Yesterday I wrote about the council’s upcoming decision around the sale of the downtown carpark.
On the same day the herald ran an opinion by Patrick Reynolds in his role as deputy chair of the Council’s City Centre Advisory Panel, reproduced below with permission.
It is worth noting that this structure was built 53 years ago, opening in 1970, as a companion to the Downtown Mall, which now has been replaced by a more contemporary building in the form of Commercial Bay.
It opened one year after the harbour bridge had been doubled in width, long before there was a Northern Busway, or Britomart, near the very peak of the attempt to make the city function on private vehicles alone – a near perfect symbol of 20th century urban thinking.
21st Century City or 20th Century Carpark?
As the city decides on the future of the Downtown carpark building site, it’s worth looking at how we got here, and why this decision matters.
The CCMP was first endorsed by the councillors in 2012, refreshed and reconfirmed in 2020. It provides a comprehensive vision and programme of shifts to deliver quality sustainable growth and prosperity in the Auckland city centre, and has been at work behind the scenes ever since.
Te Ara I Whiti, the world-famous Pink Path; and Te Komititanga, the hugely successful square in front of Britomart Station, are examples of completed projects guided by the CCMP. Currently under way are Te Ha Noa, the Victoria St Linear Park, funded almost entirely from the City Centre Targeted Rate, and of course the City Rail Link (CRL), both are CCMP led urban realm transformations.
A key purpose of the plan is to attract and shape public and private investment by providing direction and certainty through a coherent and future focused vision. It is based on the ideal of a thriving, authentically kiwi and contemporary city as gateway to the nation. Central to achieving this is continuing to roll out a refreshed street pattern shifting from last century’s traffic priority to a more people-centred urban realm.
As successfully proven in cities around the world, this shift will accommodate new flows of people from the CRL stations while also enhancing the city’s appeal as a place to be. City as a great and varied destination, not merely somewhere to speed through. Another over-arching move is continuing the decades-long policy of re-orienting the city and its people towards the waterfront as it grows.
And this is where the old Downtown carpark building stands in the way.
As featured in the Weekend Herald, the Commercial Bay developers Precinct are proposing what looks to be a multi-billion dollarinvestment on this site. The world-class architecture and amenity will add vitality, employment, new residents – and, vitally, more open and connected public space at street level.
Laneways through the site, open to all, will link Viaduct Harbour and Wynyard to the city centre and Britomart. This requires removing the grey lump of concrete that currently blocks the flow of people where the city meets our sparkling harbour.
At the same time Auckland Council is grappling with serious funding and debt issues, so any big move must be financially sustainable as well as uplifting. The good news is that selling this site will immediately bring in over $100m– and that’s just the beginning, because the development itself will add a high-value property to the ratepaying ledger.
Judging by the scale of the plans, rates are likely to be more than $9m per annum, directly into Council’s coffers for benefit of the wider city. Add around $2m annually in the targeted rate for city centre improvements, plus $700,000 towards Heart of the City, and around $150,000 for the climate change targeted rate.
That’s around $12m, every year; the equivalent of selling the site again each decade. High-value development like this can not only fund new plans, its help keep the lights on in our libraries, the streets swept, and debt serviced. Moreover, construction itself will benefit the wider economy and many local businesses.
We will also gain from retiring a structure that urgently needs replacement or significant upgrades, and which does not financially contribute to the city’s development or attractiveness, let alone its own upkeep.
Some claim the city centre’s vitality depends on the Downtown Carpark. The evidence says otherwise. Downtown’s 1,900 subsidised parking spaces are rarely if ever full, and at peak times there are close to 2,000 vacant car parks within 5 minutes’ walk.
Others say Auckland is starved for parking, compared to other global cities. Yet our city centre has well over 50,000 parking spaces, compared with fewer than 40,000 in Melbourne and 30,000 in Sydney, both of which are much bigger and more vibrant.
Besides, nowhere in New Zealand has better public transport than downtown Auckland. Ferries, trains, and buses – the busway from the north, the new one just beginning from the north-west, – deliver more than 40,000 people a day to the area, from every point of the compass.
Oversupplying publicly subsidised car parking is a hangover from last century, city centre was trying to compete head-on with suburban malls just as quality public transport was being slashed. But that’s a losing game: a vibrant city centre can never out-compete suburban malls for easy and free parking.
Instead, a city wins by being better at what it is: a city. People will find ways to visit and keep returning, when the destination is uniquely exciting and rewarding. They will want to work there, and they will want to live there.
The millions who throng to central London, Paris, New York, or Sydney aren’t there because driving is easy and parking is free. Auckland can best compete by becoming better at what people want from a major city: more excitement, more opportunity, more life. This plan delivers all that – as well as providing immediate and ongoing funding for even more.
Patrick Reynolds City Centre Advisory Panel