This is a guest post by reader Roeland Schoukens.

This block between Hobson Street, Cook Street, Nelson Street and Wellesley Street is home to about 3,000 people on 3 hectares.

(Overall the population density of the city centre is much lower, with about 33,000 people on 4 km². This includes the port so let’s call it 10,000 people per km². This figure, from https://www.censusauckland.co.nz/, includes most areas inside the Spaghetti Junction. Commuter Waka shows the population of selected area units so you can check for varying definitions of city centre.)

For those who are wondering, and who like the post about Auckland at varying densities, this is what 100,000 people per km² looks like:

100,000 ppl/km² on this block

And this is how you walk from that block to the nearest park, Victoria Park:

How to walk to Victoria Park. Bonus points if you can figure out how to walk across the Halsey Street intersection.

It is a short 400 to 500 metres walk to either Myers Park or Victoria Park, depending on where you are. But the term ‘short’ is relative. Does it work if you’re with children? Here’s a Key Performance Indicator for this sort of walk:

It should be safe for a 5 year old child to walk from his apartment to a park, with his parent walking a few metres behind him. Without holding hands.

It’s no mystery whether the streets currently meet this KPI or not.

It is this, or dealing with Mayoral Drive. Pick your poison.

Now we have to think about how to achieve this.

It would help if the park was closer by. 400m to the nearest park is further than ideal. If you look around a bit you will discover many opportunities to bring a park a little closer. Do we really need all that car parking across Nelson Street? Or you could turn Nicholas Street into a pedestrian only space. A bit further away, the sad little parking lot on Vogel Lane could be converted to a park.

But no matter what we do, you have to walk from your apartment to the park, somehow, and that walk should be safe.


What difference does this make? Why won’t I just hold my child’s hand? At heart this is a question of what type of space we want to have on our streets.

As a parent, how would you do this walk? Can you let your child look around by themselves? Or do you have to hold his hand for dear life? Toddlers always seem to have a way of breaking free at the wrong moment, and in some places such mishap can get him killed. Commercial Bay versus Ponsonby Road. It is a totally different experience. It is the difference between some stressful and dangerous stuff separating your home from the park, versus the walk just being part of a relaxing outing.

I cannot vouch for how a small child would experience this walk. But I can tell that quite often, they like to walk by themselves, untethered, looking around and discovering things. Can they freely do this? Can they navigate and find their way to the park? Or is the street a more hostile space, where they are helpless unless a parent is there to guide them through safely? This difference must have quite the impact on how these children will later look at those streets.

Where do toddlers fit into our cities? For all the flak suburbs get when it comes to walking, I don’t think I would be able to let him walk like this in most of the city centre.

Think about what you have to deal with before you reach that park. Is it any wonder backyards are seen as essential to raise children?


So, if streets become more kid-friendly, what does that mean for a driver? Let’s put ourselves in their shoes.

With kids potentially running around off-leash, what if I have to drive my car there? How am I supposed to avoid accidents?

The answer is to drive slowly and carefully. Imagine you have to move a car through a mall on Saturday afternoon without causing mayhem. We will have to behave in a similar way to avoid mayhem on kid-friendly streets. Maybe we have to go the long way around. Park further away. Or find another way to get there.

All of this may be inconvenient and annoying. So be it. It is time to make the hard choices. Because at the end of the day, the desire for a quick and convenient car journey does not trump the right of that kid to, you know, live in that apartment and step outside the front door of his own home.

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70 comments

  1. Nice post highlighting every day struggles with our car-centric environments at a micro level.

    I navigate that intersection Victoria/Wellesley/Halsey/Drake/Vernon Streets on foot every day, as an adult it’s frustrating and at times still dangerous, for a child it must be completely overwhelming.

    I’d say a slightly better option in your particular case would be to change to the other side of Wellesley further up at like at Sale Street, then cross Victoria on two legs. However, only someone with good knowledge of the intersection would know to choose such an alternative, this should not be expected of anyone.

  2. Not quite on this alignment, but will we ever get the Cook Street-to-Union Street walk / cycle / safety improvements? Such a good project, AT-conceived mostly, even – and then of course it sinks without a trace because nobody manages to find funding even for the pittance it would cost…

      1. Well, there’s always that possibility, but despite some high-profile back and forth (including with Pippa Coom advocating for it), I never heard any whiff that it was the design itself – seemed more like some bull*** about the available funding stream criteria not fitting the walk/cycle improvements proposed. Of course you could consider “decisions by financial rules interpretation” as a form of quite effective opposition in itself.

  3. Shortly after the pink path & Hobson St cycleway went in my commute had me turn down Wellesley St W then on through the hideous Halsey St intersections to the Viaduct Basin. It was the most nerve racking part of the ride which started at Westgate. So I sympathise with anyone walking that route especially with a toddler. Better to walk them down to Sky City and teach them indoor activities like probability & statistics.

  4. My wife and I both live in the aforementioned block but being octogenarians we find it quite a struggle to walk back from the park. It would be great if there was a travellator between Sale Street and Nelson street.

    1. Yes. Actually I’d be keen to know about any lifts to help with this rise in elevation. It would help older people I know get from their homes in the viaduct up to amenities at the higher level.

      1. I believe there are options along Fanshawe Street. The AT carpark building has an elevator (24/7 ?), and I think the newly completed office block near Halsey Street allows public use of its elevators to get up to Hardinge Street, though I haven’t tested this yet as I use the nice new steps they built.

      2. Very sceptical about travellators/lifts to address gradient issues to access in a (street) environment. They are *permanently* costly and maintenance-prone, especially if outdoors.

        To me they seem a bit like building an expensive path along a rail line instead of re-allocating roadspace for cycle lanes.

        Instead of travellators, where we have accessibility we should look at new roads / paths with generous switchbacks where necessary – and better-quality surfacing / widths on existing footpaths, in my view.

        1. Oh, and also a related comment: Travellators are NOT universal access. In fact, for people in wheelchairs, people in prams, people that are unsteady on their feet, they range between “difficult” to “Heck no, I can’t even try using that”. Lifts are (usually) universally accessible but have similar cost/maintenance issues, and also come with a significant capacity constraint compared to, say, an accessible ramp, especially a wider one.

  5. What’s wrong with having children on leashes. You used to see it a lot up until about the 1960s and then went out of fashion. It gives the child the freedom to run around in safety. Saw one at Westgate the other day and the mum said her mother had recommended it and it was the best thing she had bought, and that little kid was just so happy.

    1. Yes a leash is a good compromise in these sort of situations. However did you see little kids without a leash? Pretty sure they’re happy too. A leash can be convenient for not losing your kids if it is busy, but it shouldn’t be a requirement to keep them safe.

    2. Leashes may be a useful tool for a parent. But a) they don’t work for older kids (who also should be allowed to run free) and b) they are still just a work-around around hostile conditions. We need to fix the systemic issues, rather than advocate individualist responses.

      See also suggestions such as kids should wear high viz, or carry flags at dangerous (signalised!) pedestrian crossings. Which is NOT an overseas phenomenon – I once saw the flag thing at the Great North Road crossing in West Lynn, below Grey Lynn School, maybe 5 years back.

      [PS: I’m not wanting you to see this as a personal attack to your leash suggestion – it just isn’t a FIX for such issues – it’s a band-aid with the advantage that individually, you could use it tomorrow, rather than hoping / advocating over a long time for more substantial change…]

  6. Great post, look at all those cars at city works depot. This whole area sucks, especially for walking, cycling or trying to catch a bus. We seem to have a real aversion to blocking off streets, creating one ways, etc – anything that would impinge on driving.
    The number of car park buildings and drive ways is huge in the city – it creates a terrible walking experience and obviously induces car travel. Some of the worst of these are around Swanson st, Hobson, block – every building has one and drivers are in a hurry to get on the Hobson st motorway.

    look at this monster – meant to be a good footpath along Fanshawe with a very busy Bradnor st bus stop. Just block off the street and start to remove a lot of these car parks.

    https://www.google.com/maps/@-36.8453866,174.7615576,3a,75y,136.49h,80.6t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sfELRWD-BPVNgygW_gSlIYQ!2e0!7i16384!8i8192

    1. They don’t even have to remove any driveways. Just learn how to build continuous footpaths. A footpath should be level and flat, and it should never get interrupted like this for a driveway, or even for a side street.

  7. Great article Roeland. My walk to the gym/supermarket/office takes me around this block multiple times a day and it’s positively hostile to those on foot. All 4 roads are traffic sewers and all 4 intersections have traffic lights that treat pedestrians as an afterthought.

    I think this example is worth expanding on to mention older children: If they’re at primary school then the closest option is across the motorway in Freeman’s Bay, an 800m walk that is even worse than getting to the park. Getting to a public secondary school is slightly further afield for girls (AGGS, 1000m away) or much further afield for boys (AGS, 3000m away). The lack of school options for the most densely populated part of the country is appalling.

    1. Yes, this. Imagine a town of 30,000 without any schools. I am not sure if whoever is responsible for schools understands in what level of trouble they will be if families in the city centre become normal.

      That block above, with 3,000 people, if that had a typical age pyramid it would have enough kids for a small primary school. On just that block.

      Back in Belgium the move back to the cities has been ongoing for a while. It is quite easy to predict when toddlers will grow up and end up in primary schools. And still they got caught out with capacity problems, and the ensuing chaos and overnight camping at schools to enrol kids.

      Now they’re building ‘family friendly’ stuff in Wynyard Quarter. I don’t see any school being built. Gee I wonder what is going to happen next.

      1. There is definitely some serious work underway on a CC school location in an existing building rather than anything new.

        1. That is good news.

          That said, we have a population roughly the size of Gisborne in the city centre. How many schools are there in Gisborne?

        2. Kadimah is actually moving from Greys Ave to Remuera…I guess their buildings are going to be available, though they’re probably moving because it’s not big enough for them.

        3. I’d love to know the justification for that. There is so much land sat massively underutilised as at-grade car parking where a new building could be built and schools are a pretty specialised structure. Given that most of the homes in the city centre are west of Queen Street, the huge swathes of car parking around the City Works Depot actually seem like the best spot to me. This could also include a relatively large outdoor playing area which could double as a public park in an area of the city centre that really needs one.

  8. Hopefully Eke Panuku taking over the management of the City centre Masterplan might bring some refreshed thinking and focus on this mostly neglected area (in terms of CCMP funded projects).
    And hopefully we don’t get any crazy ideas to bring in another motorway and more off ramps into the area (Looking at you future harbour crossing)

  9. The city centre is way too car focussed, it isn’t changing quick enough. Half the roads should be closed or significantly reduced in size. Tactical solutions shouldn’t cost much.

    1. Missed the window with the pandemic. Should have been done while there were few cars on the streets.

      AT and AC are just not qualified for this stuff. They could run transport and central access in Huntly, but not a city.

  10. There is a lot to be said for the suburbs. You can move right in and enjoy the amenity without having to campaign for it. The only problem is when you have to go to the city centre, but we seem to have fixed that with Microsoft TEAMS and a pandemic.

    1. If overseas cities are anything to go buy, the pandemic is long forgotten. Few masks, pubs and restaurants full, offices filling up, although it will never again be 5 days in the office for the white collars.

      Auckland city center will have its resurgence too.

      1. I’m not sure the pandemic is long forgotten by all. The US has 23 million with long covid. That seems to suggest that we should continue to be cautious.

  11. Victoria Park markets now deserted could be an ideal option for a new school.
    Especially if an over bridge to Victoria park was included.

    1. Re choice, I’ll give you Mumbai. The others have far more choice than Auckland. Sounds like they have better drivers, too.

  12. What a sad world we would live in if we all believed that nothing could be better than it is now.

  13. Since you like talking about choice, there are 2 key observations you have to make here:

    (1) it is about creating a new choice that currently does not exist — a place where you can get by mostly by walking rather than driving. These places have many advantages, so some people will make this choice.

    One of these advantages which surprises many people is how quiet such places are. Without heavy car traffic a city is no louder than a small village.

    (2) to create that choice it is enough to change only a handful of small areas in the city. You can easily have 50,000 people live in the city centre, which is an area of only a few kilometres across. If you don’t like it, no problem, there is still the entire rest of Auckland.

    Finally the observation that children manage to live in big cities without being run over is false. Children get run over. And think about what we ask from them to avoid getting run over even more often. Basically we take away their right to get outside by themselves. How would you feel if you get house arrest unless some chaperone is around to hold you on a leash?

    Also, in case this is not obvious, an alternate title of this post could be “why I don’t live in the city centre any more, and why I cannot recommend it to families (right now)”.

    1. The peak traffic volumes in the city center are (long term) dropping continuously, and that will only accelerate after CRL and other transit improvements come due. Parking quantity and use is being eroded.

      Be realistic, it’s time to redesign these streets to serve their rapidly growing purpose much better, regardless of the decision making process of individuals who have already moved there. In what world is the reasonable decision making to keep these major streets how they are?

    2. Yeah Roeland, what an incredibly stupid idea to buy in a City. Nobody in the world buys in City Centres, centres are for masive motorways to carve through the middle and to make sure cars never get held up. Why would anyone be stupid enough to live close to all the amenties they need but expect to be able to access them by foot.

      Come to think of it…pretty every City I’ve visted around the world and theres a lot has never had this problem.

      Hopefully we can apply this ‘you were stupid to buy in this location’ practise and get rid of the all the Special Character areas…after all they were stupid enough to buy within easy access of the major centre, what do they expect.

      Victoria Miller, you just upgraded yourself to Super Karen. Well done.

    3. “Cities all around the world have busy streets that need to be negotiated between residential and public parks and yet the children of Madrid, New York, Hong Kong, London and all those others, do not have children run over on a regular basis.”

      Maybe they make it safer for children than Auckland?

      But you miss the point, nothing stands still. That area has undergone significant change in the last 20yrs. We should be adapting to that change to ensure its fit for purpose. Its clearly not.

      And if you are against insults, maybe dont call people snowflakes.

    4. “This is cancel culture at its worst.”

      I don’t think you know what that term means. In fact, it more accurately reflects your approach to shout down the writer of the post, likening him to all sorts of evils, to “cancel” out his position. How ironic.

    5. I find it hilarious that Victoria keeps using London as an example when London has just introduced literally 100s of low traffic neighbourhoods specifically to address the problem of too many vehicles restricting the rights of young people to access public space.

    6. And didn’t Madrid restrict traffic in its city center a few years back, to allow it to be more people focused and improve the air pollution?

    7. ‘The point you made ‘pretty every city I’ve visited around this world and there’s a lot has never had this problem’ reinforces what I am saying.
      Cities all around the world have busy streets that need to be negotiated between residential and public parks and yet the children of Madrid, New York, Hong Kong, London and all those others, do not have children run over on a regular basis.’

      Errr, that total opposite actually. All those Cities have priortised public transport and pedestrianisation over cars. Those Cities don’t have a huge motorway carving it up through the middle, those City Centres are livable. If you even looked at any sort of evidence you’d also see that those places have been introducing low traffic nwighbours and constantly changing to make them safer places to live.

      I bet you use the terms ‘PC’ and ‘woke’ every day and do 5 hail mary’s to your Mike Hosking cutout whenver you leave the house.

    8. Which brings up an interesting point, Joe. Any change that impacts cars in NZ is seen as a left wing agenda, or woke. Yet overseas this type of inner city transformation is rarely political, these days anyway.

      Boris Johnson (conservative) was probably the key driver of the cycle lane rollout in London. The previous Sydney mayor was conservative too and campaigned (and won) on light rail (amongst other things). She was also a chief architect of cycle lanes as the previous state transport minister, if I recall.

      Its like the rest of the world has moved on and is ensuring their city centers reflect current and future use, but Auckland is clinging to the past for, ironically, no other reason than ideology.

    9. Exactly..

      Climate – Not a political idealogy
      Safety – Not a political idealogy

      Quicker New Zealand gets this through their head and stops throwing out dated slogans like ‘wokeism’ to any sort of change the better.

    10. It used to be said that the two most car-centric cities in the western world were LA and Auckland.

      LA set out a strategic plan 10yrs ago to expand commuter rail, and it runs out for the next 30yrs.

      Auckland has been talking about giving access to – but not through – Queen Street for at least 10yrs and still hasn’t implemented it. And its because of the lack of political will on both sides, central and local.

    11. Plot twist — I actually live on the North Shore.

      I did live in this area for a while. Would it surprise you if before I had kids, there was this phase where I did not have kids yet, and in that phase it is quite a bit easier to deal with this environment.

      However I also know for a fact that there are kids living over there. I saw them in the morning walking to school, and occasionally in my building. I can’t really speculate as to why that is. The reason why they are not in the Viaduct or in Wynyard Quarter is kind of obvious — if you have to ask you cannot afford it. More recently built apartments have better provision for kids, for instance Sugartree, but still, you’re marooned on this little island in this same street grid.

      Still even if there aren’t a lot of children actually living in that area, you should still ask whether or not catering for heavy car traffic is the best use of our streets over there. Cities all over the world are creating low traffic and pedestrianized areas. There are many, many more advantages to this apart from just letting kids walk around. The question on whether a kid should be able to get to Hyde Park easily from wherever he lives, well, yes he should. In places like the Netherlands that would be a completely uncontroversial question. They’re perhaps a bit ahead on this, but many other countries are catching up.

    12. “Instead of buying an apartment next to two major thoroughfare roads, why didn’t the author buy in the Viaduct or next to Myers Park, The Domain, or elsewhere?”

      I can’t speak for Roeland’s reasons. But my husband and I also own an apartment overlooking Nelson Street, and have children, so I can answer this for us. Buying a home is a compromise between all of the competing things a person needs and wants. This was the best compromise we could afford. Why didn’t we buy in the Viaduct? Prices for equivalent apartments are about the same, but everything we saw in our price range was leasehold, and lease costs were $20-30k per year, before you start paying the mortgage. An apartment overlooking Myers Park or the Domain? Those are all 50% more money for the equivalent sized apartment. Turns out the amenity value of being right beside the Domain or Myers Park is priced in when apartments sell.

      I know a lot of families who live in these apartments along Hobson and Nelson Street, and some in exactly the block that Roeland is talking about in this post. Most of them are not owners, they are renters. And they are renting the best home that they can get for their money. There are a lot of families of four living in small two bedroom apartments. Would they all like to move to a 1950s state house in the suburbs? Many would. But I don’t see those houses being sold or rented at affordable prices.

      I know a lot of people decry ‘Stalinist Architecture’ of ‘shitty shoebox apartments’. And I’m sure the design could have been nicer. But calling my home ‘shitty’ hurts. I see affordable homes that my friends and their children live in because it’s what they can afford.

      Advice to “buy in the Viaduct, or next to Myers Park, or the Domain,” amounts to advice to “Just be richer”. I’m not convinced that only rich people deserve decent road safety. Especially when I know that Auckland Transport knows how to make these roads safer for pedestrians – without even reducing the traffic volumes – because they have consulted on plans to make the roads safer, and then not gone ahead with those plans. Controlled pedestrian crossings, filling in missing pedestrian legs at intersections, traffic calming treatments, mid-block pedestrian crossings, reduced speed limits – none of these things are overwhelmingly expensive, and nor do they have a real world impact on travel times greater than twenty or thirty seconds travelling through these couple of blocks.

      I just don’t think it should be that hard, or that controversial, to keep children safe in the neighbourhoods their families can afford to live in.

    13. “I am a mother”

      That really is an extraordinary claim, Phil Moore aka “VIctoria Miller”.

      Do you not understand user guideline 5 iv?

    14. Victoria Miller – “Tell me you’re a boomer who bought a house at a fraction of current values, without telling me etc etc”

      Imagine just telling people to move to where they want to live, as if money is free. Amazing

  14. Well done Roeland. Initially I read your piece and thought it was crap – suck it up and get to the park. And then I read your last comment and realised how important it is to have intensification that also includes families. I also thought about the cities like Milan with restricted vehicle access in some parts and how safe they feel. Yes we should do things differently. Bring on congestion pricing amongst other things.

  15. You are acting like the sort of person that buys a cheap house and then campaigns for the 60 year old airport to be moved.

    This is a perfectly reasonable position to have. The original or current land use should have little to no bearing on what the land use should be. The position taken should always be “How do we make the situation better and have the optimal outcome”, not “well that was here first so we should suppress the average quality of life”. And in this case the improvement in quality of life for 10’s of thousands of residents could be remarkably improved through better street design.

  16. There are children going without food in this country. There are children living with abusive parents or dying of illness. There are real and pervasive problems.
    You have chosen to focus on the possibility that a negligent parent will let their child run into traffic. That’s one hell of a hill to die on.
    Why don’t we drop the straw man and focus on problems within Auckland that actually affect the health and wellbeing of Aucklanders today.

    1. Which one most accurately boils down what you are saying?

      “We cant do anything about X because Y is a worse problem”?

      “People shouldn’t care about this problem because there are worse problems”?

      “An advocacy website primarily focusing on transport and urbanism shouldn’t have posts / authors talk about the problems with downtown streetscapes”?

    2. Good urban environments make people feel less stressed. It gives them more time to care for others and keep an eye out for other people’s children. For instance, a teacher who has had a relaxing and safe walk to work is likely to be better at spotting neglect and abuse than a teacher who has a horrible drive and feels that no problems are solveable.
      Most of the aggression I face is when cycling to work. Curbing bad and aggressive driving and improving urban environments is good for society.

  17. “Children are among our most vulnerable pedestrians. Far more New Zealand children die as pedestrians on our public roads than die of violence, abuse or neglect; a similar number of children die as pedestrians as die of all infectious diseases combined (NZHIS mortality statistics, 1993-1997).”

  18. I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease a year ago at the age of 67. For several months I had noticed tremors in my right hand and the shaking of my right foot when I was sitting. My normally beautiful cursive writing was now small cramped printing. And I tended to lose my balance. Neurologist had me walk down the hall and said I didn’t swing my right arm. I had never noticed! I was in denial for a while as there is no history in my family of parents and five older siblings, but I had to accept I had classic symptoms. I was taking amantadine and carbidopa/levodopa and was about to start physical therapy to strengthen muscles. Finally, I was introduced to Kycuyu Health Clinic and their effective Parkinson’s herbal protocol. This protocol relieved symptoms significantly, even better than the medications I was given. After I completed the treatment, all symptoms were gone. I live a more productive life. I was fortunate to have the loving support of my husband and family. I make it a point to appreciate every day!

  19. Thanks – Great article. It talks to who we are, and how we prioritise our spaces. Toddlers and caregivers do not focus highly on our planning priorities, nor greenspaces it seems.
    We live a long way from CBD, but have our township/village bisected by our main 50kph road. 50kph traffic is manageable, but once or twice a day someone does 80+. This is enough to stop every parent let their kids cross our road, as its unsafe.

    We’ll get there – but loss of freedom, opportunities, free play, exploration and wonder are lost to many.

  20. Great article Roeland, nice to see someone highlight the issues with housing density that doesn’t include the quality elements so necessary for liveable places. And your point why people want backyards. Your pic of the big dense block has hardly any trees in it, or any little parklets or public space. And as one of the comments notes it’s down the hill to the park. Walking to all the good everyday things especially for older folk and kids isn’t an optional extra. I see a very wide road with too many lanes that could make a nice linear park alongside this block!

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