The demolition of the Downtown Centre for the start of the CRL and the replacement of this 1960s structure by Precinct Properties’ Commercial Bay office and retail development is an important moment for Auckland on many levels.

Along with the obvious boon of the actual beginning of the CRL there is also something deeply symbolic here. The entire conception of the previous building was anti-urban, it was a suburban mall stuck right in the heart of the city. I have always been struck by the semiotics of this backwards invasion; instead of the usual order of things, where a smaller centre tries to present its developments as a new sophistication by reference to a bigger more glamorous centre, this whole building seemed to represent an inversion of this idea; determinedly aiming to be nothing more than a little bit of Lynn Mall in the city.


But then it comes from that peculiar age in the history of city making; the second half of the 20thC, when, uniquely, dispersal and edge took over from concentration and centre as the formula for commercial success. See here for a fascinatingly detailed history of this development by architect Malcolm Smith, it is clear from this that it was extremely hard in those times to make such a location work, the city centre had just lost its mojo. To see how this came to be so in what now is so obviously such a valuable location, it is important to understand the historical context in which this development took place. This is well summarised on Auckland’s Wikipedia page (source).

The relocation of industries to outlying suburbs became especially pronounced in the 1950s, partly due to incentives made by council planners to create industrial areas in Penrose and Rosebank Road (amongst others) and thus rid the inner city area of noise, pollution and heavy traffic. This was mirrored by the development of suburban shopping malls (the first being LynnMall in 1963)[4]which enticed retailers to vacate the inner city as well. Attempts by the council to halt this pattern by constructing numerous public car parking buildings met with varying success. The rise of suburban supermarket and mall shopping that was created in places such as Pakuranga from 1965 onwards has been added to by the appearance of Big Box retailers in places such as Botany and the North Shore.[5]

It really is a perfect example of this zeitgeist, from its introverted retail pattern [blank walls to the street; its formation it actually consumed a city street], car parking orientation [Downtown parking building and airbridge], clunky sub-modernist massing, right down to the hideous 70s baby-kaka colour scheme.


And now, it is my contention, its demise is also a perfect expression of the new zeitgeist; the return of the city. The inversion of the pattern in play at the time of its creation.

Which, as the name suggests, is simply a return to the timeless urban pattern of the preeminence of proximity and concentration: Where the centre is by definition the busiest and most valuable retail and commercial precinct. A pattern that would be recognisable to city inhabitants throughout all ages and nations, and is only worth emphasising here because everybody adult today has grown up under the opposite, and anomalous, pattern. So what is in fact abnormal and inverted in the long history of urban settlement is strangely conventional and may even seem natural.


This explains the confused incomprehension of people like Herald writer John Roughan, a deeply committed 20th Century dweller who just can’t get to grips with this return to the natural urban order of things this century in Auckland, with the city reshaping itself again on urban terms, building proper city kit like underground rail and the volume of pedestrians pushing out the car from city streets. As opposed to the suburban auto-privileging order he is comfortable with. This is the pattern of the mid-late 20th century in Auckland; the good old days of auto-dominated yet unpeopled city streets, a commuter city completely unlived in, and dead at nights and on weekends; everyone having fled to the haven of the suburbs. So he confuses the vibrancy of crowded city pavements and new construction with some sort of disorder:

Meanwhile, the heart of Auckland looks like a body in the first phase of drastic surgery. It lies stunned, wan, with opened wounds and heavy bandaging.

Whereas to city lovers the scale and ubiquity of construction currently underway in the city is exhilarating and full of promise*. Auckland now has something of the energy of early 20th century North American cities; alive with commerce, construction, and crowds. Rather than the plodding predictability of the old provincial town that Roughan seems to be yearning for.

This kind of confusion and conflict is to be expected in times of significant change that it is clear that Auckland and many other cities are experiencing now. The bewilderment and anger of some older people at the [largely misunderstood] Unitary Plan is another sign of this: people tend to react fearfully when much of what they always assumed would be permanent and unchallenged starts to melt away. Views formed decades ago can calcify and to see their concrete expression demolished can provoke emotional reaction.


So we can expect more lashing out and confused editorials by those unable or unwilling to move with the times, because I am pretty certain this is a powerful and irresistible trend, as shown by the scale of work, over $10 billion of new construction underway or about to be in Auckland City along the CRL route. As powerful in fact as the last time our city conformed to international trends and profoundly altered its form and movement systems: yup that’s right, when we went all in for motorways, suburban living, and dispersed shopping malls.

CMJ AK STAR APRIL 1973_01_800px
Auckland Star April 1973

We are just changing horses again, and this time back to a normal urban pattern based on a hierarchy of concentration, but as with all evolutions or even revolutions, they still take place in the context of what went before. So Roughan’s sacred suburbia, with its rituals of weekend car washing, lawn mowing, and BBQs, will still exist, and in fact can still be the enveloping context for many people’s entire Auckland experience if they so desire. The wheel turns, but also rolls forward, building on the old, as well as replacing it. Just as buildings of earlier phases of Auckland’s history, particularly from its most urban period in the first half of the 20th Century, can (thankfully) still be seen in these photographs, so will the monuments of the second half of last century persist, the motorways, the malls, the parking buildings, the stubby towers, but the new emphasis is increasingly now elsewhere.

Only I would contend that this time we are being much less destructive than before; we are not dismantling the motorway system, or even running it down, although we will stop adding to it; importantly this is unlike what happened to the tram network and passenger rail during the motorway/sprawl era.

This change may be a shock to people like Roughan, but it really is more evolutionary than revolutionary, additional not substitutive.

All palaces are temporary.

Lower Queen St demolishion 60:70s

*= which isn’t to say that every change is ideal, see here for a critique of the public space issues at Commercial Bay: Are we getting the Public Space…

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  1. Your distaste for the kiwi way of life, and borderline hatred of provincial New Zealand, shines through nicely once again.

    The change you say is positive, is of course actually negative. You refuse to look at the bigger picture and question what affect on New Zealanders as a whole is this having? Are our provincial towns thriving as they once used to, or does this process cause decline? Is the income equality we enjoyed 50 years ago returning, or is the divide between rich and poor growing? Is the ease of buying a truely affordable house returning, or is the very notion being decimated?

    I think your desire to immerse yourself in a world of artificial, devoid of nature and the stars at night, has taken you to a place where you care not for the above matters. As long as it’s bigger, brighter, louder and forever growing and consuming, it has to be good, and damn the cost.

    Onwards with the march of destruction!

    (But seriously Patrick, can you at least try to stop equating provincial New Zealand with “backward” or “old fashioned”? It’s getting tiresome…)

    1. Hi Geoff. Just wondering – what makes you equate the dysfunctional 1950s model of land development with the “kiwi way of life?” Equally, how do you take a discussion about restoring the natural order of the largest city in the country and define it as an attack on small towns?

    2. I think Patrick’s post and your response just highlights a fundamental difference in opinion of what’s a good and bad urban outcome.

      In a way it’s good to flush it out here rather than squabble over the implications of this difference on every minor issue.

    3. There is nothing wrong with provincial new zealand it just doesn’t belong in auckland and to a lesser extent the other 4 big cities. It belongs in Napier and Gisborne and Nelson. No need to stymie Auckland with provincial ideas it has outgrown because the provincial towns can’t make it work for them.

      1. Why does Auckland have to be a cut-price equivalent of Paris – or perhaps you’d prefer New Delhi, Rio de Janeiro, or Mexico City as your preferred templates – when it could be something different, the Garden City of the South?

        1. Garden city. Ha ha ha.

          Unfortunately we have built up most areas like this:

          Note how there’s no gardens in this image. You can also figure out on the GIS viewer that the lot sizes range mostly around 500 to 700 m². But note how despite these large lot sizes, there’s also barely any private outdoor space. The smaller sections, while still 400 to 500 m² large, actually look cramped.

          This is so stupid. If people don’t want big backyards, fair enough, but then you can put these houses on 200 to 300 m² sections (and obviously, don’t build single story houses in a city!). The same amount of houses would then only fill half the space. Use the other half for a park, or sports fields, or a playground. Or for a garden. But well, too late.

        2. What if the majority of residents would rather they had the opportunity to live in a smaller place closer to the city than be part of a garden city?

    4. That’s quite the misreading there Geoff. The issues I’m addressing above are cities and change, there is no criticism of the provinces nor provincial towns, but rather the observation that Auckland is now a city and no longer just an outsized provincial town, and we are witnessing it now taking on a more urban form. It’s about what’s appropriate for a place and a condition. Provincial towns should indeed be just that; themselves, but a city is a different beast as there are other forces at work in them; especially the driving power of the economics of space.

      And in terms of the protection of the environment, low rise, dispersed, drive everywhere, big section sprawl, your so called ‘kiwi way of life’ is no way to protect or experience wilderness, the productive countryside, or prevent light pollution. We need our urban areas to be more compact, more vertical, and less land and resource hungry, precisely to reduce pressure on the natural world; to preserve the natural environment we need to keep our habitation as condensed and as away from it as possible.

      For example, it is those fighting for a place of 1.5m people to live at low density that are putting pressure on Crater Hill and Okura. My preference is to continue the protection and rehabilitation of those kinds of places by allowing and encouraging vertical urban development. Our current pattern is destructively resource hungry: It is impossible to be a suburbanist and an environmentalist.

      If you really do have any curiosity about environmental issues and urban form then David Owen’s 2009 Green Metropolis is great place to start:

      1. Completely agree Patrick, the Auckland CBD lost its way during the 80’s and 90’s, with Queen St in particular going from the “main street of New Zealand” to a row of tacky low value shops. It’s fate was sealed when the McDonald’s arch went up.

        Auckland is slowly rediscovering what so many other towns and cities around NZ never forgot. Napier, Hastings and Havelock North for example, have banned malls from being established in Hawke’s Bay, specifically to protect their CBDs, and family-owned businesses, which undoubtedly provide more unique and valued offerings whilst keeping wealth in the local economy.

        1. There’s a “mall” in Hastings (where KMart is, albeit it’s small) as well as a heap of big-box retail areas about the place.

          The key that makes Napier pleasant is the revitalisation of Emerson St and the Marine Parade in the early 90s and onward. They still haven’t gotten rid of the cars from it totally, but nonetheless people being present has reduced it considerably. The cruise ships docking and art-deco tourism helps keep Napier vibrant and encourages street improvement.

          Havelock is also pretty good, again due to maintaining a nice place to be for pedestrians – helped no doubt by the generally older and well-off (generalisation!) population along with the wine boom. Hastings is less so, but is slowly making a comeback from better pedestrianisation.

          Seems to me the key with all areas regardless of density is that buzzing retail suits pedestrianisation. That’s why malls work so well ofcourse (within the mall, just not around them). This can work in Auckland just as well.

    5. nothing to do with this post, but provincial NZ is shit, all towns are the same with an awful “main” strip with the same tacky shops and ugly advertisinng

    6. Patrick’s post was about the relationship between the city, in the sense of the dense urban centre, and the rest of the metropolis. It wasn’t about the relationship between the metropolis and the rest of the country.

    7. Geoff, that’s quite some rant! We haven’t been able to see the night sky in all it’s glory in Auckland for probably more than 100 years, I’m not sure Patrick’s discussion of commerce focusing on the city centre, can’t even see it that well in downtown Napier. In fact the best way to see the night sky in downtown Napier would be for it to decline to a point where there are no more lights.

  2. Great read Patrick. Man I’d love to see the day when we replace/move/possibly even remove the elevated motorways from the city

  3. I think Patrick you are correct in the point that the Auckland we have from post World War II to now was not a natural phenomenon but the result of deliberate policies. City and government planners made deliberate choices and the result was a suburban big town. Of course Auckland transitioned from a big town to a small city a few years ago and with that comes confusion. A number of people cannot understand how “town” solutions won’t work anymore for a city and many seemed truly baffled that a growing number of people like the true urban lifestyle.I get the attraction of provincial town living but not everyone wants that and the reality is that Auckland won’t be that again.

    1. Adrian, “a growing number of people like the true urban lifestyle.”

      No problem with that. However, if we then examined the solution set, we’d see:
      1. Those people could move to a “true urban city” e.g. London
      2. We could spend billions changing Auckland’s very structure

      Hard to see how 2. is the most cost-efficient way to meet those desires.

      1. Or rather:
        1) We could save billions but building Auckland in a cheaper more sustainable way, the way we used to do it, rather than continuing to spend extra billions to keep trying to convert Auckland into the American Midwest, Don’t forget that everything youse consider the ‘kiwi way of life’ has been installed post WWII.
        2) People that want to live in a quiet small town can pick from one of the dozens we already have in our country, without forcing anyone to leave.

      2. 1. It’s not that easy. I’m too old to get a working holiday visa for most places and my ancestors came to this country a minimum of four generations ago so no ancestry visa. Basically unless I get sponsored or marry a foreigner I’m stuck here.

      3. I don’t quite understand your point: you seem to suggest that Auckland and NZ would be better off if those who want an urban lifestyle left NZ. I guess what you are saying is that Auckland will never have a true urban centre like London, therefore, rather spending billions of dollars we should divert that money into realistic goals (that is the most charitable reading I can give). It is true that it will cost billions of dollars to provide the future infrastructure for Auckland. But as has been pointed out on the site many times we will spend billions of dollars if we add another suburb to Auckland. The cost of urban sprawl is significantly more than what a more urban environment costs. Apart from the CRL most of the development is actually private development and, therefore, is based on commercial decisions. My point and what others have said before is that the suburban model was not natural, as though there was no other outcome, but it does seem that with restrictions been removed as well as the full costs being calculated it seems that some people prefer to live more concentrated than others. Without massive state intervention then I am unsure what you propose. It seems you prefer a suburban lifestyle – good for you and I have no intention of advocating banning that.

      4. The reason for pushing for a more compact, urban city isn’t because there are people that like living like that. You’re right, if it was just about meeting their desires we could just as easily let them move elsewhere.

        The reasons are that a more compact urban form leads to better outcomes for people – better health, less time commuting, lower infrastructure cost, and most importantly reduced carbon emissions and climate impact.

        Hopefully people do like those things, but you’re right, if they don’t, and they want to live in sprawling car-focused suburbia they can always move elsewhere.

      5. Auckland, 2040:

        The entire urban area is zoned Single House in order to safeguard the Traditional Kiwi Lifestyle. A system of internal passports limits Auckland’s population to the number that can be accommodated by the 2016 housing stock.

        Sophisticated monitoring of social media allows the Lifestyle Police to identify those with subversive tastes for espresso and multi-storey architecture. If reeducation is unsuccessful, these un-Kiwis are deported to London. Those who are ineligible for British work permits must make their way to Melbourne.

        Investment in public transport has been halted and transport emissions are growing. Buses run 7am to 7pm and dinner-parties are blighted by boring conversations about how congestion could be fixed by synchronising the traffic lights.

        Auckland is unable to compete as a world city; our economy is ever more dependent on primary commodities. Productivity and per-capita income have dropped and recession grips the provinces.

        Kiwis everywhere contemplate the reforms of 2017-2020 and breathe a sigh of relief that the private sector hasn’t had to spend money on building new housing.

          1. you make the mistake of assuming that competition is about money. No one is saying that. No, for urban areas to be competitive they have to offer a quality of life that is comparable to or better than other places.

            In saying that, at the present time the cost of housing in Auckland is approximately 20-40% more than comparable cities overseas. Given that housing is the single largest item of household expenditure. this makes it rather difficult for Auckland to compete in terms of quality of life.

            Doesn’t matter how much you embellish the other aspects of life, if people can’t afford a decent house and decent food then they are generally unhappy and unable to pursue the finer points in life.

          2. People do need at least some silver to live on while they contemplate the meaning of life, and an economy based on primary commodities with little diversification isn’t a good way of ensuring a steady supply of it.

            Silver also pays for education and hospitals and other worthwhile things…

    2. I think too much credit is given to the policies. A lot of what happened was simply reactive. For example without the motorways the diaspora from the centre may have been even bigger. The first parts of the inner city motorways were not bypasses of the CBD but were built to improve access to the CBD. Without that the decline of the CBD may have happened quicker and been more complete.

      1. In regards to mfwic, I understand your argument but if we look at cities around the world and those that did not put a motorway through the city then it would be interesting to compare. On a personal level I lived in Rome for 18 months and there is no motorway through the city. After WWII the Eternal City’s population increased dramatically and all done without motorways emptying into the centre. My suspicion is if we didn’t destroy the city suburbs then the population would have increased rather than drain away.

      2. Yeah right, policy had nothing to do with it; inner city dwellings just demolished themselves ‘reactively’, motorways organically grew without any policy to build them, while somehow ‘saving’ the very places they destroyed:

        1. Patrick you have seen the pictures of those rotten houses in the gully. They would have been demolished even without a motorway. Look at your the aerials you just put up. The motorway took about a third of the houses and the other 2/3 were still demolished to make way for light industry and commercial activities.

          1. Exactly, they would have been replaced or upgraded like all the others that did survive this assault, in Freemans Bay, Eden Terrace, Ponsonby, etc or indeed replaced by productive commercial properties, they would be paying thousands of dollars per annum in rates to the territorial authority… etc etc. But anyway this is besides the point. My point is that there was a policy, and it was pursued relentlessly and at great expense. That it seems natural, or somehow inevitable to you now is simply status quo bias.

            There were choices then, just as there are choices now, we misread the past when we work backwards from what is now without any sense of contingency, and in doing so we also disempower the present.

            And it is really important to remember all those expensive parking buildings did not ‘save’ George Courts, or Farmers, or Milne & Choice. In fact the only one to survive, Smith and Caugheys, had no parking building built for it! The motorist has been proven to be is a poor client for the urban retailer; what they need are residents and workers and students, already there or transported in by Transit and ambling around in their shoes….

          2. It’s strange really, that didn’t happen on the hill in Parnell with it’s rotten house laden, motorway free character, or in the suburbs a ring further out not chopped in half by the artificial gully.

          3. Yes there was a policy. But often policies simply put into words the trends or actions of the many that are already happening. Those processes were already underway in Auckland. People wanted their piece of the garden city so developers did what they always do and met the demand for suburbs. The CBD isn’t so much the result of policy as much as the result of Schumpeter’s creative destruction. The people left and lived elsewhere, then the shops went where the people were, the offices followed suit and so developers used their land for apartments because it no longer had value for other activities. All the way through there were policies, some that matched what was actually happening. The policies that didn’t were rewritten ex post.
            An example, in 1970’s the Auckland City Council thought high rise apartments were the future so they zoned a bunch of sites. The market didn’t want them so very few were built and the policy was abandoned. Later in the late 80’s early 90’s nobody wanted to build offices, but a market grew for cheap apartments so a policy followed. Don’t give too much credit to the planners. Most of what they do should be called ‘backward planning’.

          4. And what part of Auckland would be described as a garden city? I would say the outcome we got now is pretty terrible if you want anything that could be called that.

          5. Well I agree of course, my post above is largely about zeitgeist, about historical forces shaping the built environment, however you came in the claim that there is no policy influence [which is weird given your obsession with forcing parking policy on everyone by regulation- BTW minimums at centres have just been overturned by the Council- yippee!]. This was clearly not the case, including right down to turning places into ruined slums by government notifying a future motorway through a built up area, thereby killing all investment there, then pointing to the poor state of thew buildings as justification forpushing the project through. As you did above. Most recently this was plainly visible in upper Cuba St in Wellington….

            So yes it is an interplay of market [for want of a better word] direction and policies. And sometimes these either get seriously out of whack, or policy is either too resistant or over eager and therefore counterproductive. I would argue, and I think you would agree, that historical patterns, especially big generational ones are, close to irresistible. So, I don’t for a moment argue that suburbanisation in the post-war period could have or should have been stopped, but I do think it could have been done much better, particularly around the abandonment of quality transit, and the planning and forward provision of RoWs for Rapid Transit, and the accommodation of those who were not on trend in different housing.

            And now I believe we are being too restrictive the other way, still resisting the new trend inwards and upwards. The UP still is, by policy, regulation for a squat, sprawly, and auto-dependent city. Just a somewhat less of one than previously. ut then it will be visited again as these forces roll on…

          6. Yes I watched it streaming. One Councilor asked if that meant there would be no mobility parking and was satisfied with the answer it was covered by the Building Act. What they didnt tell her was that the Building Act rate of 1 per 50 spaces applied to no parking is zero mobility spaces. I started laughing at the absurdity.
            Chris Darby argued for consistency. His logic seemed to be if there are 9 wrong things and 1 right one then you should smash the right one.
            So we get a policy that makes sense in the CBD being applied to Sunnynook, Glenfield and Meadowbank and the careful thought given to it by the IHP thrown out by a couple of numpties. Still that is democracy. If nobody appeals we get to live with it. The net effect is likely to favour the incumbents as they have the parking. The value of existing malls just went up. The downside is they wont bother opening other centres to compete with their rivals.

          7. I meant to respond to the topic of your post and comment. Yes I agree with all of your zeitgeist comments. These things are largely irresistible. If a politician tries they get thrown out. But there is a cycle or pendulum to it all that poor policy can change in the short term. Think of the 1980’s Treasury idea that we didnt need rabbit boards as there was no rabbit problem. So they got rid of them and got a rabbit problem. Parking is a bit like that only it will be a slower issue.
            My main point about policy though is people give it too much credit for the outcomes we get. Kind of like the 19th century Great Man Theory where historical events are attributed to whoever was the nearest great man to claim the credit for them when the truth is they would have likely occurred anyway. I dont think planning had much to do with the decline of the CBD and I dont think it had much to do with its revival. If writing policy documents had any real effect then the ARC would be remembered for its achievements when the truth is it didn’t really achieve anything other than perhaps a housing crisis. (yes that policy worked for a while but it won’t be permanent either.)

  4. I read the Herald editorial in the weekend and it was a bizarre read. It was hard to find what point he was making. I guess it was difficult to get to the point in saying Len Brown probably did an ok job in his time as mayor. Len Brown even strangely seems better than the current mayoral candidates.

    1. It is a really odd piece, I think its peculiarity is because he is genuinely wrestling with a deep confusion; seemingly permanent but unexamined views he holds about Auckland, and therefore his own identity as an Aucklander, are perhaps being really tested by the changes in the city… The fact we are building an underground rail line really has thrown him, he says ‘underground rail was something I felt sure Auckland would never see’, there is quite a lot of other rather emotional language, and this is from a writer how can write very clear factual prose, so I think this is a sign of personal turmoil [‘It lies stunned, wan, with opened wounds and heavy bandaging’].

      I do think in this that he and I agree; that the CRL is a very big deal for the city, that it is a turning point, a transformation, it is more than a bit of hardware but a profound change. For him it is a challenge to his world order, to me it is a return to a much needed urbanity. And it represents a coming of age in our confidence and our institutions, a reprieve from the petty squabbling within a divided city and easy manipulation by outsiders, especially central government. Oh and a hope that we may, at last start to address the serious issues of this century with real action.

      I also agree with Roughan that this a major achievement of Brown’s, not his alone of course, but for all his faults, he never flinched over this issue, even in face of profound pressure. He will be remembered for it. Lastly I should say that I admire a writer that is this honest, even when I despair at his determination to cling to a dated position. Success has a million mothers and many opponents of this project will become forgetful of that in the years ahead….

  5. I don’t disagree with the sentiment, but as a one-time Auckland city resident I liked having the mall there. You could walk there from your apartment and go to the bank, the old ware whare, I think Farmers (?), the toy shop, gift shops and housing stores, buy low to mid range clothing, and get lunch all before returning home! Contrasts favourably with the rest of lower Queen, full of touristy stuff, and some of the more pricey clothing options in most of the rest of the CBD, those lovely vintage shops on k road aside.

    I wonder how the market will fill the gap? Will we get a new CBD department store?

        1. Apologies f that came across as condescending, I lived in the CBD about 2 years ago and loathed the mall, completely out of touch with the surroundings and removed people from what should have been a vibrant space. Hopefully the new mall will have much better interaction with the local streets to humanise them a little!!

          The constant improvement of the CBD was very noticeable over the 5 years I spent at uni, and a lot of people who haven’t been for a while don’t seem to know!

          1. All good. I moved out (actually, of St Marys Bay rather than the CBD strictly speaking) about 3 years ago to the day. But I agree – was not a great fit, such an enclosed box. Though it was well-trafficked inside – so there was clearly some demand for it – and one feature I did appreciate was the covered walking bridge across Albert St which meant you could walk all the way from Britomart to the Viaduct without having to cross a single street, and apart from the short walk across QEII from the Britomart walkway entrance, covered from any bad weather, too!
            I wasn’t aware they were putting a new mall there. Will be good to have some public space when it’s all done!

          2. Mall probably isn’t quite the right word, they will be introducing street facing retail to all the frontages and introducing a new shopping laneway through the middle which will be covered and a bit mall like, So lots of shops still and keeping the walking route through the middle.

    1. Shops exist to serve consumer demands – those can change over time. The Warehouse is in Atrium on Elliott, albeit in a smaller space (Farmers and Smith & Caughey also on Queen St). The banks are all still around, most of them have two or three branches each in the city centre. Low to mid range clothing – there’s Cotton On and the like, but also a range of very cheap shops in Atrium, the arcades and elsewhere. It’s hard for independent clothing retailers everywhere these days.

      Department stores are tricky of course, since they need large tenancies, but we’ll at least have a stack of ‘mini-majors’ when the new Commercial Bay opens.

      1. ha, as Sailor Boy suggests, seems I’m getting a bit out of touch with Auckland! That’s all very good to know 🙂

  6. As one building with “blank walls to the street” comes down, unfortunately another is going up between Nelson and Hobson Streets – the new Convention Centre.

    1. Yes that is a problem with all internally focussed big structures like Stadia, Casinos, Museums, but the architects, WaM, say they have gone to huge lengths to activate all sides at ground level. I’m not sure that’s quite the case Wellesley St side so much, but it will lead to big improvements on Hobson St, including to a narrowing of the traffic sewer. Happily the retention of the old pub on the Hobson/Wellesley corner will keep it approachable and less monolithic there.

  7. Has anyone else noticed how when a private owner wants to demolish and rebuild they are expected to keep the footpath open and build a heavy steel barrier over it so they can load across without killing people. But when AT wants something built they give themselves permission to close footpaths and even roads just to use them as part of a builders yard. I guess it is just what happens when you can issue your own consent.

      1. My point is you have no chance of closures to that extent normally. Then when the CRL gets going they want to use half of Lower Albert as a builder yard to store their stuff. Their slogan should be “AT do as we say not as we do”

    1. I don’t see what the issue is? A private developer should be paying or taking measures to keep access etc when they are using public space for their development.
      When the council (public) does a development on (public) land then it only makes sense that they would use their own (public) asset to keep costs down.

      1. I believe that you pay per meter of closed footpath, parking, and street. Accommodation and detours must form part of the traffic plan.

  8. I – an older person – have always liked ‘urban’, unlike my one-time in-laws, who thought living in a ‘used’ house rather than a new group house in Papatoetoe was akin to wearing dirty clothes. What is hard, though, is that some of us bought houses in the then run-down inner suburbs – think Mt Eden! – and are now, by default, greedy proponents of intergenerational theft.
    And by the by, I also always hated the Downtown shopping centre, and in all my years of lunchtimes in the area, rarely went in – or did, occasionally, and left empty-handed.

    1. “by default, greedy proponents of intergenerational theft”

      Are you rallying for NIMBY type zoning?

      If so that impression is not ‘by default’.

      If, as I suspect is the case, you are not, then I am sorry that you have that impression. Most people holding the city back are boomers, most boomers aren’t holding the city back.

    2. There definitely is a subset of people who are quite happy knowing there’s people living in cars or garages. Watch that meeting about those proposed changes in February, specifically the public. Most of them appeared to be retirees. And they were quite explicit about their opinion: if you happen to be someone who can’t afford a million-dollar home, well just piss off then.

      What is also quite telling is that while this brigade is rallying against anything that’s not big free-standing houses nobody can afford, we are in fact building one particular type of smaller units all over the place: retirement villages. And guess who is about to retire soon. And then I’m wondering why it’s all of a sudden a crime to build similar units for other people.

      As is often the case, maybe it’s a small group (and I hope it is), but they are very loud. Look for any articles mentioning Auckland 2040 for instance. Or anything written by one Bernard Orsman in the Herald.

      To give one example of the nonsense flying around: the very idea of a “single house” zone. What if someone renovates his villa to a duplex (i.e. 2 apartments). There would be a second letter box on the street, but other than that there would probably no change visible from the street. Hardly something that will ruin the “character” of the neighbourhood. And yet there are people all up in arms about that.

      All of this is very bad PR for “older people”. Which is unfortunate, I agree that generalizing this to an entire generation is wrong.

  9. I very much agree with your feelings about the downtown shopping centre, it always felt wrong, and we hope that the replacement commercial development will better reflect its location. I have been living downtown for more than five years now, and the reclamation of public space has been very good in this time. I am still not a fan of shared spaces, cars have no place in a CBD, and I hope that a car free centre is not too many councils away. With AT improving their fare system and with a fully operational CRL, the argument for private motor vehicles downtown will have very few, and very skinny legs to stand on. And finally we the dreamers will be able to wander about with fear of only pokemoners, not motorcars!

    1. Matthew what you ask for is inevitable. But we should be moving towards it with more confidence. There are still just a few too many backward facing types in critical positions in the city slowing this natural evolution down. But the Shared Streets are a very successful step in this direction. Queen St is the key. Sadly too many are waiting for the force majeur of Light Rail to achieve it, whereas just responding to current demand trends calls for more north/south Transit and pedestrian priority and general traffic focussed on east/west movement. Closing the bottoms of Shortland St to traffic is urgent. Queen St is now a vehicle rat-run, not the city place it is trying to be. More courage and cunning form AT and AC required; constant improvement and shift in priority will bring profound change to the valley at the heart of our city. We can’t wait for LRT to fix everything.

  10. Patrick thanks for the great article, I did a google search and found your post from last year to read the story that went with the Auckland star picture and found it moderately interesting. The state of Aucklands housing is due in a large part to Auckland council and its predecessor councils tightening up on sprawl but at the same time making high density developments such a long and expensive process that it just didn’t happen. The role of Governments current and previous has a lesser impact as if the density was there the mass imegration would not has had the same effect.
    I know I don’t see eye to eye with the creators of TB and many of the regular posters as I believe there is more to sorting the cities transport issues (I stumbled on your blog when looking into better transport) than solely public transport and I really don’t like the idea of rails down the middle of what are currently major arterial routes.

      1. Fair point Nick, PT, walking and cycling but there are also times when roads, even motorways are warranted (but that is just my opinion) unless they are to nowhere like Penlink (just one example) that should be fully funded by its users. I have seen the opinion of posters here around more roads or motorways but we need to be looking at all options in solving Aucklands (and New Zealands) transport issues.

        1. Where, in the not too distant future, are more motorways warranted though? I’m also not against funding them but SCI, WRR, and NCI are in my mind the only justifiable motorway projects until we have at least half a million more people.

          1. I did say at times, most are just extensions of the current ones like north from Puhoi to past Wellsford, the Waikato expressway. The east/west hway or something similar that will reduce congestion and increase the flow through Neilson st and Onehunga.

          2. Looking at the economics, E-W link wasn’t justified. Agreed on the others though. Investment in major roads, but not through Auckland.

          3. Hey well I move freight (road, rail and sea) and the two worst places to move to and from are Onehunga (the rail transfer point) and East Tamaki. While East Tamaki would be solved by a passenger rail link, I had always thought an extension of the Manukau line but this is one of the places I can see a light rail loop from Panmure to Manukau doing the job as long as it didn’t make road access worse. Onehunga needs something major road wise, a minimum would be widening Neilson st with grade separation on some of the major intersections while the east west link would just remove the through traffic allowing Neilson st to continue as it is.

          4. I know it may look bad, but it really isn’t. Widening Neilson Street actually did *more* than the ‘preferred option’.

        2. The point is that we have a huge roading network but the other modes are underdeveloped and incomplete, and as this limits uptake of alternatives to always driving it so that underinvestment in turn puts more pressure on our one complete system. Making it often dysfunctional and less efficient than it should be. It isn’t a question of which modes does this or that person ‘like’, but rather which specific projects across all modes will give us the best return now, starting with the current city.

          The conventional view, and one buried in the cultures, processes, and people in our transport institutions and politics has been to just keep adding to the one dominant mode in an unfortunate ‘winner takes all’ kind of situation. This has started to change this century, and out of necessity, as it gets increasingly difficult and expensive to improve the already ubiquitous and overused network compared to the underdeveloped ones. That’s all. It isn’t a sort of philosophical argument, but a practical one, and because of where we are historically, those underdeveloped modes need champions outside the institutions, roads, and particularly motorways, have whole well resourced official sprukiers and boosters. People paid handsomely to devise and promote them. We give up our time for balance, in the hope of righting this tilted ship of a city.

          Also remember, transport is, quite literally, only a means to an end; it is no end in itself: A greater happier, more prosperous and sustainable city for all is our aim. Not this or that transport mode or route.

          1. I get your point Patrick and was actually blown away by the aerial pictures of Newton you posted, I knew houses were removed to make way for the CMJ but not that a whole suburb was wiped out of existence.

  11. Great article. The city has definitely been transforming. Regarding industry moving out years ago, was interesting for me to learn that my late uncle had his boating propeller workshop in Federal St, probably in the 50’s? To think that parts of this street are now shared space.

  12. PS I want to clarify my earlier posts

    I am pro intensification as I think that building up frees more space for greenery, parks, and trees, given a specified area and a specified population

    I don’t however believe that the views expressed by some of some “homo urbanus superior” world are necessarily right. IF we controlled demand, we could keep Auckland a city full of affordable 500m sections with big gardens and heaps of trees. However, nobody ever wants to control demand.

    I’m also anti driving, I love public transport and wish I could catch the train every day. But it’s entirely consistent to be (a) pro-PT, (b) pro-intensification, (c) anti-bourgeois, (d) pro-“traditional NZ” and also (e) pro the classic kiwi section. The way to ensure all of these is to REDUCE POPULATION IN AUCKLAND.

    1. A huge number of people in Auckland, myself included, wouldn’t want a 500sqm section, even if it was affordable. The thought of a “traditional NZ” classic kiwi section in suburbia is rather horrifying for many of us. In fact use of the word “kiwi” in any context apart from birds makes me shudder.

      Putting that aside, how could you limit the number of people in Auckland, let alone reduce it?

      Of course the answer is that you can’t, unless you introduce some sort of draconian undemocratic restrictions on where people live, completely at odds with “traditional NZ” values.

    2. The only ways to reduce Auckland’s population – since foreign migration isn’t the real killer – are, in order of feasibility:

      1) deliberately crash the economy creating a Detroit effect.
      2) contraceptives in the water supply.
      3) internal passports / a Trump Wall along the Bombays.

      Or, the status quo, which will eventually end up in a Silicon Valley nightmare where no-one who works in Auckland can afford to live there.

      1. As far as I can see the ONLY way to modify Auckland population is to incentivise businesses to locate somewhere else.

        That appears a perfectly reasonable thing to do, healthy for the country as a whole.

        I’d think Government would be all over this, as they are so clearly so afraid of Auckland stealing all the tax money to manage its growth.

        But I think the doctrinaire belief in the Invisible Hand has them by the throat so to speak.

          1. Agreed. When China introduced Special Economic Zones in the 1990s look at what happened to their economy.

            It crashed, right? Right?

      2. Who says foreign migration isn’t the problem Daphnie? You? Oh well we better pay attention then if you say so!
        Quite simply Auckland and NZ has for the most part over the past century had fairly moderate growth in population (and at the same time next to no housing issues). Along comes the 90’s and the Nats in power… Ruth Richardson said that we should bring in millions of immigrants from Asia to boost our population (Ruth Richardson of royally F**king this country over ilk). Ever since then the population has been booming due to immigrants and at the same time house prices in NZ (but Auckland in particular) have been going through the roof!
        If we reduced immigration to a reasonable sustainable number then there would be a hugely reduced strain on housing and infrastructure in this country.

        1. Bruce your emotion about migration is not supported by the numbers. See below, migration, while obviously being an important driver of dwelling demand is also a very volatile one, and is just as likely to change in the opposite direction as it is to continue its recent path, from the Herald:

    3. EC, how do you plan to reduce the population? Bearing in mind that Auckland will grow even without immigration, and also while immigration could quite conceivably be reduced, I doubt it could ever be dropped to zero without significant economic impacts.

    4. I have lived (in that order) in three very different places in Auckland in the last 10 years:

      – an externally “shoebox”-looking (but inside quite okay) apartment building on Nelson Street
      – a nicer-looking apartment building in Grafton
      – a suburban (ex statehouse) home on a more-than-500sqm section

      While my journey IN THAT PERIOD has gone the other way from what intensification envisages for more Aucklanders, I am unlikely to live in the house for the rest of my life, and could certainly see myself moving back to an apartment, which has a couple of conveniences I sorely miss. Even more than that. I want the OPTION to do that. An Auckland of ONLY such suburban houses, even if affordable, would not be a great city.

    5. Here we go again. Maybe that’s the Kiwi dream, but what good is such a dream if nobody can afford it? Given that almost half of the households are 1 or 2 persons, what are they supposed to do with such a large section?

      And what big gardens are you talking about anyway?

      Look at Auckland: there’s a lot of 500 m² and larger sections out there. Outside the tramway era suburbs, most of them are filled with a huge house and a huge driveway, with just token bits of private space outside. In a lot of cases, you wouldn’t even be able to fit a trampoline between your wall and the fence.

      And yes, the big front yards. But do you put the paddle pool for your kids in the front yard? Do you have your barbecue in your front yard? From what I’ve seen here, the most popular answer is “No”. So the proper name for a front yard is “useless greenspace” and not “garden”.

    6. Leaving aside the feasibility of controlling demand, one reason that I find compelling to prefer the model of your second paragraph (higher density, public green space) to that of your third para (500m2 lots for everyone) is that public parks and green streetscapes can be enjoyed by many more people. Private green space is unevenly distributed and mostly benefits its owners, and in a context of controlled demand and a city covered by suburban lots, the rating base would be far less able to support public green spaces. A city of parks provides more benefit to more people than a city of fences and backyards.

  13. According to a NZ Herald article on Friday on immigration stats, 600 new residents settle in Auckland everyday.

    The issue for those promoting immigration restrictions are:

    25% are returning NZers (or some Australians)
    25% are on short term work/residencies (from fruit pickers to MNC employees on postings)
    25% are foreign students

    So in terms of impact on housing stock, it’s really only the last 25% permanent arrivals that are having a material impact and that you can do anything about. And on the basis some of that 150 are part of the same family unit, you might be only talking about 75 houses (ignores those who can’t afford to buy).

    By all means look at speculation, inbound and domestic. But immigration is not all the evil it is cracked up to be.

    1. Also, being one of the last 25% that “one can do something about”, I could argue that if I had been prevented from coming here 10 years ago, then…. well, my company would still have been looking to hire engineers, but possibly fruitlessly, because there’s not enough NZ ones (we mainly advertise in NZ, and we pay high wages, so its clearly not like hiring overseas workers is driving out NZ staff looking for jobs here). This way, NZ got the benefit of another employee rather than an empty spot in an NZ company, and almost 2 decades of another country paying for my education too.

      1. And I meant to add that you wouldn’t want to “do anything about” that last 25% because, on balance they will contribute in a positive way. As you have pointed out – thanks.

        1. So its clear that immigration is not the great lever to lean on, especially as net immigration is so volatile on its own anyway, but foreign ownership, ie people living in other countries but investing or speculating in our residential property market, could certainly be controlled, and especially controlled via a sales tax that feeds an infrastructure fund.

      2. I’d love, just for once, those professing to know the “kiwi dream/lifestyle” to define it and how they propose to impose it on everyone…

  14. I’m not a mall guy but I liked the mall in the city. It made a nice change from the usual retail and office environment in the cbd. Lots of shops in one place and the foodhall upstairs. Not to mention sitting at the benches near McDonalds and looking out at Britomart and a bit of the harbour.
    It was nice to have that variety in the city. (Maybe I am a mall guy!).

    It was a firm part of my activities, walking over the square or the underpass from the train station. Still, progress goes on. I notice some jack-hammering in the station itself today, on the sides. Lets get that crl built, asap.

  15. There are areas in Dunedin,Napier,Queenstown where houses have been built that get little or no winter sun.
    I have lived in such slums.
    I would be much better to allow 5 and 10 story apartments which would also get view.

  16. I’ve got to say, I love Patrick’s article – it’s such a passionate paen to the city. Well done Mr R, you write as well as you photograph.

    But I did have to laugh when I read someone advocating for London as an example of an urban city. Having lived there for years, in the very heart, the bit that was truly urban, I feel it’s my duty to point out that it is also massively Sub Urban as well. Swathes and swathes of detached and semi-detached residences sprawling out across the countryside like a giant cancer. People commuting for hundreds of miles a day – I worked with one guy who lived in Brighton, and another who lived in Preston, with 2 hour commutes each way each day, whereas I had a ten minute walk to work through the city streets. As a city though, London is changing now – becoming much more urban – and it all only works because of the public transport networks in place. Roll on CTRL, the first real step in Auckland truly becoming a real city.

  17. I didn’t want to post on this blog site ever again. But I suppose the ignorance of your blog you posted here Patrick demonstrates why just little old me was fooled into thinking people like you might be positive for us all. I’m all for the CRL, but the reality is the building went because the CRL is all go. Not because it was some sought of invasion. An invasion in your mind, that gives more than many, most likely very fond memories.

      1. “I have always been struck by the semiotics of this backwards invasion;” is what you stated. May pay to do some proof reading Patrick.

        1. Oh fair enough, well I still don’t see what caused your emotional objection to that use of language… would you prefer ‘injection’?

          Your comment does little more than throw some insults around so I have no idea what your problem is.

          And the demolition that is allowing the CRL to be built through there is in fact led by the private property owner wanting to build a more appropriate and valuable building on the site of this dated suburban ‘invasion’. So if you have fond memories of the old building (each to their own) then Precinct Properties are the ones crushing them….

          1. You did also say “Views formed decades ago can calcify and to see their concrete expression demolished can provoke emotional reaction”. My problem is that I did find it ignorant. The use of the words hideous, inversion, invasion, nothing…

            I actually agree with John Roughan “Meanwhile, the heart of Auckland looks like a body in the first phase of drastic surgery. It lies stunned, wan, with opened wounds and heavy bandaging”. That area does look exactly like that. And I think those words fit the current seen bang on.

            And you suggested “This change may be a shock to people like Roughan, but it really is more evolutionary than revolutionary, additional not substitutive”. This has nothing to do with evolution. Evolution is nothing from nothing. It just apparently happens for no real reason. I see the CRL as creative. It has a purpose and a reason for being integrated into the heart of Auckland. The buildings that will go, they are merely sacrificed whether we like them or not. And even if we don’t, I would think more appreciation for them would be shown.

  18. The best of both worlds is have a choice.

    There will be energic young people chooing to live in city apartments in central convient location and walk to amenity and have access to train stations which connects the greater network.

    There will also be people opt to live in a lifestyle house with a lot of greens. They could still be able to drive to the nearest suburban mall for local shopping, or park and ride to the nearest train station for long distance commuting.

    There are also people who choose the middle ground. They will live in 3 levels town house which is spacious yet doesnt take a lot of land. There is a small backyard for indoor outdoor flow and can still have a BBQ and sunshine. They can walk to suburban town centre within 10minutes, which connects to the train station and go to city centre.
    They also own a car and use it during weekend to go to beach, reserves and suburban mall for some bulky shopping.

    The unitary plan gave us choices.

    The improvements in density around public transport coordior and suburban town centre makes a mixed urban living possible.

    The suburban and lifestyle living will not disappears as there are still single house zone in the outskirt of auckland city. Park and ride and train facilities will serve this well.

  19. Another point I wish to make, is shopping mall still has its place.

    In cities such as Melbourne, there are large shopping malls such as Emporium.

    However the mega mall also link the main streets, arcades, laneways and alleys. Creating an extended network of outdoor-indoor retail and hospality paradise.

    The advantage of sucessful mall is it is weather proofed, well renovated, efficient tenant selections and well managed.

    Unlike suburban mall, people never drive to the city mall, they use public transport and walking to get there.

    I believe a great city mall will complement the street retail. They are not mutually exclusive.

    1. Yes Emporium is a perfect example of city retailing; it is essentially like a deconstructed department store, and as a building it fits into the street fabric without blanking it, and of course is pedestrian and Transit user focussed, on a carless big city main street.

      Get the cars out of Queen St, and Light Rail in, and there’s a good chance we will see that sort of model in the valley again. Both Britomart and Commercial Bay are certainly tugging the weight of retail north, and it is interesting that Slyvia Park is attracting some pretty flash tenants too. Especially as it isn’t a paticularly well placed centr, except, of course, for that now well used station, on our most direct rail line….

  20. Great article Patrick.

    Now Please, please can we have some inversion, reversion or whatever it is down here in Wellington. Our official plans are still rooted in the 1970’s: moar motorways, no moar railways, and a few cycleways thrown in for 21st century-appearance rather than for practicality.

    Our choice of mayoral candidates looks anaemic. If Len Brown would come down here and stand he might do rather well!

  21. Plus i’d rather have a compact Auckland, and then nice semi-rural places i can drive to – than have McMansions occupying the entire space from Omaha to Huntly.

    Urban living + the outdoors are not mutually exclusive concepts. A compact Auckland is actually better for recreation and preserving NZ’s natural beauty.

    Also – who apart from the retired actually have the time or inclination to garden these days?

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