragedy is unfolding down

ON THE WATERFRONT_1

Opening Lower Queen St for people

One of the great things about Auckland Anniversary weekend a month ago was the closing down of Queen St outside Britomart and parts of Quay St. I personally found it great and loved so seeing so many people in the city centre enjoying themselves. The council have put together this video discussing the opening of the street for people and the reaction to it.

Downtown Agreement sorted

The council and Precinct Properties have announced that they’ve come to an agreement for the sale of Queen Elizabeth Square and the costs for the City Rail Link to go through the site.

An agreement between Auckland Council and Precinct Properties announced this morning will enable the construction of the City Rail Link (CRL) to get underway through the company’s Downtown Development project at the bottom of Queen Street.

Mayor Len Brown is heralding the milestone as an historic moment for Auckland: “This is the first step towards the construction of the CRL. It will lead to an exciting transformation of the public spaces around the Britomart train station area. And it’s an example of how a partnership with the private sector can deliver economic transformation and more jobs in Auckland.”

The alignment of the CRL requires new rail tunnels to be constructed through the site presently occupied by the Downtown Shopping Centre, which is owned by Precinct Properties along with two adjacent commercial office towers, HSBC Tower at 1 Queen Street and Zurich House at 21 Queen Street.

The deal between the two parties enables the rail tunnels to be built as part of the Downtown Development Project.

Elements include:

  • The sale to Precinct of Queen Elizabeth Square for $27.2 million
  • Payment to Precinct of $9 million for provision of an East-West pedestrian laneway between Queen Street and Albert Street and compensation for tunnels volume
  • Payment of $10.7 million for additional costs of office tower construction due to CRL tunnels
  • Creation of a new downtown civic space between the project and Britomart

The sale of Queen Elizabeth Square was approved by Auckland Council’s Development Committee on 11 September 2014 after a report to council by staff pointed out the proceeds of this underutilised and poorly performing city space would enable the creation of new public spaces that better meet the needs of the area.

Len Brown says: “The agreement demonstrates the council’s positive business-friendly approach to city centre development while securing a great result for the ratepayer as it means cost savings for both parties.

“It ensures a coordinated approach to the construction work – with Auckland Transport building the CRL tunnels either side of the Precinct downtown shopping centre site from Britomart to Wyndham Street and Precinct Properties building the tunnels below its site.

“The Downtown Development Project will help create jobs giving the potential for 12,000 more people to be working close to public transport at Britomart.

“It is also the key to a number of projects that will kick-off the creation of a world-class downtown area including improvements to public space, transport facilities and urban design.”

Those improvements include:

  • The replacement of an aging 40 year old shopping centre with the Downtown Development Project enhancing retail in the area with a three-level retail laneway development while the commercial office tower will deliver much-needed office space
  • The creation of a pedestrian laneway, which re-instates a north-south link from Customs Street to Quay Street once existing as Little Queen Street. This link was lost during the large-scale demolition in the area in the 1970s
  • Moving towards the establishment of a Lower Albert Street bus interchange which would enable a pedestrianised civic space to be created in front of Britomart presently existing as a road occupied by buses
  • The protection of key views to important adjacent heritage buildings including the ferry building, Customhouse and the Dilworth building

The Mayor says: “Aucklanders have made it clear the CRL is their number one transport priority and this brings us closer to enabling a start to construction in about a year’s time.”

Construction of the Downtown section of the CRL is due to begin mid-year with completion by 2019. Tenders are due to go out later this year.

It’s great that we’re seeing some progress on the CRL and $19.7 million for it through this section is probably quite cheap compared to what it would have been had Auckland Transport been forced to buy the site had Precinct not been willing to work out a deal. That we’ll also get North-South and East-West lanes is good (more on that soon).

The issue that might cause some people concern is bound to be the sale of QE Square. Months ago when the suggestion came up we were told it could be worth up to $60 million so the council selling it for $27 million is obviously quite a bit less than that. One thing worth pointing out though is that based on the surrounding land values which are up over 9,500 per m2 this doesn’t seem such a low price.

Also this morning Precinct Properties have released a few images of what the development on the downtown site will look like. The main feature will be a 36 storey office tower which will have quite an impact on the skyline.

Precinct Tower 1

Precinct Tower 2

They’ve also released this image of the East-West laneway which will be surrounded by three storeys of retail. The big concern I have with this is that it appears to be enclosed with a roof giving it more of a mall feel than an open air lane.

Downtown Lane

Overall it’s great to see progress being made and I’m definitely looking forward to the first stages of the CRL starting in the middle of the year.

Long Term Plan Feedback So Far

The Council is currently consulting on the Long Term Plan (LTP) which is the city’s 10 year budget. A key discussion of this LTP is whether we should implement motorway tolling or increase Rates/Fuel taxes to pay all of the transport projects on the council’s plans – unless we want a scaled back and ineffectual transport system. There are three weeks left to submit on the plan and in the coming week or so we will be covering this topic a lot more. In the meantime the council say they have now had over 5,000 submissions with some interesting results.

In addition they’ve provided some generalised feedback on what the submissions (as of 19 Feb) have said and there are some fascinating results. First up some demographic info and it appears submitters are far more likely to be older European males.

2015 LTP Early Demographics

Further a break down by the local board areas shows the boards with the most submissions being Hibiscus and Bays, Albert-Eden, Howick and Howick while many of the South Auckland boards have the lowest submission levels. This combined with the demographic info suggest that perhaps the council need to be putting more effort into getting feedback from a wider cross section of our city – this is similar to the issues Peter recently expressed when he asked Who’s having the conversation about cities.

Perhaps unsurprisingly just over half of those who answered (52%) disagreed with the proposed level of rates rises of 3.5% and of those who answered what they’d change most (79%) said they’d like to see rates decreased. Council have also broken the results down by areas that people said they’d like to see changes in with only Transport only one of a few areas where more people said spend more than spend less.

2015 LTP Early Changes in Investment

Next the area most relevant to what we’re following and the issue of transport and how we pay for it. The council say that 55% of people support the full kitchen sink approach that is the Auckland Plan. When it comes to how we should fund that just over 50% support, partially support motorway tolls. This is perhaps a little surprising and I wonder how many of the people choosing that option do so because they think they can avoid it through using local roads, travelling at different times or using other modes.

2015 LTP Early network and funding preferences

The council have also put this video together about it

When asked what areas of transport the focus should be the result is overwhelmingly in favour of public transport and cycling investment – note: the herald ran a version of this graph the other day but got the labels around the wrong way. To me this result isn’t surprising and it is similar to many of the survey’s we’ve seen in the past. Frankly it’s insane that we still have some local politicians who are actively opposing these kinds of investments. It would be fascinating to see what kind of transport system we would have if funding priorities were based on results.

2015 LTP Early Changes in transport Investment

The next two question looks at whether the council should take on a more active role in development by merging Waterfront Auckland and Auckland Council Properties Limited – something I think would be good providing the DNA from Waterfront Auckland was at the core of the new organisation rather than ACPL who have appeared silent over the last 4-5 years. It seems most people agree that it is a good idea but it’s not quite a majority.

2015 LTP Early Development Auckland

The Uniform Annual General Charge UAGC is a fixed charge that every household pays regardless of property value. The lower the UAGC the more impact property prices have on rates and the higher the UAGC the less that property prices affect rates. Councillors on the right of the political spectrum have long argued for the UAGC to be higher so as to lessen the rates burden on their areas (which are often wealthier). From memory they were very happy to finally get the question about what the rate should be on the feedback form however they may not be so happy with the result showing almost 50% want it left as it is and many want it lower

2015 LTP Early UAGC

The last graph is based on whether the council should gradually reduce business property rates from 32.8% of all rates to 25.6% of all rates. The change seems widely unsupported at this stage.

2015 LTP Early Business Rates

It will be interesting to see if these kinds of results carry on through for the rest of the consultation.

Our Port and the Harbour

8-10am tomorrow morning there is a meeting organised by groups concerned about the lack of governance and oversight by Council over the Port Company. Whether you can make it tomorrow or not, if you agree that the Port Company needs more oversight and governance from the Council, visit this page and them them know.

STOP STEALING OUR HARBOUR

Letter to the Council:

Dear Mayor Len Brown and Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse,

I am writing on behalf of Urban Auckland, the NZ Institute of Architects Auckland Branch, the Urban Design Forum and the Auckland Architects Association. We represent the professionals working in the built environment of our city. We are joined by local community groups and Westhaven Marina Users.

We are deeply concerned at Ports announcement last Thursday that they are extending Bledisloe Wharf in April by 93 and 98 metres thus eliminating the crucial view down the harbour from Queens Wharf – the proposed gateway to our City. We feel let down by Council process and have no trust in Ports of Auckland.

 We are not against Ports of Auckland operating in the city. We are for establishing a way forward where we can all be good neighbours. PoA’s actions in the last few months show they have no intent at all in being that.

We feel our voice has not been heard. We have not been consulted over the City Centre Integration Plan. No study of the wider social, cultural, economic and environmental impact has been done as you promised in 2013.

Tomorrow morning Wednesday 25th February at 9am we are launching a petition ‘Save our Harbour” on the end ofQueens Wharf and would appreciate it if you could attend to listen and talk to the people. In the past we have been heartened by your leadership on this issue.

The Petition states:

We ask the Mayor and Councillors to

  • Stop the proposed extension of Bledisloe Wharf
  • Keep ‘reclamation’ of the Waitemata Harbour as a ‘non-complying’ activity
  • Start a wide-reaching study of environmental, social and economic factors affecting the site and operations of theAuckland port. The Mayor promised Aucklanders this in 2013.
  • Make Ports of Auckland work with the people of Auckland – not against them.

We acknowledge this is short notice but timing of events has been out of our control. We wanted to make sure our voices were heard before Thursday’s Development Committee meeting.

A view from architect David Mitchell in the paper paper:

PORT LETTER

It is hard to believe that the best thing to do with the Waitemata harbour is to tip dirt into it in order to store more cars on the resultant tarmac:

OSTRO_5788

 

Selling Skypath is simple, make it easy

This is a guest post from Ryan Mearns of Generation Zero

On Wednesday the 14th of January just over 5,000 people received an email asking them to submit in support of the resource consent for Skypath using a quick submission form. The form asked them to submit on the resource consent, a relatively benign step in the process before construction that is usually dominated by lengthy supporting documents from the submitter. The form asked, as you probably know if you filled it out, to write your reason for supporting Skypath and how it expanded your transport choices.

Building slowly 1,000 people made a submission within the first 12 hours, after 24 hours it had reached 2000, and after a week and a half it ended at over 11,000. The enthusiasm for the project and the sheer glee at which some expressed at the easy process draws into frame some important questions; why did it get so big, is it possible replicate and how should Council change what it does to engage this number of people on a more regular basis in complex planning decisions.

Skypath Gen Zero submissions

At it’s most basic level the overwhelming feedback was that Council’s form for submitting required such a high level of engagement in the project it turned many people off. Where to find application numbers and submission details requires you to plunge deep into the supporting documentation, Council has already turned away 90% of people that would submit on the project. In the past this complexity has also meant submissions have been discounted for other resource consents, like with the high profile case of the pohutukawa trees on Great North Road.

Simplifying the process with a quick submission form was always going elicit a much larger response from the public. But beyond this there are some interesting insights into the networked nature of local decision making and the communication of the consents process that add more weight to a questioning of how Council deals with the public and how community groups engage their supporters in Council processes.

One important aspect that definitely needs to be held at the front of most people’s mind is the way in which the consent process was framed. A simple consent process was turned into “the last hurdle before construction” and had 5 simple reasons why people should submit on the project. This isn’t revolutionary stuff but a clear explanation of the project built a story of the project that people could relate too and added a sense of urgency. A clear question of “why do you support it” and “how does it expand your transport choices” gave people a way to make the project personal to them, allowing people to express their own personal desires for Auckland.

The other aspect that allowed more than 11,000 people to submit on the project was the network of people telling their friends. On Facebook alone the page received over 11,000 likes, comments and shares. It shows how connected Aucklanders are, and with about 400 submissions coming from expats in 42 countries around the world, the project has global appeal.

So what can it teach us? It shows that if you simplify the process and give people a compelling reason to submit on a project that may directly affect them, people get pretty passionate and want to share it with their friends. For Councils sake this means customising and personalising their consent process in the future if they want to attract a similar number of submitters.

Council was very flexible with the Skypath quick submission form, which made it easy, as it took down their server at one point with the amount of emails coming in. They were very happy to support. This does reflect a point worth raising as Skypath had turned into a political discussion, as most projects do. This can make it hard for Council.

It just exemplifies the importance of community groups using their networks to push a particular decision one way or another. This is good for local democracy, deepening the level of participation people have with their community. But without a good technology background many in the community might find it hard to go to the level that we were able to by creating a quick submit form. An option that Council might consider is a specific form-builder for community groups to use that can be customised for their needs that allows them to create an easy quick submit form for resource consents.

There are many more lessons to be brought out, and it’s already good to see Council sharpening up their process using shapeauckland to take submissions on the long term plan.

Celebrating Auckland’s Transformation

Auckland has come a long way in recent years when it comes to the city and waterfront more interesting and people oriented. This was highlighted beautifully on the weekend as tens of thousands every day flocked to the waterfront to celebrate Auckland’s 175th birthday. From Captain Cook Wharf through to the Wynyard Quarter the place was buzzing with people once again proving that people respond when we make spaces for people.

Queen St Temporary Space - Ludo

Photo from Ludo Campbell-Reid

And it isn’t just Aucklanders noticing the redevelopment of the city. This piece a week ago titled Revamped Auckland waterfront inspires from The Press in Christchurch highlights the transformation that Auckland is making:

The girl sits inside what looks like a ventilation shaft, her very own stainless-steel cocoon, legs dangling over the side. Families with pushchairs, a woman walking her dog, cyclists, tourists, and locals stroll past. All look relaxed and carefree.

As they wander the length of the old pier, there’s plenty to grab their attention: Colourful metal cylinders, sculptures shaped like crabs, fish, whales, octopuses, and seahorses. Children splash through a pool underneath a gigantic metal sculpture that looks like it could be an intergalactic TV aerial. Teenagers shoot basketball hoops. Shoppers browse through treasures in market stalls.

Shipping containers have been turned into information booths; old warehouses have become restaurants and cafes. We join the throng for a leisurely and surprisingly affordable lunch.

Welcome to the Wynyard Quarter, part of Auckland’s burgeoning transformation of its previously neglected waterfront. Starting in 2011, this bold and imaginative, development has proved hugely successful. If you are heading to the City of Sails, go – you’ll love it.

We didn’t find getting around Auckland without a car too hard. We stayed on the North Shore. To reach the Wynyard Quarter, we used the Northern Express, a bus service that has is own motorway lane and bus stations. It couldn’t have been easier. We found Aucklanders more courteous to pedestrians than Christchurch drivers.

Public transportation makes a mockery of the calls for more car-parking in Christchurch. Without car parks, the city will fail, say those with a vested interest in developing their central city private businesses – for which they would love a dollop of public money.

Go to other cities and you won’t find car-parking easy either. If you can, you take the bus or train – or bike – instead.

Future cities will be nothing like the old ones. We need to be more flexible, and if that means tweaking or even radically changing former plans, let’s get on with it.

Hell even the few comments are fairly positive and it’s not like Cantabrians are known for their positive views on Auckland. This one in particular is good.

Wynyard Quarter is an amazing place to visit. It’s one of the reasons I’ve been revising my long held opinion of Auckland as a bleak soulless wasteland. Auckland’s inner city is now full of vibrancy and character again.

Wynyard Busy

North Wharf was certainly busy with people enjoying the space

What’s often forgotten is that some of the city’s most impressive transformations have only really been completed for less than 5 years. This includes Wynyard Quarter, the shared spaces and much of the Britomart Precinct.

And then there was this fantastic piece from Jack Tame in the Herald a few days ago:

Imagine describing Auckland to a foreigner who’d never heard her name. A sub-tropical climate with 1.5 million people; suburbs freckled by volcanic nipples, each so perfectly coned and green you’d swear it was just clever landscaping; a city with two impressive harbours, two impressive and different coasts; a city where rich, poor, suburban or central, most people are only ever a few minutes from the sea.

You’d likely explain to your foreign friend that Auckland is the Pacific capital, a city rich with Maori and Polynesian culture. There may be more Pacific Island people here than in all the islands combined and the blend and diversity of Aucklanders is unlike anywhere else on Earth.

We’re spoilt. Auckland is an almighty playground, geographic and cultural. But as the city flourishes and booms it will take planning not to balls it all up. Our city must intensify. It’s unsustainable to sprawl our way to Hamilton, and naive to think that every Aucklander needs to live on a quarter-acre block.

We’re making progress. Britomart and Wynyard Quarter are perfect examples of good public space and will always be embraced.

But high-quality, high-density living options and public transport are essential in ensuring Auckland remains a great place to live.

I’ve long said that Auckland has one of the best natural settings in the world, one that many cities could only dream about. If we can continue down the path we’re on we have a chance to make our urban environment just as wonderful.