The evolution of St Mary’s Bay

A few weeks back the fantastic Westhaven Promenade officially opened significantly improving pedestrian and cycle access to the area.

Westhaven Boardwalk_01

Westhaven Boardwalk_02

As part of the opening Waterfront Auckland sent me these images showing what the area used to look like. One thing is for sure, we’ve significantly changed the area.

St Marys Bay 1904

St Marys Bay circa. 1904

St Mary’s Bay Pier and Slipways circa. 1920

St Mary’s Bay Pier and Slipways circa. 1920

Shelly Beach circa. 1930

Shelly Beach circa. 1930

St Marys Bay & Shelly Beach 1930

St Mary’s Bay and Shelly Beach circa. 1930

Westhaven 1940

Westhaven 1940

 

Westhaven 1949

Westhaven 1949

Westhaven 1959

Westhaven 1959

 

Westhaven 2010

Westhaven 2010

Postcard from South Africa #2 – Durban Beachfront

This post doesn’t really have anything to do with the first Postcard from South Africa post, but I should probably put a link in anyway. It has more to do with this post.

Going to South Africa is all sorts of culture shock. But one of the things that surprised me the most when I went there with my then-girlfriend in 2010 was that there weren’t really any taxis as we know them. I was also told that it wasn’t safe to take public transport, and tourists didn’t have much choice but to hire cars to get around. I couldn’t accept the taxi thing, though: surely where there is demand from tourists and locals, there must be taxis? It turned out there were some in Cape Town – they’re called “meter cabs” – but not in many other places.

Going back in 2014, though, there were a lot more, including in Durban. It seems to be a much less formal setup than in NZ, with more independent operators than large companies. Uber also seems to be taking the country by storm – when you’re cautious of your safety, and many of the cab drivers are independents so you have no real way of knowing how legit they are, an app that lets you book a driver and see the reviews they have is pretty appealing.

South Africans do use “taxis”, but the word means something very different than it does in New Zealand. Essentially, taxis are minivans like the one below, which operate a sort of informal bus service. There are very few full-size buses, but these taxis seem to travel along fairly well-defined routes, although I doubt if there’s any kind of timetable. As far as I can tell, drivers are completely independent and don’t coordinate with each other at all, so there might be five taxis passing your stop in ten minutes or there might be none.

P1010730

Every now and again, well-meaning people (and the odd sprawl pusher) ask why New Zealand cities don’t adopt minivans as part of their public transport, with minivans making it easier to serve more different places (and “point to point” service) compared with larger buses. Even the most basic financial analysis, though, shows that it won’t stack up – the labour costs are too high in countries with a reasonable minimum wage, the capital costs are too high, and there’s not much fuel efficiency gain compared with private cars, so not much saving there either.

Like Auckland, Durban is a city defined in large part by its coastline – although the main beachfront, next to the CBD, probably has more in common with somewhere like Surfers Paradise. Good surf, high temperatures and the odd shark. The beach carried on unbroken for seven sandy kilometres, lined with retail stalls, amusement parks, pools, casinos, hotels and the occasional car park. The picture below probably isn’t the fairest one, a typical shot of the beach would show more people and fewer car parks, but this is the one I’ve got:

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The promenades along the beach have been upgraded, and a typical summer day now sees plenty of families walking, cycling and generally just enjoying the beach. It was a sight that made my now-wife very happy, as these improvements have made the beach much more accessible and family-friendly than when she was growing up there.

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As our cab driver told us, there are now a lot more tourists coming to Durban, and the city is vying with Cape Town to attract more international visitors. Anywhere in the world you find tourists, you’ll find locals cheerfully devising schemes to part them from their money, such as the one below which I’m going to call a gaudily decorated rickshaw thingy, although there may be a more technical term for this. This probably isn’t a very effective means of transporting people along a 7 km beach, but I think it was at least 35 degrees and humid on the day I took this photo, so let’s all have a moment of sympathy for the poor bugger.

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One last shot, taken from one of the many piers along the beach:

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Replacing the Te Wero Bridge

Brian Rudman wrote an opinion piece a few days ago about plans to replace the Te Wero Bridge that connects Wynyard Quarter to the CBD

It’s true the $3.7 million Te Wero drawbridge across the Viaduct Harbour was not built with longevity in mind. In 2010, with the Rugby World Cup looming and no money for the $51 million “aesthetically world class” winner of a 2007 Auckland City Council design competition in sight, the modest pedestrian-cycle bridge we now enjoy was rushed up as a temporary solution.

To save face, the political champions of the “legacy” project said the new structure would be replaced, in 2016, by the prize-winner. This had twin sail-like arms which would “carry cyclists, pedestrians, passenger transport and possibly light rail”.

But as of now, the only things replaced have been the political dreamers who were cheerleading the project, like councillors Sam Lotu-Iiga and Aaron Bhatnagar.

This week, as Auckland councillors sharpen their hatchets to trim $4.4 billion of capital spending from the mayor’s 10-year wishlist, the council’s development agency, Waterfront Auckland, made a desperate bid to keep the legacy dream alive.

Ever the optimist, chief executive John Dalzell called for a start by year’s end to fit in with the construction of a new hotel and apartment blocks. If we don’t have “the right infrastructure at the right time we won’t receive an optimal uplift in land value”, he told councillors.

But who wants to shell out a king’s ransom for “optimal uplift” when we already have the right infrastructure in place.

The existing bridge is certainly more modest in size and appearance than the prize-winning design, but it’s both eminently functional and popular. That it was born a “temporary” structure seems irrelevant. It’s in good company.

[….]

To me, the time to come seeking funds for a replacement bridge is not now, but when the idea of light rail along the waterfront to Britomart and beyond is more than just an unfunded pipe dream. Until then, it is surplus to requirements.

There’s a lot of debate that can be had about whether there should be light rail across to Britomart and further afield. I certainly think there’s a case to do that at some point with along with an extension up Queen St – effectively a replacement for the City Link service along with Queen St being a transit mall. One thing I don’t think can really be debated though is whether we will need a new bridge or not.

For starters as Rudman acknowledges the bridge was only ever meant to be temporary with a replacement being in 2016. The thing is, it being temporary also translated to its design and so keeping it longer than the five years originally planned will likely involve some very costly maintenance.

The second issue is I’m not convinced the bridge will have enough capacity in five years-time. Yesterday was a good example as waterfront was heaving with people out enjoying the beautiful weather (and a few taking their fathers out for a meal. It was a struggle to get across the bridge simply due to the sheer number using it. After 2016 we’ll have a lot more development of Wynyard that will have been completed further making it an even more interesting destination for people putting even more pressure on the bridge.

Te Wero Bridge busy

I would suggest that regardless of whether we build light rail now or not a new and larger bridge will be needed soon. Designing it so light rail tracks could easily be added later (while still leaves plenty of space for pedestrians and cyclists) seems like the right thing to do.

As an aside here’s what the bridge that won the design competition in 2007 was meant to look like.

The bridge features two liftable decks – one for vehicles and the other for pedestrians and cycles – supported by a 60 metre high mast.

Getting better public space downtown

The Auckland Development Committee meets on Thursday and one of the items on the agenda (19mb) is an evaluation of Downtown Public Space which is related to the potential sale of Queen Elizabeth Square. Council officers have recommended that approval should be given to sell the square based on the outcome of an options evaluation study has been completed which looks at alternative options. It also references a report from Jan Gehl’s company which has assessed the square and made suggestions what could be done to improve it.

The report from Gehl and Associates say that the square has some good things about it – like its size – but also has some significant issues. These include

  • It has poor climatic conditions, in particular that it’s windswept due to tall buildings in immediate vicinity which also cause it to be overshadowed for most of the day.
  • That there’s a lack of activation by the surrounding frontages.
  • That it’s unintegrated from Queen St due to the bus shelters that exist.

The note that to fix the space we would need to

  • Demolish the HSBC building
  • Redevelop the buildings and provide active frontages
  • Reconfigure the bus interchange

The Council have said buying and demolishing the HSBC building would cost approximately $100 million. Gehl and Associates also made the comment “if other open space options exist within the area it would be worthwhile exploring how they could offer something that is more valuable and attractive than the current QE Square.

The options evaluation report which was by Reset Urban Design starts by looking at the history of the square along its attributes. One of the ones that stands out most for me is that the space is sunny at lunchtime for only 25% of the year. Overall when looking at the existing square it notes the following pros and cons of it.

The positive attributes include:

  • It is next to a major pedestrian route – adjacent to Lower Queen Street
  • At approximately 2000 sq metres, it is a sizable space
  • It is opposite the CPO (Britomart Transport Centre) building

The negative attributes include:

  • It does not support objectives of connectivity and permeability in relation to the public open space network in the downtown area
  • It creates a gap in the building edge on the western side of Queen Street – the main city to harbour link
  • It is subdivided from the adjacent space of Lower Queen Street and does little to support this space
  • It is a residual space that has become the forecourt to a private shopping mall development with poor building edges – it is not a destination
  • Its original reason for being is usurped; it has become a ‘side show’ to the nearby waterfront and does little to enhance the link with the waterfront
  • There is minimal mana whenua or heritage value
  • It has a poor environment – being both windy and in shade for the majority of the day
  • It doesn’t meet the open space/recreation needs of residents, workers or visitors

It then looks at some potential options which are shown below

Downtown Open Space Options Report - Options

They’ve then compared each of these options against the criteria set out in the Auckland Design Manual.

Downtown Open Space Options Report - ADM Analysis

It’s pretty clear the options that perform the best are numbers 2, 6, 7 & 8 which are looked at in more detail.

Downtown Open Space Options Report - Possible open space

The options looked at hint at the direction council and it’s agencies are heading towards and represent some big changes that could come to this area of the city in the future.

Lower Queen St

The bus interchange would be moved to Albert St and linked to Britomart by 24/7 lane. There would still be some buses accessing the area although they would be restricted to just accessing or exiting from Galway and Tyler St. That would leave the area out the front of Britomart as well as half of the existing street to be turned into a pedestrian area that would be bigger than QE2 square is now. The new development which Precinct would build would then have active street frontages and it notes the section on QE2 square space would be a maximum of three storeys. I personally think it would be fantastic to have the area directly outside of Britomart as an open space.

Downtown Open Space Options Report - Lower Queen St

Admiralty Steps

This is the section of waterfront to the east of Queens Wharf (C above). It would need to be brought of the Ports of Auckland and the intention would be to create an urban beach including access to the water.

Downtown Open Space Options Report - Admiralty Steps

Downtown Open Space Options Report - Admiralty Steps visualisation

Lower Albert St

Creating a wide promenade and people space between Queens Wharf and Princes Wharf. It would mean the ferries currently in the area would have to move more to Queens Wharf (more on that below).

Downtown Open Space Options Report - Lower Albert St

Downtown Open Space Options Report - Lower Albert St visualisation

Base of Queens Wharf

The existing ferry terminal (not the Ferry Building) would be removed. A wide promenade would be extended out from the Ferry building. It suggests ferry operations would be moved further up Queens Wharf

Downtown Open Space Options Report - Queens Wharf base

The council suggest that large parts of the Lower Queen St space would be paid for by the CRL project which will have to put large parts of the area back together after the tunnels are dug. The three waterfront options are being considered together and it’s proposed that the delivery of them is tied in with the Quay St upgrade. They say the sale of the square should be able to cover at least two of the three waterfront options.

So all up we have multiple reports from different companies saying that the existing square isn’t ideal and short of buying and demolishing the HSBC building will always be suboptimal. To compensate for the sale the suggestion is for a series of projects which would improve open space in the area for people. It still seems like quite early in the piece but personally I would much prefer what’s suggested above to an upgraded existing QE2 Square.

More on Wynyard Quarter housing

As Matt wrote on Saturday, the Auckland Council is going to be partnering with Willis Bond & Co on new homes at Wynyard Quarter. I thought I’d look at a couple of other interesting aspects of the announcement.

Bob Dey has written some good commentary here, including an interview with the managing director of Willis Bond & Co, Mark McGuinness.  Bob notes that there’s a range of housing typologies, from apartments all the way down to (potentially) duplexes, with the overall development being medium density, and homes of up to four bedrooms. That’s a positive step, in a city centre which still has too few larger, family-sized dwellings.

Wynyard Quarter Residential 1

Parking provision is kept fairly low, averaging 1.2 spaces per dwelling, although I’m not quite sure if this refers to Willis Bond’s concepts or the maximum planning ratios for the site. As Mark McGuinness told Bob Dey,

“Most people in the Wynyard Quarter will not need 2 cars all the time. It’s one of those places where you can genuinely walk. If you have that amenity, walking can become quite addictive – I’d use a car 2 days/week now.

“Over time, people will get weaned off car ownership. You need housing in the right location, amenity around it, which the Wynyard Quarter has, and you need reasonable proximity to work, which the quarter delivers like very [missing word here?] places do.”

It’s great to hear that kind of thing coming from a business leader, especially that first paragraph. Of course, 1.2 cars per home is probably more than we’d like to see, and it’s higher than average for the city centre, but the homes will probably be targeted more towards families with kids, and they’ll be larger than typical apartments. There may also be a bit of against-the-flow commuting. No doubt the market will dictate where things end up, and perhaps we’ll see less than 1.2 cars per home when everything’s complete. By comparison, the nearby Beaumont Quarter seems to be at around 1.3 cars per home, based on 2013 census data.

Given that the Auckland Council will retain ownership of the land under these new homes,  I’m pleased that they’ll allow the ground rent to be paid up front, reducing the uncertainty around rent reviews down the track. I wrote a bit more about this in RCG’s newsletter, here, and also noted:

Another innovation is that carparks in the Wynyard Quarter residential area won’t be associated with individual apartments. They’ll be owned by the body corporate, and presumably rented out to the residents at whatever they’re are willing to pay. As Bob Dey points out, this avoids the problem of spaces being wasted because the owner doesn’t actually need them, and the hassle in trying to buy or sell them separately. The end result is that fewer parking spaces should be needed, and this could potentially bring costs down.

There will be around 500-600 homes built as part of this development agreement. By comparison, there are around 375 in the Viaduct Harbour, and 230 in Lighter Quay (which will eventually blend into Wynyard Quarter to some extent). That’s probably a bit lower than envisaged in the council’s Waterfront Plan, which targets “a residential population of 2,500–4,000” in the long term. However, there will probably be some other homes built as Wynyard continues to develop – Waterfront Auckland refer to this agreement as “the first residential precinct in Auckland’s revitalised Wynyard Quarter”.

In my opinion, the things that make Wynyard such an appealing place are its waterfront location and its public spaces. Those are already things that draw tens of thousands of people. Add to this a pretty significant workforce – which could be 12,000 to 15,000 in the long term – and the other drawcards still to be built, such as the 5-star hotel, the theatre, the park at the northern point, and these homes don’t have too much work to do, in terms of activating or anchoring the area. They can just be great places to live, which it looks like they will be.

Wynyard Quarter Residential Developer announced

Waterfront Auckland have announced who will build the new residential “Urban Village” in the Wynyard Quarter.

One of New Zealand’s leading developers, Willis Bond & Co, has been confirmed as the successful candidate to build the first residential precinct in Auckland’s revitalised Wynyard Quarter.

Willis Bond will build 500 to 600 homes as part of a mixed use development in the centre of Wynyard Quarter, which will also incorporate 48,000 m2 of new office space and a five star hotel. Willis Bond, has a strong track record of delivering large-scale, high quality developments in urban and waterfront settings and has also recently been appointed as the residential developer of 4.7 hectares at Hobsonville Point.

The appointment follows an 18 month competitive tender process led by Waterfront Auckland, the landowner and masterplanner of the development, which canvassed over 20 proposals from local and international parties.

John Dalzell, Chief Executive for Waterfront Auckland says the quality of Willis Bond’s design and development process and its strong track record made it a clear cut choice.

“We want to do things differently with this next stage of development in Wynyard Quarter – to create a new residential community which is a model of medium density development demonstrating the highest standards of design and amenity.”

“We have selected a developer who is willing to embrace the design and high sustainability standards we have set. Willis Bond got that from the start with an outstanding bid and a professional and enthusiastic approach since, which indicates they’re committed to our aspirations in a diverse range of residential units.”

Willis Bond managing director Mark McGuinness said his team was excited by the opportunity to contribute to what is New Zealand’s largest urban regeneration outside Christchurch:

“Willis Bond focuses on developing mixed-use projects of scale that represent best-in-class development opportunities. Wynyard Quarter clearly meets these criteria and is an exciting project in an unrivalled location.”

Willis Bond is partnering with three of New Zealand’s leading architects across five residential sites to develop a mixture of apartments, townhouses and duplexes, available in various sizes and at a range of price points.

To meet the standards set by Waterfront Auckland’s Sustainability Development Framework the homes will be required to achieve a minimum 7 Homestar rating with provision for solar power and solar hot water heating panels.

Auckland Mayor Len Brown has welcomed the appointment of residential developer for a key part of the city.

“As we look to Auckland’s future, we need more examples of high quality medium density living like that planned for Wynyard Quarter. It will mean less pressure on our transport infrastructure and the added vibrancy created by a permanent residential population will only strengthen our city centre.”

The first homes in the central part of Wynyard Quarter are expected to be available to purchase off the plans by late 2014 and once completed, the development is expected to house more than 1,100 residents.

And here are some artist impressions that have been created.

Wynyard Quarter Residential 1

The development is mostly centred around Daldy St and the Linear Park that has recently been created

Wynyard Quarter Residential 2

In between the apartments will be an east west laneway

Wynyard Quarter Shopping

And here’s the location for those not familiar with the area.

Wynyard Quarter Residential Location

This is a great step forward for the Wynyard Quarter.

Waterfront Promenade update

While many people are aware of the Grafton Gully cycle route that is currently under construction, and the connecting Beach Road route that will soon start, another major cycleway project is currently progressing at good pace. This is the Waterfront Promenade, which will link Wynyard Quarter and Westhaven Marina. While in the short term this will be a great recreational asset, it also ends at the southern approach to the Harbour Bridge. So when Skypath arrives in the next few years, it will be the main connection from Skypath to the city. The promenade is a mix of standard concrete paths, and a boardwalk that is being built on piles over the water. The path is generally 4 – 5 metres wide, with it being narrower along the area where there is a interim promenade (in dashed orange). Also note that the promenade reuse idea seems to have disappeared, with piling along this section as well.

wa-map

 

Really good progress is being on the promenade, and it should be open within a few months (pictures taken yesterday). Previously the only pedestrian access along here was an embarrassing 1m wide footpath, so this is a huge improvement. The area has great views back towards the city, Rangitoto, over the marina and around the harbour.

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Progress on eastern section

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First small section of boardwalk at western end nearing completion

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Western section of Shared Path near Jacob’s Ladder overbridge.

 

Wynyard before and after

A brief video put together by Waterfront Auckland featuring the images of Craig and Sydney (aka oh.yes.melbourne) showing the changes that have occurred in the Wynyard Quarter in helping to transform it from a run down industrial area to a stunning people space.

Photo of the day – Queens Wharf

One of my big concerns about Queens Wharf being a cruise ship terminal is that we often hand over lots of public space for “the privilege” of cruise ships stopping in the city. I don’t know what it was like earlier in the day when the ship arrived but I was pleased to see the wharf almost completely open to the public when this ship was in town the other day (there’s another one in today)

Queens Wharf visitor

I also see the end of the wharf is getting more popular. On a beautiful day its a great place to sit and and watch the harbour.

Queens Wharf end of wharf

Perhaps Waterfront Auckland should let someone open a café at the end of the Cloud. Could be quite popular during summer.

Queens Wharf end of cloud

The Waterfront in 1982

The other day TV1 played a fascinating video from 1982 – 31 years ago – looking at what the potential future of the Auckland Waterfront was.

image

What surprised me was just how similar it was to either what has happened or is in current plans. In particular:

  • That Queens Wharf would become a public space – although I did like the idea suggested of having left all of the sheds there and turning the wharf into a street with shops and hospitality. We could have had the wharf as a really neat precinct.
  • That it predicted almost perfectly what would happen at the Viaduct Harbour.
  • That the Wynyard Quarter was suggested as a location to redevelop with housing and commercial buildings.

I guess the most disappointing thing about all of this is that despite the ideas, it appears nothing was done for about 15 years and even then improvements only got a push along thanks to us being to host the America’s Cup. I’d be interested to know from some of our older readers of this was the case or if there other things going on in the background that stopped improvements from happening sooner.