Well in this case anyway. Here is a suburban rail station in Melbourne, a train, a dog [for Stu], and a new apartment building going up in the background. Right next to the station. Someone got the planning regulations and building incentives right. Now that we are most of the way through upgrading the passenger service on Auckland’s rail network shouldn’t we be aligning land use up with this new opportunity? It would be a mistake to only have intensive dwelling options in the City Centre, particularly as land is cheaper out along the rail corridors, so these dwellings would be both more affordable and extremely well connected.
Follow the rail corridors on this map [hotter the colour the higher the value, grey means not residential, yet]… looks like a huge opportunity for a City Development Agency to me. And older centres like Papatoetoe, say, could do with an injection of construction and new residents.
54: Open Late
What if shop opening hours reflected when you want to shop?
Much has been said over a number of years now about the future of retail in the digital age. Many have predicted its almost wholesale demise, and then been surprised by its resilience. There seems to be a view now that e-tailing will top out at a certain percentage of all retail sales meaning there will still be a place for bricks and mortar retail in our cities.
Currently it seems the trends around in-store retail are all about providing destination in-store experiences that are all about the tangible, physical, spatial, and sensory worlds that one doesn’t experience making purchases at home in bed or on the sofa.
This makes a lot of sense and points to the new reality that people now often need a good reason to head out to a store. So why do we make it so hard to do so with opening hours? They just don’t make any sense for most people most of the time. Particularly on weekdays, who is lining up to go to shops at 9 or 10 o’clock in the morning? Wouldn’t it make more sense to open later and shut later in the evening? This gives people with day jobs more of a chance to visit stores after work.
Interestingly, Melbourne is on to this. In April this year, it was announced that almost 100 stores in Melbourne’s central shopping precinct around Bourke Street Mall will now trade until at least 7pm every night, with late-night trading until 9pm on Thursdays and Fridays (for more there is a story in The Age here: http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/cbd-to-go-global-with-extended-night-shopping-hours-20140406-366tg.html).
Interestingly, this is one area where the big shopping malls in Auckland’s suburbs appear to be already ahead of the game. Sylvia Park already matches these hours being adopted in Melbourne. So can we make this work in our primary street-based retail areas in the city centre, Newmarket and Ponsonby Road? Downtown there certainly seems plenty enough foot traffic on Queen Street of an evening to make this work. What about other locations?
Stuart Houghton 2014
From the Architectural Centre in Wellington:
The NZTA flyover and recent appeal
The NZTA have proposed building a flyover adjacent to New Zealand’s historic Basin Reserve. There are several complex aspects to the issue, but the basic chronology is:
- The Minister for the Environment established a Board of Inquiry in mid-2013 to decide if a flyover should be built by the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) adjacent to the Basin Reserve cricket ground. The flyover is part of the government’s planned country-wide Roads of National Significance.
- The Board decided that the flyover should not be built. This was the result of a 72 day long hearing. The Final Decision is at: http://www.epa.govt.nz/Resource-management/Basin_Bridge/Final_Report_and_Decision/Pages/default.aspx(and there is a brief summary of issues attached). There were a number of non-profit community groups who opposed the flyover, and we worked together collaboratively to ensure alternative views were presented at the hearing.
- NZTA have appealed to the High Court asking for the decision to be overturned. The agency has also questioned a number of matters of law including issues to do with the evalution of urban design, heritage, and alternative options to the flyover.
Wellington is not a city of flyovers, and this proposal would place a flyover within a sensitive heritage site in our city, which includes an area of small nineteenth and early twentieth-century houses which would be dwarfed by the size of the 320m long concrete flyover, and become the dominant view for people living in Ellice St. The flyover would also block the view down the Kent/Cambridge Terrace boulevard, as well as obscuring views of the historic Basin Reserve cricket ground. We believe that a concrete structure of this large size, in this position, is not appropriate for this part of the city, which includes Government House, and the National War Memorial Park.
In addition to opposing the flyover, we believe that it is important that the alternative view to that of the NZTA is properly represented at the appeal hearing.
This means that we are off to the High Court.
It is no secret that the parties opposing the flyover have limited financial resources, and that the lack of an opposing voice in these proceedings will mean that not all of the relevant arguments will be put before the High Court. We consider it to be important for this to be a properly democratic process, which means that views from both sides of the argument need to be heard. It is for all of these reasons that the Architectural Centre will be a party to the appeal, and for these reasons we are asking for your support.
If you are supportive and would like to help there are a number of things that you can do.
- Spread the word. Circulate this email to anyone who you think would be keen to help.
- We’re holding a charity auction at 5.30-7.30pm Wed 3 December at Regional Wines and Spirits (15 Ellice St, by the Basin Reserve, Wellington)and are asking architects/artists/authors/designers/film-makers/poets etc. to donate drawings/paintings/designs/sculpture/poems/manuscripts/autographed books/film/anything – so if you can donate something that would be fabulous, and if you can encourage others to donate something that would be grand too. An auction poster is attached.
If you can donate something to be auctioned, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and/or post it to the Architectural Centre, P.O. Box 24-178, Manners St, Wellington, or deliver it to Cranko Architects, 81 Harbour View Rd (M-F 8am-6pm), and include your name, email etc. Additional information is at: http://architecture.org.nz/2014/11/01/architects-draw-charity-auction/
- Join the Architectural Centre. Information is at: http://architecture.org.nz/memberships/. More information about us is at: http://architecture.org.nz/
- Donate any amount you can. Our bank account details for internet banking are included on the membership form at: http://architecture.org.nz/memberships/
- Come to the charity auction… it would be lovely to see you there.
We really appreciate that there are many, many worthy causes that are likely to be taking up your time, energy and money, so we completely understand if you are too stretched to support this one with your time and/or money too. But if this is the case, your moral support and circulating this email to others, will be hugely appreciated by us.
nga mihi nui
Christine McCarthy, Victoria Willocks and Duncan Harding
on behalf of the Architectural Centre
The Architectural Centre is the most venerable advocacy group for better urban form in New Zealand. Formed in Wellington in 1946 by idealistic young architects and planners [including my parents] with aims of improving our built environment. The Manifesto includes clauses such as “Architecture must facilitate better living” and “Good architecture is elegant environmentalism.” A very good history of the Centre, Vertical Living, has just been published by AUP. Here is the full manifesto:
53: Concentrating on Corridors
What if we got serious about intensifying corridors like Melbourne does?
One of the things we hear all the time in Auckland is ‘Unlike – insert City X – we can’t do that here because – insert excuse Y’. Now, sometimes these differences are real and we need to work harder to translate good ideas into a New Zealand context. But more often than not we exaggerate the differences between city life in this small corner of the world and that elsewhere. Fundamentally we have much in common with cities elsewhere, especially the New World cities of Australia and North America, even when they are much bigger than ours.
So what if we got serious about intensifying corridors like Melbourne does? We tried this once before; the former Auckland Regional Council’s growth strategy put a lot of emphasis on intensifying centres and corridors. But not a lot of development happened. We often hear that the problem is our original grain of subdivision and street patterns that doesn’t lend itself well to this type of development. Is that the case, or do we just need to go about it differently or work a little harder to change that?
To really go to town on corridors, we would need to accept greater change in character of the say 7.5% of land area that fronts these arterial corridors, to offset less intensive change elsewhere across most suburban streets. This seems to be the basic premise of recent strategic planning in Melbourne. We can debate how successfully that strategy is being realised over there, but it is hard to argue against the fact that Melbourne already has far more examples of good mid-rise mixed use development on its major roads than Auckland. Why is that?
Here in Auckland, have we forgone such an opportunity with the Proposed Unitary Plan? Imagine if the Council had put more effort into zoning for these outcomes along corridors like Dominion, Mt Eden and Remuera Roads on the isthmus, the former highways of Great North and Great South Roads or the likes of Onewa Road or Lake Road over on the Shore. Such an approach could have adopted a strategy of greater protection of historic commercial buildings balanced with more aggressive up-zoning across the balance of sites including much deeper back from the main street to create viable sites for more intensive mid-rise development.
In acknowledging this as a great planning and urban design outcome, we would also need to acknowledge that it is pretty tough for developers to assemble sites and make it work. Council would need to look to use as many carrots as it can muster across its regulatory, revenue-gathering and investment toolboxes to provide far greater incentives for this to happen.
An Auckland where more people could afford to live amongst the great amenities and character of the long-established suburbs we already have? Wouldn’t that be a better Auckland?
Stuart Houghton 2014
Two articles on employment and its relationship to urban form and transport investment turned up, rather fittingly, on Labour Day. They offer interesting international perspectives, but before we get to them here is a fascinating chart derived from Ministry of Transport Household Travel Survey data that puts the focus on journeys to work into an valuable perspective. Remember the New Zealand census question that generates the gross mode share data much loved by government ministers only asks the very narrow question about travel for work. In Australia at least they ask about travel ‘for work or education’. So here is Auckland’s travel for all purposes:
In particular look at that am rush hour [and, quaintly, it is pretty much just an hour] 8-9am. Journeys to work only make up just 22% of the trips that cause that morning congestion.Trips to education is the big one then. The afternoon is very different with a full three hours of workers and learners all coming home. A great shame that trips for education are not counted in the gross mode share question as that would help the real role of PT and Active modes in keeping this city moving from being so easily downplayed by politicians and others. I have seen elsewhere that Auckland University, for example, has a private car modeshare for its students somewhere in the rounding: 1-3% [if anyone has a data source for this please add it in the comments]. *Correction 8% is the best info we have, thanks to Thomas S; source.
I can’t top the title used by The Economist so have repeated it above, here’s the link. The article simply asks the question what role might geography have in unemployment? As it is concerned with cities the geography in question is urban form. So has 60 years of subsidising the dispersal and segregation of living and working in cities in the west made it harder to provide, find, keep, or change jobs? It surveys the research and concludes that western cities suffer from ‘spatial mismatch’ and ‘poor accessibility’ and that these conditions do indeed inversely affect employment effectiveness of these places. Basically the more dispersed, the greater the degree of separation of zones, and the less effective its Transit system the less efficiency there is in its employment market.
What’s to be done? Here is the concluding paragraph:
All this has big policy implications. Some suggest that governments should encourage companies to set up shop in areas with high unemployment. That is a tall order: firms that hire unskilled workers often need to be near customers or suppliers. A better approach would be to help workers either to move to areas with lots of jobs, or at least to commute to them. That would involve scrapping zoning laws that discourage cheaper housing, and improving public transport. The typical American city dweller can reach just 30% of jobs in their city within 90 minutes on public transport. That is a recipe for unemployment.
The second article is from the Brookings Institution and is called: Cars Remain King and barrier to Economic Opportunity
This uses a study based on commute data from the US 2013 census to focus on ‘zero-vehicle workers':
The most recent 2013 Census numbers shed additional light on their commuting habits, showing how more than 6.3 million workers don’t have a private vehicle at their home. That’s equal to about 4.5 percent of all workers, compared to 4.2 percent in 2007.
Unsurprisingly decades of building and subsidising car amenity in the US has led to widespread structural auto-dependency for employment. This study also concludes that a shift in both urban form and transport infrastructure investment would deliver positive economic outcomes. And in particular that the focus by professionals, institutions, and policy makers needs to be on accessibility and not predominantly on vehicle speed:
To address this inequity, we need to shift how we plan transportation investments and urban development. Planners and engineers need to think less about mobility—how fast we move—and more about access—how many destinations we can reach. Grounded in the daily experience of commuters, this perspective can help meet the needs of workers and employers, better tying together regional economies.
One thing that would help is broadening the specialists in this field away from a focus on the LOS metric, as advocated by the Victoria Transport Policy Institute here.
Clearly a move away from monotonal places of only work [like how the City Centre used to be], or the pure dormitory suburbs of south east Auckland, are part of the solution here. The move to a greater spread of Mixed-Use suburbs with working and dwelling within easy and pleasant reach, especially by the Active modes or short Transit trips, is desirable. This is after all, along with proximity, one of the features of the inner pre-autodependent sprawl era suburbs that make them so successful and desirable: They were formed pre zoning rules, and can be lived in with minimal travel for work and indeed other needs for most.
Of course committed sprawlists will immediately claim that if only we flatted the centre city and spread all employment out across the city then people would all live right next to their workplace and joy! travel times, congestion, and all human misery would end. Well I’m sorry but the following chart firmly puts paid to that:
Above is that chart from 2013 census showing how those in newer further out suburbs have, on average, longer commutes, regardless of their place of work. It is important to underline that these commute lengths are not about just trips to the centre but to the actual real work trips taken by everyone as recorded in the 2013 census. There is just no way around it; the further out you live the longer, on average, your work journey will be. And if we keep extending the city out the worse this will get for these edge-city dwellers and everyone on aggregate. With the concomitant disbenefits that long commutes bring; higher cost, individually and collectively; plus all the negative health, pollution, and happiness outcomes.
And below the same data flipped to show it by destination. Look how inaccessible the employment around the airport is, despite all that road building. The $140m about to be spent on the Kirkbride Rd intersection will do nothing at all to improve this. Look too at Howick on the two charts, the small number of people that work there are mostly local, which is good, but most locals work much further away. Both charts also show the lack of local employment for people in West Auckland.
Which all goes to show that Auckland conforms to Bertaud’s ‘Composite’ urban form model below, which is of course the most common city type on the planet, and not the dispersalists’ largely imaginary centre-less model of the ‘Urban Village’ with everyone working adjacent to where they live and none working across town.
After all, even as Auckland gets longer [it can't get wider!] the area most closely placed to everywhere is still the centre. This helps explain why the centre will only continue to grow and thrive despite increasing rents and other barriers, as it remains the most connected and accessible place to be, on average.
Trust you had a relaxing Labour Day.
48: The Forgotten Triangle
What if the forgotten triangle behind Shortland Street was more than a parking lot?
Continuing the series on forgotten or underutilised spaces within the city, the steeply rising wedge of land between Shortland Street, Albert Park and Princes Street is certainly a stand out example of well-located land that should be valued and utilised for much more than just parking. Certainly, when one looks at historic photos of this part of the city, it is obvious that this area used to packed quite densely with a much more diverse array of buildings and activities than can be found there now.
Looking west over the Chancery Street area from the former Grand Hotel in Princes Street, 1902. (Auckland Council Heritage Images Online).
It is actually quite crazy that this forgotten corner of the city has not been developed for more intensive and higher value uses, if you think about the location, just one block from both the A-grade office space of the corporate towers on Shortland Street and the high value retail of High Street, and bounded by what is a beautiful historic central city park.
The following is a simple four-point plan that is just a start to indicate how the potential of this part of the city could be reconsidered:
- Improve the legibility, crossing opportunities and attractiveness of walking links through the area to Albert Park and the universities on the hill;
- Develop high rise residential towers fronting Kitchener Street similar to the Metropolis tower and Precinct Apartments between Lorne and Kitchener Streets that capitalise on the outlook over the park and up high gain light, air and relative serenity above this quiet part of the city;
- Rediscover and develop the forgotten laneways of Fields and Bacon Lanes, Chancery Lane, Bankside Street and Cruise Lane as back street extensions to the High Street District with opportunities to open out and activate the backs of Shortland Street towers into a gritty but interesting neighbourhood;
- Make more use of the Bowen Park extension of Albert Park as a great public open space in its own right, reflecting its north-facing qualities and great views back to this part of the city skyline.
Stuart Houghton 2014
*For a bit more on this area there is this previous post -PR
Prime Minister John Key is dead right when he said:
First home buyers in Auckland might have to consider an apartment in order to get onto the property ladder, Prime Minister John Key says.
After all, the locational efficiencies of well placed apartments can mean great savings in transport expenses, and the smaller size of these dwellings also leads to savings in operational costs such as energy and maintenance. Apartments do offer a great option for getting onto the property ladder in the more central locations that many desire, and in fact in many cases will be the only option.
And he is doubly right when he added:
“If you’re a young person buying your first place in Sydney or Melbourne or Brisbane, in most instances you’ll be going into an apartment.”
Doubly right? Right in the first instance because that’s true, but secondly right because he is implying that Auckland is becoming more similar to these cities in its functioning. Yes, Auckland is increasingly exhibiting the well known economic patterns of cities; high value placed on proximity, increases in productivity with density, the power of spatially efficient transport modes.
He’s kinda right when he then says:
“The real magic here is what’s driving those [price] increases – it’s land.”
Kinda right? Yes because of course it’s land, the cost of land, but he is only telling part of the storey, because he neglects to say that where that land is is the principal determinant of its value: Location, Location, Location. A 300m² site with a problem on it in Ponsonby recently made the news because of the price it sold for and of course it only reached that sum because of its locational value. No one is spending that kind of money on similarly tiny plots with rotting old shacks on them at the fringes of the city. Only by delivering more dwellings on locationally valuable sites can the demand for city proximate living be met and at attainable prices.
But then he was rather curious about the City Rail Link, that project that more than any other, will facilitate Auckland’s urban spatial reset by improving efficient connectivity and extending locational value to more currently underdeveloped parts of the existing city:
“And that’s one of the reasons why we’re not looking to rush to bring forward the rail, in terms of the CBD rail link, because if we do, the other portion of that has to be borne by the rate payers.”
Curious? Yes because he says he doesn’t want to use our taxes to fund half the project because he wants to save us from spending our rates on the other half. Well Mr Key there’s an even better way out of that, and that is to recognise that the CRL’s value to the Auckland economy and therefore the national one too, means that it should be funded entirely from the National Land Transport Fund like other nationally significant land transport projects.
Every project is somewhere, the CRL is no more local than a Highway in Tauranga, nor the coming one that almost no one will use out of Wellington. Aucklanders help fund those roads. The CRL will unlock a network from Swanson to Pukekohe, and points in between, helping shift a great many more people than a State Highway around Te Puke, and freeing up roads for many more freight movements. Therefore it is no less important for the national economy.
But anyway the City’s share of the CRL is already budgeted for in capital works programme so withholding the taxpayers share is not saving the Auckland ratepayer anything.
And this is significant because there are two issues that are vitally important to the success of apartment living that PM understands we now need; the location of the apartments and the quality of their connectivity. It is important that they are well placed in as much walking distance of amenity and employment as possible, but then that they are also well connected to the rest of the city through spatially efficient transport systems. After all the best trip is the one not needed to be taken, or that is shortened or otherwise has less impact on other city users and places [reducing the negatives of traffic congestion, space consumption, and pollution].
Auto-dependent apartments on greenfields sites at the end of the motorway will only achieve the worst of both worlds: dense sprawl. And this kind of distant and disconnected living supplies none of the agglomeration economies that make cities successful. Furthermore they are unlikely to succeed as they satisfy no one: They provide neither the scale nor gardens that detached house lovers want, nor the city proximity that city dwellers value.
So the successful growing city economy isn’t just about Land, or Dwelling Type, but about Location, Dwelling Type, and Connectivity.
Gotta have all three.
*Adendum. In case anyone is thinking that increasing sprawl doesn’t increase transport demand and therefore pressure on all systems here is an up to date chart derived from the 2013 census Journey To Work data that shows a very clear match for distance from centre and length of journey to work. This is not just about the concentration of jobs in the centre, but also about people working in all sorts of places throughout the city and travelling across town to get there:
So with the interesting addition of that area on the south of the Tamaki River, and a developing one on the mid North Shore, the most efficient journeys to work on a distance basis are all in the City Centre and the older heart of the Isthmus. In other words the further out you live the longer your schlep to and for work is likely to be, by whatever mode.
Potential good news in the Commercial property section of the Herald on Saturday:
Town centre could rise around new rail station
Colin Taylor writes:
One of the biggest remaining parcels of development land in metropolitan Auckland is being promoted for sale as offering a chance to master-plan and develop a big mixed-use project around a major suburban transport hub.
The 5.8ha block of Mt Wellington land is on 14 titles at 81-107 Jellicoe Rd, 127-131 and 143 Pilkington Rd.
Located 9km south-east of the Auckland CBD, the land is zoned Business 4 and has a zoning of Mixed Use Tamaki Sub Precinct A under the proposed Auckland Unitary Plan.
“The property is located within the Tamaki Edge Precinct, which has been given the thumbs-up for commercial, transportation and residential redevelopment by the central government and Auckland Council,” says Peter Herdson of Colliers International who, with colleagues John Goddard and Jason Seymour, is marketing it for sale by private treaty closing at 4pm on November 6 unless it sells beforehand by negotiation.
The site is bounded on its western edge by the disused Tamaki Station on the Eastern Line, roughly equidistant from Panmure and Glen Innes Stations which are 2.2km apart. A new station here could be worth building so long as the new development is big enough to warrant it. Ideally this would mean working with more than this holding alone, especially taking the development across the rail line to the container storage yard and the go-cart track and perhaps more properties fronting Tainui Rd.
This would make the new station centred on a catchment of scale rather than being liminal to the site like the station down the line at Sylvia Park. Naturally this scale of development could be staged as sites became available, but it is important to plan at scale from the beginning. Any new development on the western side would offer the opportunity to improve access from the new and poorly connected Stonefields to the new Station, especially for walking and cycling.
Indicative plans for Tamaki Station show ground floor retail and hospitality premises, with apartment-styled dwellings on upper levels. Townhouses and multi-level apartments arranged around parks and green spaces are envisaged over the balance of the site. There have also been preliminary discussions around the development of a new Tamaki railway station to further boost the site’s connections to the wider Auckland region.
“It is envisaged to become a major transport hub with supporting retail, cafes, restaurants, key services and around 2000 higher-density homes,” Herdson says.
“The impetus for this came from the owner’s aspiration to enable the development of a mixed-use neighbourhood hub around a new station,” he says.
“This would provide a further transport link to the Auckland CBD, while benefiting from Auckland Council’s plan to significantly improve the bus and roading network immediately around the site.”
Goddard says proposed zoning changes under the Unitary Plan make the site a most compelling opportunity for developers.
“The current owners have worked with Auckland Council to put in place proposed zoning changes that have effectively repositioned the property to a much higher-value end use than it can provide under its current zoning.”
However, the proposed zoning under the Unitary Plan enables intensive mixed commercial and residential development on the land, retail of up to 4500sq m in combined gross floor area and height up to 16.5m.
“This increased planning flexibility afforded to the property opens up its potential uses significantly – handing the new owner multiple options to create a new, staged, mixed-use precinct that will become an attractive and convenient place to live near to shops, cafes and a vastly-improved transport infrastructure.”
This area is one of the best opportunities for real mixed used urban development on the existing Rapid Transit network within the city. This line will be running the new electric trains at ten minute frequencies from the the end of the year. Because of existing landuse constraints only really New Lynn, Morningside, and Onehunga offer similar upzoning potential for future TODs [Transit Oriented Development].
But it has to be done well. And much better than recent examples, like Stonefields, which is not mixed use nor well connected, nor like the big-box centres going up on the fringes of the city now to the north and north-west. And Auckland Transport’s traffic engineers will have to restrained from insisting on swamping the area with over-scaled place ruining roading, as they did in New Lynn.
So how to do it? There are a number of ways this could be structured to expedite a high quality outcome at this location.
- A private developer working closely with Council through the Unitary Plan. But only very big players could take this on.
- A private development with Housing NZ buying or leasing a proportion of dwellings from the outset. Say 20-30%, this gives some certainty to the developer and funders. Also best practice for social housing is to distribute dwellings throughout the whole city rather than to build or manage concentrations in clumps and government has announced it is rebalancing HNZ’s property portfolio.
- A PPP with Council Properties CCO. Wouldn’t it be great to get a more active property department at Council? But then would likely be undercapitalised so would probably need to work closely with the private sector, which would probably be a good thing.
- A de-aggregatted development like Vinegar Lane in Ponsonby where a big redevelopment is masterplaned but then sites are sold to individual holders to build but within the intensively structure conditions. This spreads the funding burden and increases building variation within a controlled plan. I wrote about this last year. And as buildings are now about to start going up there I will do new post on it soon.
With a well scaled development here then an additional station on the line would almost certainly be good thing but it is important to consider the impact this would have on the network. All network design seeks to strike a balance between speed, which means making as few stops as possible, and connectivity, which favours more. So yes another stop would slow the journeys of other users, especially poor for those from further out commuting into the city.
Well happily soon this line will only be operating as far as Manukau City, as Pukekohe and Papakura trains will all be travelling via Newmarket from later this year. But also increasingly we are seeing the rail system in general change both in use and design from a soley Commuter Rail style system to more of a Metro one. This means becoming less focussed on peak commutes from dormitory suburbs to the city centre and, while still serving this core task, also offering all day high frequencies across all lines in both directions for many other types of journeys.
However those longer journeys are still among the most valuable services that the rail network provide as they substitute long car trips so perhaps the best way to manage the speed/connectivity balance is to skip an underused station elsewhere on the network like Westfield, so the net speed cost for longer journeys is zero, and the connectivity and access benefits of the new station are without a network time burden for most.
Potentially this is a very good opportunity for the whole city as it should spark regeneration in a area ready for it and with potential for more, while also offering more variety to our dwelling stock both in terms of location [not ex-urban], connectivity [a Rapid Transit TOD], and price point [not in Ponsonby or Orakei, so the land cost must be lower].
And therefore housing and movement more choice for more people.
A fantastic Harbour in a vigourous climate and out of reach for people for many years, but now a really great series of different toned places. Urban and wild; industrial and recreational; gastronomic and cultural; contemporary and faithful to its past. A very real role model for Auckland as our more benign version is still nowhere near as accessible nor as integrated into the city as Wellington’s is now.
Just one small section, note how a commercial and retail building is right there surrounded by great and varied public realm improvements. Total and free access all around the commercial users. Proper mixed use, and indeed used by the full mix of society.
Ever since the Town Hall was built on that odd triangle between converging streets half way up Queen St Auckland has failed to successfully find an important central location that can be considered its spiritual locus. A civic heart: A public space for those collective experiences; celebrations, protests, that everyone automatically understands is the right and fitting place. Unusually Auckland was poorly served by our Victorian and Edwardian city builders in this regard. Their great works are all distributed and largely disconnected; Albert Park, CPO, Town Hall, and Art Gallery/Library. Significantly Auckland has never really been sure where its heart is.
Auckland Plan 1841 Felton Mathew
Felton Mathew, the city’s first surveyor, saw the ridge of Hobson St as the commercial and administrative centre, so proposed two fine and central squares to interrupt the north south flow with ‘place’ there. No doubt he was keen to get the great and good away from the waterway of Waihorotiu in the Queen Street gully; he placed the quality residences on the opposing ridge, about where Albert Park came to be. Incidentally his roots in the city of Bath with its fine curving Georgian terraces is clearly visible in this scheme.
Only a few parts of this plan eventuated, Waterloo Quadrant being the most obvious, and the main affairs of the city gradually congealed along Queen St, especially once the open sewer that Waihorotui became was finally piped in the 1890s [“That abomination, the Ligar Canal, is still a pestiferous ditch, the receptacle of every Imaginable filth, bubbling in the noonday sun”]. But also up Shortland St, the city’s best professional address and then to Princess St to the grand city houses of the early magnates.
Queen Street welcome US fleet August 1908
The inter-bellum years brought even more dispersal of public building with the placement of the Museum in the Domain and the disaster of moving the Railway Station out of town without building the proposed inner-city passenger tunnel. The attempts at civic placemaking in the Modern era gave us the mess we are now trying to undo: Aotea and QE II Squares.
These have always been soulless places that have failed to earn their hoped for roles as loved and functioning public spaces. The first a formless mess leading to a building with all the utility and charm of a 1970s high school science block; relentlessly horizontal and without ceremony or focal point. The Town Hall itself is so busy sailing down the old stream bed of Waihorotui and opening a-midships on the other side that it may as well not be there [can't we make some kind of use of the bow of this ship? Open a cafe onto the Square through some of those blind openings....?]. Aotea is better now than it’s ever been, after much rebuilding, but is still inherently unable to inspire.
And QE II suffers from containment by buildings of Olympian blandness, that anyway offer nothing but mall food or the blank wall of office blocks, add to that it’s famously shaded, hideously paved, sorrowfully treed, and otherwise peperpotted with meaningless objects and host to that awful and useless over-scaled glass and steel inverted L ….. frankly that it is mainly used by tradies to park on almost elevates the place.
The theme that unites these sad attempts at public space is that they were both built at the full blaze of the auto-age. Both are defined by the dominating theme of vehicles first. Aotea is of course just the roof of a garage, how could anyone be expected to use a public square with being able to park right there? The other disaster that still defines and keeps the square sub-optimal is the severing ring road of Mayoral Drive that cuts it off on two sides. There is no way that the small amount of carriageway be taken over for people without expanding roadspace nearby first.
Queens St from Town Hall Nov 1963
QE II Square has a more chequered history. When the CPO was an important building of state [built on the site of Auckland's first train station] it was a busy wide street, first with trams and general traffic:
Then just general traffic:
CPO Lower Queen
Then with the amalgamation of the opposite Downtown site in the 1970s the street in front of the CPO was pedestrianised. Great history of this process here, a window onto the forces that formed the places of this period. And this was the result:
The idea of a public plaza in front of the CPO was logical: It is directly in front of the large and traditional looking public building, like in any European city the old CPO grand and important enough like a ‘Rathaus’ in a northern European city, or, at a pinch, the cathedrals and churches of southern and central Europe, that provide the focus for great public squares.
Yet this space was forgettable; it didn’t work. The great problem was that over the whole period of its existence the importance of the CPO declined right down to closure. So the potential of this space for meaning and centrality could never get going. Additionally it was designed like a suburban shopping centre, just like the new mall on the otherside too which didn’t help, but really its great problem is that it was pretty much nowhere. So its loss wasn’t mourned when the buses were returned as part of the invention of Britomart Station. Even though all we were left with was the terrible sunless end of the Square as it is now.
Which is ironic really because the kind of civic space that I am arguing Auckland critically lacks needs to be the placed at the front door of some kind of busy and important public building like a Train Station. Because now there are people, lots and lots of people, using that grand old pile. All thanks to the ever growing success of the revived passenger rail network. This is what works in those European cities that Aucklanders love to visit, as shown in Warren’s post about northern Europe. This space is at last in the right place to become the locus for all kinds of beginnings; celebrations, protests, welcomes.
It’s a good shape too: There’s a standard rule of thumb about building height relative to its approaching horizontal space that says a good place to start is if these are roughly equal. And it looks to me like the old CPO is as about as high as Lower Queen St is wide. And if Auckland doesn’t start, in every sense, at the sea at the bottom of Queen St then I don’t what it is. The fact that it isn’t large I feel will be an advantage most of the time; it’ll never be empty, and for those big occasions the plan is to close Quay St to both expand the space and complete the connection with the water’s edge.
This plaza should be able to succeed as the ‘Marae’ to Britomart’s ‘Wharenui’. And, for big processions actually link all the way up to Aotea Square, especially when we do the thinkable and get the cars out of the rest of flat section of Queen St.
So the plan is a good one:
1. to repair the western street edge of Lower Queen St with activated retail entrances
2. insert new streets through the Downtown site [not internal mall spaces; at least one proper open air public street]
3. return Britomart’s forecourt to being a public square
4. while expanding and improving the water’s edge public spaces
All at the cost of the current QEII Square.
However there is one vital condition to the proposals as set out in the Framework process that I believe has to be properly dealt with in order for any of this to work. Summed up in one word: Buses.
Where do the buses go? We are told Lower Albert St, all through Britomart, including Galway and Tyler Sts, and Customs St. This just doesn’t add up on any level. It isn’t desirable, already the narrow streets behind the Station are degraded by the numbers of buses turning, stopping, idling. The new plaza in front of Britomart will be reduced in utility and attractiveness by buses exiting Galway and Tyler Streets, even if they no longer cross in front of the old CPO itself. Lower Albert St just can’t that many stops.
This whole scheme, in my view, can only work if there is a seriously effective solution to the bus problem, which means a proper station somewhere proximate, as well as a hard headed approach to terminating suburban bus routes at the new bus/train interchange stations like Panmure, Otahuhu, New Lynn, and Mt Albert, etc, in order to maximise access to the city while limiting the huge volumes of buses dominating inner city streets. Howick and Eastern services, for example, could go on to Ellerslie from Panmure then across town instead of into the city. Or simply return to the south east to increase frequency massively on their core route having dropped off passengers to the city at Panmure Station.
Helsinki [pop: 600k], for example, terminated its city bus routes at stations when it built it’s metro system in the 1980s, as well as making an underground bus station for those services that remain:
Many of the buses operating in eastern Helsinki act as feeder lines for the Helsinki Metro. Nearly all other routes have the other end of their lines in the downtown near the Helsinki Central railway station. Such exceptions are present as dedicated lines operating directly from a suburb to another past the centre
Britomart and the improving rail system helps take both cars and buses off the road it will be a long time before the CRL is open and we can use the spatial efficiency of underground rail to replace exponentially more surface vehicles. And even longer again before a rail line to the Shore will be built, and even then there will still be a need for buses.
Because we have refused to invest in permanent solutions to city access like the many underground rail proposals over the years it has now become urgent to get much more serious about how we manage the inevitable boom in bus demand. This issue was disguised for years by the decline of the Central City, or at least its failure to thrive; strangled by motorways, and deadened by street traffic as it has been over my life time. But now its revival is thankfully strong and clearly desirable, the City and the State will have to, literally, dig deep, to keep it moving. After all, all New Zealand needs a thriving Auckland and:
‘Transportation technologies have always determined urban form’
-Economist Ed Glaeser The Triumph of the City P12
While addressing these near term street level issues it is important to keep a thought for an ideal longer term outcome. Here is the kind of treatment that could ultimately work well for central city Auckland.
Shared Space with modern Light Rail, Angers, France
This could be Queen St, but is only possible once the high capacity and high frequency of both the longer distance rail network is running underground, and the widespread reach of the bus system is similarly properly supported in the City Centre. This type of system is for local distribution not commuting.