Back in January, when my grandma’s house was being put up for sale, some relatives came over from Melbourne to help tidy up the place and have a last look at what has, for as long as I can remember, been the meeting place for our family.

The family tradition has always been to eat home-cooked meals together, but I suggested that we break with tradition and try out some of the new restaurants that have been popping up in Takapuna.

Takapuna, incidentally, seems to be learning urban lessons from Newmarket, the city centre, and places further afield. While it’s still a low-rise centre, it’s developing a little network of laneways and arcades around Hurstmere Road, each one inhabited by cafes and restaurants. (And people on foot.) Development cycles go in booms and busts, of course, but if residential development around Takapuna goes ahead, it’s likely to become increasingly vibrant in the future.

Anyway. As a result of all this, we ended up celebrating Grandma’s move in a really excellent Colombian restaurant at the 40 Hurstmere Road laneway. In this building (apologies for the overcast Google Streetview picture):

Hurstmere Rd new building

Now, you might say: This is a great example of the importance of preserving historic buildings, which all too often have a unique character that shines through with a bit of gentle renovation.

But you’d be wrong.

You see, my grandma told me a bit about the history of this building. (Apparently you learn a lot about the built environment by living in the same place for 60 years.) It was, in fact, built by one of my great-uncles as a carpet shop – hence why it’s so long and narrow and well-suited for a lane-way. And rather than being constructed in the art deco 1930s, it was built in the prosaic 1950s or 60s.

Here’s what the building looked like before being renovated into a laneway (again, picture from Streetview):

Hurstmere Rd old building

Not quite the same, is it?

This building tells us a few things about how urban environments evolve. The first is that appearances (and building ages) can be deceptive. Some old buildings are good, which means that we should think carefully about how and why to preserve them. But with all due respect to my great-uncle, many are uninspiring.

The second is that change is often good. Renovating or even demolishing existing buildings can result in a better street environment. This building is a perfect case in point. We probably wouldn’t have eaten there if it still looked like it did in the second picture. Sensible developers will be aware of that and build accordingly.

The third is that context matters. Attractive building exteriors are particularly important in a place like Hurstmere Road, which is a low-speed, pedestrian focused street. (Many people arrive by car, but they must park in a shared carpark and walk to their final destination.) In this context, people generally have time to experience and react to building frontages. If traffic speeds were higher, that wouldn’t be the case – people would simply whiz by without forming impressions of the buildings.

High-speed roads produce different buildings. They tend to be set back further from the street, because they can’t be seen if they’re closer. Facades are less important, as the details aren’t apparent at speed. Instead, signs are used to attract passing eyeballs. The result is something like this:

Great North Rd New Lynn

In other words, street environments ultimately shape incentives to build attractive buildings. (And also to provide or preserve other amenities like street trees.) So perhaps when we think about the quality of our built environment, we should think about traffic speeds first and the age of buildings later?

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27 comments

    1. FYI folks its Colombian, with an O. Columbia is the English speaking version from North America, and they speak Spanish in South American Colombia. Little bugbear of mine.

  1. Isn’t it funny when you live in an area for a long time and think you know it well and suddenly you find there is a development taking place and for the life of it, you can’t remember exactly what was removed to enable the development to proceed.
    So thanks for that explanation Peter. And with your reminder I can now recall the old facade also.

    What I really like about the facade is the use and distinctiveness of the red brick. It is such a warm and welcoming change from excessive use of boring, grey tilt slab type concrete. The internal lane and little adjacent courtyard is also very intriguing.

    And I can vouch for an enjoyable meal at the Colombian Restaurant, the proprietors of which informed me last month, that Enrique Penalosa is again Mayor of Bogota for a second time.

      1. Bird on a wire is on my regular work lunch rotation, was also aware of Burger Burger going in but not Fish Fish (not that I like seafood so won’t be visiting it

  2. There are many older town centers in Auckland which are struggling.
    Panmure is a good example. Others include Ellerslie,.Papatoetoe, Glen Innes. Onehunga. etc.
    They have all the facilities. Library. Pool. Community centre, Train station, shops (which seem to be mainly vacant). etc.
    Unfortunately the places seem to in decline because of nearby large shopping centres.
    I’m sure many people would like to live close to these townships..
    Please allow more multi story apartments to be built in these areas so to revitalise them.

    1. +1 The strength of neighbourhood centres is that they are (or could be) easy and inviting to walk or bike to, but that’s not much use if not enough people live in walking distance. And as you say, most have great PT links – it’s a no-brainer to zone for at least THAB around these centres.

      (It frustrates me when people resist attempts to improve the pedestrian realm or add bus lanes or whatever, on the grounds of parking. Parking is not how a neighbourhood centre competes with St Luke’s or Sylvia Park.)

    2. Not sure I agree with you regarding Ellerslie. In the ten years I’ve been there it has held it’s own, whenever a shop closes another soon fills the premises, hardly any are empty. From my observation it’s benefited from the increase in numbers catching the train mainly.

      1. Agree with Jazza,
        Ellerslie is holding its own, in part as there is no local megamall to divert people to that.

        It also benefits from the people fountains (aka buses) that frequent the main street continuously, and of course all those who work in the office park(s) over the motorway.
        From which Ellerslie is easily accessed via the motorway pedestrian underpass which also has a link to the train station platform or the motorway overbridge at the northern end of the platform.

        The streets are usually full of park and walkers and park in riders, I suspect that most people who park near it tend to work locally as well and so can’t be bothered walking to the car to drive somewhere for lunch [and lose their all day parking spot],
        so walk to the town centre and eat locally.

        Oddly enough though Ellerslie also has no “local” supermarket either and maybe that helps make the local shops on the main road thrive?.

        One thing to watch may be whether the park n riders move elsewhere when zonal fares are introduced later this year.
        Currently Ellerslie is a 2 stage far boundary from Britomart, so it is currently like GI is, on the Eastern line [also a 2 stage far boundary].
        So both are popular places for those who want to avoid the CBD parking charges while minimising the train fare.

        So it may be that once zonal fares are introduced on the Isthmus, the benefits of Ellerslie [which has no close to station park and rides] over say Panmure [with its closer to the station park and ride] may disappear.

    3. I live very close to one struggling town centre (New Lynn) and not far from another (Avondale).

      There are thousands of people within walking distance and right now big residential construction in both places; New Lynn already has high rises.

      It’s not a silver bullet. New Lynnn (except Lynnmall) is a ghost town most days. Avondale has a few people but it’s a hole. (And I can say that, I grew up around here)

      1. Yup, resi density alone achieves little. Street and movement characteristics are certainly important; they set the stage for the actors. What New Lynn and Avondale currently lack compared to Ellerslie is a dollop of higher value employment on the doorstep to broaden the mix of actors, give by more depth to the local market. This was always one of the aspects Waitakere City were trying to correct in their strategic planning. How to draw that into the local mix for centres (who otherwise have everything else) outside the CBD remains a challenge, but fixing the quality of the street setting and speeds that contribute to that is probably the first step on a long path.

  3. when we arrived from Wellington 20+ years ago, Takapuna was dying due to a lot of shops moving to Milford with the opening of the mall, Takapuna has slowly buitl back to the buzzy centre it always should have been

  4. That’s interesting. Feels rather fake. I don’t see any reason why the 1950s frontage couldn’t have been tidied up, with a new canopy perhaps, and have been just as successful. The success of this development surely lies in the fact it’s been opened up into a laneway, not that it’s got a fake brickwork facade. In fact, the more I look at it, knowing it’s fake, the more ridiculous it looks.

    1. The facade’s consistent with the interior – the brick and concrete motif is continued inside. It would look much sillier if the inside and the outside looked so different.

      Down the block, there’s another, more longstanding laneway built in a more “genuine” 1960s style. Last I checked, it was home to a fish and chips shop, a pie shop, an op shop, and a secondhand book shop. There’s nothing wrong with that – I’ve shopped or eaten in all of them! – but it’s definitely targeting a different market segment than the new laneway. Form and function are related.

      1. Agree with that Peter. Hurstmere Road is a narrow street with wide footpaths so pedestrians get to view the building facades and if they are interesting it adds to the ambience.
        This particular one reminds me of the Hanseatic frontages in northern Germany which produce many interesting townscapes.

  5. When did arcades become laneways, and when did laneways move indoors? 😉

    Interestingly some west coast Canadian cities have been championing laneway housing (subdividing sections for infill housing accessed from rear service lanes ) as a way of increasing population density and improving housing affordablilty.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laneway_house

    1. My Dad developed a number of arcades on the shore in the 60s. He would be intrigued to know they now are called lane ways. He was also quite against mixing commercial and residential. Always kept away from housing, too personal.

  6. Great elucidation of how transport-planning and the built-environment are intertwined. Chicken-and-egg. Poison one and you poison the other.

  7. If only there was some investment in Manurewa. It’s such a shame what’s happened to that town centre. Farmers left Southmall and a few years later Woolworths. Instead the whole town has been flooded with $2 shops, dairies, and liquor outlets. Hardly a reason to pay a visit, yet there’s a busy train station at one door and the Gt South Road buses at the other.

  8. Re: the main point – speed vs. heritage
    it’s a lot easier to drop a speed limit than rebuild a heritage building.

    So yes maybe dropping speed limits is good but let’s not let that lead to “accidental” heritage destructions

  9. Hurstmere Road isn’t the huge success that this thread portrays it to be. There is a regular turnover of shop tenants due to some ventures failing. My chats with shop owners confirms a glass that isn’t as full as it was.
    As one poster says some more intensive housing in close proximity would give retail here a significant boost. Are the recent murmurings about development of the old gas works site about to come to fruition?

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