I hope everyone is doing OK out there in level 4 lockdown. My walks and bike rides around the city centre in the last week remind me of the original lockdown 17 months ago. Some things have changed since then, but most things haven’t. Sorry, were you wanting to see transformational change? You must have been thinking of the other C40 cities.
Maybe Auckland Council and Auckland Transport worked out some kind of plan for what to do if the city went back into lockdown. but the overwhelming impression I got (especially on day one of lockdown, 18th August) was that everyone just headed home for the night on the 17th and left the city centre to look after itself.
That first day was just really quiet, as all the days since then have been. Queen St was quiet on day one, with more cars than people and not many of either.
Freyberg Square, normally a happy and buzzing public space, was very still. In previous lockdowns, the two drinking fountains had been deactivated with safety tape wound around them. This time around, they were functioning and with no safety tape (on day one at least). It’s debatable whether this is better or worse – I’d vote for slightly better – but it adds to the vibe of everyone just having headed home.
On day two I biked to Myers Park and saw that the playground there was taped off, so I guess at least one Council staff member had been out doing things. And traffic light phasing seems to have been changed remotely, so that the pedestrian phase goes automatically and there’s no need to push the button – but this fact isn’t advertised at many intersections.
Fort Street was free of cars, for a change. Unfortunately it was free of people too.
Māhuhu-ki-te-rangi Reserve, a nice little public space, has had the water to its pond switched off since roughly January last year, when the droughts started. Happily, there’s a bit of rainwater in there and ducks have maintained their occupation there most of the time. There are even 13 small ducklings at the moment! The neon lights strung through four of the trees, added in Matariki this year, have been switched off but will hopefully return once the alert levels drop.
Another day, I walked to St Patrick’s Square, a public space which is theoretically quite lovely; revamped in 2009 and winner of the supreme award for landscape architecture. Unfortunately, it’s often clogged with cars because Auckland Transport don’t think they’re able to issue tickets for cars parking on this expensive paving. Bollards have been installed as an unattractive stopgap solution, and now bear the brunt of drivers who push their luck a little too far. Even a few days into level four lockdown, there were still four cars parked behind where I took this photo:
But it’s not all bad. Parts of the city centre are still pleasant with no one around; Britomart (props to The Britomart Company for still piping music through Atrium on Takutai when there’s almost no one around to hear it), Freyberg Square, the wonderful new wharf thingy by Viaduct Harbour which I somehow hadn’t seen until now. There’s so much grey in the city centre that I really do appreciate the (thoughtful) green spaces, and the harbourside areas. It’s good having fewer cars, even if the ones that are left tend to drive around at unsociable speeds, because 14 months after speed limits changed there have been almost no changes to transport infrastructure or ‘traffic calming’ measures.
Anyway, that’s the city centre. I like living here; but without the people, it’s not a place you’d want to visit; it won’t be until we’re back to level 2 or lower. Even so, I’m looking forward to the days ahead. I had unrealistic expectations of myself in the March/ April lockdown last year. This time, I’m lucky enough to be able to focus on parenting, going a bit slower, and getting a few bike rides in. Take care all!