I remember a few years ago when the Queen Street upgrade project was under construction, someone suggested that they should flood the street so you can ride a boat up there – for a real Auckland experience. It was obviously a joke, though the idea of restoring the Horotiu Stream – which used to follow the course that Queen Street now takes between Myers Park and the waterfront – did intrigue me to an extent.
That interest has been enhanced over the last couple of years as I learned more and more about a project undertaken in Seoul that has some similarities: the restoration of Cheonggyecheon: a river the used to run through the heart of Seoul, until it was paved over in the mid-2oth century to build an elevated freeway. This is what it used to look like (photo from here):
A pretty horrible and busy elevated freeway. So what did Seoul decide to do with this piece of urban blight? Well, see for yourself:Wow. I think that’s the only really applicable word that I can find to describe such awesomeness. Not only did Seoul rip out the elevated freeway, but they actually restored the river that once flowed beneath the streets of the city. Here’s a description of the effects of the project:
The complaints about increased traffic elsewhere disappeared, just as the traffic did. Ridership on the adjacent subways increased, some people changed their travel times, some changed route, but mostly, people just stopped travelling so much through the area. Adjacent traffic congestion increased less than 1.5%, but overall there was a concurrent 2.5% decrease in Central Business District traffic. Property values adjacent to the stream increased 30%, and businesses prospered as they were suddenly adjacent to a site where there were more than 50 Million visits during the first year. The air temperature in this part of the Central Business District dropped several degrees during Seoul’s hot, humid summers, as the water flow acted as natural air conditioner and created a conduit for cool breezes. All this in a public place for festivals, for lunch, for art, for living space.
I wonder if we can imagine doing something similar to Queen Street. Keep the footpaths at their current level, but remove the four-lanes of traffic, dig down a bit (some interesting old brick drains to highlight and make a feature out of in parts too) and restore the old Horotiu stream. Bring some plant-life and animal life back to the heart of Auckland.
Undoubtedly such a project would be really expensive (Seoul’s project was very expensive), but it’s an interesting idea to throw out there as a bold vision for dramatically changing Auckland’s central city. Furthermore, by restoring the stream (rather than creating a flow of water where there never really was one), such a project would have a sense of authenticity that would be essential to its success.