As Brian Rudman noted so eloquently in his NZ Herald column yesterday, there are so many plans out there relating to Auckland’s future at the moment that it almost makes your brain freeze. Auckland Plan, City Centre Master Plan, Waterfront Plan and an economic development strategy for the city. It’s a challenge to know where to start.
This post focuses on the City Centre Master Plan, which as I’ve noted in previous posts, is an incredibly exciting plan – focusing on making Auckland’s downtown a more people-friendly place, taking back much of its public space from the private vehicle and giving it over to pedestrians. While the plan is over 200 pages long, fortunately those pages comprise of a lot of picture so it’s a relatively easy read. Furthermore, it focuses on eight strategic ‘interventions’, which will hopefully mean that many of its great goals don’t become lost in time – with the plan confined to becoming yet another door stop – as was the case with a large number of previous plans and strategies in Auckland.
While the plan certainly does have all the high level aspirations and visions that you’d expect, but be slightly skeptical of in terms of that key word implementation, one thing that makes me more confident many of the ideas from this plan will actually happen is the listing of these eight key interventions:
1. Uniting the waterfront and the city centre – the North-south stitch
2. Connecting the western edge of the city to the centre- the East-west stitch
3. Queen Street Valley CBD and retail district – the Engine Room
4. Nurturing an innovation and learning cradle
5. Growth around the City Rail Link – new public transport stations and development opportunities at K Road, Newton and Aotea Quarter
6. Connecting Victoria Park, Albert Park and the Domain as part of a blue-green park network – the Green Link
7. Connecting the city and the fringe – City gateways to the villages
8. Revitalising the waterfront – Water City
Perhaps the best way to illustrate what these key interventions are trying to achieve is through showing a number of before and after pictures. I will go into more detail on some key issues in this plan in future posts – this is just designed to give an overview of the Plan as a whole.
The ‘north-south stitch’ is designed to link the city back with its waterfront, right from Wynyard Quarter in the west to the Port in the east. Key barriers to overcome in achieving this vision are Fanshawe Street and Quay Street – with the image below showing a possible future treatment of Quay Street as much more of a ‘boulevard’. The light-rail line could potentially link Wynyard Quarter with St Heliers along Tamaki Drive, an idea quite similar to something I came up with some time ago: Another key part of the north-south stitch is the removal of the Lower Hobson Viaduct and the redevelopment of the Downtown carpark. This particular point in the CBD is a cross-point between the north-south stitch and another priority, the east-west stitch, so is quite critical in driving the outcomes desired by Council. Compared to what we have now, the proposal looks pretty spectacular: Strong north-south links through this area – from Federal and Hobson streets down to the viaduct, will be crucial for its success. Shifting further westwards, we see the proposed “downtuning” of Fanshawe Street to make it a more pedestrian friendly area. Obviously Fanshawe is the crucial public transport link between the city centre and the North Shore – so I imagine any redevelopment would probably need to provide a dedicated busway corridor, something that seems to be missing in the image below (although there’s another tram): The second key intervention is the “east-west stitch”, to link back the part of the city west of Hobson and Nelson streets with the Queen Street valley – where most of the ‘action’ is now. A key part of this is once again a project that I’ve been a fan of for quite some time, ‘downtuning’ those two defacto motorways to more normal streets. Whether we could get away with narrowing the streets down to quite the extent in the image below is debatable, but certainly something that I think would be great: Another key part of the east-west stitch is a focus on turning Federal Street into the High Street of the west, progressively turning it into a shared space along its whole length: from Aotea Square in the south down past Sky City and St Patricks, to Fanshawe Street in the north.
The next key intervention focuses on Queen Street and its immediate surrounds as the real “engine room” of downtown Auckland. There are some great ideas about making Queen Street more pedestrian friendly, at first through temporary closures (goodness knows why we have been so reluctant to do these during the World Cup), and then eventually through introducing shared spaces along parts of the street (hey look, another tram, surprise surprise): A great upgrade to High Street is also proposed – though I wonder whether it would work best as fully pedestrianised rather than as a shared space:The fourth key intervention, which is to focus on developing the area around the Universities into a key innovation ‘cradle’ is logical and sensible, even if it does lack some of the prettier pictures elsewhere. I often think that in the ‘dark days’ for the CBD of the late 1980s and early 1990s (after the sharemarket crash but before the apartment boom) it may have been the presence of the universities in the city centre that kept the place from completely dying. We are pretty lucky to have such big tertiary institutions right in the middle of the city.
The fifth intervention is one of the more longer-term ones, but perhaps over time one of the most important – and that is truly taking advantage of the City Rail Link project to create high density development nodes around the three proposed stations. The images below show the likely development potential around Aotea and K Road stations: Interestingly, the proposed Newton station ends up having the largest amount of development capacity – even though it sits just outside the current edge of the city centre: The next big strategic intervention is to create “green links” that connect up many of Auckland’s great parks: the Domain with Albert Park via improvements to Grafton Gully, Albert Park to Victoria Park via a narrowed and ‘greened’ Victoria Street, Victoria Park to a new park at the headland of Wynyard Quarter – via a linear park along Daldy Street. This is shown below: I would look at adding Myers Park into the network, via a connection along Elliott Street, the walkway between the Bledisloe Building and the movie theatre complex and Aotea Square. But otherwise the idea is fantastic – and includes some potentially awesome changes to the structure of central Auckland: One of the best things about the changes to Victoria Street is that they could probably be done fairly quickly, and relatively inexpensively – just the cost of ripping up half the street’s worth of asphalt, putting down some nice pavers and planting a few trees.
A more expensive, and long-term, project would involve the ‘capping’ of the motorways through parts of Grafton Gully, and then building open space sports fields on top of that cap. That’s Wellesley Street winding its way through the new area, looking towards the domain. The capping of parts of the Grafton Gully motorway system also plays a key role in the next strategic intervention – connecting downtown better to its surrounding suburban villages. Auckland’s city centre is encircled by motorways, leaving it somewhat cut off from the rest of the city. This is a shame as often the most interesting and exciting parts of cities are the places where downtown meets the suburbs – places with a great mix of uses, a great variety of building types and places experiencing a lot of interesting change. Certainly it’s these ‘city fringe’ parts of Sydney that give that city a huge amount of its character.
A series of projects are proposed to help overcome this issue of having the city centre ‘cut off’ so much. An exciting idea is the reuse of the abandoned Nelson Street offramp into a linear park and walkway – much like what has been done with New York City’s High Line. Once again, I really like this idea because I think it could be done relatively cheaply and quickly: The final strategic intervention relates to the waterfront, and encapsulates much of what’s outlined in much greater detail in the Waterfront Plan. Key projects include a cruise ship terminal on Queens Wharf, the continuing development of Wynyard Quarter, better connections to the city from the waterfront, and something I really like – ‘bookending’ the waterfront with parks to the far east and west. Here’s a summary of what’s proposed: I can definitely say, without a doubt, that the City Centre Masterplan is the most exciting vision of the future for Auckland’s City Centre that I have ever seen. Of course there’s always that lingering nagging worry that none of this will happen, but fortunately along with a list of extremely expensive and long-term projects there are also a number of shorter-term, and cheaper, things that can happen which will make a big difference. The narrowing of Victoria Street is a good example of that, the redevelopment of the downtown carpark is another thing that definitely should happen, if for no other reason than the fact that it’s likely to actually make a profit for the council.
A great series of little projects is also highlighted in the plan, including important steps like ensuring pedestrian crossing opportunities on all parts of intersections, slowing traffic down along key corridors, decluttering streets, providing more drinking fountains and so forth:
If even half of what’s proposed in this overall plan actually happens, Auckland’s city centre will be an utterly fantastic place in the future. Auckland Council should be seriously congratulated for coming up with such a fantastic City Centre Master Plan.