This is a guest post from reader Miriam
As someone who normally walks an hour into work every day, I made it a goal to reach my 10,000 daily steps during the nationwide Level Four lockdown. I was keen on maintaining my sanity while following instructions to ‘stay at home’. It was more than achievable; our slow streets were the perfect walking-friendly environment. In fact, my own street of Balmoral Road turned from a mini-motorway into a people-friendly place for the first time in its existence. Walking down its centre lane was a rare moment for any urbanist to treasure. Families were cycling its length, something I had never seen before. There’s no denying we all experienced the neighbourhood we’ve longed to create as soon as our streets were no longer controlled by cars.
The switch to Level Three invited a hum of vehicles back to the streets and daily walks turned into awkward people-dodging experiences. The art of the agile sidestep became essential, with the local arterials no longer a safe haven for pedestrians to easily social distance. There was a plea at Level Three for more local government intervention to provide the capability for us to walk and cycle the streets with the freedom of Level Four. While in Auckland, the City Centre was subject to some tactical upgrades, Aucklanders in the suburbs were left to dangerously navigate neighbourhood streets themselves.
Before Auckland went into a local lockdown “2.0” at Level Three, I was lucky enough to move into a new rental further west in the suburb of Mount Albert. We chose the place due to its proximity to the rail network, the supermarket and the Waterview path, all which complemented our car-free lifestyle. Once lockdown hit, I took the overdue opportunity to check out the new (to me) Waterview Path.
The difference of living next to a shared path over lockdown was astounding. As an enthusiastic pedestrian who previously lived too far away, I’m probably the last urbanist to get on the Waterview Path bandwagon, but I’ve discovered that accessibility to a place designed for safe active modes of getting around makes a huge difference. Users were noticeably diverse and the path was always busy, whether people were on foot, bike or scooter, and everyone at different levels of expertise and age. The inclusivity of shared paths further highlights their benefit over cycle lanes simply tacked onto the side of a road. A memorable sight was an elderly man in a wheelchair playing fetch with his dog in Hendon Park, which benefits from the shared path running around its perimeter. On weekends the path was especially packed but with it measuring approximately 3 metres across, there was never a problem with social distancing, and the task of breathing in daily fresh air was no longer threatened by Covid. If more of Auckland’s suburbs were better connected throughout by shared paths, local government could then focus on providing social distancing interventions for businesses in town and city centres. The getting around safely would take care of itself.
The success and resilience of a shared path is most evident in the context of Covid-19. While interventions to enable social distancing were requested on our streets, they already existed on Waterview Path. A shared path allows everyone to gain access to the outdoors, without the need for space to picnic/play sports/interact or any other activities banned under Level Four lockdown, although spaces to do so are dotted along the path for everyday life. The Waterview Path benefits here from Te Māra Hūpara, the natural playground at Underwood Park, and the tree trunk stump steppingstones enable play without touching. Adding further excitement to the Waterview Path is the amount of development taking place along it. Huge works are happening on Hendon Avenue as part of the Roskill Development, with a mix of social and affordable housing being built. It’s pleasing to think that this kind of access to outdoor space and activity in an urban context is going to be so convenient for these future residents. What’s more is knowing that we can create denser, more compact neighbourhoods and through people-centric infrastructure and design, can still give residents the space they need to connect to local, natural amenities without needing to drive out of the local area.
My access to the Waterview Path means mental health fared a lot better during the second lockdown, and continues to do so as I continue working from home in Level Two. The abundance of green space that lines the path is a hidden delight that I never knew existed in Auckland. I’ve even taken up “running”, a concept previously dreaded by me, just to allow myself fresh air and greenery each day before tackling a stressful workload on top of life’s general uncertainty. I plan to get an e-bike in the coming weeks so my commute to work, when I return, continues to allow me to experience the Waterview Path every day.
Living next to a shared path has completely changed how I experienced lockdown, and it’s reassuring to see firsthand the power of good design in providing resilient, desirable neighbourhoods, even in the most challenging of times.
Note: As well as the Waterview, SH20 and Oakley Creek paths, the area will be getting another one soon with construction currently underway on the New Lynn to Avondale path which includes a new underpass under the rail line and a bridge over the Whau River