47: Water in Public Spaces
What if we made more of water in our public spaces?
Sometimes it is the simple things. People flock to water in public spaces. We need more of it in this city. And in more exciting, dramatic and interactive forms.
Prime Minister John Key is dead right when he said:
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:
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:
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:
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.
2011 saw the release of a study led by Ian Wallis Associates into Auckland’s public transport performance. It is a sober and restrained report that simply sets out to describe the performance of Auckland’s PT systems on comparative terms with a range of not dissimilar cities around the region. A very useful exercise, because while no two cities are identical, all cities face similar tradeoffs and pressures and much can be learned by studying the successes and failures of other places. The whole document is here.
The cities selected for the study are all in anglophone nations around the Pacific from Australia, the US, Canada, and New Zealand, with Auckland right in the middle in terms of size. And as summarised by Mathew Dearnaley in the Herald at the time, it showed Auckland to be the dunce of the class by pretty much every metric. Although the article is called Auckland in last place for public transport use it’s clear that the headline it would have reflected the report’s findings more accurately if the paper had simply said; Auckland in last place for public transport. Because it showed that the low uptake of public transport in Auckland cannot be separated from the low quality, slow, infrequent, and expensive services available.
Here’s the uptake overview:
So it’s clear that population alone is no determinant of PT uptake. If it isn’t the size of the city what is it? Various people have their pet theories, some like to claim various unfixable emotional factors are at work, like our apparently ‘car-loving’ culture, though is it credible that we have a more intense passion for cars than Americans or Australians? The homes of Bathurst and the Indy 500? Others claim that the geography of this quite long and harbour constrained city somehow suits road building and driving over bus, train, and ferry use. A quixotic claim especially when compared to the flat and sprawling cities of the American West which much more easily allow space for both wide roads and endless dispersal in every direction. Another popular claim is that Auckland isn’t dense enough to support much Transit use. Yet it is considerably denser than all but the biggest cities on the list.
So what does the study say is the reason for Auckland’s outlying performance?
It considers service quantity [PT kms per capita], quality [including speed, reliability, comfort, safety, etc] and cost both for the passenger and society, and easy of use [payment systems]. Along with other issues such as mode interoperability, and land-use/transit integration. And all at considerable depth. The report found that Auckland’s PT services are poor, often with the very worst performance by all of these factors and this is the main driver of our low uptake.
And happily some of the things that stand out in the report are well on the way to being addressed. Here, for example is what it says about fares:
The HOP card is no doubt a huge improvement and has enabled some fare cost improvement. And we can expect more to be done in this area soon, we are told, especially for off peak fares. Additionally the integration of fares is still to come [zone charging].
Here’s what it says about service quantity and quality:
Yet there is one thing that the report returns to on a number of occasions that perhaps best captures what’s wrong with Auckland, and offers a fast track to improvement. And, even at this early stage, gives us a way of checking the theory against results in the real world:
Right, so perhaps the biggest problem with Auckland’s PT system is simply the lack of enough true Rapid Transit routes and services. To qualify as true Rapid Transit it is generally accepted that along with the definition above, a separate right of way, the services must also offer a ‘turn up and go’ frequency, at least at the busiest sections of the lines. And that this is generally considered to mean a service at least every ten minutes, but ideally even more frequent than that.
In Auckland we only have the Rail Network and the Northern Busway that qualify as using separate right of ways, and the busway for only 41% of its route. At least the frequencies on the Busway are often very high, where as on the Rail Network they only make it to ten minute frequencies for the busiest few hours of the day. So to say that Auckland has any real high quality Rapid Transit services even now is a bit of a stretch. However these services have been improving in the three years since the report was released, and will continue to do so in the near future with the roll out of the new trains and higher frequencies on the Rail Network, and more Bus lanes on the North Shore routes especially at the city end of their runs.
Here is a map with a fairly generous description of our current or at least improving Rapid Transit Network:
Even though it is only three years since the report was released, and there is much more to come, there have been improvements, so we can ask; how have the public responded to the improvements to date?
Below are the latest Ridership numbers from Auckland Transport, for August 2014:
SOI: Statement Of Intent, AT’s expectations or hopes. NEX: Northern Express.
So the chart above, showing our most ‘Rapid’ services, Rail and the NEX, are clearly attracting more and more users out of all proportion with the rest, and way above Auckland Transport’s expectations or hopes as expressed by the SOI, is a pretty good indication that both the report authors were right, Auckland is crying out for more Rapid Transit services and routes, and, at least in this case, Einstein was wrong: Practice does indeed seem to be baring out the Theory.
And from here we can clearly expect this rise in uptake to continue, if not actually increase, as the few Rapid Transit routes we have now are going to continue to get service improvements. And 19% increases, if sustained, amount to a doubling in only four years! Rail ridership was around 10 million a year ago, so it could be approaching 20 mil by mid 2017, if this rate of growth is sustained.
But this also means we can clearly expect any well planned investment in extensions to the Rail Network [eg CRL] or additional busways [eg North Western] to also be rewarded with over the odds increases in use. Aucklanders love quality, and give them high quality PT and they will use it.
Furthermore, given that these numbers are in response to only partial improvements even extending on-street bus lanes for regular bus services looks highly likely to be meet with accelerated ridership growth. I think it is pretty clear that Auckland Transport, NZTA, MoT, and Auckland Council can be confident that any substantive quality, frequency, and right-of-way improvement to PT in Auckland will be rewarded with uptake.
Given that Auckland’s PT use is advancing ahead of population growth [unlike the driving stats] I believe we have already improved that poor number up top to 47 trips per person per year. So there’s still plenty of room for growth even to catch up with the next city on the list. So perhaps it’s time to formally update that report too?
Imagine just how well a full city wide network of Rapid Transit would be used? Clearly Auckland is ready for it:
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.
“Change is the law of life and those who only look to the past or present are certain to miss the future”
Life is nothing but change, and cities being concentrations of human life manifest this fact in their physical fabric: They are constantly changing, always incrementally, sometimes abruptly. Positively and negatively. Investment versus entropy. Governments, local and central, are charged with understanding the forces at work behind this law of life and responding wisely with our taxes to attempt to maximise the potential positive outcomes within this reality for all citizens.
There is plenty of evidence that suggests there is a need for substantial change in transport infrastructure investment now in Auckland. This evidence is broad based and essentially adds up to the fact that the conditions that set the policy of the last 60 years no longer hold:
It is in this context that we have developed our Congestion Free Network summarised here.
However while there is clear evidence that we live in a period of discontinuity from the previous era this does not mean that what was built up during this era should be abandoned or not maintained. Quite the contrary in fact. One of the primary aims of shifting our capital investments away from the urban highway network is to build up the complementary networks to such an effective and attractive level that will keep the highways functioning well and with more efficiency. And in this our programme is not only low risk and high value but also very different from the late 20th Century revolution that it builds on. If there is one lesson to learn from the last great shift in transport investment in Auckland it is to be sure to keep what you already have and build on it; not to disregard the last system in order to focus totally on the next one.
Let’s have a look back.
The decision last century to invest in a system of urban highways for Auckland became over time a total commitment. We not only invested nearly every penny of new investment into this system starving any alternatives we also actually removed existing alternatives.
Here is a view of the leafy and desirable old suburbs of the Auckland Isthmus:
And here is a map of the system that made this urban form:
After the second world war Auckland faced the three interrelated problems. It was growing, there had been little investment in infrastructure for decades, and it lacked financial resources. To that can be added that capital investment was dependent on a suspicious government that faced, as ever, competing demands. One critical area that this came to a head was our electric tram system. While by any measure it was a huge success, carrying huge numbers of people and at around a net operating profit, it was in desperate need of catch up investment both in the machines themselves and extension to new areas.
In the context of the times the car offered a way out of this problem. There were very few of them in the 1950s, and while their uptake was expected to grow this was also expected to remain manageable. It was argued that buses could replace the trams with the advantage of operating without fixed routes and be more easily extended to new areas and at lower capital cost to public finances. All true. But really this was a way to give Auckland’s relatively narrow roads over completely to private vehicles, as no priority was allowed for the tram-replacing buses. Contrast with Melbourne: where they not only kept the more appealing trams but took advantage of wide boulevards allowing separation of trams and traffic on many routes, plus tram priority systems at intersections where they are mixed.
Relying on the car could be rationalised as cheaper too, simply because the machine and fuel costs were privatised, and that petrol taxes were to be the source of road funding. Lost in the reasoning was the fact total reliance on driving is the most expensive way of ordering a city’s movement. So while the car/road system had a good funding mechanism [fuel excise] this does not mean it is the best system economically, and this is still true today . It would require ever more enormous sums and in fact add to the ratepayer burden and not relieve it as road taxes have never covered all road costs. Let alone other burdens of this system like parking and the loss of rateable land etc.
And motorways are subject to the laws of inverse success over time: they are best when they’re new, they never get better as they attract more users. Below, rural Penrose with new motorway 1963- nice flow.
Part of the world view of Modernism was a faith in the completely fresh start: The Brave New World. This is evident in art movements, new philosophies, individual building projects, but also at the urban planning level. That there was a huge desire for new beginings is not surprising after the experience of the first half of the century with two extremely destructive world wars and a devastating Depression. Auckland, although it didn’t come out of the war with whole areas of the city wiped clear by bombing it did have plenty of proximate bare land, and in the city itself the buildings and structures of the colonial era were now ageing and dated compared to what seemed possible in the new American-style future. It was ripe for this ideology of ‘rip it up and start again’.
We took our lead from the zeitgeist, and the zeitgeist was all California [well, the Autobahn, actually, but no one was admitting that].
Furthermore the beginning of this new project coincided with a rise in prosperity, price controls being lifted from private car sales, and the price of crude oil fell every year from 1947-1970 in real terms. Driving boomed in New Zealand as it did all across the western world and use of the new bus network declined proportionately. And then fell into a downward cycle of falling investment, declining quality of service, and uptake. The buses were never as accepted as much as the trams and nor could they ever command the control of the road as well either.
So when in 1976 Prime Minister Robert Muldoon exploited the divisions in the many local authorities in Auckland to kill Auckland Mayor Robinson’s ‘Robbie’s Rapid Rail’ Auckland was committed, by central government, to a bold ‘double-down’ on an urban motorway centred road only transport network.
What had began as a just part of the city’s movement systems as advised by North American consultants in the 1960s became an extreme and monotonal driving-only all-in bet. Bold, ambitious, and in terms of the communities and places in its path; pitiless. All directed by central government, with local concerns overruled.
Whole areas of the city have never recovered from the burden of hosting this land hungry and severing system; in the most affected areas land value still remain low and land use poor. They have been sacrificed for the convenience of those from other, further out parts of the new city. Around 50 000 people were relocated and 15 000 buildings removed. This was a revolution, with winners and losers.
Meanwhile investment in complementary systems froze. The bus network was stuck in aspic; even though it began carrying ever more people from the mid 1990s as the city grew and began to exhibit the kind of urban realities that make driving less optimal for more and more citizens. Each time the rail network won hard fought and tiny investments; second hand trains from Perth, Britomart Station, ridership leapt in response. But still no meaningful investment in extending these parts of systems into an actual Rapid Transit Network has been able to be wrestled from successive governments this century. Although important steps towards such a system were undertaken first by the last Labour led government by funding Project Dart, a long overdue upgrade of the rail network, and the construction of the Northern Busway, and the current National led government by enabling electrification to follow through a mixture of grants and loans to Auckland Transport. And, critically, AT and AC’s multi year overhaul of the bus system and introduction of the integrated ticketing.
Yet the future still looks no different, in fact central government’s programme is one of an aggressive return to the ‘revolution’ of the late 20th Century with no new Public Transit infrastructure funding at all, just enough to contribute to operate what’s already there: [chart of spending categories for the whole country 2015-2025]
Yet despite the huge sums spent on more lane space the growth in driving has stalled, in contrast to uptake in the underfunded Transit mode: [VKT: Vehicle Kilometres Travelled].
So it is very hard to understand this policy in terms of evidence, is its based on a nostalgia for the driving boom years of last century?, or perhaps it is simply an inability of our institutions to understand change and adapt to it?, or worse are the huge sums of public money in this sector subject to capture and control by special interests?: Big Trucking, Civil Construction, Consultants and Financiers, and Land Development Interests?
It is time to build balance into our city’s movement options and to do this we need a change in where spending is directed. And properly understood this is not another revolution but rather a return to moderation and balance and away from the current orthodoxy which is lopsided in the extreme. The current policy of investing so disproportionately in the driving mode is a revolutionary policy, but not seen as such because it has become an orthodoxy. We shouldn’t be surprised with its extremity as it is a 20th Century programme, from that age of extremes and extreme ideologies. Which while at times exhilarating, it also meant much was lost, like Auckland’s tram network.
Our position is that this kind of lurch is not what Auckland needs now but instead we should build on what we have by adding to the underdeveloped Active and Transit modes while maintaining and more efficiently utilising the mature driving resource.
Above is a comparison of the proposed Green Party and National Party transport policies [for the whole country]. Note that the major difference is about what to build next, and that both plan to maintain current assets. We can change from extremity to balance without losing what we have. And it is long overdue:
by Architect, Cartoonist, and National Treasure: Malcolm Walker
This is a Guest Post by regular reader Warren Sanderson
Gothenburg, Hanover, and Hamburg
What do these three cities have in common?
Let’s have a look at transit in each of these cities in turn.
This city on Sweden’s west coast is smaller than Auckland with a metropolitan population of around one million. It was a pleasing city to visit without the hordes of tourists that plague some European destinations. It has an apartment culture in the inner city of mostly four or five storey buildings, but is still possible to see the church spires which I always find aesthetically most satisfying.
One of the advantages of having been born too long ago – and there aren’t many of them – is that it is easy to remember everything about Auckland’s trams because I travelled on every route at some stage.
Well – wow! Gothenburg still has a tramway system just like we had in Auckland until the 1950’s. And they all go through the centre of town and out to a suburb destination on the other side of town just like Auckland’s did. A point of difference though is that at the terminus end of the tracks Gothenburg has a large round turning circle so that the driver remains in the same cab, whereas in Auckland the driver switched poles, took his driving handle to the cab at the other end of the tram and commenced driving in the opposite direction from there.
Each Gothenburg route had a number prominently displayed plus the actual destination and it was very easy to ensure that one had boarded the correct tram.
I noted that both on week-days and at the week-end the two main streets were full of people, the remarkably quiet trams always appeared to enjoy excellent patronage and car traffic by comparison with Auckland was very light. It is also worth recording that in general the streets are quite wide and have room for a wide footpath each side, a bike lane each side, a single car lane each side and double tram tracks – sometimes these tracks are in the middle and sometimes on the side of the arterial route. When we caught a bus to Marstrand some 50 kilometres away, I noted that the tram tracks in the middle of a section of the road a little further out of town also served as a bus lane.
Like most European cities the Central Railway Station is a prominent feature. As well as the usual inter-city departure platforms, there a couple of substantial retail wings and a long covered bus station wing known as the Nils Ericson Terminal.
Intending pre-ticketed passengers queue at the appropriate gate number in the air-conditioned building and when the bus arrives, board it directly from the terminal rather like a modern airport. Seats are few within the Terminal.
Just across the street from the Central Station is the Nordstan Shopping Centre a very large shopping mall and beyond that the delightful city centre, pedestrian squares, covered market and parks.
It is evident that Gothenburg has a highly efficient transport hub, which not only serves commuters, but is integral to a vibrant retail, business and entertainment area. In addition there are time-tabled Gota River ferries serving a university precinct and other riverside locations.
Out of town I did not see a motorway with more than two lanes except on one occasion when the third lane was a bus only lane. They may have them but I didn’t see any. But I did see plenty of bikes – they are a very popular mode of transport.
As an important rail and road junction Hanover was almost completely destroyed by Allied bombing during World War II and this is reflected in the architecture which is obviously of post-war construction and in the main rather bland. As usual the Hauptbahnhof is prominent with a large and daytime busy Ernst August Platz in front of the main entrance. The façade of the Station is a post-war reconstruction of the old, but the interior is modern, busy and user-friendly with many shops.
They also have what they call trams but I would refer to as light rail. At some point they have dug up some of their now pedestrianized city streets to install the system, so to visit the Herrengarten we descended to a station under the main street, boarded the ‘tram’ and after a couple of stops at underground stations emerged on the surface and proceeded along the side of the arterial road to our destination, alighting at a raised safety zone complete with shelter. Apparently two out every three people in Hanover use these ‘trams’ every day.
If Hanover can build a tramway of 120 kilometres both underground and on the surface with a population of under 600,000 surely Auckland can build a three and a half kilometre City Rail – Come on National Government – get your priorities properly sorted!!
I must say that railed transit systems of any sort are very visitor user-friendly, even if you don’t speak the language. I never worry about mistakes – even if you go in the wrong direction or to the wrong destination, it is always easy to recover, just cross over and take next one back to where you came from. Bus routeing is less reassuring.
I really enjoyed revisiting The Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg, to give it its full title. With reunification it has recovered that part of its natural hinterland within the former East Germany. Its port has relocated and is massive. Brownfield sites mostly in central locations such as HafenCity (Harbour City) are being re-developed. The CBD was busy and vibrant on both week days and the week-end.
Trains to charming suburbs such as Blankenese [underlined in red below] worked well for us and ferries plying the Elbe are available. After a few years of stall the population is again growing and is officially recorded as 1,741,000 inhabitants.
What I really wanted to convey to readers is that I had the opportunity to pick up, from the splendid Rathaus, a booklet entitled:
‘GREEN, INCLUSIVE, GROWING CITY BY THE WATER – PERSPECTIVES ON URBAN DEVELOPMENT IN HAMBURG’.
It has a foreword by Jutta Blankau, Senator for Urban Development. This is really the approved vision for Hamburg. It is well illustrated and surprisingly was available in both German and English. Overview here.
What follows are some bullet points I have selected and uplifted from various sections of the document;
Now some points uplifted from the section entitled: Mobility – From Owning To Using:
And the most interesting of all the statements under this heading of Mobility –
This is a significant (and not necessarily recent) attitudinal change for a major city in a country in which the export of motor vehicles plays such an important role in foreign exchange earnings. Regretfully and on this basis, our current National government’s thinking hasn’t moved into the 21st century and in New Zealand we are stuck with poorly targeted and excessive spending on the single mode of of roading and particularly duplicate roading, and motorway expansion. The direction being taken by other civic jurisdictions is clear and well elucidated in the document from Hamburg.
Far and away, Auckland will be New Zealand’s only international city. The trends and evidence in support of more balanced urban mobility options for a city like Auckland are abundantly clear.
The Transport Blog has been carefully analysing and presenting researched factual data in support of changed transport policies for some years now.
For the sake of those who live in Auckland now, and who will live in Auckland in the future, it is time to demand that the Government accept the necessary mindset change and as a first step, provide their share of the finance for the early construction of the City Rail Link.
6: Making Better Use of Rooftops on Parking Buildings
What if we made better use of rooftops on our parking buildings?
There is an ongoing debate about whether it is possible to dispose of and redevelop some of the publicly-owned parking buildings in the city centre and elsewhere. This is a good discussion to be having.
In the meantime, wouldn’t it be good if we made better use of some of the most valuable space for better, higher value uses? This sentiment could equally apply to making better use of the ground floor space fronting shopping streets.
Franks Campari Bar opens every summer on the rooftop of a parking building in Peckham, London.
Example of an Urban Allotment Garden.
This is a quick post on the Downtown site. Precinct Properties, the owner of the Mall and the two existing towers [Zurich Hse + HSBC Building] between Lower Queen St and Lower Albert St, are expected to lodge a resource consent in a couple of months for a total rebuild of this site. We expect this proposal to include:
Other significant and related issues:
We are told to expect both a new east/west street connecting the Piazza in front of Britomart to the buses on Lower Albert and a north/south street between Quay and Customs. The later is a reinstatement of a previously existing street called Little Queen, and is what I am focussing on in this post.
In 1966 10 highly detail topographical maps were produced from arial photographs of Auckland City, now in the Auckland Libraries Collection [where the black and white images in this post are also from]. These maps are a fantastic source of detailed information on 1960s Auckland; here is a close-up of the Downtown site before the current 1970s mall was built there, the CPO turned Britomart Station is bottom centre between Calway [sic; should be Galway] and Tyler:
So running between the Ferry Building and the Customs House was Little Queen St. The Harbour Board owned all the reclaimed land in the vicinity of the port and, like POAL today, it was focused on making more of it, either out of the sea, or in this case, it contrived to invent real estate out of a public road in order to ‘rationalise’ that resource. Presumably the trade off then with the city and the citizens was how we came to get the most dreary public space in the city: QE II square, proving for ever that not all open space is equal, especially urban open space.
The east side looking towards the sea and Ferry Building [and one person].
The same side from a higher angle with a couple of humans and more than 10 buses. The street is pretty wide, wider it seems than its Melbourne namesakes; Little Collins and Little Bourke. Or perhaps just emptier?
Quay St from the Ferry Building looking towards Lower Queen [The still extant Endeans building on the left and the Cupola of Britomart poking above], Little Queen on the right. 1965. Plenty of tarmac.
The history of this site is fascinating* as it is a clear example of the failures of mid twentieth century modernist urban master planning. But the outcome we are familiar with now isn’t simply a matter of design fashion but also the demographic, social, and commercial landscape of the period; the spirit of the times.
The 1960s and 70s were at the height of the ‘flight from the centre’ period, a time of anti-urban idealisation of the new decentralised suburban life. A then sexy new Californian dream of a car centred complete life away from the tired old city centre: Living, shopping, and working without bothering with the old fashioned, degraded city. Clean, convenient, new. Supported and subsidised by Central and Local government policy in a myriad of ways, especially in transport spending in Auckland once Robbie’s Rail was killed. This lack of confidence in the city and disregard for the existing urban built environment was the dominant theme of the time so I guess it is of no surprise that the outcome of that Downtown redevelopment is suboptimal.
There was vocal opposition to the design we now have when it was proposed, in particular the shading of the new Square by the now HSBC building was, correctly, predicted to be severely limiting, and for years it struggled commercially [although more recently I believe it was one of previous owner Westfield's better performers, and their only property without onsite and free parking], the site now clearly offers its new owners a huge opportunity but only if completely redesigned and rebuilt. And that opportunity is simply people. The return of people in concentrations to a now more exciting and busy city environment that only good public transport and dense land habitation can provide.
In this regard then, it is essential that the quality of the new work; both the architectural form of the new buildings and the relations between these buildings; the negative space between, these new streets, are of the highest standard, and provide real public spaces, unlike the faux public space of the suburban mall, or the formlessness and inauthenticity of the current QE II square. And in this the challenge is greater than at Britomart as there are no pre-sprawl era buildings to revive to give structure, scale, and continuity, and still the blocking mass of the HSBC building [which covers the northern end of the old Little Queen St] as well as a new tower to accommodate. Precinct and their architects have a great deal to balance but they know if they get it right all else will follow: The people.
A critical difference now is that these new projects are not for and by people that see little value in the city, a place only fit for escape. In that sense they are building for a new age, and one that offers the chance at least of the return of those powerful but difficult to summon qualities of great cities and great city places: Enchantment, mystery, possibility.
No pressure then.
* There is a totally absorbing history of the lead up to the downtown development in the Architecture New Zealand 2. 21013 by architect Dennis Smith. Highly recommended. Shows various schemes, perfectly of their time, and all completely dominated by car parking.
UPDATE: The kind folks at Architecture Now have put Dennis’ great article online now: http://architecturenow.co.nz/articles/a-short-history-of-the-sixties-downtown/
Last night we hosted Janette Sadik-Khan, the woman who transformed New York City’s notoriously contested streets as Mayor Bloomberg’s Transportation Commissioner 2007-13. We are extremely grateful that she found time on her four day visit to Auckland to share her wisdom and experience with us advocates.
Despite arriving at 5am that morning JSK and her team gave us all a great deal of attention and engagement [colleague Seth Solomonow said of the flight: "why'd y'all have to be so far away?"]. JSK still works with Michael Bloomberg at his new not-for-profit post-Mayoral agency Bloomberg Associates. Here is the opening line their mission statement:
So the first recommendation from JSK last night is that Mayor Brown contact ex-Mayor Bloomberg to see how Auckland get to see a whole lot more of JSK and here team to help improve our city in more detail.
Other soundbites from the night include:
She also said the reason she made it a priority to meet with us was that groups like ours in NY had been hugely influential in enabling change. Particularly streetsblog, a clear role model for transportblog.
Also it was just a great night down at Imperial Lane:
We are now looking forward to her presentation at Auckland Conversations on Monday. And thanks to the Auckland Conversations team for hosting her visit, and in particular lending her to us for the evening.
This is the fifth of a series of posts by economist Peter Nunns from his travels earlier this year in the US
I often argue that Auckland can learn the most not from long-established, highly livable European cities but from North American cities. In particular, we should look to cities along the American West Coast, as they were founded at around the same time, shortly before the advent of the streetcar and the automobile, and have since dealt with similar opportunities and dysfunctions. In the short term, cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver may offer some lessons for Auckland. And, as Joel Kotkin would recommend, we should consider whether there is anything to be learned from Houston.
There is no reason why we shouldn’t aspire to adopt the best urban trends, whether they come from America, Europe, Africa, or even New Zealand itself. But transforming Auckland to be more like Amsterdam or Paris (for example) may be a generations-long project. The West Coast cities offer a few lessons about what can – and can’t – be accomplished in a generation.
I spent several weeks in February and March travelling throughout this vast territory to see friends and family. I spent a week in the San Francisco Bay Area; a day in Los Angeles; a long Amtrak ride through the desert with my youngest brother; and another week in Houston, where my middle brother lives, and New Orleans. Here are a few of my observations about how each city functions and how it is changing, with a focus on transport and urban development.
After a few days in Houston, we drove to New Orleans to experience one of the continent’s best outdoor festivals / piss-ups – Mardi Gras. It’s the city’s annual chance to showcase its unique culture – blending French Creole influences with African, Caribbean, and Southern cultures – for thousands of visitors. New Orleans is, in many respects, an elegant city that’s preserved its built heritage quite well. Its main streets are lined with mixed-use, low-rise buildings – shops or bars on lower levels, apartments above – and surrounded by Victorian-era villas and duplex houses. In addition, it’s largely preserved its historic downtown, the French Quarter, which becomes Party Central for Mardi Gras. New Orleans is a fairly walkable city – and, apparently, cycle-able, judging by the number of people I saw biking around the parade routes and downtown parties.
Like Christchurch, New Orleans is also a city that is slowly dealing with the aftermath of a cataclysmic natural disaster. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina broke through the city’s poorly-maintained levies, allowing water from nearby Lake Pontchartrain to flood most of the city. Some cafes now feature markers showing the high-water mark – as the picture below shows, everything got extremely wet. (For reference, I’m 6’2”.) Eight years on, things are still quite dilapidated – a fair number of houses are abandoned or in need of serious repair. While we didn’t visit it, the impoverished Ninth Ward is apparently being abandoned and reverting back to a natural state.
According to one of the people we were staying with, the slow pace of reconstruction is due in part to land ownership and state law issues. The city has a relatively high home ownership rate due to a historical quirk. After the Civil War, New Orleans was generally willing to allow freed slaves and black migrants to purchase land, unlike other cities in the Jim Crow South. Today, many of these houses are still owned by third- or fourth-generation descendants of the original purchasers – people who are less likely to have the financial resources (or experience in dealing with builders and contract law) required to rebuild. It is likely to take years to unwind these issues.
New Orleans seems to have been relatively conservative when it comes to reimagining the city centre in the wake of Katrina. The central areas of town – the French Quarter and CBD – were less affected than residential areas. They’ve been restored with few changes to either major facilities, such as the city’s extensive convention centre and neighbouring sports stadium, or to transport networks. New Orleans has probably missed a few opportunities to redevelop underused areas of the city or to shake up its seemingly perverse transport system.
For example, on my first morning in the city, I went to take a run along the Mississippi River waterfront – and had trouble finding it. The riverfront is monopolised by industry, warehouses, and commercial docks, a legacy of the Mississippi’s role as a major shipping route, along with the convention centre. The only public space is a small park near the French Quarter. New Orleans could probably stand to take a few lessons from Wellington, which has transformed unused port space into a busy urban park.
In order to get to the centre of town, I had to pass under a truly Pharaonic piece of civil engineering – the I-10/Claibourne Overpass, a freeway interchange that rises ten stories above street level. It severs downtown from the vibrant neighbourhoods to the southwest. Before visiting New Orleans, I read the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU)’s annual “Freeways Without Futures” report, which identifies the best opportunities to revitalise cities by tearing down dysfunctional urban freeways. [http://www.cnu.org/highways/freewayswithoutfutures2014] CNU listed the I-10/Claiborne Overpass near downtown New Orleans as one of the most endangered freeways. I was inclined to agree that a plan to remove the interchange and restore links with the riverfront could transform the city. The city is currently studying options for turning the elevated highway into an at-grade boulevard and restoring dozens of city blocks.
In terms of public transport – the city has preserved a heritage streetcar system that links neighbourhoods to the north and west to a historical downtown with narrow streets and many shared spaces. However, this streetcar system doesn’t seem particularly well designed for modern road conditions – although streetcars have separated rights-of-ways in road medians on arterial roads like Canal Street and St Charles Avenue, they mix with car traffic within the city centre. In addition, it was not particularly clear how the city’s bus system worked for cross-town trips, or how it integrated with the streetcars. There seemed to be room for improvement when it comes to PT.
Overall, New Orleans offers some lessons for Christchurch. On the one hand, it displays the resilience of cities after natural disasters – life seems to have returned to normal, albeit with a bit more disrepair, and the city’s hosting big parties with the same enthusiasm. On the other hand, it shows how difficult it can be to fully rebuild, let alone to grasp opportunities to transform urban form and urban function, after a major disaster.