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

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Courtenay space

The revamp of the western end of Courtenay Place is under fire again, but this time not because of the removal of car parks, but because of an alleged subsidy for the owner of the proposed bar. A story in Saturday's Dominion Post headed "Wine bar deal sees rent waived" tried to make the case that "Wellington ratepayers are in the booze business whether they like it or not".

But hold on a minute. As the article goes on to say, the proprietor of the bar will have to spend an estimated $600,000 to renovate the heritage toilet block and build an extension, and after ten years the ownership will revert to the council. In return, the council will waive the rent over that time, the total value of which is extimated to be less than a third of the renovation cost. So the proprietor still pays most of the cost and bears the risk: that sounds like the ratepayers come out pretty well from the deal.

The source of the "scandal" is Councillor Jack Ruben. Surprise, surprise. The article goes on to say "Supporting Mr Ferguson with ratepayers' money was wrong when families, inner-city residents and even Wellington Mayor Kerry Prendergast were looking for more green space in the CBD, Mr Ruben said". Leaving aside the fact that Ruben's original objection was to the loss of car parks rather than green space, and question of whether people are looking for "green space" or simply useful urban space in the right locations, it's worth looking at what the development of the square and wine bar will do for public space overall.

Graph of space allocation for new park/square in Courtenay PlaceThere's currently a bit over 500 sq m of public space, of which 32 sq m is taken up by the existing toilet block. By closing the slip road, the total space will be nearly doubled to just under 1000 sq m. In addition to the existing building, the wine bar will have a 70 sq m extension, and will take up a variable amount of outdoor space for seating: let's be generous and say 100 sq m. That still leaves a net increase of at least 250 sq m of extra public open space, a 50% increase on the current conditions. The actual effect on useable space will be much greater, since the space will flow into the existing footpath, allowing other businesses (such as Burger Fuel) to open out onto the square, or simply providing more pedestrian space.

What are the gains and losses overall? The city and public will gain:
  • over 250 sq m of pedestrian space
  • a heritage building restored at no cost to the public
  • some extra trees and grass
  • better pedestrian circulation
  • a nice new bar in a sunny location
And what will have been lost?
  • drivers will lose three carparks
  • Jack Ruben has lost his rag (again)
That last bit might seem a bit flippant, but here's another quote from the article:
"...Ruben was outraged that the council was helping to put another bar into an area already identified by police as having high alcohol-related crime."
That's right, an upmarket wine bar is obviously going to attract more hordes of Tui-chugging boy racers and RTD-sculling Supré slappers to Courtenay Place. Where other people can see a lively (though occasionally dodgy) nightlife scene, all that Cr Ruben and his fun police can see is a crime scene: they won't rest until the Golden Mile is nothing but car parks and children's playgrounds.


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