Parks vs parking
Thanks to Simon Bush-King, designer of the new Courtenay Place park, for his comments clarifying my detailed questions. Many of us will be glad to hear that yes, the narrow footpath between the north edge of the park and the road will be widened, and the awkward bollards removed. The rapid development of the plans means that the artist's impression on the council website is a bit out of date. The definitive layout (though still open to public feedback) is shown on the PDF map (151kB), which I've also reproduced below.
You'd think that this would be fairly uncontroversial, since everyone likes open space, right? But now the cry has gone up: "where are my carparks!?!". The Capital Times has a straightforward informative article, followed immediately by one headed "...not one happy retailer". Apparently, it's too much of a hassle to visit an optometrist or internet café unless you can park right in front.
As well as the car parks, there's the worry that the public space might actually be used by the public. And that some of the public don't have homes. The optometrist is quoted as saying "Creating bigger recreational parks will only add hobos to these places, which puts off shoppers". Right. How dare public space be used for anything other than spending money! The bike shop manager also joked that "the council have even drawn Blanket Man in the plans". Hasn't he noticed that Blanket Man now spends most of his time, not in a "recreational park", but on a narrow section of Courtenay Place that's right next to the traffic? The evidence is on Wikipedia.
This called for a rant! So I sent a little letter off to the Capital Times, covering the parking issue more than the "hobo" one:
It's good to make the city accessible for people of all physical abilities, but is there such an epidemic of mobility disabilities that most people are no longer able to walk half a block?I have a modicum of sympathy for the bike shop owner, as I imagine that a fair bit of their custom comes from people bringing in broken bikes for repair, and dragging one of those for a block would be a pain. And probably a large number of their customers aren't the "sustainably biking to work" type of cyclist but "strap a $5000 mountain bike to the back of an SUV and drive it to the top of a hill once a fortnight" types instead. But do optometrists' customers feel the strain of lugging their bifocals around the corner to the carpark? Should they even be driving if they have to get new glasses? I noticed that Burger Fuel and Herbal Heaven didn't complain: perhaps their customers have consumed enough calories and/or BZP to be full of energy and not mind the walk. And does an internet café really need parking? I thought they were used mostly by backpackers and students?
According to your article (15 June), it's far too much trouble for customers to visit a bike shop, optometrist or internet café unless they can park right outside. I wonder how these shops currently cope with more than one customer at a time? Anyway, there are bus stops right next door, and with any luck, light rail in the future.
I welcome even such small gestures towards reclaiming public space from cars, in contrast to other council policies (such as the bypass) that have favoured vehicles ahead of people. The enhanced park will remove a mere six of 15 car parks in the vicinity, out of over 15,000 parks in the central city. Copenhagen, a much larger city than Wellington, has only 3000 parks! [page 12 of Gehl Report - 2.1MB PDF] Thanks to their policy of gradually replacing parking with public space [Appendix 1 of Gehl Report - 135kB PDF], Copenhagen's public life has vastly improved. Courtenay retailers might even find their own custom picking up once the cars are gone, as happened when Cuba Mall was created at retailers' request.
And finally, while I don't usually want to see current businesses driven out by new developments, I have to ask whether these are really the most appropriate ground floor tenants for Courtenay Place. Perhaps in time they will move to adjacent streets that are currently lacking in ground floor activity (such as Taranaki St), and in their place we'll have new cafés and restaurants that can make the most of being adjacent to a popular public square.