“..the revolutionary rhetoric of Modernism passed a death sentence on the street.”- Stephen Marshall, Streets and Patterns
Bits of remaining urban fabric- Great North Road
I lobbed a few easy questions at the end of my last post:
“What has happened to Great North Road that makes is so low scoring in this analysis and so seemingly low value on the ground?”
One correct answer, as many suggested, is that Great North Road is affected by motorway severance thus leading to reduced network connectivity. The other answer, one that is not depicted in the simple network analysis, is that the actual accessibility conditions on the ground seriously limit local trips and these two structural conditions work in tandem to yield a disurban environment. Below is a look at Great North Road, pre-motorway. It has a fingerprint very similar to Ponsonby Road or Queen Street where buildings are clustered at intersections along the edge of the street where the real estate value was located.
Great North Road, 1940. Maximising street access.
So while Jane Jacobs argues for the necessity of short blocks, if not so much for their physical properties (which are also important- see Portland’s smalls blocks designed to increase real estate value by providing more corners), but mostly since they allow a variety of movement modes and choices, something not available any more on Great North Road nor along most other corridors in Auckland.
The discussion from the last post inspired me to dig up some of my previous work examining the urban form changes in Auckland’s first ring suburbs.
In Auckland, like virtually all large western cities, there was a concerted effort, sometimes explicit, to disperse the intensity the city centre to the suburbs. This was facilitated by the motorway system and just about every other transportation investment and policy decision. Below are the results of that policy on the ground throughout Eden Terrace. In addition to the motorway, the severance of the ancillary road system like the Dominion Rd Flyover also contributed to radically transform and degrade local neighbourhoods.
1959 figure-field diagram. Eden Terrace was one of the many first ring surburbs conveniently located adjacent to the CBD and with access facilitated by streetcars. Large building footprints are located near the railroad.
2011 figure-field diagram. The completion of Ian MacKinnon Drive joins with the original Dominion Road flyover to significantly transform a traditional first-ring suburb. The original street network is obliterated by the formation of a highway-like facility. The urban form is also radically changed from residential and rail based industry to large scale warehousing and automobile based industries.
Here is a different view of the outcome of this ‘disurban’ experiment as calculated by surface parking and asphalt- a good indicator of anti-urban environments.
Neighbourhood transition: Grey Lynn, Auckland. Surface parking indicated in black.
So in addition to the severance or barrier environment of the motorway, the local street conditions of Great North Road and Dominion Road Extension have helped to atomise the value of the city (accessibility, proximity, and convenience) across the landscape. In the next few posts I’ll be taking a closer look at some of these streets from the ground level.
Thanks to SolR in my post yesterday the possible closing of Sarawia St we have some more information what may happen with the area above the Newmarket railway junction. We saw a different design for it earlier this year but not much other information about the project. But it seems that things are kicking up a gear with the developers saying construction is planned to kick off early next year with the development completed by 2015. While the architecture might not appeal to everyone’s tastes, I think it is a great example of the kind of development we need to be thinking about for our town centres around the region Auckland. By building over the junction it makes great use of a site that otherwise can only serve one purpose. One of the best things thought is that it appears to also provide a new connection to the Newmarket train station which would bring more of the Newmarket area within easy walking distance of the station. Looking from Broadway, here’s roughly what things look like now:
And here is what things will look like if this gets built:
The development will be quite mixed including retail, office space, apartments and a hotel along a pedestrian plaza. I guess my biggest concern is that pedestrians wanting to access the station have to walk along what appears to be a narrow walkway at the back of the development. It would be nice to have seen that key pedestrian area and shops could have extended all the way to where the station access was.
If this lives up to the hype the developers have put into their presentation, it could be an outstanding example of the kind of urban developments want to see around the region so hopefully they can get this off the ground.
..The City is never complete, never at rest. Thousands of witting and unwitting acts every day alter its lines in ways that are perceptible only over a certain stretch of time. -Spiro Kostof
Looking south along Queen Street from corner of Customs Street showing the Waitemata Hotel (Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 1-W519)
I was inspired by Patrick’s recent transit dividend post where he documented the laneways around the Pacific and Matt’s people buy stuff and wanted to look a little closer at the things happening on the street which to me are fascinating and representative of a highly dynamic urban ecosystem. In particular, over the last year I believe I have witnessed Auckland’s return as a walking city. Recall that before Auckland was conventionally considered a “car city”, it was a streetcar city, a walking city, and a water city, and of course many combinations of these all, and somewhere in there an airport city and PT city.
Melbourne Laneway (source: Patrick Reynolds)
Melbourne’s famous laneways are a fantastic story. They are symbolic of an urban transformation that the city has undergone over the last 20 years. Especially interesting to me is that these laneways weren’t built into the modern block structure. Instead they were introduced over the years by what urban scholar Arnis Siksna argues is an largely predictable process to provide better performance. Siksna studied (pdf) cities across North America and Australia and concluded that areas with high intensity of pedestrian traffic performed best with a short block system (a “pedestrian mesh”) of between 50-70m. Melbourne, like many other Australian cities, was designed with much larger block sizes closer to 200m. He documents that over time these over-sized blocks are predictably broken down, through “successive uncoordinated actions of individuals”, to facilitate a more efficient land pattern, one that provides better circulation patterns and more potential lot frontages.
Modifications to original block layout of Melbourne, Modified from Siksna (1996)
Auckland also has many examples of areas with short blocks, laneways, and arcades on some of the larger blocks. The real transformation in Auckland is occurring at the street frontage level- with the emergence of micro retail. While Melbourne’s laneway system developed over decades, this retail transformation and adaptation is occurring over night.
People rule: slow traffic, short crossing waits (20-30 secs.), frequent transport
There are several major shifts which have spurred this phenomenon. First, and most important, is the accommodation of pedestrians. This has been done through major signal timing and street crossing improvements, slower traffic speeds, and increased pedestrian mobility via a web of new shared space laneways. Second, is the increase concentration of pedestrians using the street as a conduit to and from public transport. And finally, the challenging urban retail environment itself has been adapting to the competition from both web-based and more suburban retail models.
According to Heart of the City there are over 25,000 people walking along Queen Street every day. If you have been downtown recently no doubt you have experienced the days with thousands of people walking shoulder to shoulder on footpaths while cars trickle down Queen Street. In one of my previous posts I suggested that streets are a platform for exchange, and nestled in a highly connected (laneways, short blocks, layers of transportation) create the most valuable real estate.
Retailers “plugging in” to the value of the street, Auckland
There couldn’t be a better example of the free market “plugging” into the value of the street, remember People Buy Things Not Cars. Using a scientific metaphor the micro retail trend, like it’s international counterpart the foodcart, is capitalising on the value of the street by increasing its surface-to-area ratio. Here’s wikipedia:
An increased surface area to volume ratio also means increased exposure to the environment. The many tentacles of jellyfish and anemones provide increased surface area for the acquisition of food. Greater surface area allows more of the surrounding water to be sifted for nutrients.
And how does a property owner increase surface area? In Melbourne, they broke down large blocks. While this was described as providing an efficiency for movement, I’m sure the business owners weren’t so altruistic, instead they were more likely attempting to “acquire their food”. In Auckland, it’s more of an effective increase of surface area by finely breaking down the store front space. Here’s what businesses looks like trying to plug in the value of the street. This crepery (below) measures 105 cm across its front. Most other shops are about 3 metres. At that dimension we are entering the domain of Venice, Italy store fronts which have a typical dimension of 3 metres. Yes, that Venice that is a car free city.
Pedestrian scale, Auckland (photos: Scot Bathgate)
As prominent urban designer Jan Gehl notes:
When buildings are narrow, the street length is shortened, the walking distances are reduced, and street life is enhanced.
This concept of store front variety is one among many urban design imperatives that is often turned into a endless list of guidelines, codes and regulations. For example, buildings should be placed on the street edge, have transparent glazing, not be too wide, have a diversity of uses, etc. It is my theory that these reasonable outcomes don’t create vibrant cities, instead they are the outgrowth of them. What creates vibrant cities is the existence and especially the accommodation of people within a traditional urban street network supported by various transportation options.
Surface-to-area, maximising the value of the street. Queen Street, Auckland.
As an extreme example, imagine a property owner choosing to provide parking in front of his store which would obstruct the other 25,000 people on foot. Or imagine a property owner who would allow a large monotonous land use like a bank take up excessive store front space and create a dead space. With the return to the pedestrian city these urban design issues become moot, since no one would jeopardise their premium real estate asset which is the street frontage.
Instead, what I think will happen, and largely what is already happening, is that the city centre will becoming increasing re-scaled for people on the street. The outcome will be closer to what typically could be considered traditional, almost European-type urbanism, what has traditionally only occurred on High Street. This means increasing micro-retail uses. Also, large office uses will be wrapped internally with street-serving business. This is typically how old theatres such as the Capital on Dominion Rd address the street, by a narrow passage allowing users into a large internal space but not wasting surface area unnecessarily. At some point there will be undoubtedly be increasing break-down of city blocks to further access property value of the street, just as what happened in Melbourne.
Micro retail: a dynamic and resilient urban model
The amount that the city has changed over the last year is remarkable. As someone who can’t wait for things to change, and has all but given up on formal planning, it’s exciting to see how much change is occurring on its own. While some of it is due the impressive physical improvements of he public realm, most of it is an outgrowth of thousands upon thousands of individual choices, many of which are facilitated the provision of public transport and by simply accommodating the people that are already there.
In a recent post I graphically represented the land values throughout the Auckland city centre as a function of their “frontage value” which generated some surprising results. The exercise revealed a place premium associated with real estate located in the lower Queen Street valley. Besides being physically central, is it also highly accessible with small blocks, a concentration of intersections, a multiplicity of transport options and a topography that naturally puts people in close contact with each other, essentially, the structural ingredients of good urbanism.
Street Frontage Value: From Green (Low) to Red (High)
The low value around the motorway was something I expected since the street grid is clipped and local places are no longer connected to surrounding areas and thus have a reduced place value. Of course the physical conditions of noise and traffic also repel human activities and further contribute to lowered land values.
Most interesting to me is how severely property values drop off away from Queen Street, in particular on the western side of the city. To use the convenient collar metaphor, it looks as if the city is being strangled and oxygen is only getting to one part of the brain. Part of this is likely caused by the motorway itself, but it is compounded by the local facilitation of the motorway– essentially the mini-motorways– of Hobson, Nelson, and Fanshawe Streets (to name but a few).
Here’s a cross section look at the land values I mapped previously. Note the extremity of the values drop-off on the western side, from a high of 12 down to 4, only over three or four short city blocks. Also, note the consistent drop-off in values on the eastern side. It makes sense that if the centre maintains a real estate premium, than values would fall away further from it. It would be useful to compare this property value “fade” with other cities to determine if this is typical of a city centre this size. What if the motorway wasn’t strangling the city, would land values be higher further away from the centre?
Cross section of land values across Auckland’s city centre
There have been many ideas proposed to span the motorway via caps and bridges. Besides being excessively costly they would have to be implemented in numerous places to be effective. Also, on the perimeter we are dealing with reduced land values, mostly due to the motorway, but also since by definition edges can’t be centres, and the centre is where the highest land values are.
Below is the same diagram with a line drawn on the eastern side of the city centre to track the property value decline. This line was mirrored onto the western side. The green area, in my opinion, is the greatest opportunity. While no doubt some of the drop-off is due to the physical topography, far more is a function of an anti-urban street network and neglected public realm. The great news is that the City Centre Masterplan has proposed to remedy this situation by two-waying Hobson and Nelson Street, and by bringing the western side of the city closer to the Queen Street valley via a green boulevard, among other things.
Comparing land values on either side of Queen St
The other massive opportunity of course is the City Rail Link (CRL). By inserting stations into low land value areas, there would be the effect of raising property values with “tent poles.” The land values of the stations would be directly influenced by their new found proximity to the most valuable land in the city.
To recap, there remains a place premium in the lower Queen St valley due to its central location and its high level of local and regional connectivity. Property values are highly influenced by proximity to this premium location as witnessed in the above charts. Public realm improvements that remove barriers of access to the centre, such as the one-way street couplet system, will raise land values by bringing parts of the city closer to the centre, and the CRL will effectively put places right next to the highest land values, thereby spreading land values across the city centre and beyond.
Most people who visit the Wynyard quarter love the development that has occurred there so far. It is very different to how we have developed things in the past and a lot more emphasis has been put on pedestrians and how it ties in to the water. It has quickly become one of stars in Auckland and that is only set to continue as the redevelopment of the area carries on. The development isn’t just a favourite with the locals as it has now won numerous awards with the latest just the other day beating out a host of other international cities to claim a top waterfront development award.
Now if you are winning awards like this it is probably a good indication that you are on the right track and also suggests that extending the development as far as possible is probably a good idea. Well even before this award, Waterfront Auckland and the council were quick to realise the success and smartly decided to try and emulate it further down the waterfront and so in the City Centre Master Plan (CCMP) called for Quay St to be turned into a boulevard. It was also mentioned in the Waterfront Plan.The CCMP and Waterfront Plan went out for consultation at the same time as the Auckland Plan allowing anyone who wanted to to give feedback.
I think that turning Quay St from a 6 lane almost de facto motorway into a more pedestrian friendly zone while still retaining some space for cars is a pretty good compromise. Of course now, months after the consultation finished various elected officials of the eastern suburbs are now up in arms about the plan. Their key issue seems to be just how unfair it will be that they can no longer drive to the ferry terminal. The Herald today reports:
Anger has erupted over plans to turn Quay St into a pedestrian-friendly boulevard within three years – and the greatest upset has been caused by what critics say was lack of public consultation.
But Waterfront Auckland says it kept the community well informed about the “exciting project” and it “couldn’t have done more” consultation.
Waterfront Auckland’s plans, revealed in the Herald on Friday, could result in more crossing points, a wider footpath taking in a lane of traffic or two and opening up parts of the red fence to improve to the water’s edge.
The first stage – from the Viaduct to Britomart – is due to be finished by 2016.
But critics of the project say the Tamaki Drive Master Plan hasn’t been taken into account, the traffic plan is “just nuts” and the local board most negatively affected by the proposal was not consulted.
Tamaki MP Simon O’Connor said he was disappointed by the plan, which he said would take cars off the street in the name of beautification.
“This is a surprising development that does not appear to have been thought out …
It seems to be motived more by ideology than practicality.”
Mr O’Connor said Waterfront Auckland was pinning its hopes on the “unfunded, yet to be built rail loop and a new ferry service”.
Auckland councillor Cameron Brewer said the suggestion that Quay St was not a busy road outside rush hour was “just pie in the sky”.
“This is a critical piece of transport infrastructure that carries over 30,000 cars a day. Taking out lanes and directing more traffic down the likes of Customs St is just nuts.”
This is an absolutely stupid argument. For starters 30,000 vehicles a day don’t need 6 lanes of traffic and there are many two lane roads that handle much more than that. Hell Dominion Rd carries about that same number of vehicles with only two lanes, one of which is a bus lane for a large part of the day. What’s more there are a number of other routes that these vehicles could use and very few places you can actually drive to that you can’t get to by other routes. There are still heaps of trucks going to and from the port using Quay St even though less than a decade ago we spent hundreds of millions upgrading Grafton Gully and providing direct connections from there to the North Shore specifically to get them off Quay St. There are also a number of improvements that could be made to other city streets that could be used to help spread that traffic out.
At the end of the day despite claiming the opposite, the arguments from Simon O’Connor and Cameron Brewer seem to be the ones based on ideolgy, they seem to be beholden to the notion that we must put cars ahead of people. It is people that make places interesting and lively and attractive. It is people that spend money and it is people that we should be building this city for. The recent improvements from things like Wynyard and the shared spaces have been outstanding successes and the best thing we can do is to continue these kinds of developments. The waterfront is to valuable for us cut off, all in the name of saving 5 seconds when driving and I suspect the economic benefits of improving it would vastly outweigh the impact to any vehicle movements. Its about time that these idiots go out of their cars and had a look at is happening in the city as even international press are starting to acknowledge the cities improving urban style.
Thanks to John from my post the other day on shared spaces for providing the link for this video. It is just under 60 minutes long but well worth watching. It is described as:
Small fragment of William H. Whyte’s witty and original film about the open spaces of cities and why some of them work for people while others do not.
Looking west from Queen Street down Wellesley Street West, Auckland. (Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 1-W1162)
My last post discussed the inherent tension between through and to movement. I argued that where there is increased pedestrian angst there is a place dividend that naturally seeks to be realised. This post takes a related theoretical understanding of streets and urbanism and applies it to Auckland’s city centre.
I have used Steve Mouzon’s work as inspiration. In this excellent blog post, The Speed Burden, he describes how designing cities for the purpose of moving cars quickly devours valuable real estate and is anti-antithetical to the functions of cities in the first place.
Busy streets, for almost all of human history, created the greatest real estate value because they delivered customers and clients to the businesses operating there. This in turn cultivated the highest tax revenues in town, both from higher property taxes and from elevated sales taxes. But you can’t set up shop on the side of an expressway. How can cities afford to spend so much to create thoroughfares with no adjoining property value?
Steve begins by diagramming an area in Florida to demonstrate how much land is wasted in road space.
“green land: has real estate value ~ red land: no real estate value” http://www.originalgreen.org
His mapping exercise becomes more nuanced by considering whether streets provide “frontage” value. This is similar to the Link and Place framework. Real estate value is generated at the street frontage where the place of human exchange and transaction takes place. He maps them accordingly: Full Value, Compromised Value, and Worthless.
“green frontages: full value ~ olive frontages: partial value ~ red frontages: worthless” http://www.originalgreen.org
Taking the exercise one step further and using Auckland as a case study, I sampled current land values for properties and applied a relative score to each street segment to depict “street frontage value”. I removed the dollar values from the scores, but there is an actual monetary value difference between the colours. For example, RED is 6 times as valuable as DARK GREEN.
Street Frontage Value: From Green (Low) to Red (High)
Most interesting to me is the location premium that still exists for property in the lower Queen Street valley. Who could have predicted that 100+ years from the heyday of downtown Auckland that the highest land values would still be centred on Queen St and its associated network of quirky lanes, arcades and back streets. What will it be like in the next 100 years? What ever happened to “place doesn’t matter”?
Clearly motorways defeat both spatial integration and thus urbanism as described in Patrick’s Severance City post. Everything adjacent to the motorway exists under an “edge” or barrier environment. This would also be revealed if I ran the Urban Network Analysis process since it is a simple geometric reality.
I like this analysis framework for two reasons- first, it helps to graphically represent how the streets and lanes are the actual conduit for exchange/transaction which provides (real estate) value in cities. When street frontages are compromised by conditions such as excessive traffic, real estate value declines and building forms start to take defensive positions (such as turning away or sitting back from the street edge) further degrading the actual potential of place and leading to a condition of entropy.
Building form responds to street design. Nelson Street, Auckland.
Second, it depicts the importance of urban structure which is why some uses (such as micro retail) can exist in some places but would be untenable in others. For example, the high value streets are all nested in a highly connected and central location. Patrick Kennedy from Walkable DFW further describes this phenomenon:
The greater the accessibility to a variety of people, places, and things, creates value, which instills demand, and thus density. Network integration is the release valve of demand, instilling opportunity and access to markets.
I originally started this post as mapping exercise to investigate whether turning slip lanes were erosive to city life. I got sidetracked and this analysis is probably jumping to the conclusion.
In the future I will overlay sliplanes, kerb cuts, multiple-lane one-way streets, surface parking lots and streets with excessive vehicle speeds to see if there are relationships. Also, if I can locate Jan Gehl’s street life data I will add it. I wonder if there will be any patterns?
Kent is an urban planner at Isthmus.
I stumbled (via Price Tags) across a really fantastic site earlier today which really highlights the difference that street width makes to the feel of a place – taking a number of streets in Los Angeles and manipulating the image to reduce the street width. Let’s take a look at a narrowed Sunset Boulevard:
And compare it to the real thing:
And now a narrowed version of the intersection of Ocean Ave and Santa Monica Boulevard, in Santa Monica:
Compared to the real thing:
While I’ve always been a fan of narrow streets, these images really show how narrowing down our roadways can have a hugely beneficial impact on the look and feel of our urban areas. While obviously we can’t easily narrow down every street and road, I think that there are some pretty compelling reasons to look to make our roadways as narrow as possible while still enabling them to do what we want. I know this approach will probably annoy traffic engineers who seem to like roads to be as wide as possible, but for some reason I often tend to find myself liking things which annoy traffic engineers.
One of the most unfortunate consequences of bad urban design is that there is a loss of “eyes on the street” and a concomitant reduction in safety and security. Basically, if there are more people walking around, then the safer people will feel and the more willing they are to walk (holding other factors constant).
You would, then, expect that the NZ Police would be keen to ensure that their own activities do not unintentionally create urban wastelands that increase opportunities for “opportunistic” crime. Unfortunately that is exactly what they seem to be doing in Auckland.
In my opinion, three of Auckland’s ugliest urban wastelands are directly attributable to the activities of the NZ Police. These include the stations on Mayoral Drive and Fort Streets, as well as the heavy vehicle check point on Beach Road (this, incidentally, seems to me to be a prime example of wasteful public sector spending – why does such a low-value activity need to occupy such a high-value site?).
All three of these sites:
- Fail to engage with the street (through, for example, supporting street level retail activities);
- Make no effort to support/encourage pedestrian activity (through for example promoting visibility); and
- Are generally ugly and reduce the degree to which people will linger/enjoy a location (see barbed wire below).
I think it’s a real shame that the good work of the NZ Police does not extend very far when it comes to creating urban areas that are inherently safe and secure. After all, initiatives like installing CCTV cameras are an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff when it comes to preventing crime and/or road accidents.
I suspect we would be vastly better off working towards urban areas that were inherently safe. And one of the best ways to do that is to create enjoyable pedestrian environments.
Out of all the exciting plans and strategies for Auckland’s future that we’ve heard about over the past few days, perhaps the one proposal that gets me most excited is the prospect that the horrific Lower Hobson Street viaduct might be demolished. You know the one: We have done some pretty horrible things to our city over the years (Mayoral Drive, Nelson Street, Victoria Park flyover etc.) but I struggle to think of a more horrendous piece of infrastructure than this viaduct: particularly because of its prime waterfront location and the fact that it’s right next to the historic Tepid Baths building. Along with the “traffic wall” of Fanshawe and Sturdee streets and the ‘concrete jungle’ of the downtown carpark, this viaduct absolutely ruins this important corner of Auckland’s city centre.
Which is why I’m so excited to read in today’s NZ Herald that one of the first key projects for the Council over the next three years is likely to be the removal of this hideous thing:
The lower Hobson St flyover should be removed to create a plaza near the Tepid Baths and keep motorists away from the waterfront, say city planners.
The draft city centre and waterfront masterplans both advocate demolishing the concrete flyover, which takes motorists from Quay St on the waterfront on to Hobson St or Fanshawe St.
Ironically enough the viaduct is actually a fairly recent addition to our streetscape, being built in the late 1980s or early 1990s from memory. At the time it might have been a key route for port traffic heading to the Northern Motorway, but the spaghetti junction upgrades of a few years ago mean that it’s now vastly oversize and does little more than encourage traffic onto Quay Street.
Exciting renovation/redevelopment plans also look in store for the downtown carpark:
The masterplans also call for the council-owned Downtown carpark, with 1900 spaces, to become a commercial office tower with shops, cafes and restaurants at street level and some carparking.
Currently, the flyover and carpark building blight the area, obscure views to the city from the waterfront and are a barrier to pedestrians, say the planning documents.
It has always seemed a bit strange to me to have such a prime piece of waterfront real estate wasted on being a carpark (although this seems to be a common theme in Auckland). Something like the picture below seems a vastly improved urban environment for this area: I just really hope this becomes a reality.