This post was originally published in November 2014
Like any city, Auckland is the product of a mix of historical accidents, perverse consequences, failed dreams, and unfinished visions. Some plans succeed (often with unexpected results), while others fail, leaving nothing behind but some maps and occasionally a few hulking piles of cement.
The maps that are left behind can tell us something about a city’s past, present, and future. So here are four maps of Auckland’s transport networks – one as it was, one as it has become, one of a failed vision for change, and one that is, with a bit of luck, en route to realisation.
Auckland as it was: The electric tramways that were unceremoniously ripped out in 1956. This is the Auckland of my grandparents’ youth. This map’s legacy still haunts the isthmus – it can be discerned in the frequent bus network, in the spacing of shops along arterial roads, and in the width of certain streets.
Auckland as it has become: The 1956 De Leuw Cather plan setting out the future shape of the city’s motorways. It is due for completion in a few years’ time, when the Waterview tunnel borer finishes its work. This map has shaped virtually every major transport project of the past 60 years. Perhaps it is time for a different vision of the future?
Auckland as it never was: Dove-Meyer Robinson’s 1972 “rapid rail” plan. Its unfulfilled aspiration of a working public transport network has enjoyed a renaissance in recent years with the completion of the Northern Busway, a New Zealand first, the development of Britomart and the electrification of the rail network. But the heart of the network – the City Rail Link – sometimes seems no closer than it did in the Muldoon years.
Auckland as it could become: Auckland’s transport maps got a futuristic addition last year – the Congestion Free Network. The map, which is based on the famous London tube map, envisages a future Auckland that’s connected not just by roads but by a rapid-transit network. In keeping with New Zealand’s DIY values, it’s not a rail network alone, but a mongrel mix of light rail, busways, and even ferries grafted onto the existing (and to-be-extended) commuter rail network.
These maps are not descriptions of real (or longed-for) transport networks. They are interventions in how we see Auckland. Each map recasts our scale of Auckland – notice the way that the later maps zoom out from the isthmus, bringing more and more territory into the city and defining new edges for it. As the city grows, so too must the transport maps. Or did the expansion of the maps cause the growth of the city?
The maps offer very different levels of detail about the places that are connected by transport networks. The tramline map offers easily-readable details on the urban fabric – street and suburb names, major destinations, etc. The motorway map is incredibly spare by comparison – it omits place names in favour of a series of connecting lines. Major motorways are named, but all of the other details of Auckland are lost. This is interestingly suggestive of the priority that these types of transport systems place on movement versus place.
And, of course, these maps increasingly situate Auckland within globalised ideas about cities. The motorway map was, of course, prepared by an American consultancy in accordance with the antiquated fad for urban freeways. But the CFN map might accomplish an even more radical shift in perceptions. By emulating the famous tube maps down to the fonts and colour scheme, the CFN makes Auckland instantly recognisable by residents of other cities with similar maps – from London to Sydney to Amsterdam. Auckland: another aspirational global city in a globalised world?
Given the choice, which Auckland would you prefer to live in?