Several times recently, I've mentioned a part of town that doesn't really have an official name, so I've referred to it just as "southeast Te Aro". This doesn't really strike me as satisfactory, since the part of the Te Aro flat that's east of Taranaki St has a very different feel to the Upper Cuba St precinct that most people think of as "Te Aro". The council's "downtown quarters" map places this in the "Courtenay Quarter", but you don't have to go far up Tory St to feel a long way from the beerholes and boy racers of Courtenay Place.
If I were a slimy real estate agent or lazy journalist in New York, I'd desparately try to come up with an acronym to market this precinct, along the lines of SoHo, TriBeCa, NoLIta and (shudder) MePa. Something along the lines of "SoCo", perhaps, for "South of Courtenay".
Thus far, most of what I've written about this district has concentrated upon what it lacks: green space, cocktail bars and bandwidth. For a long time, this has been something of a wasteland, with grey streets, temporary-looking buildings, State Highway 1 running through the middle and little to offer unless you're in the market for a muffler. But things are starting to change.
Perhaps the first sign was when Moore Wilson evolved from a wholesaler (and hidden Aladdin's cave for those who could wangle themselves an elusive card) into the supermarket of choice for inner-city dwellers. Caffe L'Affare was also a pioneer in the area, and was among the first in the city to offer fresh-roasted coffee and wireless internet access. Then the residential boom started, with some quality apartment and townhouse developments among the usual dross. A few bars and restaurants (Chow/Motel, Lone Star, Beau Monde, 88) have started making their way up Tory St. There are now signs of interesting shops appearing: Cameron in Holland St, Magnolia and Miss Wong in College St, and now 10 Haining St. But it still feels like a bit of a nowhere place: not quite Te Aro, just on the edge of Courtenay Place, a little way from Mt Cook and Mt Victoria, but not a memorable or cohesive neighbourhood.
It has some real strengths, many of which lie in what it lacks. The relative absence of characterful old buildings means that dense residential developments or new public spaces can potentially be created without altering an intimate streetscape or bulldozing a heritage site. There are a handful of galleries, rehearsal spaces and film companies, but relatively few compared to Te Aro proper, so not all developments have to drive out creative people. If the city can find a way to build on the vacant lots and big-box stores before knocking down the inhabitable old buildings, perhaps we can build a new neighbourhood here without driving out the people that currently give it a semblance of character.
So, what does this district need to become a real neighbourhood? Here are a few suggestions:
- Quality public spaces (I've previously outlined some possible candidates for these).
- A quality public realm (good paving, street trees, verandahs).
- Retention and strengthening of mid-block connections.
- Retaining and making the most of existing character buildings such as these between Frederick and Haining streets.
- Cohesive, consistent streetscapes, rather than oversized towers next to empty lots.
- Mixed use, with an emphasis on small independent shops rather than big box chains.
- Mixed income, with something inbetween student hovels and luxury apartments.
- A focal point, whether a lively shopping and entertainment street or a public space such as a park or square.
- A name. "SoCo" probably doesn't cut it, so let's have some suggestions!