Waka Kotahi’s Innovating Streets pilot has seen dozens of tactical projects appear around the country, and the initial programme is now complete. Some projects will stay in place and evolve along a “pathway to permanence”, while others have reached their conclusion for now.
Collectively, the programme has yielded heaps of data, experience, and insight into processes that should help councils and communities install and adapt more people-friendly spaces, at scale and at pace. It’s also been an illuminating look at what even small-scale projects can make possible in the way of access and connection.
This double-header guest post looks at the recently concluded Hamilton Kirikiriroa Innovating Streets projects from the angles of disability access and urban creativity. Our thanks to authors Maurice Flynn and Dr Jeremy Mayall for permission to share these pieces, which first appeared on the website of Creative Waikato (a not-for-profit organisation existing to help, support, empower and grow the creative sector in the Waikato).
by Maurice Flynn, Access Coordinator at CCS Disability Action Waikato
(originally published 24 June 2021)
As part of Hamilton City Council’s Innovating Streets project group from the get-go, I believe the Innovating Streets project has been a great opportunity for our city. We have been able to trial what prioritising people-friendly environments can look like, and what positive impact this can have within our community.
Innovating Streets – the development of Rostrevor and Ward St – is a trial funded mostly by Waka Kotahi – NZ Transport Agency, to support streets to be safer and easier to move around. This project is cheaply trying out a future possibility for our CBD, so we can all see the potential, and tweak as necessary – so we don’t have another costly street that doesn’t work for everyone. There are many examples of poorly designed infrastructure around our city where diverse communities have not had a voice, and in return we get environments that don’t suit people’s access needs, cost time and money to fix, and literally exclude people, with a real potential of injury or death.
The disabled community was a part of this project from day one. We collaborated with our biking community, students from surrounding schools, local businesses and others representing many other communities within our city. Our voices were all heard and listened to. Ward and Rostrevor Streets are currently more people prioritised which means it is easier for everyone – in particular our disabled community – to get around. More importantly, it’s about universal design. Someone with additional mobility requirements, such as a wheelchair user, experiences the same hazards when using a poorly designed street as a parent with small children or a pushchair – it’s about recognising human diversity and designing for everyone’s needs.
When the disabled community is not thought about in the design, we are inconvenienced by environments that do not include us. We have to take longer routes to where we need to go, risking our own safety because of poor design of our roads and crossings.
I do agree the design isn’t perfect, it hasn’t solved the difficulty of crossing Tristram St. Even imperfect, Ward Street under the trial design is a hell of a lot better for people than what it was before. The process on this project was a lot better than previous for two reasons: it was inclusive, and we were able to trial things. Small things have been changed over time of the trial, for example, the mobility parking spaces on Ward St were relocated after feedback was given. It’s important to give feedback, because our council does listen.
People need to be real about what they are complaining about. There’s by far the most noise from people who dislike the trial because either they now have to manoeuvre their car and pay more attention to what and who is around them, or they may have to walk 1-2 minutes from a nearby carpark. The inconvenience of this is not comparable to the genuinely life-affecting barriers that disabled people face every day. If you are angry about now having to walk from one of the 2100 carparks within 5 minutes’ walk of Ward St, you may need to re-look at your priorities. Threatening small businesses with taking your custom elsewhere because you now have to walk for a couple of minutes doesn’t really mean you were ever a ‘loyal’ customer.
Ward Street is now a safe place to walk and cross, and it’s now possible to bike and scoot safely off the footpath. Te Ruru Light Festival Pop-Up that was held recently on the developed Rostrevor Street was a perfect example of what that space could be used for going forward.
The negative feedback has made it clear to me that a large majority of our community does not like change, however change is what our disabled community rely on to have equal opportunity of participation in the communities that we belong to. I think it is about time we do things differently and reprioritise how we do design within our diverse city.
by Dr Jeremy Mayall, CEO of Creative Waikato
Humans are creative beings. This is how we have invented, adapted, innovated and imagined our way from the beginning of human life to now.
Because of this, our capacity for change is immense. Sometimes that change can be difficult, but we have the ability to make sense of it and to re-imagine the way we can collectively move forward into a transformational tomorrow.
As we develop, we learn from each other, we create the spaces where we live, work, and play informed by our current needs, the technologies we use, and the way we move from place to place. But as we continue to grow, we need to find opportunities to take the time to imagine what the world will be like in 10, 20, or 50 years. This is important work because it will allow us to be good ancestors and make sure we set some solid foundations for change if we want to be a vibrant, liveable city in the future.
The quality of the environment in our urban areas is of vital importance to this vision. This quality is one of the main factors that determine whether a city is a healthy place to live, whether we enjoy living there, and whether we want our children to grow up there. Some of the key issues that have a negative effect on this is road traffic. In a city area this focus on cars can result in poor air quality, unacceptable levels of constant noise (which is an ongoing health risk for people and animals) and a weakened sense of neighbourhood and local community.
Innovating Streets is an initiative from Waka Kotahi (NZ Transport Authority) that is looking to utilise tactical urbanism as a way to explore the concept of people-focussed streets, (which has been a growing trend internationally) in the cities and communities of Aotearoa. This fund was for projects that used “tactical urbanism techniques such as pilots, pop-ups and interim treatments that make it safer and/or easier for people to move around or access community spaces. Projects could be anything from piloting a new walking or cycling facility to pop-up community-led street events, to trialling a low-traffic neighbourhood or reallocating more street space for people.”
Constrained urban spaces need to accommodate all people and all different sorts of mobility: motorised and non-motorised, individual and collective, fast and slow. Our urban centres need to be reprioritised in favour of transportation modes such as walking, cycling, and public transport, and adapt in a way that encourages more people to be active in those spaces, and to ensure that people actually feel safe in being in those new human-centric (rather that car-centric) spaces. These re-purposed spaces should be highlighting accessibility and safety. These changes can have a hugely positive impact on the economic scale for local businesses as well.
The other exciting thing to mention here is that projects like these enable the addition of creativity and activation to our city spaces. Humans are storytellers. We share through story. We understand through story. We inspire and make change through story. Urban spaces have the potential to be the canvas for those stories – through painting and murals, to sculpture and light, to music and dance and words and more. Our cities are a space for us to share local stories and to inspire conversations, and reflections. Also, by creating beautiful, vibrant, colourful spaces, we can allow space for moments of awe – which is vital for our mental health and wellbeing.
There are many different things to explore when we take the time to create our cities for people. We need to consider option, access, equity, safety, and activity. But when it all comes down to it, aren’t the people who live in our city and the varied human things they do in it, the reason these places exist at all? When we focus our spaces on cars, we are constraining people from moving through space in a non-orderly fashion. When we prioritise a car, or the ability to park right outside a destination, over the interesting, creative, unpredictable, joyful aliveness that human beings will inevitably bring to all public spaces they feel connected to, we’re effectively stripping our streets of their richness.
Editorial footnote: Hamilton’s streetscape makeovers have come to a scheduled end (after one last weekend of family fun and art in carparks!). Traffic once again runs along Rostrevor St through the park, over the eye-catching mural. Meanwhile, Ward St looks set to hang onto a new pedestrian crossing. Copious data, observations and public feedback from both pilot projects will feed into discussions and planning for what comes next for each location. As Creative Waikato says, that’s the idea:
“[It’s] an open invitation to embrace a kind of change that benefits, not just the arts, but the entire community, allowing us to see into a future that’s hopeful, considerate, collaborative, and filled with opportunity.”