As I said I would, I took a walk along the bypass on Saturday. I was too late to see the protests, but some of the protestors were still there chalking slogans on the pavements, and there a certain tension remained in the air.
There's a lot of things I don't like about the bypass, but the thing that struck me the most about it on the weekend is that it just doesn't look like Wellington. While supposedly "just a two-lane road", parts of "Karo Drive" are three to four lanes wide, and with empty sections on one side and small detached houses on the other, the approach to Victoria St looks as flat and bleak as any anonymous arterial road in the Hutt Valley. This is not an urban streetscape.
On the northern side, the relocated heritage buildings sit oddly along Karo Drive. The façades don't follow the curve of the road as the buildings in an inner city street should, but instead retain their original orientation and are set back in a staircase fashion, as shown on the map. This disrupts any potential sense of the street as a unified volume, and leaves a series of awkward, disconnected spaces that are unlikely to be successful as public space, especially once the bypass is full of roaring traffic. In fact, back towards the corner with Cuba St, the designers have dispensed with any pretense that this could be a proper street, and built a blank concrete wall to protect the cottages from the road noise.
So much for insisting upon active edges! How comfortable would it feel to walk along here, either at rush hour stuck between a hard wall and a torrent of traffic, or at night with no sense of human occupation?
At least on the other side of the wall there is a human-scaled cluster of cottages, safely away from the traffic: the bucolically-monikered "Tonks Grove". The buildings certainly look pretty, with plenty of shiny paint and white picket fences, and posters in the windows recount their historic uses. But there's a startling lacuna in that history: the writers have been quite happy to tell the tale of the settlers, a quaint and wholesome community of coal merchants and butchers, but they elide the more recent history. For instance, the written history of what is simply labelled "ex-272 Cuba St" stops before the 20th century, and without the pre-renovation photo there would be no way of telling that this was the Freedom Shop. The recent community of artists, anarchists and students has paid the price for their opposition: not only were they evicted from their homes and businesses, they've been evicted from history as well.
There's no visible indication of what sort of shops and residents will be moving in here, but the "For Lease" signs indicate that the market will drive the character of the streets. One new shop has already arrived, in Karo Drive itself just around the corner from Cuba. As yet it has no name, but it sells flowers, scented soaps and delicate embroidered thinggies. The proprietors have heard that the front shop will be a jewellers, and they plan to open a tea room on the carpark next door. Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Thorndon South.