The next phase of Waka Kotahi’s Innnovating Streets for People programme was released quietly last week. Now called Streets for People, this is the second iteration of the project, which ran as a pilot from mid 2020-mid 2021. The possibility of a second round of funding seemed a bit up in the air when the 2020-21 pilot programme wrapped at the end of June, so it’s great to sea that Waka Kotahi are re-booting it, with what looks like an improved structure.
In case you missed Innovating Streets for People in the news this year, the first formal round of the programme was launched in the midst of that first Covid lockdown, in April 2020 (also a quiet launch, according to this post we published at the time – although paradoxically, it grabbed international headlines for being first out of the blocks as a Covid response.)
The initiative was conceived as a way to help local Councils to deliver tactical trial projects in their towns and cities that would create ‘a healthier future by putting people and place at the heart of streets.’ Projects needed to involve community in a co-design process, demonstrate a ‘pathway to permanence’, and include before-and-after monitoring and evaluation.
Given the timing, Innovating Streets became Aotearoa’s version of the rapid tactical street interventions seen around the world to make urban environments safer and more welcoming during the Covid-19 pandemic. As we’ve seen, since that first burst of creative response, many of those overseas interventions have led to dramatic, systems-level changes to cityscapes.
Looking back at that April 2020 post, we were excited to see tactical urbanism getting some serious focus from Waka Kotahi. The programme brief had a great list of some really specific kinds of projects it would be looking for, such as intersection safety improvements, pop-up cycle lanes, play streets, and low traffic neighbourhoods.
In July 2020, we wrote about the results of the first round of funding awarded:
A $13.95 million government investment will see around 40 projects that make streets more people-friendly being delivered across the country before June 2021.
In that first round, Auckland only landed $1.4m of the allocated funds for just four projects. A number of other Auckland projects that applied weren’t successful, and there’s a memo shared in the post from Waka Kotahi’s ISfP programme leader Kathryn King to Auckland Council explaining why.
Auckland fared better in the second round, which we wrote about in this post from September last year, successfully received support for 13 individual projects. At times, it seemed like Auckland had a rockier ride than other places, with, for example the Arthur-Grey low-traffic area in Onehunga and the Henderson Town Centre project succumbing to vitriolic social-media-fuelled opposition that drowned out quieter voices of support.
Meanwhile, as the evaluation summary reports, dozens of projects that trialled safer streets for people carried on, with much more constructive results, and the majority of Innovating Streets projects installed across the country remain in place.
One major success in Auckland was Project Wave (the temporary cycleway connecting Nelson Street to Quay Street), which managed to overcome some early opposition and obstacles, and will now be made permanent.
And we’ve heard about some exciting success stories in smaller towns and cities. ‘Create The Vibe’ in Thames, a street pedestrianisation and parklet space, has proved a hit with the community and a boon for adjacent businesses, as well as becoming an art-filled attraction. The lovely Drews Ave project in Whanganui is incredibly photogenic, and has contributed to Whanganui being named a ‘City of Design‘ for 2021 (is Whanganui the new coolest little town in Aotearoa?).
Other projects received less publicity, but still proved valuable in demonstrating that it is possible to quickly encourage more kids to bike to school, to slow traffic on busy streets, and to give people safe places to cross roads. If you’re interested in reading more about the results of the 2020-21 programme, Waka Kotahi’s evaluation can be downloaded here.
For many Councils, their consultants and communities – and I’m sure, for the Waka Kotahi ISfP team – 2020-2021’s Innovating Streets projects were a steep, exciting, frustrating, at times heartbreaking, and hopefully rewarding learning curve.
So here we are, planning to do it all over again. It’s fantastic that Waka Kotahi has come through with a new round of funding. So many lessons have been learned in the last 18 months by the hundreds of people working on these tactical projects around the country; now we’ll get to apply them at scale.
So what does the new Streets for People programme look like?
The core vision at the heart of Streets for People is still there. It’s about the health and safety of people and communities, and about reducing our emissions by helping people to get about their neighbourhood without a car.
Imagine Aotearoa streets where children can bike, walk or scoot to school independently. Where communities have more welcoming spaces to safely come together to celebrate and share experiences and where you can hear bird song instead of car engines.
Streets for People has been set up to help make that a reality.
A new name
The ‘Innovating’ has been dropped from the heading, presumably as the innovation phase moves towards bedding in tactical techniques as ‘business as usual’: the programme is now called Streets for People.
Where Innovating Streets allowed us to work with councils to trial, test and evaluate these innovations, these learnings are now ready to support and encourage towns and cities to deliver rapid network changes using this evidence-based approach.
$30million from the NLTP has been allocated for Streets for People, only a negligible increase on the $29m allocated to the 2020-21 programme. The key detail remains the level of support for successful projects: as with the 2020-21 programme, Waka Kotahi can fund up to 90% of each project’s cost. This is a powerful leverage for smaller councils in particular.
This time round, there’s a bit more time to get things right: Councils and communities will have until June 2024 to develop and implement their projects, more than double the length of the first version.
The funding is available over the NLTP 2021–2024 period for towns and cities ready to accelerate their long-term vision by using successful evidence-driven techniques. The programme runs until June 2024, a timeframe that allows for lasting change, transformational work, and strong partnerships with Waka Kotahi and the community.
This seems like a good change, as in the pilot round some ISfP projects simply weren’t able to get off the ground within the tight timeframe and had to forfeit their funding (only $22m of the planned budget was spent.) A longer time period could also allow for more complex and impactful projects to be undertaken.
That longer duration also means that more time can be spent on making sure projects are set up to succeed. The funding will be structured across three phases. They are:
- Expression of interest
- Phase 1 – Funding the Foundations (pre-implementation)
- Phase 2 – Funding the Projects (implementation)
Councils or community groups applying for funding have to satisfy the requirements of each step in turn, to move forward through the process. The purpose of this phased approach appears to be to ensure that Councils really do have the skills, willingness and capacity to see a project through to completion:
The expression of interest establishes whether a council is ready and has the processes in place that will enable them to implement this alternative approach, as well as the willingness to undertake this different way of engaging with their community.
Learning and upskilling of councils and communities is a core part of this phased process, and it’s good to see that support will be provided for councils that aren’t successful in receiving funding but want to build capability for the future.
We are looking for a strong sense of direction and strategic alignment with Road to Zero strategy and the proposed Emissions Reduction Plan.
So, what can we expect to see?
Honestly, it’s hard to predict what we might see in this round of applications. Applications for funding opened on November 30th, and need to be in by 22 February 2022, which isn’t very much time with the Christmas break in the middle. Hopefully there are some motivated councils and communities ready to go.
Maybe some of the towns that have run successful placemaking projects will expand on their mahi by trialling walking and cycling network improvements. More safe streets around schools seem like an easy win. Perhaps the Ponsonby Streets for People project, which didn’t get much further than a Social Pinpoint page, will be revived. We could even see another attempt at a Low Traffic Neighbourhood. And how about some Covid-safe ‘streateries’?
No matter what, if a few more communities get to learn how quickly, easily, and collaboratively their streets can be made safer, happier and healthier, we can count that as a win.
What would you like to see trialled in your neighbourhood?
Images in this post come from the Streets for People evaluation document.