This is a guest post from reader Andy C in Wellington.

Over the past year, the Wellington City Council has started to get serious about brightening up some of our inner-city laneways. According to the Council, they have identified a total of 72 lanes and arcades in the centre of Wellington that could be improved. The plan is now to connect as many of them as possible into “a funky pedestrian network”.

The catalyst for this seems to have been the decision to turn Bond St (which leads onto Willis St, one of the busiest streets for buses in town) from a little through street into a dead end. As a test case it has been a resounding success, with the street itself being painted with bring red polka dots, and a shipping container being used to house an assortment of outdoor furniture and planter boxes that get laid out each day. And from what I have seen, it seems to get good use.

Andy - Bond St

So late last year the Council began to work on a number of other laneways as well – and the results are starting to look pretty darn impressive.

Mason’s lane was previously a dark, dank and uninviting alley with a set of steep stairs leading between Lambton Quay and the Terrace. While not finished, the shot below shows the changes underway. Simply by removing the canopy, freshening up the concrete underfoot, and putting in a small living wall at the back right, along with some funky lights, the place already feels much nicer.

Andy - Masons Lane

The other area that has taken my fancy is the work being done around Eva and Dixon Streets by the old Hannah’s shoe factory. The Hannah’s Factory was one of the earliest inner-city apartment conversions that I can recall in Wellington, and the changes in this area include an overhead light show, a massive chandelier, themed car parks and (apparently) a machine shooting bubbles from the Six Barrel Soda Company. In my image below you can see the first of the car parks to be painted as shoe boxes (which is a great metaphor I have to say).

Andy - Hannahs Laneway

Unfortunately, not everyone seems to be a fan. According to the Wellingtonian newspaper Lambton ward councillor Mark Peck said some retailers had told him the [Bond St] pop-up area was discriminatory.

“Spending $100,000 of ratepayers’ money to temporarily enhance Bond St with a pop-up display makes fish of them and fowl of the rest,” Peck said, who owns a competing cafe nearby.

“Council has no business wasting ratepayer money on these sort of feel-good interventions that act as a subsidy to the businesses lucky enough to be in the vicinity,” Peck said. “This action is hurting hardworking business. The sooner it comes to its senses and takes down this abomination, the better.”

I’m not sure if Mark still stands by those comments from last year, but if he does, then I’m a little worried to be honest. I thought he’d be all for an innovation that brings more foot traffic nearby…

As someone who regularly walks around the inner-city I have to say these improvements are making a fantastic change for pedestrians, and giving the city a bit more life. And to check out some of the bigger plans, the Dom Post ran a series of sketches from the Council last year. All I can say is, if the real thing is only half as impressive as these images it will be worth rate payer’s money.

So credit where it is due. While the Council may be madly pursuing an unrealistic dream of a longer Wellington airport runway, in this instance at least, they seem to be getting it right. I can’t wait for the day when focusing on pedestrains in the inner-city just becomes normal.

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20 comments

  1. I used to walk Masons Lane every day when I worked nearby and it was dreary; I was surprised at how many people still walked it given how uninviting it was. So I’m glad it’s spruced up and I imagine the sandwich bars there are glad too.

  2. The beauty of a pop up display is that it can be moved, so maybe next time it could go on a tour of the CBD – perhaps the customers will follow.

    Perhaps public funds could be spared if Council simply the space for retailers to create their own marketing initiatives in the public realm?

  3. Wellington is getting there, slowly. More slowly than Auckland now, having rested on its reputation for the last ten years or so.

    (BTW, it’s ‘capital’)

    1. I went to Wellington once a year for five years and didn’t think it changed much in all that time. Auckland was, until recently, a sleeping giant and now it’s awake to creating better urban spaces is steaming ahead with all the haste that it can muster. Having said that we have a long way to go before we match the Wellington waterfront or Cuba Street (even if it looks grubbier and grubbier each year).

      1. There’s a big university precinct building being built on lower Cuba, so that will create a bit of change there. But the council are not willing (for example) to create more space for pedestrians by turning over parking on the rest of that street. Hundreds of shoppers and walkers cram onto narrow footpaths cluttered with signs and bicycles (because the council thinks that’s a great place to put bike parking) while few vehicles travel down the street.

        It was also the case that a slowdown in government for the first few years of National put a dampener on Wellington’s growth. It seems to have bounced back.

        1. Even the pedestrian area is looking tired. The brickwork is really dated looking and many of the shops really need a clean up. I know it’s supposed to be bohemian but there’s a massive difference between shabby chic and just plain shabby.

    2. Doh – will ask one of the mods to update that typo.

      And yes to more pedesrian space. When walking along Lambton Quay at lunchtime the footpaths are getting rather packed while there are hardly any cars on the street.

      Time to move to a transit only Lambton Quay perhaps? (unlikely I know).

      1. I’ve noticed on the days when a cruise ship is in town that there is a significant amount of pedestrian congestion on Lambton Quay, of the type that would be unacceptable if it were cars or trucks being held up. Luckily it’s only people trying to buy lunch, go shopping and meet friends who are inconvenienced, the cars cruise on uninterrupted.

  4. When will we get the same treatment in auckland? Can they be made permanent?

    Currently there are a few uninviting laneways between queen st and albert st. Those could be rejuvenated and connected.

  5. Some good stuff in those sketches and about time too. I last lived in Wellington in 1999, go back every year and waterfront aside, there never seems much difference in the CBD. Its such a great walking city too given its predominantly flat in the CBD, or the inclines are gentle.

    Totally agree on the suggestion re a transit-only Lambton Quay. Footpaths are always jam-packed with people and there isn’t much reason for private vehicles to pass through here. The street can be accessed via carparking on both sides.

    The comments by the councillor…I kind of agree that some benefit and others don’t. The fact he owns a nearby café though is tainting his judgement. If he didn, I am sure he would be advocating MORE of this spending for his ward.

    1. He sounds like a NISEBY Not In Someone Elses Back Yard. They’re the same people who claim that because the CRL doesn’t go to the North Shore then it’s a waste of their tax dollars.

    2. Councillor Peck is one of those lame, single term, no hoper councillors that just complains about everything and does nothing. Give him zero publicity and his political career will die a well-deserved death.

      But on to the subject of the laneways – and thanks to Andy C – they’re certainly not universally popular, to say the least. There is a huge amount of pedestrian traffic through the back alleys of Wellington, as the amount of north-south roads are overly populated by cars. So, painting them pink and orange is not to everyone’s taste… There is certainly a desire to gain some of the popularity of the Melbourne laneways, but it is a double-edged sword really – the last time i was in Melbourne the locals were looking pretty pissed off at all the tourists standing in one particular graffiti-strewn laneway, to the extent that it is not really usable any more for any purpose other than pedestrian-parking and selfie-gurning. Standing and gawping does not a vital conurbation make…

  6. @Peck just f off. Morally wrong to improve anything unless it’s done for everyone all at once? That’ll be plenty more than 100k of ratepayers money thank you.

    1. You can relax, he’s retiring at the end of this term.

      He got a bit of flack for his comments, and seems to have realised that the best way to get customers is to run a really good cafe.

  7. Glad you’re enjoying the laneways – much more to do – and they come alive even more during festivals. Look back a bit further to see their genesis: Central City Framework, agreed in 2012

  8. These comments that nothing changes in Wellington are a bit tiresome. I’ve lived here since 2007 and during that time there’s been significant intensification in Te Aro in particular. Some people consider that the CBD, others city fringe. Either way lots of ~10 storey apt buildings have gone up with construction continuing. Sure Auckland’s made great progress from a low base key parts of Wellington city are evolving too.

    1. Te Aro has gained 12,000 people. That’s huge. It’s going to gain another 15,000 in the next

      The problem is that the city hasn’t caught up (yet – I hear there are plans) and the pavement is starting to feel a little crowded and it’s not yet the urban form we need.

  9. I used Mason’s Lane as a covered shortcut to The Terrace. I no longer use it on wet days as there is no protection from the rain. Replacing the canopy with a transparent cover would have worked better for the cafe tables and chairs in the lane too. Now they’re only used on fine days. OK changes for summer but Wellington still gets rain for weeks in winter.

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