Opened in 1979, Aotea Square reflects an altogether different history. It and Mayoral Drive were built following the demolition of lower Greys Inn Road and much of old Auckland’s urban fabric, enabling the creation of uncongested road access to the CBD and high capacity central city car-parking. Meeting the accessibility and mobility needs of private car owners was a far greater priority than the creation of a successful public space at Aotea Square. If Auckland’s citizens or visitors feel some sort of connection with a public space it is more likely to be successful, but Aotea Square’s success is limited to skateboarders and the protestors who recently occupied it.
Public spaces reflect the character of a city. My favourites include the South Bank in London, Xocalo in Mexico City, and Odori Park in Sapporo.
The earliest public spaces – Greek Agora - were formed within a civilisation which valued democracy and recognised and accepted cultural difference. Public spaces provided citizens the means of building community life.
They were places where people would:
- talk and learn about each other.
If urban public spaces merely exist to provide more air, a view of the horizon to break the monotony of endless buildings, as a setting for alien artworks, or as places to park vehicles, they will not meet human needs and will be unsuccessful. Or if they are designed mainly as gathering places for consumers, like outdoor shopping malls dominated by shops and places to spend money - rather than time, then the broader public interest will not be served.
From a purely functional point of view, public places do need to provide:
- and simple food.
To be successful, to form part of the infrastructural heart and soul of a city, public spaces need:
- safe places for children and the elderly,
- familiar connections for people from different cultures,
- and embodied reminders of a city’s history, ancestry and heritage.
Queens Wharf is Auckland’s most recent public space. It was opened to the public two short years ago and rapidly became a political football. The moth-balled McCully Cloud and some cheap security fencing around its heritage shed are the visible reminders of that history. A sad superficial legacy for a place that embodies and still exudes Auckland maritime history.
At least twice in its short public space life Queens Wharf has shown its potential for Auckland. The first was when two Chinese warships came to visit. Queens Wharf became a magnet for Auckland’s Chinese community – largely absent from the CBD following the unfortunate loss of the waterfront Oriental Market. The second was early in the Rugby World Cup when Queens Wharf and downtown Auckland glowed with the energy and laughter of its Tongan and Samoan peoples.
Today, despite the sign that insists Queens Wharf is open to the public, it has been taken over by Airport Buses, taxis, casual traffic, and its very own roundabout and traffic lights, to the extent it is often dangerous for pedestrians entering and exiting the ferry terminal. All the talk of pedestrianising Quay Street seems empty when this ad hoc traffic makes the area unsafe. It would be good to see Council walking the talk on the waterfront.
As a Devonport resident I now enjoy easy access to Airport Buses, but this traffic is the thin end of the edge, building up to the establishment of a primary cruise ship terminal with all of its associated traffic demands and which risks being the kiss of death for a truly successful public space on Queens Wharf.
Thankfully, two thirds of submissions to Auckland Council’s Annual Plan oppose a Queens Wharf cruise ship terminal. If Council does not heed these submissions I will be among those who claim the Council is suffering from Agoraphobia – fear of successful public places.