Auckland’s Lost Opportunities

Wellington has let us down more than once


The history of modern Auckland is littered with triumphs but more of successive failures in planning at Local but more distinctly Central Government level. While things are improving for Auckland, Wellington seems to be the continued main hindrance to the City advancing well and truly into the 21st Century.  Urbanist Chris Harris looks back at the opportunities Auckland has missed. Below is an extract that was in Noted yesterday:


An urbanist looks at what went wrong in Auckland and how we might fix it

by Finlay Macdonald / 31 May, 2017

Grafton Gully, at right in this 1949 photograph, was regarded as one of Auckland’s most scenic areas before the motorway pushed through. It was never protected with town belt designation.
Grafton Gully, at right in this 1949 photograph, was regarded as one of Auckland’s most scenic areas before the motorway pushed through. It was never protected with town belt designation. Source:


Auckland’s urban history is a series of short-sighted cock-ups. Urbanist Chris Harris highlights the biggest mistakes, what we’ve lost, and how the city can recover.

There is an Auckland that once was. A better Auckland, ringed by a green belt, with blocks of flats climbing its harbour-facing slopes, and no tangle of motorways infesting the inner city. But for various accidents of history and national pathology, this Auckland might still exist. Yet, as urban historian Dr Chris Harris points out, despite being a highly urbanised society, New Zealand has preferred to view itself as a bountiful Arcadian wilderness where true identity and wealth reside not within the urban realm, but outside the city limits.

This is worse than a myth – it’s a lie. Yet it has underpinned the myriad wrong turns and planning disasters that have long betrayed Auckland’s potential and promise. Harris’ forthcoming book, Broken City, has a subtitle that sums its subject up: The Rise of the Motorway and the Fall of Auckland.


FINLAY MACDONALD I can’t drive across Grafton Bridge now without thinking sadly of the lovely verdant gully that used to exist beneath it, where the motorways now run. The lost Auckland.
CHRIS HARRIS Yes, and this is one of several lost histories or wrong turns. The funny thing is that there seems to be very little recollection of this, or awareness in general. It’s like all this has just vanished from the historical record.


All the more tragic given Auckland’s real advantages.
This topography of harbours and ridges and gullies lends itself very well to intensified development – flats up hillsides, the population congregating towards the harbour, where they can all get good views. And yet the image of Auckland that people have often had, and it’s definitely been promoted by the road builders, is a city which is vast and too sprawling for public transport to work. Too sprawling for there to be much interest in living in flats or town houses. In other words, the reality is a coastal riviera, and the image that has been promoted is an inland city on some imaginary flat plain.


And as you point out in your forthcoming essay The End of Arcadia, town houses and flats were a key part of early town plans – on those gully slopes looking towards the water.
This is the remarkable thing, and it dates back certainly to the very influential Town Planning Scheme Number One of 1939. That was never formally adopted because of the war and the general fragmentation of Auckland, and various bureaucratic issues. But it provided for the development of an arc of flats around the central city, much of it in the area where spaghetti junction eventually went. This aspect of the history has also been forgotten.

Southern Motorway 1963 looking north from what is now Princess Street Interchange. Source:

The Southern Motorway in 1963 at Bairds Road, Ōtara, when Auckland started to sprawl outward. “The image of Auckland that people have often had,” says Harris, “is a city which is too vast and sprawling for public transport to work.”

So why didn’t Auckland continue to develop in this way? What went wrong?


Full article:


The article is a sobering read on so much we have lost on but also the opportunities ahead!