Access 4 Everyone (A4E) Means Well, But City Centre-Centric Focus Risk Alienating Sub Regions?

South and West Auckland have no identity to the Auckland City Centre. Does Not Mean the South is not Busy though…

This weekend, they’re putting a temporary barrier at the bottom of High St. From 10.30am each day, vehicles won’t be able to get in. A street festival will start up at midday in Freyberg Square. Cool music, food stalls, fun for kids, and all the retailers of High St, O’Connell St, Vulcan Lane and the rest of that little precinct out with their stalls. Kicking off the Christmas shopping season.
High time, right? High St will be packed with people, on foot, not trying to squeeze past the damn cars but, instead, having a great shopping and recreational experience. Come Sunday, the day of the Santa Parade, it will be even busier and even more fun.
Actually, sorry. None of that is
High St is the outstanding example of what goes wrong in Auckland when city planning isn’t done right. And now so much planning is under way, now the city centre is changing so much, it’s more important than ever to address the things that undermine the quality of what we get.

Simon Wilson: Auckland can be city of dreams – if we dare

That was the opening lines to Simon Wilson’s piece in the New Zealand Herald on making the City Centre accessible to everyone. That is why the latest in the long line of plans is called Access 4 Everyone (it is called that). 

The document is designed to complement the operative City Centre Master Plan 2012 (also being updated at the moment) in making the City Centre accessible to all. Well that is all very nice and laudable there is some snags: 

Those problems are not just external, like traffic. At council, they’re also internal. Council agencies that don’t work well together. A governing body that’s too weak, with too many councillors beholden primarily to their wards and not the city as a whole. Officials who are, far too often, risk averse. A planning process that has too often put good urban design – the organisation of spaces to achieve a range of people-focused goals – to one side, favouring instead the narrower values of engineering and accounting.
One example of that? Auckland Transport has KPIs (key performance indicators) to keep the buses moving, which is good. But they don’t have KPIs for trees in streets.
And running through all of this, it’s rare that Auckland planners, their consultant designers, their managers and the politicians they answer to, come up with genuinely great ideas andhave the skills to make them happen in reasonable time.
It does happen, for sure. You can’t look at Silo Park and North Wharf in the Wynyard Quarter and not admire the triumph of creative determination. But the executive who drove those projects lost his job. Too many good ideas, or something.

Green utility circle 

Council Officials being too conservative and Councillors beholden to Wards and not the Region have long plagued Auckland and will do so until reforms are passed to allow “at-large” Councillors to be elected. 

As for Council Officials, a terse debate has broken out over the much flawed Open Spaces Policy 2016 which has over reliance on large monolithic centralised parks everyone would need to drive to rather than more frequent smaller pocket parks everyone can walk to. 

For more on parks and Green Utility see: Urban Design, Urban geography and Green utility vs the City Budget. A #CitiesSkylines Lesson

But it is not Council Officials or flawed park policy that risks alienating the sub-regions of Auckland, it is the perceived City Centre-centric focus that will and has. 

Green utility smarter landscape Source: New York Times

Seven Suggestions For Auckland Council

It was the Seven Suggestions for Auckland Council written by Simon Wilson itself that raised an eyebrow for me. Mainly because the seven suggestions could be interpreted as focusing on the City Centre only even though some of the suggestions have been carried out in the sub-regions of Auckland (parklets and tactical urbanism in Papakura Metropolitan Centre for example). 

These interpretations could be founded (the bottom of the post reveals the clanger) especially after an article in a recent edition of Noted were looking at wanting to bring artists back to the City (Centre). My reply was the following:

How far would this City Centre-centric article resonate with “The City” – that is Auckland – the Auckland Region? My #urbangeography and #humangeography answer? Not very far at all. It would not resonate with Southern Auckland who do not attach identity to the City Centre but rather Manukau City Centre itself. North Shore would be Takapuna or AlbanyWest Auckland either one of its Metro Centres or the Waitakere Ranges itself. In a City diverse as Auckland failing to recognise the unique identities of its Sub Regions effectively erases those identities and alienates its population.

LinkedIn. Noted article: How to make Auckland a city of the future? Give it back to the artists

Looking at the Seven Suggestions by Simon Wilson lets see how we can apply them to the Sub-Regions of Auckland:

1. Try things on the cheap
Times Square in New York is the busiest urban space in the world and it used to be full of cars. But in 2009 they put up barriers in part of the square and created a plaza with deck chairs. It was temporary, a trial, and it cost almost nothing. Turned out the traffic managed just fine, the local businesses loved it and so did the public, who voted overwhelmingly to keep it. So, in stages, they started spending money to create a high-quality permanent public space, free from cars.

It’s called “tactical urbanism”: cheap, easy and temporary interventions that test an idea before you start spending money. If it doesn’t work you can modify it or simply call it off.
Tactical urbanism is a way of introducing disruption without destroying livelihoods and making stakeholders fearful. And it’s a way of generating support, because people can see the benefit.
I asked Campbell-Reid why they don’t do it here. He said Times Square was very expensive. In fact, although it cost US$55 million (NZ$81m) in the end, the trial was very cheap.

He said, “I agree it’s important to do whimsical things but they’ve got to be part of something else, or else why are we doing it?”
Later, he said, “Everyone says to me why don’t you close this or that, But you can’t just do it on a whim. The new masterplan gives us a plan.”
These things are true, but are they what the ADO does? It has a “Tactical Urbanism Kit”, which includes the coloured blocks and planters currently in place on a part of Federal St. The big coloured dots on Shortland St and Federal St are also examples of ADO’s “tactical urbanism”.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I love those dots and they seem to have made most drivers more cautious. But they are not disruptive. They don’t change the traffic flows and they are not part of a larger plan to change anything else. Even though they’re on the road right by the entrance to High St, they are whimsical.

ADO practises the tactical urbanism you do when you’re not really doing tactical urbanism.

That office, like Auckland Transport, Panuku and all the council agencies that do urban design, prefers to get the whole plan settled first. All the underground work, the expensive pavers, artworks and trees. Then they announce they’re going to spend many millions and are disappointed when there’s an outcry.

Simon Wilson: Auckland can be city of dreams – if we dare

I have seen tactical urbanism done in Papakura Metropolitan Centre done a few times a year now thanks to very determined Papakura residents who take pride of their Metro Centre. The City Centre does this as well but for the rest of the City, Metropolitan Centres and Town Centres this lacks entirely. 

As said above it does not need to be expensive but something simple as closing a non-arterial road off like Osterley Way in Manukau City Centre so you get a widened pedestrian space (especially if it links an open plaza to the wider urban geography of the area) or yes HIGH STREET can improve our urban experience immensely.

What Council needs to do is get Auckland Transport and Council Officials away from their Spreadsheets and Technical Manuals and allow the Local Boards to get on with tactical urbanism without all this hoop jumping. 

2. No more shared streets
Why are cars given 24-hour access to O’Connell St, Darby St, Jean Batten Place, Fort Lane, all of Fort St and Lorne St outside the library? Most of the cars there are just rat running, and they limit the potential of the streets and make them more dangerous for pedestrians.

Simon Wilson: Auckland can be city of dreams – if we dare

Bah Shared Spaces (sharing with cars) should be discouraged full stop inside an urban area. Pedestrians and outdoor activity having to share with instrusive cars in side streets defeats the purpose of high urban amenity. 

In Cities Skylines I have a large tendency to use pedestrian malls in my urban and suburban areas with the shared space road used rarely apart from linking a smaller transit station back to a main road. If “better” access is needed I have my alleyways and lane ways. 

When transit enters the mix cue transit malls where transit (light rail or busses) do mix with pedestrians and be done well. Queen Street would be great as a transit mall that can be done tomorrow, Ronwood Avenue in Manukau could have one side closed off and turned in a mall given either side is wide enough for two general lanes (with indented bays for bus stops). 

So again move away from the City Centre and start applying to the rest of Auckland.

3. Better consultation
It goes round and round forever and still people complain they weren’t consulted. Why not use the cheap-and-easy tactical urbanism approach, generate debate about it, refine the idea (or drop it) and only then spend the money?
Panuku, the council’s development agency, did a great thing in Takapuna this year, where there was very vocal opposition to their downtown plans. They surveyed the locals and, when the results showed two-thirds support for their plans, they resolved to press ahead. That’s the spirit.

Simon Wilson: Auckland can be city of dreams – if we dare

This is mixed given my eight years of experience with the Super City and there is no perfect answer to handle this one apart from consultation needs to be tailored to the respective sub regions. 

Panuku with Transform Manukau / #OurManukau made it their goal to be open with the community at all times and take on board ideas that come about from said community (see #4 below). Auckland Council is mixed with the Auckland Plan and Unitary Plan going either way although in the end things do get through. 

Auckland Transport still has a very long way to go with its consultation. Their attitude is we consult because it is a legality not because we have interest in what the community says. That said since the new CEO started AT have been much better with their consultation with somethings like Airport to Botany Rapid Transit being a good surprise. So work in progress AT. 

A2B plus 20connect Source: NZTA

4. Open the process to others
Nearly all the urban design changes that happen in Auckland arise out of the council and the firms they work with. But what happens if someone else comes up with a great idea?
The answer is: nothing. As both Archimedia and the Waterfront Consortium discovered this year when they proposed new uses for the wharves, including a waterfront stadium.

Proposals from the private sector to create a new university on the waterfront, and/or a high-tech medical precinct, have met the same fate.
In some parts of council they know this is a problem. Planning committee chair Chris Darby says, “We talk about being a welcoming place but we’ve got gates in place”.
He talks about wanting to see “creativity amplified” and listed the universities, the design community and mana whenua as sources of good ideas they don’t use well.
“I want to establish a process where we can have those inputs. If someone has a radical plan, we want to invite them into the process. Look at how it fits, does it kick our ideas on?”
It’s not at all clear how that’s going to happen, but it is clear that council itself is not the repository of all good thinking about the city.

Simon Wilson: Auckland can be city of dreams – if we dare

This one for me is inverse; that is opening the process to others has worked well in the sub-regions but gets nowhere fast when it comes to the City Centre or presenting to the Governing Body of Auckland Council. 

Again with Transform Manukau that was built on existing and historic public sector material as well as being open to ideas to the wider community. The Our Manukau group inside or rather attached to Panuku are charged with Place Making and advocacy inside the Transform Manukau / Our Manukau area. And boy they have been doing (and still are doing) an excellent job in both small scale placing making and acting as a conduit for outside input into the Our Manukau urban regeneration project. 

There is a similar happening in Papakura Metropolitan Centre with South 83 and there is also one being set up in Henderson. 

But when it comes to Auckland as a whole or the City Centre we run into issues. Outside input into the Auckland Plan should have long happened but getting three of our Metropolitan Centres into Nodes is a start on focusing to the sub-regions. 

The Waterfront Stadium idea is the opposite in an outside input not doing its homework with the sub-regions to see how the idea would be received as a minimum. 

With ‘Open Process to Others’ it needs to be better managed and tailored to the respective sub regions. 

Panuku on Manukau (Panuku also reads the blog) Source: High Level Project Plan presentation to Auckland Council

5. Use events as opportunity
They closed part of Queen St for Diwali this year and it was magnificent: the street filled with people dancing. They don’t close it for the Auckland Arts Festival, but the potential is immense. Imagine if the festival and the council worked together on a plan to transform central city streets for a fortnight?
Those disruptive opportunities are good in themselves, and they also point to the future. If you can do it for Diwali, maybe you can do it more often?

6. Use disruption as opportunity
It’s such a cliche but it’s true, and often ignored. The rule of thumb for council agencies is that if you dig up a street you should restore it the way it was. That’s bad. They should take the chance to restore it better, to reflect future use and potential.
The council is starting to grasp this. Goff says with the Government proposing to dig up Queen St for light rail, it’s the “perfect opportunity to make that street something special”.
But there’s a long way to go, and they’ve missed a trick with CRL construction.
Why don’t we have a big viewing gantry above the intersection of Albert St and Customs St so we can eat our lunch peering into the trenches and watching the work?
Why doesn’t the council do more to help disrupted businesses, with better signage, easier access to shops, market stalls and more?

Simon Wilson: Auckland can be city of dreams – if we dare

These speak for themselves especially if we empower the Local Boards better to hold events more. 

As for disruption? I have one Airport to Botany Rapid Transit line that has started formal consultation processes that will (the Line itself) present the perfect time for some disruption and shake up the urban geography along its corridor. That corridor includes industrial, residential and commercial areas as well as two Metropolitan Centres. We also have City Centre to Mangere Light Rail that will present the perfect time to shake things up in Mangere and Onehunga too. 

There is disruption opportunities outside the City Centre – one just has to engage them to implement them!

K Road future. Source: Auckland Council

7. Do it everywhere
The city centre is important but so are the other centres. The council knows this, and has work in various stages of planning and construction for many other centres, including Otahuhu, Henderson, Manurewa, Browns Bay and Takapuna.
It’s vital they keep that highly publicised. Auckland is not just for the denizens of downtown and some ward councillors get antsy when they think that’s where all the energy’s going.

Simon Wilson: Auckland can be city of dreams – if we dare

And right on cue Simon Wilson delivers the message: DO IT EVERYWHERE!

As I said at the top the Access 4 Everyone paper is City Centre-centric and could risk alienating the four sub-regions (The South, The West, the North and the Isthmus).

But Simon has it right in doing it everywhere and for the most part Council tries and will be more able to do so with a support Central Government. But Council needs to keep things like Airport to Botany, and the Panuku programs well publicised to demonstrate to the sub-regions they are not forgotten. 

The South is busy at the moment to the point very busy with various projects underway keeping out attention squarely focused here. Whether it be City Centre to Mangere Light Rail, Airport to Botany Rapid Transit, the Eastern Busway, Our Manukau, The Southern Initiative, Unlock Papatoetoe or Structure Planning between Papakura to Pukekohe. All these projects should be publicised loudly (if not already done so) given they would qualify for Simon’s DO IT EVERYWHERE mantra. 

Otherwise we fall into the trap of City Centre projects being highly publicised and the sub-regional populations being alienated as they think where is my stuff when that stuff is already being provided (just not known). 

An alienated population = projects not advancing – Access 4 Everyone not becoming reality!

Could this be Manukau Station Road? Light Rail, general lanes, separated cycle way