Friday, December 5, 2008

Who Is Auckland For?


Gold Card carrying pensioners are the new wave of tourists in town. On fine summer days you see them arrive at Britomart after rush hour, coming in happy groups by ferry, bus and train, relishing free public transport, ready to rediscover their city. These are people who have paid rates and taxes for years, good Auckland citizens living in suburbia who feel alienated from downtown because driving there is a challenge and parking is worse, now delivered safely and without financial pain into its heart. Some pick up brochures, unsure of what is there, hungry to experience all that is on offer. Ready for an enriching and interesting day.

Good coffee, food and drink is close at hand, along with a diversity of retail offerings, a couple of cinemas and the Civic Theatre. But unlike other harbour cities of scale – even Wellington - there is no generous public waterfront access to seaviews, few leafy city squares, limited places to sit without having to buy something, little in the way of museums or heritage displays, and few churches.

Auckland is not a godless city, although it exhibits unchristian disregard for the needs of its impoverished citizens and the cultural aspirations of its indigenous population, and it lacks the tolerant public and civic community spirit evident in many cities without Auckland’s natural beauty.

Unless this attitude changes along with land development patterns typical of the last few decades, Auckland’s potential as a destination for its citizens and for visitors, and as a social wealth generator for New Zealand will be frustrated.

The poverty of public spirit in Auckland planning began in 1840 when Hobson ripped off local Maori buying 3500 acres of prime waterfront land for 273 pounds to build Auckland. In six months Hobson’s agents had auctioned 44 acres to property developers raising 24,000 pounds to build roads for New Zealand’s first capital city.

Only twenty five years later, the capital shifted from Auckland to Wellington to be nearer to the gold rich South Island which might otherwise have formed a separate colony. This left Auckland to its few thousand citizens, many of whom had made good their escape from the open prison of Australia, who busied themselves buying more cheap land from maori and expanding the colonial city.

While Gabriel’s Gully ran out of gold over a century ago, Auckland’s goldmine - property speculation – continues to the present day. Auckland’s development track-record is written in its streets and urban fabric. Private wealth and relative public squalor is embedded in the way Auckland has been planned and funded. The value Auckland accords its history and heritage is reflected in the few buildings, structures and streetscapes remaining that are more than a few decades old.

Wellington’s public realm benefited from decisions of the 1920’s Coates Government which passed Value Uplift legislation requiring that land value capital gains realised after rezoning and urbanisation would be taken by Government and invested in public infrastructure including rail and state housing stock. It was argued that to receive a capital gain from land, owners should demonstrate that the profits only existed because of their actions – not those of the Government.

The 1950’s saw this law repealed because the market-led American Dream of motorways and suburban development appealed more. By then Wellington had largely built its suburban rail network and its compact city centre, but Auckland’s rail plan was still on the drawing board where it lies today, and Auckland sprawled creating joyless suburbs a motorway drive away from an impoverished city centre. That is the legacy of the American Dream in Auckland.

Little wonder there is little opportunity now to meet the needs and interests of our retired citizens wanting to enjoy downtown Auckland.

While the Metropolitan Urban Limit imposed a decade ago slowed the pace of sprawl, more motorways are being built and planned through the limit, puncturing the Auckland Growth Strategy which promotes containment. The Development Levy regime requires new developments to pay for the cost of public infrastructure they need, but that does not include regional public transport infrastructure.

These limited measures are heavily criticised by the development industry, made lazy by easy profits from greenfield development and un-motivated by more challenging inner city redevelopment opportunities. Perhaps they can be encouraged now that both Labour and National support electrification and use of commuter rail in Auckland.

But it doesn’t matter how good the railway is, or any downtown cruise ship terminal for that matter, if there is nowhere to go, and nothing to do, that is truly in the public domain on the waterfront. As Auckland’s Grey Power visitors are now discovering.

A popular public waterfront development is essential.

The Princes Wharf Hilton development is a fantastic example of what not to do.

Those who criticise Planning Commissioner decisions regarding the Wynyard Quarter high rise proposals miss the target. Proposals to optimise revenue from waterfront developments originate in Auckland Regional Council railway infrastructure planning. The ARC is leading this particular public-private-partnership initiative which will alienate the public from that part of the waterfront, just as surely as Hobson alienated Maori from Auckland land to fund the city’s roads.

And taking Queens Wharf away from the Ports Company to build another cruise ship terminal will further destroy Auckland’s capacity to develop its waterfront as a public destination for citizens and tourists alike.

Auckland’s future success now depends on a new deal with Government, a partnership to deliver a city centre public realm and waterfront we all love to visit.

1 comment:

Joshua said...

In my opinion Wynyard Quarter will have a pretty significant amount of open space. But with regards to other areas in the city I have to agree.

Albert Park is great, no change needed there. Aotea Square is a wasted public space, ruined forever by the horrific Aotea Centre. Victoria Park is partly ruined by the motorway, Myers Park was ruined by Maoyral Drive to the point where you barely know where it is. Everywhere else in the city is pretty small.

I wouldn't trust the incoming government to do anything particularly visionary, other than want to build more motorways.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Who Is Auckland For?


Gold Card carrying pensioners are the new wave of tourists in town. On fine summer days you see them arrive at Britomart after rush hour, coming in happy groups by ferry, bus and train, relishing free public transport, ready to rediscover their city. These are people who have paid rates and taxes for years, good Auckland citizens living in suburbia who feel alienated from downtown because driving there is a challenge and parking is worse, now delivered safely and without financial pain into its heart. Some pick up brochures, unsure of what is there, hungry to experience all that is on offer. Ready for an enriching and interesting day.

Good coffee, food and drink is close at hand, along with a diversity of retail offerings, a couple of cinemas and the Civic Theatre. But unlike other harbour cities of scale – even Wellington - there is no generous public waterfront access to seaviews, few leafy city squares, limited places to sit without having to buy something, little in the way of museums or heritage displays, and few churches.

Auckland is not a godless city, although it exhibits unchristian disregard for the needs of its impoverished citizens and the cultural aspirations of its indigenous population, and it lacks the tolerant public and civic community spirit evident in many cities without Auckland’s natural beauty.

Unless this attitude changes along with land development patterns typical of the last few decades, Auckland’s potential as a destination for its citizens and for visitors, and as a social wealth generator for New Zealand will be frustrated.

The poverty of public spirit in Auckland planning began in 1840 when Hobson ripped off local Maori buying 3500 acres of prime waterfront land for 273 pounds to build Auckland. In six months Hobson’s agents had auctioned 44 acres to property developers raising 24,000 pounds to build roads for New Zealand’s first capital city.

Only twenty five years later, the capital shifted from Auckland to Wellington to be nearer to the gold rich South Island which might otherwise have formed a separate colony. This left Auckland to its few thousand citizens, many of whom had made good their escape from the open prison of Australia, who busied themselves buying more cheap land from maori and expanding the colonial city.

While Gabriel’s Gully ran out of gold over a century ago, Auckland’s goldmine - property speculation – continues to the present day. Auckland’s development track-record is written in its streets and urban fabric. Private wealth and relative public squalor is embedded in the way Auckland has been planned and funded. The value Auckland accords its history and heritage is reflected in the few buildings, structures and streetscapes remaining that are more than a few decades old.

Wellington’s public realm benefited from decisions of the 1920’s Coates Government which passed Value Uplift legislation requiring that land value capital gains realised after rezoning and urbanisation would be taken by Government and invested in public infrastructure including rail and state housing stock. It was argued that to receive a capital gain from land, owners should demonstrate that the profits only existed because of their actions – not those of the Government.

The 1950’s saw this law repealed because the market-led American Dream of motorways and suburban development appealed more. By then Wellington had largely built its suburban rail network and its compact city centre, but Auckland’s rail plan was still on the drawing board where it lies today, and Auckland sprawled creating joyless suburbs a motorway drive away from an impoverished city centre. That is the legacy of the American Dream in Auckland.

Little wonder there is little opportunity now to meet the needs and interests of our retired citizens wanting to enjoy downtown Auckland.

While the Metropolitan Urban Limit imposed a decade ago slowed the pace of sprawl, more motorways are being built and planned through the limit, puncturing the Auckland Growth Strategy which promotes containment. The Development Levy regime requires new developments to pay for the cost of public infrastructure they need, but that does not include regional public transport infrastructure.

These limited measures are heavily criticised by the development industry, made lazy by easy profits from greenfield development and un-motivated by more challenging inner city redevelopment opportunities. Perhaps they can be encouraged now that both Labour and National support electrification and use of commuter rail in Auckland.

But it doesn’t matter how good the railway is, or any downtown cruise ship terminal for that matter, if there is nowhere to go, and nothing to do, that is truly in the public domain on the waterfront. As Auckland’s Grey Power visitors are now discovering.

A popular public waterfront development is essential.

The Princes Wharf Hilton development is a fantastic example of what not to do.

Those who criticise Planning Commissioner decisions regarding the Wynyard Quarter high rise proposals miss the target. Proposals to optimise revenue from waterfront developments originate in Auckland Regional Council railway infrastructure planning. The ARC is leading this particular public-private-partnership initiative which will alienate the public from that part of the waterfront, just as surely as Hobson alienated Maori from Auckland land to fund the city’s roads.

And taking Queens Wharf away from the Ports Company to build another cruise ship terminal will further destroy Auckland’s capacity to develop its waterfront as a public destination for citizens and tourists alike.

Auckland’s future success now depends on a new deal with Government, a partnership to deliver a city centre public realm and waterfront we all love to visit.

1 comment:

Joshua said...

In my opinion Wynyard Quarter will have a pretty significant amount of open space. But with regards to other areas in the city I have to agree.

Albert Park is great, no change needed there. Aotea Square is a wasted public space, ruined forever by the horrific Aotea Centre. Victoria Park is partly ruined by the motorway, Myers Park was ruined by Maoyral Drive to the point where you barely know where it is. Everywhere else in the city is pretty small.

I wouldn't trust the incoming government to do anything particularly visionary, other than want to build more motorways.