“..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
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 trams. Large building footprints are located near the railroad.
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 aslo radically changed from residential and rail based industry to large scale warehousing and automobile based industries.
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.
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.

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  1. Question for Gt North Road,

    Did the presence of the Car Yards cause the decline of alternative usage for the sites along GNR, or did the car yards invade GNR simply as no better opportunities existed for the land except Car Yards?
    As long as I’ve lived here GNR is nothing but a giant pile of Car Yards.

    Secondly, when the Tram lines (visible in the 1940’s photo) were removed from the middle on GNR, didn’t that in effect turn GNR into a 4 lane highway,
    Which meant that previously what was seen as a wide road with Trams down it became a major traffic road with severance issues – basically GNR became a motorway by proxy.

    This was no doubt encouraged/reinforced by the Western Motorway built later, which as I recall ended/started at Western Springs, forcing traffic westbound to use GNR as an extended Motorway “on ramp” until at least Western Springs, and then again from Waterview onwards.

    In such a toxic environment is it any wonder that the street became the sewer it is full of cars?

    Reminds me of a famous quote by Tom Lehrer, which may apply here, he said as I recall

    “Lifes like a sewer, what you get out of it depends on what you put into it”

    Could we use same analogy for roads like GNR – they are “sewers” and thus what you get out of them depends on what you put down them?

    1. Good question. The car yards are a result of the policy to privilege the long distance car trip over the short local trip or transit trip. The resulting high speed and high volume traffic environment results in lowered property values which attract car yards, panel beaters, and storage uses. The highest and best use of this sort of property is capturing ‘eyeballs’ going by at 60kph in the off-chance that a customer may drop in.

      1. So you think that, rather than my comment:
        “In such a toxic environment is it any wonder that the street became the sewer it is full of cars?”
        That this is more apt:
        “When the street became the sewer it is full of cars is it any wonder that it became such a toxic environment?”

        To my mind its a chicken and egg combined with a race to the bottom.
        Both cause and effect the other, so its more of a vicious circle ending up with the present situation.,

  2. Remember that during the 1960s and 1970s the NW motorway didn’t reach further into the city than Pt Chev so GNR was a really really busy road. I think that’s likely to be the main cause of it being ruined. The question is why the recovery has been so slow after most of the traffic was removed when SH16 was extended and the bulk of traffic removed from GNR.

    1. To follow up on my comment and yours Mr A.

      Compare GNR in the same period with Gt South Rd (GSR)
      – before the Motorway went north from Ellserlie Panmure in the mid 60’s – Ellerslie/Panmure Roundabout was the “on and off” ramp to/from the Southern Motorway going south – so the traffic all still funnelled down GSR all the way to Newmarket/Broadway.

      So GSR from Newmarket to Ellerslie Panmure roundabout performed the same function as GNR does/did.

      And we see some car yards in Greenlane, but not as many as GNR and the amenity of the local roads was mostly still there and is even still there today.

      So not only is the question why did GNR turn to the dark side of the force, but the Ponsonby road and areas did not.
      But also why didn’t GSR/Market Road/Greenlane go feral to the same extent?

      Could it be that these suburbs already had severance from the railway line, and the motorway only widened the severance caused by the railway, and did not create it in the first place? So that the suburbs weren’t so badly impacted by the Motorway.

      1. I’m gonna suggest a twist here. Car yards benefit from clustering. I don’t think the particular use is as important as the land value degradation and urban form.

        1. My feeling is that even the car yards would benefit from changing the nature of GNR. After all, cars don’t buy cars :-D.

        2. Clustering works for Big Box Retail and strip malls too, and so why don’t we see either of these along GNR or GSR?
          Could be (historic) Auckland City Planning regulations at work preventing it going that way?

          I know why there are (new) car yards in Newmarket as thats where the old Dominion Motors assembly plant was (where Farmers is now, south of 277 on Broadway).

          But a question is why car assembly plant was located there originally, and the land in the southern part of Newmarket was all car related and timberyards until the 70s. As this was all done in the 30s (that old Dominion Motors Building on the corner, is an Art Deco style building frontage – the (soon to be demolished) one of the corner of Mortimer Pass and Broadway opposite 277 is an example of a two story Streamline Moderne architecture in a similar vein to the old AEPB building across the other side of Newmarket.

          Is it perhaps that Car Yards are simply the late 20th century equivalent of Timber Yards that used to festoon these parts of town?
          And Timber Yards (as seen in the Whites Aviation photos, always seemed to cluster too…).

          1. They tend to cluster because in the past many car buyers ‘cross shop’ the products at the dealerships. If you are not close to your competitor you may have missed out. I internet has removed some, but not all, of that thinking but redevelopment of a business take a lot of time and money.

      2. GSR may not be as bad as GNR but it must be close. I just moved from the Ellerslie area and I found it a hugely auto dependent area with almost no amenities for cyclists/pedestrians. Greenlane is particularly bad and I am sure the auto dominated feel of the place is what has led to the terrible boarding stats for that station.

        The race course is truly a shrine to auto dependence with its sprawling car parks which are empty 90% of the time. Its only saving grace is that it served as a de facto cycleway if I felt brave enough to cycle to the Greenlane Countdown. I would never live in that part of the city again.

        1. Re: amenities at Greenlane, as an example there’s no footpath on the northern side of Greenlane Road and coming from GSR you have to find that out the hard way. The tunnels probably don’t help in making the area feel safe either, although that’s a different kind of safety 🙂 By the way, is that road sign bang in the middle of the bicycle part on the Greenlane Rd shared path still there?

  3. Certainly at the Eastern End of GNR nothing will change until Colin Giltrap sells up. The smaller used dealers have been slowly closing over the last 5-6 years, it is changing but at glacial pace.

    1. Nothing will change until this road is turned back into a street. Introduce intersections, slow traffic, provide for pedestrian movement- essentially everything that we know adds value in a city and where the real estate demand is…

  4. funny how car yards seem to have to be near where people live. As oppossed to auto driven growth that turns up anywhere, and force people to drive 10km to get there.
    Hopefully they can be pushed out to Rosebank Road, Penrose or Wairau Valley. And then in 20 years start the cycle all over again!

    1. That’s so you can walk ten minutes to the nearest car yard, buy a car and then drive the ten kilometres to the nearest Briscoes to get your hands on that much-needed pepper mill replacement. Get a Peugeot to get a Peugeot if you know what I mean. Fortunately car yards seem to be moving away from urban centres, although at an excruciatingly slow rate.

      1. What make the Mini store in Ponsonby Rd of any less worth than another business? I know the site is ATB but even as we try to advocate for changes in mode share and urban development, cars are not going to disappear and still play a large role in many peoples lives.

        1. I’m talking about the kind of car yard with vast blighting carparks occupying massive amounts of space in places well-suited for intensification and the expansion of urban centres. I’m not saying to get rid of car yards or cars altogether – bit of an overreaction there on your part – nor am I saying that the car yard business is of any less importance than any other business, just that there’s places better-suited for this kind of land use.

          By the way, the Mini store has moved and is now situated in a building on Broadway. It is compact, fits in with its surrounds and there’s no vast wasteful carpark – hardly a car ‘yard’. If you get the chance have a look for yourself and compare it to the car dealers at Great North Road, New Lynn or just down the road in Newmarket for that matter.

          1. I don’t think it was an overreaction but ok I’ll take that on board. It was more a reaction to the slant that popped into this thread that indicated the car yards should be elsewhere (zoning?) when in fact, if the land values increased, the shabby little yards will move and the bigger guys will either move or condense their yards into something more like the Mini store. Until GNR is no longer a 4 lane + flush median, arterial , there will be no big sudden shift in land values because shopping there is difficult and unpleasant. I had the misfortune to try and cross the road there a few months back and just gave up. Standing on a flush median with 2 lanes of traffic doing 55 or is not my sense of fun (and I’m a pretty adventurous guy) and walking 200m to cross and then waling back in the rain didn’t interest me. I’m guessing I’m not alone. I know traffic engineers hate them but a raised, grassed median (with short-ish turning bays where applicable) along there would go a long way to making the road a lot more crossable. Motorists would just have to get used to turning into roads and coming back out to get to driveways. If you don’t like it, use the bloody great motorway.

  5. The tiny car yards at the Point Chevalier stretch of Great North Road are gradually disappearing, although it is indeed very slow, and to date the most major development on a car yard site has been a KFC which may not be the transformation some were looking for.

  6. A car dealership is just another business. They rely on people buying things or services. Most of the CBD dealerships have seen very reduced footprints compared to those of old. Mostly, only high end luxury brands remain in town and they are there for the same reasons the lawyers and bankers are – that’s where their customers are. In the near future I can envisage smaller, taller redevelopment of others – Newmarket is an example. Further out they were built in very cheap Brownfield land or new Greenfield areas. There has been a swing to storing most stock off site thus enabling the smaller yards. I still say its not the car dealerships that are ruining GNR but the road itself. Fix the road, ie not an arterial, and the value of land along there will increase, thereby pushing the little used car lots out.

    1. “Fix the road, ie not an arterial”

      You don’t have to remove the arterial-ness of the road to make it better – although less traffic is seldom a bad thing. This road is like it or not a Regional Arterial road.
      Consider what the old Auckland City Council proposed for Mt Wellington Highway (another GNR if ever there was one) as part of the AMETI project.
      They proposed separating local traffic from the through traffic and making it a boulevard. The renderings I saw looked pretty good – the only argument was the cost.

      1. Well, until we do, that area will have a lower value and stay severed. Keep or enhance the PT role of the road and reduce the motor vehicle capacity. If we are not willing to do that then nothing will change.

      2. would have been better it some ways, however this would have vastly increased the severance.If you lived on the road would have been very difficult to cross the road, and thus access local shops, schools, parks etc. This is because the arterial part would have increased traffic speeds, regardless of if speed limit was increased.

  7. 1 lane street parking each side, 1 lane traffic each way, double laned tramway and dedicated busway in the centre.


    P.S. If Great North Road is “Guns N Roses” to the locals, what’s Great South Road?

    GSR stand for GunShot Residue on forensic shows I think

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