The other park
With all the talk about the glamourous, expensive new Waitangi Park, it's been easy to forget that there's another park that's been under development in Wellington: Glover Park. Maybe that's partly because work on the revamp seemed to have stalled for months, and the controversy over the censored mural has long since died down, but today it finally had its formal opening.
The redesign isn't particularly radical, and the main emphasis has been on opening it up to the streets and remedying its previous gloominess by removing some trees, adding lighting and using light-coloured materials. It's currently lacking any sort of centrepiece or visual focus, but that's because there are still some "sculptural lighting structures" to come. I presume that the very crude wooden benches in the picture above are temporary placeholders until the lighting sculptures arrive.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of the redesign is the use of bright red paint on the street furniture. It's not the sort of colour that one usually associates with parks, but its been used liberally on bollards, tree protectors and lamp posts. The official reason for this is to be consistent with street furniture in Cuba Mall, but it's also a common colour on nearby buildings such as the Global Fabrics shop in the background of this photo. So this gets marks for contextualism, but it still looks a little bit Eighties, and not in a fashionable retro-glam-punk sort of way, but in a jolly-hockey-sticks municipal plaza sort of way.
Aesthetic debates notwithstanding, the main reason for the redesign was to make it safer and more appealing, and part of that requires attracting a critical mass of everyday users. Active edges have long been regarded as a pre-requisite of a well-used urban park, since they not only provide "eyes on the park" but ensure that there are always people coming and going. Apart from Zeal youth venue, Glover Park is bordered on two sides by blank walls and on the other sides by roads. As I've said before on WellUrban and on the Architectural Centre forums, it's widely regarded as a poor site for a park due to the lack of through traffic, sun and activities, so no matter how pretty it is as a park, it will always run the risk of being deserted except on the most clement days.
It's interesting to look at the Ghuznee St entrance to the park. The park opens up to the street like a funnel, which is the right sort of gesture. However, the tree planters are placed smack in the middle of the normal pedestrian path down Ghuznee St, so that passers-by have to make a slight southward detour towards the park. This looks suspiciously like an admission that there's no point in trying to attract people into the park, so we'll have to herd them into it!
I might be being too cynical, and I hope so. It would be great to see this become a popular place for hanging out, but my gut feeling is that unless a café or something similar opens up on the eastern edge of the park, or Garrett and Bute streets become more of a destination, it could easily slip back into its old reputation as being too dangerous and deserted for "mainstream" Wellingtonians to frequent. But in the meantime, the Cuba "quarter" already has a great open space that's popular, lively and reflects a sense of place: Cuba Mall.