Every now and then I receive external confirmation of just how rapidly Auckland is transforming itself into a much better city. The latest and perhaps greatest – at least in terms of its global reach – reminder has come courtesy of the New York Times, which recently published this article titled “36 hours in Auckland“.

The introduction to the article is worth quoting in full:

Admittedly, few fly all the way to New Zealand just to visit Auckland, the country’s largest city. Most aim to explore the otherworldly landscapes with which, thanks to the silver screen, this remote nation has become associated. But before delving into the cinematic beauty of the North Island countryside, discover the San Francisco-steep streets and regenerated neighborhoods of newly vibrant Auckland. This multicultural city, home to a third of all Kiwis, has recently welcomed a raft of bars, boutiques and restaurants that highlight locally made products, from excellent craft beer and wine to fashion and art. And none of it has anything to do with orcs or rings.

I think there are several interesting aspects to the introduction. The first is the reference to San Francisco, after which the article goes on to mention Seattle. Indeed, on my last trip to Seattle I was struck but how it felt like a bigger, bolder American version of Auckland. I think Seattle is a city Auckland should compare itself too, and try to emulate in some respects (perhaps not weather wise).


Another interesting aspect of the introduction is the mention of Auckland’s multi-cultural society. Speaking as an employer, I can say that Auckland’s cultural plurality is quite an important attribute when trying to attract skilled staff from overseas, which is something that I’ve recently had to do. In Auckland you can be comfortably “different”.

But the more interesting aspect of the introduction, I think, is the length to which it goes to challenge what it believes is the common understanding of New Zealand as a destination that does not normally include AucklandI think this common definition of “destination NZ, but not Auckland” is real, understandable, and yet rapidly changing.  

Its “real” because our tourism marketing has often emphasised our natural areas. It’s also “understandable” because NZ does have outstanding natural features and landscapes. While I’m an ardent advocate for more liveable urban areas, I am equally passionate about NZ’s wild side. There are few things I enjoy more than travelling around NZ, and I suspect many other NZers feel similarly.

The focus on NZ’s natural qualities is also understandable, however, because NZ’s generally not done very well at creating pleasant cities and towns. Auckland has, historically at least, sat proudly on top of NZ’s dung heap of urban shame. But it seems that Auckland’s reputation is (finally) rapidly changing, and deservedly so.

A variety of decisions made by a variety of councils has resulted in urban places that are both good for people and fun for visitors. Streets are cleaner and many have been upgraded; public transport is much better; and we invested in civic facilities, such as Britomart, the Museum, and the Art Gallery (pictured below). This has not only created places to go and things to do, but in turn helped to stimulate private sector development in the surrounding areas.


And I suspect Auckland is only going to get better.

Right now we’re staring down the barrel of 5 years of transformative PT improvements, spearheaded by integrated ticketing, electrification, and the New Network. Meanwhile, Wynyard Quarter should gradually become a waterfront precinct of international quality. And in the background a steady programme of streetscape improvements should create more places where people want to stop, pause, and take a photo (thanks Auckland Council!).

Anyway, for now let’s just enjoy some external confirmation that the Auckland we know, and generally love, is headed in the right direction. Who knows – if we keep working hard and focus on being decent Aucklanders, then perhaps in a few years time the New York times will feel compelled to spend more than 36 hours in Auckland? Let’s hope so.

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          1. Not directly relevant, even if the design is the same/similar.
            That bridge was 80 years old, and suffered from years of neglect both above and below the water line as evidenced in the video footage and also the final nail in the coffin was that the concrete foundation piles above the water had “concrete cancer”. So the bridge had to come down.

            This cancer is caused by the regular below 0 freezing temperatures during winter and low levels of alkali in the concrete used in North American construction which together cause the reinforcing in the concrete to be able to rust, expand and weaken the concrete.

            We don’t have any of these problems with the Auckland bridge, even if its right above a salt sea, the concrete used here has much higher levels of alkali to prevent such reinforcing issues and we don’t get freezing temperatures like the North Americans do.

    1. Bah ha! Good call – although to be fair I think the whole of the U.S. has an infrastructure maintenance problem.

        1. Matt, I don’t know where you were, but pot holes are a constant problem in many areas, even when they build most of their freeways from solid concrete. The extreme weather conditions in many parts simply breaks up the surface and they have to spend all summer fixing it, only to have it happen again the following winter. When you think about it (which I have done while being there for a number of times during winter in the Midwest) it is an absolutely crazy place to set up such a structure; and is only viable with so much cheap fossil fuel – something that is coming to an end. It is a good thing that we do not face such problems within NZ with our transport system.

    2. Seattle is into tunneling these days like the Waterview project; check out the tunnel that will replace the viaduct through the central city, it will use the worlds largest TBM at 17.5m and will double deck the traffic.


      The bridge you are referring to is quite a bit north of the city and is under federal/state control; it was quite interesting to read the reports quoting how far behind the states are in the lack of investment in maintaining the highway infrastructure (especially bridges). Should be a good reminder to the government here that the costs of maintaining such a system can be overwhelming when your economy matures.

      Stu is correct though; Seattle is a great city to use as a model of how to do things right. They have a great community spirit due to a higher intensity and more neighborhood environment, very creative atmosphere and attract innovative industries that give back far more to the community than will be ever found in AKL; due to this they seem to have a better range of community facilities. My wife (who lived there for many years) was reading last week that the newest inner city park that is being developed will be planted with all edible crops that will be free to the community to take; now just imagine trying to get something like that started in Auckland and the endless debates that it would cause – but that is just the type of attitude towards development we need to foster in AKL to get the community to work better together in all things.

  1. Bless those giant trucks! Our last govt let them get bigger and I bet this govt will too.

    I wonder how much longer bridges would last with only medium weight trucks on them? Ten times? A hundred times? SMDH!

    1. Bridge spans are so heavy that the weight of trucks crossing them is irrelevant for the operating life of bridges, unless you’re talking ultra heavy loads, ie houses, locomotives, etc. If the bridge was deficiently designed or weakened by rust even medium weight trucks are going to be a big problem. You only have to look at the continuing rapid deterioration of the old Mangere Bridge since it was closed to motor vehicles to understand what really destroys modern bridges.

      1. Ah. Maybe it’s more the road surfaces they destroy?

        Road trains are planned though the RLTP last year had a chunk about how much money they needed to identify bridges that will need to be replaced or upgraded to handle bigger trucks

        1. Yep, you’re right, trucks trash the road base big time. When the proposal for even heavier trucks were proposed 15 years ago Transit did a bridge study that found that almost all highway bridges could safely cope with most 45 tonne truck/trailer combinations except one which would create harmonic problems on short span bridges. The current government’s plans don’t exclude that combination hence the need to strengthen many bridges to withstand a few new trucks. Typical for the bunch of no nothing no it alls sitting around the Cabinet table these days.

  2. Lots about food & shopping. I wonder whether, in an increasingly globalised world where you can buy just about anything anywhere, whether people really choose where to go based on what they can eat & buy.

    1. Now one does not even need to leave NY to get NZ food. http://www.kiwiana-nyc.com/

      Why go to Auckland if it is just like Seatlle? Think that will be a huge challenge for tourism marketing people in the future, as many of the “new” large cities seem to be melting into one globalised same-ness. Places that are unique such as Rome etc will mop up the tourist dollar even more so in the future as people seek different experiences.

      Re the decaying USA infrastructure, the link below is interesting. Maybe our large dairy co could convert some tankers into staff shuttle buses…….:)


      1. The point isn’t that Auckland should be just like Seattle – the point is that Seattle makes a relavant and interesting comparison to the potential in Auckland. And the wider point is that Auckland should be a bloody nice place to spend a couple of days before you head south. Right now, the average tourist stay is something like one night. Stretch that to two and you add something like $1bn in tourist spending to the city’s economy – and a fair chunk of that money is largely spent with small businesses such as cafes and restaurants. This is only a good thing, but the biggest point here is that none of the improvements to Auckland were made for tourists – they were made for Aucklanders, and it just so happens that other people seem to now be enjoying them too.

        And I’m not sure I agree with you on the Rome comparison – increasingly, those cities (Prague, Vienna, Rome) are turning into Disneylands, and there is a great deal of interest among a particular type of traveller to visit cities that are actually places where people live, work and play. Small, creative cities with lots of small, creative businesses (cafes, design shops, etc) are becoming popular places to visit. If Auckland carries on the way it is then there is no reason it could make a great stopoff for independent, interested travellers before or after they go off to see the South Island or whatever.

    2. NZ isn’t a food destination, and it isn’t a cultural destination in any traditional sense (Hobbit houses notwithstanding). Best I can reckon it’s a change of scenery destination.

      1. Not a cultural destination??

        I’m confused about how you managed to miss so much of NZ tourism in the last 30 years.

  3. Nice post Stu, I also read the article and was pleasantly surprised by the kinds words placed upon Auckland.

    One unique step I think we could take is to open up the stream on Queen St for a truly unique ‘connecting NZ urban with NZ wildness’ feel along our premier street. I’m not sure what you’d do regarding buses but I guess the CRL can handle that!

  4. The art gallery really is a gem. I’ve said it before, but I think the cultural facilities between Albert Park and Mayoral Drive (Gallery, Library, comedy clubs, Civic, St James, Basement, Town Hall, Aotea, Cinema Complex, Q Theatre, Sky City Theatre) are all worth highlighting and putting together as a precinct, properly linked for pedestrians. People are starting to love the city being created, but we can do a lot more.

      1. Oh, and the Maidment, on the other side of Albert.

        Perhaps ATC are special! Not everything has to happen there, of course. The Mangere Arts Centre is becoming a well appreciated venue for the south, and existing places north and west serve their communities.

        The point is that people like culture, and that culture works when it’s accessible.

      1. A wonderful photographer indeed. It also reminds me that we need both more colour, and more interesting and intelligent lighting design in our city-spaces.

        1. At the architecture awards on Friday night the supreme medal winner Fearon Hay for Imperial Lane, and the Gold Medal winner was Pip Cheshire whose firm is behind the re-purposing of Britomart.

          So the two big winners of the night were heritage buildings imaginatively updated and now useable again by the public. These are the very kind of skilled and experienced people that the Unitary Plan sees as guiding development through the Urban Design Panel process.

          Like with the Art Gallery this is the complete reverse of the Heritage hate that the crazies claim.

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