Auckland’s city centre has been growing strongly with more and more people living, working or studying there. On top of that, over the last 10-15 years we’ve seen a significant shift with more people now arriving in the city centre each morning by public transport than by car. There has been strong growth in walking and cycling in recent years too.
Back in 2012, the council signed off a City Centre Masterplan that contained a number of visionary projects, such as the Victoria St Linear Park. Six years on and the plan is due for a refresh, not least of which because some of the assumptions are now well out of date. One of the prime examples of this is the city centre population which was forecast to reach 45,000 residents by 2032 but the latest numbers suggest is already over 57,000.
The Council are planning to soon start consultation on the refreshed plan but last week released this video on the plans for the coming decade.
In an article on their online magazine they say
Auckland’s city centre and waterfront is in for a huge transformation over the coming decade as work starts on more public open space, green parks, pedestrian-friendly thoroughfares and the installation of a modern and efficient public transport network.
The work will reconfigure Auckland’s waterfront into a more people-centric destination and progressively turn over Auckland’s central city to people rather than cars. Work also includes construction of infrastructure for the America’s Cup which is helping turn previously industrial areas into people-friendly spaces.
Mayor Phil Goff says, “We are transforming Auckland’s city centre and waterfront. Reconnecting people to our shoreline with more public, open space, places to sit, walk and talk.
“The nature of our central city is changing. It used to be empty and inert, but now we have more than 50,000 people living here, thousands of students and visitors, and 120,000 workers piling into our centre each day. It is a destination and a community, and we are making it world class.
“Our central city is important not only to our region, but our country too, generating up to 20 per cent of Auckland’s GDP and 7 per cent of the country’s economic output.
“Previously, we’ve built around the private vehicle, but the city centre’s growth simply cannot be met by dedicating ever more space to roads and car parks. So we’re giving the city back to the people with more public transport options and pedestrian-friendly streets and open space.
“We’re reconnecting Auckland to its waterfront. For decades industrial areas such as the tank farm have dominated our shoreline. Those are already coming down and making way for America’s Cup bases and a new waterfront park. We are also making Quay Street a pedestrian-friendly, green, tree-lined boulevard connected to open space at the bottom of Queen Street and around the ferry terminal.
“After the America’s Cup we expect to begin work on light rail up Queen Street and make it a destination rather than a through road with plans for more shared space and pedestrian laneways in surrounding streets such as High Street and Federal Street.
“The Linear Park, connecting Victoria Park through the city to Albert Park will be a wonderful addition to Auckland allowing cyclists, pedestrians and scooters to move about our city safely.”
Mayor Goff says High Street clearly needs an upgrade because large numbers of pedestrians are squeezed onto narrow footpaths by relatively few cars. This month the city centre business association, Heart of the City, will engage with the High Street community, asking them what changes they would like to see.
“Cars will continue to be a part of how we move about Auckland and we will need to ensure service and emergency vehicles have access, but with 37 per cent growth in city centre workforce and a five-fold increase in residents since the year 2000, public space and streets need to be rebalanced towards people.
“Our public transport system is already carrying the load, with the majority of people now entering the city centre by bus train and ferry rather than by car, and we need to transform our city centre to accommodate that.
“Our work in the central city is indicative of transformative work taking place in urban centres around Auckland.
“In Takapuna we are building a vibrant town square in place of a car park, the recent acquisition of the wharf in Onehunga begins the ball rolling on potentially building something like the Wynyard Quarter on the shores of the Manukau Harbour, and we are transforming Panmure and Manukau with more housing, businesses and shared, open space built around transport hubs.
“We are transforming Auckland. Changing the way we live, move and play. It’s good for the city and great for its people,” says Mayor Goff.
Planning Committee chair Councillor Chris Darby notes the effects the change will have on the character of our city centre.
“We’re creating a variety of distinctive, engaging public spaces that celebrate the confluence of people, land and sea.
“Our new downtown will be a series of destinations, thriving with life and enticing people to the water’s edge.
“The design of the dramatic changes afoot will reflect our unique Auckland identity and celebrate our place in the world.”
“We’re also exploring options that allow people to rediscover lower Queen Street and surrounds by creating streetscapes for people,” says Mr Darby.
There are some good comments in there but I do wonder why it appears we have to wait till after the America’s Cup (and APEC) to see any changes to Queen St. It would be better, for both the pedestrians and the light rail project, if the council got the work underway sooner. Why not start by opening the street to buses, pedestrians, bikes and scooters only. With a bit of paint, planters and decking, like happens with parklets, we could temporarily extend the kerbs, bike/scooter lanes could be developed and of course there would be dedicated bus lanes. Delivery vehicles could still be allowed to use the street at set times only. The lack of impact on drivers from the significant disruption as a result of the City Rail Link works shows that there’s no reason we couldn’t do this quickly.
It’s also good to finally hear the council talking about upgrading High St. Previous discussions about it have been stymied primarily by a couple of determined retailers, at least one of whom no longer has a shop in the street. If anyone needs an example of how much better High St could be, one just needs to walk up to O’Connell to see how much nicer it is since it was upgraded a few years back.
Newshub’s Nation covered the plans, well on their show. It’s worth watching and includes some good quotes from Phil Goff, Chris Darby and others.
One with some not so great quotes though is National MP Judith Collins and they’ve now released a longer version of the interview with her. It contains some rather bizarre quotes, such as this one:
Ms Collins – National’s Infrastructure, Planning and Urban Development spokesperson – says she wants to see Auckland become a “vibrant, exciting place” with a combination of pedestrians, cycling and cars. However, she believes going vehicle-free in the CBD would be a bad move.
“No matter what people think other people should do, if you’ve got a load of groceries or you’re going shopping for anything, you’ll probably want a car to put it in unless it’s quite a small item,” she says.
“If the CBD wants to be destroyed as a shopping destination then take out all the car parking because Aucklanders won’t come. The tourists might, but Aucklanders won’t.”
I doubt many of the 57k+ residents are driving to Queen St to get their groceries or other shopping for that matter. I actually can’t imagine there are too many shops in the city that sell things so large you couldn’t carry them. Presumably she’s also not aware of the increases in sales on streets that have had parking removed and turned into shared spaces or that the downtown mall is in the process of being rebuilt and has no carparks for shoppers.
There will always be the Collins’ of the world but I suspect most Aucklanders would be pretty supportive of what’s planned. Overall this is positive and we really just need to get on with it.