Earlier this year work on the downtown area of the city centre was finally completed after three years of work. The work has included strengthening the sea wall, rebuilding Quay St into a more people friendly space, the new Te Wananga public space, the new ferry terminal berths, Te Komititanga and the refurbished chief post office building, the downtown bus interchange. There’s also been private development with Commercial Bay. In addition, recently we’ve seen the completion of the Karangahape Rd upgrade to improve the southern end of the city centre.

Now the council’s focus in the city is shifting to the midtown area which will tie in and complement the new Aotea Station being delivered as part of the City Rail Link.

When it opens, the Aotea Station will be New Zealand’s busiest with more people entering or exiting than any other.

It is a key component of the transit oriented development outlined as Transformational Move 5 in the City Centre Masterplan, which was widely consulted and unanimously agreed by Auckland Council in 2020. It is a key part of the renaissance of midtown.

Today Auckland Council and Auckland Transport unveil their midtown programme, describing the area as: ‘a part of Auckland where our history, art and culture can be seen and heard and will spill out into public life; where people choose to spend time and socialise; a place that is attractive and feels inclusive and safe.’

Midtown is the area that radiates from Aotea Square, taking in landmarks like the historic Auckland Town Hall, Civic Theatre, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki and SkyTower, two universities, the intimate laneway network including Federal, Elliott, High and Lorne Streets, and treasured city parks – Myers Park and Rangipuke Albert Park.

It is at the heart of a significant shift in the way people travel into, out of, and through the city and its regeneration is expected to be a catalyst for growth, productivity, a healthier and more sustainable city centre and a vibrant arts and cultural heart of Auckland.

These are the projects listed today by Auckland Council and Auckland Transport to help regenerate Auckland’s midtown in preparation for the thousands of people who will arrive there by train and bus every day.

Projects include:

  • CRL Aotea Station – the stations’ threshold designs, woven with narratives from mana whenua, won a World Architecture Festival WAFX cultural identity award in 2019.
  • Stage 1 of the Wellesley Street bus improvements project (Albert Street to Queen Street) – an upgraded environment for bus users and pedestrians
  • Stage 1 of Te Hā Noa – Victoria Street Linear Park (Albert Street to Kitchener Street)
  • Federal Street upgrade, extension of the shared path laneway circuit
  • Wai Horotiu Queen Street Project
  • Myers Park underpass upgrade
  • Aotea over station development by MRCB, enabled by Eke Panuku
  • High Street upgrade
  • Hobson Street upgrade (Victoria Street to Wellesley Street)
  • Aotea Centre refurbishment
  • Completion of the Albert Street upgrade between Wyndham St and Wellesley St

Excluding Aotea Station itself, the over station development and Watercare’s wastewater upgrade, Auckland Council is investing more than $133million into midtown in the next five years.

Many of these projects have been discussed in some way or another for probably the last decade so it’s great to finally see some funding and commitment being put towards to delivering them. I assume a decent chunk of that cost is also coming from the City Centre Targeted rate paid by businesses and residents.

It seems that the council have grown fond of the bundling all these projects into a single overarching programme for delivery and it sounds like a positive step instead of the more piecemeal street by street approach. I understand as part of this they’ve just repointed most of the teams who were behind the downtown programme to this midtown one.

As for the projects above, the one I’m perhaps most interested in is the Victoria St Linear Park. We’re only getting the part from Albert St to Kitchener St to begin with but that will be important for helping deal with pedestrian volumes from the City Rail Link but also for setting the tone for the eventual extension down to Victoria Park. It’s also a project we’ve fought hard to keep in the plans.

The project we probably know the least about is the upgrade of Hobson St from Victoria St to Wellesley. The CCMP calls for it as part of turning both Hobson St and Nelson St into “more liveable, green twin avenues befitting their urban context within what amounts to New Zealand’s densest residential neighbourhood“.

It also suggests this would be achieved by:

  • reducing the number of vehicle lanes and turning movements at intersections
  • possibly changing them back to two-way streets
  • wider footpaths and pedestrian priority at intersections as well as mid-block crossings
  • more cycleways, including on Hobson St
  • more street trees

It would also be helpful for that section to close off the ramps to Skycity’s car park.

Perhaps the key things missing from this announcement, as well as the Queen St details released last week, is the commitment to deliver other parts of the City Centre Masterplan at the same time. In particular the Zero Emissions Area for the Queen St Valley and Access for Everyone. These are critical parts of the plan to improve air quality, reduce private vehicle trips and make the city centre more people friendly. These things need to be being discussed at every step to raise public awareness that they’re needed, coming and to help ensure they don’t get excluded by project teams as ‘someone else’s job to deliver’.

As designs for these projects form up It would also be great to see a much greater focus on delivering more street trees in the city.

Once completed the core parts of the city centre are going to be looking pretty good and a massive improvement over what they have been/are now. I wonder where else in the city centre and across the region the council could take this larger programme approach to improvements.

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53 comments

  1. I wonder how much improvement can really be made to Nelson Street, considering how long it’s been a traffic sewer and how the frontages of most of the buildings along it are designed etc

    1. Buildings can adapt to some degree. I remember one building that was converted to indoor parking space (near the spaghetti junction). If this area actually starts functioning as a city, at least some owners will figure out they can convert ground floor parking spots to other things.

      Maybe not the SkyCity building. That looks like a case of terminal Modernism.

    2. Is there anything stopping those ground floor frontages being rebuilt in some way – even to just create a mixed use shops & eateries environment like along Queen St or Customs St E?

      1. Nothing. Couple of buildings changed their frontages on fort street when it was fixed. Including one parking driveway that became a new shop and a loading dock that became a cafe.

        1. Yup, I followed that process unfolding on Fort St too. Unfortunately, made a bit harder on Nelson as many buildings have body corporate owners; much harder to get 100 apartment owners to agree to a big building change than one commercial owner

    1. Most people typically associate “park” with at least some grassed areas to allow you lounge about on .. the only reference to grass I could find in the detailed business case was in the definitions section…

      Not saying it isn’t an improvement, but to call a promenade footpath, cycleways and trees in contained planters with seats a “park” in NZ is a pretty hard stretch…

    2. I think it is wonderful. For a start it is neither linear nor a park. Some lesser folk might just call it a wide footpath, but that would be to ignore the two trees (yes both of them) that will be squeezed in behind concrete barriers that will be built over their drip zones.

      Just imagine what we could make Albert Park look like. We could leave two trees there and pave the rest and maybe give it a less colonial name. We could call it Car Park.

      1. “nor a park”: I am sure it will be a car park at some stage while AT decides if they can legally tell people not to park there. Maybe that is why there is no grass as they can’t stop you parking on a berm.

    3. Some of the early concept drawings I saw looked great; Victoria street looking like an iconic place I would want to visit; something that could best be properly described as a linear park.

      If these are the same uninspired people that spent mega-dollars doing a massive grey on grey empty space outside of Britomart/old post office, then I am not surprised, but deeply unimpressed

      Maybe just me, but every urban design I see illustrated like this, I wonder if the designers are just into skateboarding or something, because while I am not a qualified designer, I have experienced hot summer days in Auckland where these environments become unshaded ovens, and more than a few wet/windy days where these become hostile spaces.

      Perhaps somebody could take the designers to a garden centre or a proper park for a play sometime.

    4. The concept is great, but. There has been an increase of Bus movements in Wellesley St West, resulting in high levels of exhaust emissions. Wellesley St W leads to one of the most intense residential areas in Central Auckland making important that pedestrian welfare is considered.
      There is a major plan for Auckland to become Age friendly. Victoria St Linear park is not Age friendly due to the steep incline which makes it more difficult for older people like me (80+) to walk up. Why not consider a Travelator up some of ou steeper streets?

      1. Every new bus acquired to run on AT’s network will be electric and I assume those using the CBD will be prioritised so the emissions from buses should be decreasing at a decent rate soon

      2. When Aotea station opens there will be an escalator and elevator underneath the Victoria Street Linear Park (in the ungated part of the station) so people will be at least able to use that to avoid the steep incline.

  2. Does anyone know what are the plans for that massive carpark on the intersection of the Victoria Street and Albert street? It is immensely ugly all the weekdays except Saturday-market days.

    1. Andrew K , That site was originally going to be where The Farmers was going to be after Chase Corp bought them and what was the Royal International Hotel , they pulled that down and the markets collapsed and Chase went under , so all that we have now is a another Carpark .

        1. As above, the council think a park is some concrete and a tree, so the carpark would not need much work done, just a planter. AT should be able to put a planter in for about $5 mil (after they have 5 rounds of correspondence to ignore)

        2. JimboJones , Or they could walk up the road to the Warehouse and try to do a deal and purchase some of their Plastic Grass and plastic plants which might be cheaper as they wouldn’t have to pay labour cost maintaining it .

        3. Referring to Andrew’s comment re inner city school. We already have a deserted Victoria Park Market which could readily be converted to a school with an overhead walkway for pupils to safely access Victoria Park for recreational purposes.

        4. Dick AYRES, the Victoria Park market is far too close to Freemans Bay School. The Elliot Parking hypothetically has a perfect position for inner-city kids.

    2. That is a temporary carpark. I remember doing the consent when I was at Auckland City Council in about 1989. So temporary for 32 tears.

    1. How about regenerating Hobson St and Pitt Street from Wellesley St West to K road.?
      One of the densest residential areas in Central Auckland.

    1. Some of those concept images I think are way back from 2012.

      I suspect it’s more a lack of vision on AT’s part; focusing solely on the Victoria/Wellesley St improvements and not bothering to show light rail as well (the bigger picture). Though it does seem that they’ve got the cars off Queen St in the second pic.

  3. Mid town is a degrading with vacant shops and homeless anti social sometimes violent people.

    It is caused by loss of international students due to covid. With less international students to support retail means something me students dependent business has to close. So more vacant shops that encourage homeless and degrade the street.

    Also lack of students means some of the empty apartments are rented to ministry of social development. Coupled with new social housing complex constructed near Grey st.

    The result is a high concentration of mentality ill, drug affected anti social and violent people gathered on vacant shops and scared away shoppers.

    Also St James construction has stopped and the whole block of shops had lost and became unappealing to shop.

    The cinema complex has issues and most tenants are evacuated and vacant, making the area lifeless.

    The midtown is in a death spiral of ghettoisation.

    First to blame is covid should not block international students.

    Second to blame is police doesn’t do enough to handle increasingly more antisocial violent people on the street.

    Third is St james needs to be sorted, either by compulsory acquisition and auction/tender to another developer with committed development timetables, or council buy it and restore it themselves.

    1. It is sort of amazing that here we are in 2021 and we are still seeing the fallout from the collapse of the Chase Corporation back in the 80s. Massive massive amount of damage to the NZ economy and especially to the city of Auckland. If you’re interested to know more, there is a fuller history here:
      https://ojs.victoria.ac.nz/aha/article/view/6753/5897

      I agree with Kelvin and others – the continued absence of the St James is an embarrassment for Auckland, and a continuing tragedy for Auckland.

      1. It’s strange that there are still so many gaps, even on Fort Street. The question is, is it a symptom of our insane property prices that there is little incentive for someone to develop these plots even right in the middle of the CBD, as they expect values to keep rising?

        1. Thinking what happens in other cities i’ve lived in with empty plots in the central city… they should turn it into a little bohemian market. Open air nightclub. $17/day parking is surely not the best use.

          The britmart guys did well with temporary uses while they waited for building to happen. Britomart Country Club could be reinvented as the MCC, Midtown Country Club

    2. Wish I could say you were wrong about the ‘high concentration of mentality ill, drug affected anti-social and violent people’, but have witnessed a fair bit of concerning behaviour myself over the last six months.

      You get these people now hanging around outside supermarkets and fast food entrances. I am a solidly built guy, so not too worried about my personal safety, but I can see Queen st starting to become a scary place at night, in particular for women.

      Some apartment buildings in the CBD are going to become slums; and this should come as no surprise to anybody who has seen what has happened to neglected inner cities residents elsewhere in the world

      Worrying this is that I have seen nothing from the police or Auckland council about what I perceive as an increasing problem with anti-social people downtown.

      Do any of these planners actually live downtown?
      What is the plan between the agencies to check if people are safe downtown in a walkable, liveable, desirable city?

      If we don’t get this right, then no amount of ‘re-generation’ or the odd planter will help. Can you imagine exiting the nice shiny CRL station at night trying to get to you apartment with groups of people hanging around trying to hit you up for smokes or money?

      1. Well what you have there is a lot of people in lockdown, in apartments, often small one and I don’t even know how many people are sharing your average 38m² apartment over there.

        And if you get cabin fever and want some fresh air you find outdoors looking like this — https://goo.gl/maps/y2iT2JTAcffuuWjo9 — oops.

        In comparison if you’re in a house with a backyard that lockdown is little more than a curiosity.

        But even without lockdowns this was obvious a long time ago. If you let an area look like this ↓↓ then anyone who can afford it will move out.

        https://www.greaterauckland.org.nz/2018/02/27/western-victoria-quarter-part-3-vehicle-prioritisation-pedestrian-design-failures/

      2. The councils control here is extremely limited, imo. They don’t control almost any of the social service agencies, they don’t make many laws around this, they don’t control the police. Housing (and by extension transit) has been made like this over decades and will take a long time to fix. Most of these problems also represent much wider, deeper, societal issues.

        I dont know what the police can do either? Its not against the law to do most of the common things that homeless are doing. And any judge or court isn’t going to put someone away (and fines are clearly pointless) for most of these things, even if they were illegal.

        The whole situation is pretty unfair for the city center. Unlike suburban shopping malls, its public land and you cant just throw all the ‘undesirables’ out. Because the city center is one of the few areas that homeless can go and have a chance of getting any money / not booted out, it’s become loaded up with the entire regions problems (and probably other regions too). Not helped by apparently disproportionate housing of those just out of prison / emergency housing in some of the shitter buildings by various central govt controlled agencies.

        What should the council do? Even further, what should the central govt do? There’s going to a political hot potato in every direction they turn, and none of the actual long term solutions are by any means easy or cheap, or even remotely popular.

        1. Totally agree with what you are saying – I don’t have any great solution and don’t think there is any silver bullet here.

          I do think there is a place for the agencies to work together more – things like MoH for people with drug/alcohol issues, police for when crime does happen and social support agencies. Dumping a bunch of at risk people into a few apartment buildings doesn’t help.

          The council also have a part to play in making a “safe downtown in a walkable, liveable, desirable city”, I am not advocating “throwing all the ‘undesirables’ out” – that just becomes a NIMBY problem, it’s getting that balance between really difficult people and sufficient support.

          Pre-Covid there was enough people downtown that at any time that small numbers of antisocial people were vastly outnumbered by decent people that you felt safe. Now not so much.

        2. Few years ago under the previous government, there were a dedicated team of “security guys” that deal with those people. Sometimes police also help out.

          Unfortunately under this “inclusive” government I cannot see those guards anymore.

          Seems the budget is cut and the police also doesn’t care anymore.

  4. As many others have said, Queen st will remain ‘yuck’ no matter how its dressed up. This temporary ‘silk purse’ fix will be torn out when the LR installation goes ahead up Queen st.

    1. The thing with this and previous councils I think have never heard of the old saying , “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sows ear” . No matter what they have done over the Decades Queen st just gets worse and worse .

  5. Good point David. I think all Aucklanders should take time out to Watch an Australian program called Utopia, on Netflix which clearly illustrates how incompetent Beau acracy really is.

    1. Fix the local social economic issues and things will sort itself out.

      For example ponsonby road gets gentrified without much government support.

      Where some of the south auckland suburb remain to be undesirable no matter how much money has been thrown into it.

  6. A stock standard “Pave it all grey” Auckland street makeover. It’s as though blandness is the goal.

    No coloured pavers, no gardens, no brightly coloured trees, no grass areas.

    FFS, send the planners around the country to see what other towns and cities doing. Learn something!

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