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.

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  1. Actually, the project I think of that seems closest to this in NZ is Waitangi Park in Wellington (named after the Waitangi Stream that runs through it). Slightly different objectives, but it shows what can be done in a local context.

  2. Does anybody have access to any hydrology data on the Horotiu Stream? It is worth pointing out that the water in the Seoul project pictured above is pumped in places, so natural flow is not necessarily a requirement.

  3. Natural flow wouldn’t be an issue (I imagine) due to the relatively high elevation of the source of the Waihorotiu Stream (around Myers Park) and it’s current outlet (underneath Ferry Terminal); and that Queen St naturally slopes downhill all the way.

    Would be a great idea! Expensive but worth it. Could be done in conjunction with pedestrianising or restricting Queen St to bus/emergency traffic; as resurfacing the stream would reduce the usable road/footpath area somewhat considerably I’d say…

    1. I was concerned that the stream may be dry for parts of the year, this could lead to stagnant pools etc. It would be possible to re-circulate from a holding tank at the bottom of queen street back to the top via pumps (and some kind of light filtration) to prevent this stagnation. This would be expensive however due to the high head involved.

      I agree natural flow would take care of the downhill route. The increased gradient would open up a lot more opportunities than the stream above. Things like little pools and small waterfalls would add a lot of character.

  4. There’s a rain gauge in Albert Park, with one of the longest continuous records in NZ.
    The stormwater system will be a combined rainwater/wastewater system. Though I recall some suggestion of separating the two (for the America’s Cup or a triathlon series??) about ten years ago. It’s pretty expensive/difficult to get every last connection, especially somewhere as built-up as the CBD. To convert to an open stream the wastewater would need to be completely removed.
    The Albert Park area is volcanic and should have some good groundwater flows. The CBD should also have an excellent fire fighting water supply, so access to water to supplement a stream in summer shouldn’t be a problem. There are large reservoirs on the corner of K’Rd and Ponsonby Rd, and in the Domain.

    1. It would be a very expensive, high impact project, probably unlikely in the next few decades, but i still like the concept of having a stream running down queen street.

      In my experience large streams need ~0.1-0.2 cumics of flow minimum to look healthy. Supplementing this sort of water from our high value/quality drinking supply at a dry time of year is likely to be a very bad look. I think re-circulating would be a more prudent choice.

  5. The Cheonggyecheon stream reminds me of a narrower Yarra… the section around Flinders Street Station. There are embankments that lower the level of the stream below the level of the surrounding streets, walkways, and a curvy bridge. But the Yarra is brilliant while the Cheonggyecheon stream doesn’t excite me. It is certainly better than what was there before, but it is a little too straight whereas the Yarra curves gradually so the views change as you walk along it. The Seoul buildings are dull and ugly whereas the Yarra has Eureka Tower, Fed Square, Flinders Street Station, the rowing clubs, and lots of other cool architecture.

    As for Auckland… I’d concentrate on getting the harbour front right rather than trying to turn the city in to Venice-with-volcanos.

  6. That is the MOST awesomest thing! Wish we had the money and guts to do such a project. I Love the idea of Queen STreet being covered in grass and trees (even if it was just a median strip). It would send such a strong message to tourists about the value we place on our natural environment, how green we are, how unique etc.

  7. Definitely a good idea. Dont know about the cost. Lived in Seoul for 3 years, was there in feb and will be going back this year in Oct. Cheonggyecheon is really the heart of the city. When I was back in Feb this year, I met a few friends there. Its just such a landmark and hub. The best thing about it is it draws all kinds of people. Families go for walks and couples use it as a lovers lane, older couples bring their grandkids along for a walk. It draws the kind of people that wouldnt normally go to downtown Auckland.

    They had music and light shows down there at different times, and the space underneath the over bridges was used as gallery space for various local artists.Again drawing a different bunch than the drunk teenagers that queen st normally draws.

  8. I would like to see Queen street narrowed from Mayoral Drive to the waterfront, allowing only buses, emergency and good vehicles access (of course the dissecting roads will stay). The foot paths could be widened into the car park bays that exist at present and the outside lanes could be turned into planters with seats, bus stops and loading zones creating a bit of variety. Regarding the stream, I think to day light a section of it and include a waterfall would be a great idea. I would do this on the Eastern side from Whitcoulls to Vulcan lane, where the outside lane (not car parks) currently exists. It would need to run quickly (is there enough water to currently do this?) Down at the waterfront I would like to see a large lit (at night) perspex pipe pouring into the harbour from underneath the Rugby world cup wharf.

  9. This is awesome! I cannot count the number of conversations I have had with visitors to NZ who have (gently) expressed their abhorance of our CBD and for many people its the first and last impressions of NZ.. Let alone the improvement it would make for all of us who live here.

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