This is a guest post by Sam Duncan, an Urban Development student at Queensland University of Technology. Sam grew up in Auckland.

Recently, the results of the C40 Students Reinventing Cities competition were released. In the competition, student-led teams each selected one site out of a collection from 18 cities across the globe. This year Auckland City Council had nominated a site in the North Shore suburb of Northcote to the competition. Northcote Town Centre is currently in the planning phase for urban regeneration through council-owned organisation Panuku.

Our Brisbane-based team’s plan for Northcote Town Centre won the Auckland section of the competition this year. My having grown up not far from Northcote may have helped with understanding the context of the site.

Northcote Town Centre, on Auckland’s North Shore

The general focus of the competition was on sustainability and enabling Auckland to meet the climate goals outlined in Te Tāruke ā Tāwhiri: Auckland’s Climate Plan. We took the bones of the Panuku master planned development and tweaked various elements to achieve a less car dominated, more pedestrianised space. In doing so we proposed innovative waste management solutions like the underground pneumatic tube network. The project also introduced a bus station into the development, a community hub, extensive greenways and active transport centric design.

This post will summarise some of the key aspects of our entry and share with you our vision for Northcote.

Our overall master plan for Northcote Town Centre

Shifting traffic from Lake Road to College Road

Pedestrianisation of Lake Road to improve Northcote’s particularly pedestrian-hostile design. Buffering and change of materials on this road will provide better links to Greenslade reserve which will also be upgraded as part of this project. If maintaining Lake Road’s arterial function is desired, a green bridge was also explored in the proposal.

College Road becomes the main vehicle access to the Town Centre. Improvements to College Road include the creation of dedicated bus lanes.

Illustrative plan of pedestrianised Lake Road, with Greenslade Reserve to the left

Facilitating multi-modal transport

A new bus terminal is integrated into the development at College Road to service the estimated 2000 new dwellings in the master plan. The bus terminal includes end-of-trip facilities like lockers and secure bike compounds for those arriving by bike.

Walkability is a key focus of the development, which heavily draws from the pedestrian network centred around the reclaimed Awataha Greenway that runs through the spine of Northcote. Separated cycleways are integrated throughout the development. Bike parking on the edges allows pedestrians to feed into the centre via laneway-inspired urban design.


The development features a pneumatic tube waste network, a concept which originated in the 1980’s and has been implemented in places such as Sweden, Barcelona, Norway and Denmark. The chutes use pressurized air to transport waste to a central collection point. The system can have smart phone capability to offer incentives and encourage good behaviour through education and rewards. This network reduces  carbon emissions through correct waste disposal and recycling and less frequent collection trips from garbage trucks.

Sectional diagram of the pnuematic tube waste disposal system

Higher density housing

Proposed housing ranges from mixed use developments and 6 storeys apartments in the centre, tapering out to low-medium density housing on the perimeter. This type of development density needs to take place in Auckland to address the housing shortage. The design includes built-in allocations for affordable housing options.

High-density residential housing and a pedestrian laneway in the centre of the development


The library is an essential part of the hub. It will help to revitalise the neighbourhood, offering an attractive, functional, community-focused space. It is a space that preserves history and provides cultural links to Ngāti Whātua o Kaipara. The collection of resources at the library can grow based on specific community needs. The library is a wide-open space to promote inclusivity, with clear separation of children’s areas, quiet sections, and study spaces to account for the differing age demographics.

Educational hub

One of the main features of the hub is an educational research facility and interactive experience in collaboration with the Department of Conservation that promotes active education on climate change understanding and research. This is designed to help both adults and children learn about global warming and climate goals in Auckland, whilst inspiring the future generations to make a difference in their city. This hub will include educational resources on climate change, the Auckland Climate Plan and what Northcote Town Centre has done to meet present climate change goals. This will include reference to the pneumatic tube system, passive housing, and active transportation throughout the development and how these measures aid Northcote to fulfil its part in reducing emissions and meeting climate goals.

Illustration of public spaces in the master plan

Reflecting on the project

It was great to receive feedback from Auckland Council’s Chief Sustainability Officer Matthew Blaikie who said:

“Utilising their skills across architecture, town planning and landscape architecture, the Brisbane Designers’ project stood out for its strong visual presentation and well-considered approach which built off Eke Panuku’s Benchmark Masterplan.”

“The C40 Students Reinventing Cities competition has provided an excellent opportunity for cities and academia to collaborate and for students to further increase their understanding of how neighbourhoods can be planned and designed to support a low carbon, resilient future.”

Personally, as a future transport planner, my biggest takeaway in this experience is the importance of having a multidisciplinary team to achieve the best outcomes. Working with other students from complementary areas allowed ideas to be explored more convincingly through renders and visual aids to support what we were writing. I hope to return to Northcote in the future to see what Panuku do with the space. It would be fantastic to see some of our ideas realised in the development, and to see Northcote’s current and future residents get a truly sustainable Town Centre.

Our full design report and presentation can be found on the C40 Students Reinventing Cities website. These provide greater detail on many of the proposed interventions and go further into our vision of Northcote, along with many other details not touched on in this post.

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  1. I love the pneumatic tube waste system and now I want one fitted to my kitchen. Location 7 is the North Shore Covid-19 testing centre where some kind people in PPE push a stick further into your nose than seems possible. Let’s hope that wont be needed in the long term.

    1. Yes great to see someone thinking about different aspects of development. We are having a lot of intensification here and on social media there are so many shrieking ” but how will the rubbish trucks get through” without thinking we can always do things differently to the current system.

  2. Cool concept, good to see a more ambitious concept than Panuku’s. Well done on the win.

    However as an engineer I’ve got some concerns about the value of the pneumatic waste collection system.
    – Very high embodied carbon footprint from construction (building a pipe network that doesn’t need to be there, plastic pipes themselves have a huge carbon footprint).
    – Ongoing carbon emissions from operations and maintenance (eventually all the electricity involved will be from renewable sources but there’s still opportunity cost for not using that electricity for other things).
    – Cross-contamination between waste, organic and recycling streams reducing the amount of material diverted from landfill (this would have been less of a concern for 1980’s European cities as they were likely incinerating all their waste).
    – You wouldn’t believe the cost of installing pipes underground and this grows if they have to be larger diameter or sealed to resist air pressure or on a specific grade.
    – Sourcing and maintaining equipment used nowhere else in our hemisphere.

    The less complicated, lower carbon footprint solution is to just pay people to clear the bins on a regular cycle using handcarts. Creating more local employment should be seen as a strength not a weakness.

    1. I personally love Amsterdams solution.

      On street large underground bins that you drop household rubbish off into when you’re going somewhere. No need for every house to have a couple bins, no amassing rubbish at home. It would make it easier to do more types of bins too I think, to make recycling more useful.

      1. I was just about to share that same video!

        In Brighton, England, we had communal skip bins on each street in the urban centre.
        Suburbs use typical wheelie bins.

        The skips worked quite well and were certainly cheaper than this amazing underground solution.

        The garbos are on strike in Brighton right now, but that is a different problem…

      2. Added bonus to the Amsterdam solution if you’re into fun and slightly wacky mechanical solutions: watching the rubbish trucks suck the bins out of the ground.

        1. Same, I think much cooler for kids and bigger kids (adults) alike.

          It seems that it would be much more efficient too. Rubbish is more consolidated, they only need to come empty it when its full, not grabbing a million little individual bins on an arbitrary time basis, regardless of fullness.

          It also seems like they have new ones with passes, so people are encouraged not to make so much rubbish.

    2. Ditto, I cannot see how the embedded carbon and energy required to dig a network of pipes and then operate the system will be less than an electric truck roaming the streets…

  3. It’s great to see a student project that tests solutions to the real pressures and challenges Auckland faces. I love the idea of small but highly dense residential and mixed-use town centres popping up all over Auckland. Imagine how appealing it would be to live in Northcote Town Centre if you could walk from your apartment to your neighbourhood bike shed, grab an ebike, and ride to the city … over the harbour bridge!

  4. Hi Sam, thanks for the post, congratulations on your win and sharing your wider learnings on collaboration.
    This leaves me all the more confused about Auckland Council when on one hand they seem to be able to get involved with a forward thinking C40 initiative like this but really struggle with the seemingly simple task of kicking cars off Queen Street. Is the beast just too big to co-ordinate properly?

    1. They’re taking themselves to court over developments on Dominion Road by Panuku, issue legal notices to communities for having a fruit tree planter on the street, yet are happy to roll out pop-up free parking in shared spaces, incapable of removing cars or parking from Queen Street, and undermine and ignore every single plan that might require any priority being taken away from vehicles.

    1. No parking, putting in parking would only encourage people to drive adding to congestion problems, the idea is to promote alternative modes of getting around.

  5. Congratulations for this work. You have shown how an interdisciplinary team can work together to come through with how more can be achieved with planning and integrated local centre, beyond the urban design work that has been done for Northcote before. Besides Eke Panuku, Kainga Ora are putting a lot into the neighbourhood with social infrastructure as well as physical infrastructure. Achieving biggest changes with smart investment is well worth doing here, as the centre is within the car-clog of Harbour Bridge approaches, so bus, bike and 15 – minute neighbourhood are the only good options. AUT is within easy reach to support an educational/research outpost. Ideas for supporting the wider suburb for retail and services without car-dependence (Hillcrest to Northcote Point!) remains a challenge for good ideas.

  6. Currently Pearn Place is maybe the North Shore’s oldest pedestrianized street. (amusingly the business association calls it “off-street shopping”).

    What would the bus network look like? There is also a lot of development around the corner of Northcote Road and Akoranga Drive. Lake Road — Northcote Road — Smales Farm would be a logical bus route.

  7. Excellent.

    Maybe the council should do more of this – outsource the design elements of these regeneration projects, and/or have open competitions?

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