Personal reflections on urbanism, urban life and sustainable urban design in Wellington, New Zealand.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Built-up beat up

Waterfront Watch often refer to those (such as me) who are in favour of a few more buildings on the waterfront as advocating a "built-up waterfront". An example is this letter from John Macalister. I've been trying to find a firm definition of "built-up", without success, but I think it's fair to say that most people would envision a built-up area as something like the CBD, with buildings covering most of the ground.

So just how "built-up" are the current plans for the waterfront? I put together a crude map to find out, and tried a bit of analysis. The first tricky part was deciding what counted as "open space". I decided to count it as anywhere that the public could freely roam without being "inside". Thus the space under verandahs, colonnades and cantilevers counted, as did elevated public ground (such as the southern half of Frank Kitts Park), but the open space within Te Papa's walls didn't. There are a few debatable areas (car parks, the helipad, wetlands and wharf cut-outs), but they're reasonably small and there will be some new pontoons to partly balance them out. Anyway, here's the map:

Map of Wellington waterfront showing current and proposed building footprints
Light green shows waterfront open space, black shows existing buildings, and red shows the proposed new buildings at Kumutoto, Taranaki Wharf and Waitangi. It's easy to see that open space will still dominate the waterfront, and even in the most built-up parts (such as Kumutoto and Queens Wharf) that it's less built-up than the CBD. Here's a graphical analysis:

Comparison of current waterfront open space vs proposals and CBD
The new buildings will take the waterfront from 74.5% open space to 70.3%. As a comparison, the CBD (I analysed the blocks east of Lambton Quay between Johnson and Grey streets) have only 36% open space, and most of that is road! I would also argue that the proposals result in more usable open space than there is now, because they break up some of the larger, inhospitable spaces into smaller, more intimate spaces with more edges.


At 9:10 PM, January 10, 2006, Blogger David said...

Breaking up the space also means it's less wind swept. There have been times when I've visited Wellington in the winter where the only place to sit in the sun and out of the wind has been the enclosed area at the city council.

At 10:01 AM, January 11, 2006, Blogger Tom said...

Yes, Civic Square works well because it's mostly surrounded by mid-rise buildings. Not only does it create a calm and sunny space, but there's a psychological sense of enclosure that feels comfortable, like an outdoor room. It still needs more activity after dark before it's a truly great space, but the planned music school should help with that.

It's not hard to design a successful public space: this page at the Project for Public Spaces shows some great examples. But Waterfront Watch seem to either ignore all the evidence about what makes a space popular, or they actually want the spaces to be unpopular (so that they're nice and quiet). There's also some very simplistic "zero-sum" thinking going on: they believe that if someone (developers or whoever) benefits from using some of the waterfront land, then "the public" must inevitably lose something.

At 3:33 AM, January 12, 2006, Blogger David said...

The problem I have with the waterfront is that it is divided from the rest of the city by a mini motorway. I'd almost be inclined to beef up the proper motorway to draw away all the through traffic, in the hope that the various Quays could be narrowed and calmed. Then you could reasonably integrate the two sides of the road.

Richard Rogers, IIRC, has proposed closing the Embankment road on the north side of the Thames in London, so that the city can flow in to a linear park/walkway/promenade, without several lanes of high speed traffic cutting the built up area from the river. It sounds like a great idea to me.

At 9:40 AM, January 12, 2006, Blogger Tom said...

The arterial roads along the quays certainly are a problem. If only we had the vision (and money) to do what Dusseldorf did and put the waterfront road underground.

But failing that, the council is planning to reduce the number of lanes on the Quays once the 'bypass' is done, since that will supposedly reduce the traffic along the waterfront. Personally, I'm not that optimistic, since I think the 'bypass' will induce extra traffic and there won't be much reduction. However, Jan Gehl's report suggests that it can be done, especialy if combined with reductions in the number of intersections and other improvements (median strips, trees) that signal to drivers that it's not a motorway.

The council has also purchased the parking building on the corner of Willeston St and Jervois Quay. There's been some talk of redeveloping it to form one side of a raised plaza across the Quay to the southern end of the events centre, but I haven't heard of any definite plans. It might work quite well, but I think the more desparate need is further north, somewhere between Queens Wharf and the Railway Station.

And yes, Rogers' idea would be fantastic. I wonder whether the feasibility of the idea has anything to do with the congestion charge, and whether it would work here?!?

At 10:34 AM, January 12, 2006, Blogger stephen said...

Good on you, Tom, for putting in the work and coming up with the numbers. Nice to see some sense in the storm of Waterfront Watch bullshit.

ps. mysterious verification 'word': nykkkwwi


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