Dude, where's my carpark?
Every time that I feel proud of Wellingtonians for being less car-dependent than their counterparts in other New Zealand cities, along comes a reminder that the hard-core vehicle addicts are still with us. Over the last couple of weeks, the controversy over Courtenay Park that first emerged back in June has been getting more attention from the media and some councillors.
Part of the argument is based on the idea that the council decided "not to consult the public about the park" (according to a Dominion Post article on the 14th of September). So I guess I must have been hallucinating when I made a submission on the council's website. And it's contradicted by the fact that after meeting with retailers, the council has backed down from the original plans to remove 6 carparks: the net loss is now a measly 3. I guess that "consulting the public" means "doing exactly what the noisiest complainers want", rather than "balancing the needs of different sectors of the public".
There have been some ridiculously histrionic comments along the lines that unless retailers have carparks directly outside (rather than 15 seconds walk away), they will go out of business. The fact that some of the private businesses involved (such as Medlab) are in the medical industry allows them to present themselves as hard-done-by "community facilities". It's possible that a small fraction of their customers may be too frail to walk that extra few metres, but it should be possible to create a rear entrance to the building on York St. The Architectural Centre's submission against the park (35kB PDF) was more balanced, based on design issues and whether this is the best location for such a park, though interestingly part of their opposition was due to the thought that moving traffic from the slip road to a new lane on Courtenay Place would encourage car use.
There was an interesting comment in a letter to the editor by one of the MedLab doctors: "We were told at a meeting with council officers that the city's long-term plan is to ban cars from Courtenay Place altogether and create a giant mall from Lambton Quay to Courtenay Place." Really? Woohoo! But as far as I'm aware, there's never been any public statement of such a goal, and it seems unlikely given the current council. The writer also seemed to think that an inordinate number of car parks have been removed from the city, so that deserved a reply:
Lorraine Smith (11 Sep) objects to council land being reclaimed from cars for public space, and wonders how many car parks have "been removed from the central city in the past five years". I don't know the answer, but one thing's for sure: it's no more than a drop in an asphalt ocean.
Wellington has over 15,000 central city car parks, an astonishing number for a city its size. Jan Gehl compared this to Copenhagen (2.1MB PDF), which was once as car-dominated as Wellington, but where "2-3% of inner city parking has been removed each year during the last ten years. Alongside the positive side effect of less traffic the road space has been used for cycle lanes and widened footpaths. At present the excess width of the Wellington streets is used for car parking. A better use is possible."
Courtenay Park would remove only 3 car parks: Wellington would have to create two such parks every week to match Copenhagen's achievement! This Friday is World Carfree Day: an appropriate time to point out that sunny public space on a popular street can be put to much better use than the storage of private cars.
In fact, the theme for this year's Carfree Day is "street conversions". It's too late to enter their design competition to convert road and parking space into lively, people oriented places, but they're encouraging people to put these plans into action. How wonderful it would be to see Wellingtonians do something like Rebar's PARK(ing) intervention, and take over one or more of the parking spaces as temporary public space! I've got a couple of folding chairs: if anyone has some potplants and readylawn, would you care to join me for a picnic in the (car)park?