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

Friday, June 30, 2006

Mystery bar number 33

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After a bit of prompting, and some rather lame clues from me ("it has something in common with Sandwiches"), David identified the previous mystery bar as Toast on the Terrace. It's a pleasant enough café that's known for good brunch, and it makes a fairly half-hearted attempt at being an after-work bar for the suity crowd on Thursdays and Fridays. It's reasonably stylish, but in a minimalist way that's now quite redolent of the 90s.

Mystery bar #33 - the barToday's mystery bar also recalls the 90s. The 1890s, that is. There's lots of dark, masculine wood, lofty ceilings and reminders of the past. The walls are lined with caricatures of loyal former habitués, and the occasional dead animal. The atmosphere is generally not one of raucous inebriation but of calm and sobriety. At least, it was until our party turned up.

Mystery bar #33 - stuffed deer headWhen I say "masculine", you might get the impression that it would be ideal for a stag party, but you'd be wrong - the only stag in sight was stuffed and mounted. It's a bit more exclusive than that, though certainly much less exclusive than it used to be, and there are dark tales of licentious behaviour in the past that had to be severely punished. The wine list was reasonable, and the food, though not quite up to the "fine dining" standard that it claims, was delicious and more inventive than one might expect. The perfect place for a Martini, wouldn't you think? Alas, no, for they had no Vermouth. At least the young and enthusiastic staff were willing to try, and apologised effusively for the lack of ingredients.

This place has almost all the ingredients to straddle the difficult divide between the traditional and the contemporary, and with a bit more work could achieve a wonderful blend of old world luxury and modern quality. But at the moment, it's not quite there.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Movable feasts 2: glut or gluttons?

As I mentioned in my oral submission to the waterfront development subcommittee, I can't agree with Waterfront Watch's continued assertions that there are already enough restaurants on the waterfront. Pauline Swann even made an off-the-cuff comment in her submission that Wellington as a whole has too many restaurants already, and that for every new place that opens, another one closes. It's true that we had a spate of closures at the beginning of the year, but it looks like a lot of them are now reopening. This seems an opportune time for an update of the map I made nearly a year ago showing openings and closures in the hospitality industry.

Here's my new map, showing changes since August 2005. Red dots show new restaurants, bars or cafés, where "new" means that the place is either open or just about to open, and that last year the space was either empty, non-existent or used for non-hospitality purposes. Blue dots show closures, by which I mean that there's no sign of it reopening in the near future. Purple shows places that closed in the last year, but look set for reopening soon. I've omitted anything that closed and reopened during the year, or opened for only a brief period.

Restaurant, bar and cafe changes in Wellington 2005-2006: red for new, blue for closed, purple for pendingSo, there are only three places that closed for good, and one of them (Neat) is recent enough that it's hard to tell how long it will stay vacant. By contrast, there are twenty new places! I'm being fairly broad in my definition here, including shops that now double as cafés (Tamarillo, Meat on Tory, Offbeat Originals) and a few places that are predominantly takeaway joints (Burger Fuel, Kaffee Eis). That's a net increase of 17 over the last year alone, so it looks like the market's still there for new ventures. Add that to nearly 30 new venues on my earlier map covering previous years, and it looks like there's a continuing demand for eating out.

How does Wellington support all this activity when it hassn't been growing all that rapidly? The secret is that most of the growth is happening downtown. The provisional census figures confirm that Lambton and Te Aro have been the fastest-growing parts of the city over the last 5 years, with an extra 4000 residents. If you look back over the last ten years, Wellington City has only grown by 23,000, but nearly half of that has been in the CBD and inner residential neighbourhoods (such as Thorndon, Mt Cook and Mt Vic). For all of these people, eating out is going to be much more convenient than for people living further out. I'd also suggest (with nothing but anecdotal evidence, though it seems fairly obvious) that the sort of people who move into the inner city are those who drink and dine out much more than the national average.

Recent projections indicate that a further 3000 people are expected to move into the central city in the next 2-3 years. I tried to calculate what that would mean for the hospitality market in an earlier post, but perhaps we can extrapolate from the past 5 years. If 4000 extra residents supported over 45 new food and drink outlets, then 3000 should justify over 30 extra cafés, bars, restaurants and clubs! Of course there have been other factors, such as increased tourist and office population, as well as socioeconomic and cultural changes, but I think that if the move to inner-city living continues as expected, then there's room for a few more restaurants yet to enliven the waterfront.

For reference, here are the names of the places on the map above, listed from north to south. If I've missed anything, please let me know.

Opened (red)
Mojo Summit
Gloria Jean's
Midland Sushi
Fuel Waring Taylor St
One Red Dog Kumutoto
Green Room
Centre of Gravity
Kaffee Eis Frank Kitts
Tamarillo (now sells coffee and food)
St Johns (opening in August)
Crazy Horse
Siem Reap (Dixon St)
Offbeat Originals (now sells coffee and food)
Meat on Tory
ex-Svago (work has started)
Burger Fuel
Milk Crate
ex-Roxburgh (opened last night)
Mojo Cambridge Tce

Closed (blue)
Bar 155

Pending (purple)
ex-Bouquet Garni
ex-Diva (Boss Bar)
ex-Taste Buds
ex-Beau Monde
Il Casino (closed for refurbishment)

Hotel reservations

As I alluded to on Tuesday, the regional council's report on the Queens Wharf Hilton proposal recommends that the application be declined. Yesterday's Capital Times article states that "Greater Wellington believes building a hotel on the site" would contravene various acts and plans. Actually, that's not quite what the decision says: there are many specific and quite significant aspects of the present proposal that make it inconsistent with those acts and plans, but Greater Wellington has no objection to a hotel per se, and if certain modifications were made the decision could be reconsidered.

I don't blame the reporter for not reading the full report (1.6MB PDF), since it's 262 pages long! However, most of that consists of technical appendices and submissions, and it's quite clear in the conclusion of the main report that the hotel itself is not being rejected. On page 64, it says:
There are a number of specific fundamental aspects of this particular hotel proposal that causes the proposal, as submitted, to be inconsistent with the relevant planning documents and inconsistent with Part II of the RMA.

This is not to say that there is any inherent problem with a hotel development on the existing Shed 1 site on the Outer T of Queens Wharf [my emphasis]; however, there are some challenges due to the location that need to be satisfactorily addressed. At this stage, based on the information provided to date, I am not satisfied that the application does this.

On this basis, I consider that this application should be declined unless the outstanding matters summarised in section 13.3 of this report and repeated below can be adequately addressed by the applicant.
What are these outstanding matters? Here's a summary:

Rendering of proposed Queens Wharf Hilton, with areas of concern from the regional council report
And here are the details (from page 44).

A. The need to reconsider the design for the wharf area between the tunnel exit and the hotel entrance, in order to provide for pedestrian priority.

As I wrote previously, there will be a traffic tunnel from the existing Queens Wharf underground carpark to a spot just south of Dockside, thus avoiding the main north-south pedestrian promenade along the waterfront. But in the area between the tunnel and the hotel, "the proposed absence of road markings delineating vehicle areas from pedestrian areas is not considered satisfactory" (p40). This doesn't sound insurmountable, and indeed "with some further design and/or suitable evidence in relation to the layout of the wharf area between the hotel and the tunnel exit, these effects may be acceptable, subject to conditions". Those conditions include restricting servicing access to non-peak times, requiring coaches to unload by the Museum and that all light vehicles must use the tunnel.

B. The need to redesign and then carry out further wind tunnel testing of the southern end of the building to address pedestrian wind effects and the design of the building entrance.

In my previous analysis (based upon a quick reading of wind analyses in the application), I said that "in a couple of wind directions there will be a slight increase around a couple of corners, but the overall effect will be to create more shelter than Shed 1 does now". It turns out that the increases would be significant enough in certain conditions for them to be a worry. This report says that "the proposed development reduces wind speeds in all positions around the site, except for the southern end of the building where it causes increases during southerlies" (p39). These could be dangerous at times, and "the building requires modification to appropriately resolve this issue". The report suggests several possible modifications, including a combined setback and horizontal canopy at the southern end, which the writer says "will have some economic impacts for the developer, but I consider this is essential for mitigating the adverse effects". If the developer isn't willing to forgo a bit of profit to avoid such a public impact, then I'd agree that the proposal shouldn't go ahead.

C. The need for structural redesign of the proposal, such that continued berthing of large vessels on Queens Wharf is possible (without vibration impacts) in order to achieve consistency with the Wellington Waterfront Framework.

Most Wellingtonians would hate to lose the possibility of berthing large cruise ships and naval vessels here: it's a vital part of what makes the location unique. Without modification, though, the results of these ships banging against the wharf would be incompatible with a hotel. This is potentially the most significant of all the issues, and the applicants look like they've tried to avoid the problem by restricting the mooring of large vessels. However, the report suggests three structural remedies involving "mooring dolphins", fendering, piles and other great nautical terms, and recommends "the isolation of the hotel from the eastern (as well as southern) side of the wharf and additional strengthening of the eastern side of the wharf, adequate to enable continued berthing" (p31) as the most straightforward option. This sounds expensive, but again, if the developers won't bear the cost of this, ratepayers shouldn't either.

D. The need to redesign the service penetrations (pipes, exhausts and lift overrun) on the building to address urban design concerns.

This is an aesthetic issue, based upon advice from the Technical Advisory Group (TAG) that "Service penetrations proposed through the centre of the roof are unacceptable. They compromise treatment of the roof as the building's 'fifth elevation'. This is a significant issue because the site is overlooked by high-rise buildings. TAG recommends either that these penetrations be eliminated or that the location and design of roof top services be comprehensively reconsidered" (p3 of Appendix 5). That sounds fair enough, and I hope there's a way to resolve the problem architecturally.

E. The need for the proposed jetties and associated timber inserts to be deleted to achieve consistency with the Wellington Waterfront Framework.

This is actually the opposite of what the Capital Times and Dominion Post articles seemed to imply. The proposal added low-level jetties on the north and west sides of the wharf, intended to increase public space while allowing people to get closer to the water. But this is actually contrary to the Waterfront Framework because it "domesticates" the wharf by softening its hard industrial nature, requires cutting into the historic wharf, and prevents medium-sized vessels from mooring. The report thus calls for these to be removed from the proposal, and in fact the applicant ahs already indicated that they're happy with that change.

F. The need to reconsider the use of concrete paving and rails in certain parts of the public space design, as detailed in the TAG report.

This seems fairly minor and easy to modify. TAG thought that some of the details of the public space upgrades were "fussy" and inconsistent with both the wharf's history and the rest of the waterfront.

G. The need for adequate design details, materials and finishes (including a sample board) in respect of key building and public space details to be submitted upfront, to establish whether an iconic building will be achieved.

This was based upon the reasoning that since the building isn't going for a flashy "Bilbao effect" approach to being iconic, it will have to achieve it via being a high-quality, well-designed straightforward building in an iconic location. The report has decided that there's not enough detail in the application to determine the quality of the finishes and materials. In particular, they want more information on "details, materials and finishes associated with: decks, accessways, windscreens, rails, ramps and canopies ... the ground floor east façade and use of the adjacent promenade; and ... the prominent northern and southern end of the building, including the external stair towers" (p38). Without knowing more about that, they can't assess whether the result will be of a high enough quality, and thus can't say that it meets the framework's requirements.


Phew! That's quite a lot of objections, and there are also many strict conditions (Appendix 9) about acoustic insulation, construction management and vehicle access, which is exactly as it should be. But only points B and C are potential showstoppers, and if the developer is not willing to comply with those then we definitely should reject this proposal. But none of this quite adds up to the "slap" that the Capital Times describes it as, nor does it reject the concept of a hotel on the outer T. In fact, on page 28 of the District Planning report (Appendix 1) it says "I consider the concept of a hotel on this site is sound". I still have my own reservations about the design, and I still hope that a suitable alternative site for the indoor sports can be found, but when the much-delayed consent hearings start on Monday, it will be interesting to see what modifications the applicants come up with and whether they are enough to satisfy the regional council's concerns.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Give peace a chance

Peace City posters in WellingtonFollowing yesterday's Dominion Post article about the unenthusiastic reaction from councillors and other worthies to calls for Wellington to be dubbed "Peace City", these posters sprung up almost instantaneously. The use of quotations certainly makes the speakers sound like crusty Reagan-era hawks (Peace "outdated and unnecessary" - Councillor John Morrison), but on the other hand ... Peace City?! It does sound rather kaftanesque, and it's hard not to read the posters in a Rik Mayall voice: "Is peace boring? Is equality boring? Shut up you fascist Tories!" It also confuses the established "Absolutely Positively Wellington" brand, and like the "Safe City" tag it would be a gift to smug idiots like Michael Laws (though calling Wellington "the most boring city on the planet" is a bit rich coming from the mayor of Wanganui). And what gives Wellington any special claim to title of "Peace City" among all the cities in the world?

But no, this is just another example of "quality print journalism". If you actually read the proposal (64kB PDF), it's clear that there's no intention to rebrand Wellington as the "Peace City", just to declare us a peace city. As the proponents point out, this is part of a UNESCO-sponsored movement to get cities to declare their commitment to promoting "peaceful relationships among people of all ages, at all levels, through education, research and action". As the proposal suggests, much of this is already compatible with stated council outcomes such as "people are encouraged to participate in community networks" and "the city values and celebrates the arts of a wide diversity of cultures", so what's the harm? Already, cities such as Christchurch and Hutt City have joined the movement, and who would call them boring? Oh, right.

Peace out.


Last night I went to the Waterfront Development Subcommittee meeting to give an oral submission. The phrase "oral submission" sounds like something you have to pay extra for at Madame Lash's House of Discipline, and indeed the whole process seems to require a predilection for masochism. The meeting was less acrimonious than the previous one, largely due to the absence of a certain Councillor, but I can see why I was the only one to make a positive submission in person, despite the written submissions being evenly split. The only ones who would put themselves through such an ordeal are those who are implacably opposed, or not of sound mind, or both. And, of course, those of us who are passionately committed to the future of our city and willing to sacrifice good drinking time on behalf of those who are too busy or sane to go through the process themselves!

The main items on the agenda were the Overseas Passenger Terminal (OPT) proposal and the updated draft Waterfront Development Plan (398kB PDF), with the changes that I outlined earlier. The Queens Wharf Hilton was not specifically up for discussion, and anyway I'd only just read the relatively surprising news that the regional council has recommended against that application, and I'll need to read their report (1.6MB PDF) in detail before discussing that further. In addition to the usual Waterfront Watchers, there were many submissions by berth-holders at Chaffers Marina who had genuine concerns about access. It seems that they had bought berths with the understanding that they would each get a dedicated carpark, but the legal status of those is a bit fuzzy and the proposal only has a limited number of parks for marina servicing. Wellington Waterfront Ltd is in negotiation with the berth-holders to find a workable compromise that is adequate for their needs without surface parking dominating the public spaces.

I certainly want the marina to remain viable, both for the marina users' sake and for the diversity and character of the waterfront, but one irate submitter demanded a situation that sounds utterly repellent for pedestrians. He spoke glowingly of Seaview and Mana marinas, which not only had a permanent carpark for every berth but hundreds of casual carparks! I really don't think that Seaview or Mana are attractive models for an inner city waterfront.

Anyway, I modified my submission to include brief responses to that submitter and some others, but otherwise it was pre-prepared. I didn't write much about the OPT as such, but concentrated on the changes in the development plan and reiterated the reasons why I support an urban waterfront. Here it is, with some added links and comments:


I agree with Ron England that reporting by triple bottom line would be a good thing. It's worth pointing out that one reason why Wellington has a low ecological footprint for its size is that it has a relatively high-rise high-density inner city.

Also, contrary to claims that the OPT area already has enough restaurants, this is part of the biggest restaurant [and Martini!] gaps in the CBD. There is currently only one waterfront restaurant between Queens Wharf & Oriental Parade!

Waitangi Park is a great example of contemporary landscape architecture and is wonderfully detailed, but I fear that it will not reach its full potential unless the complementary buildings are completed as planned. I hear a lot of comments about the park, both online and in person, and none of them express a need for more open space. If anything, there is too much open space, and the current lack of shelter, intimacy and vertical elements gives it a sense of barrenness. Just allowing the open spaces to flow amorphously around the corner of Chaffers Dock wouldn't actually provide the public with more usable space, but using buildings to define public spaces with a range of shapes, styles and characters will do.

It's interesting to look at the change in use of the park since the end of the Arts Festival. The only time the lawn was even close to being packed was during the Fat Freddy's Drop concert, and that was when much of the lawn was used by tents and stages, and the graving dock and wind gardens were still blocked off. Back then, the festival club bar and Earth from Above exhibition brought activity at night. Everyone loved the Les Arts Sauts tent, even though it was bigger, closer and more closed-off that the planned UN studio building.

Since then, even on reasonably pleasant weekends I'd say that only about 10% of park visitors venture onto the grass, and the rest stick to the skatepark, playground or promenades: precisely the elements that some people deride as "too much concrete". All of this tells me that there's enough open green space, and what the area needs is not more space but the variety, shelter and activity that the planned buildings would bring. There are some parts of the city that need more open public space, but not the Waitangi Precinct.

I'm surprised by criticisms of the plan to move the Chinese Garden to Frank Kitts Park, since this was asked for by the Chinese community [for Feng Shui and symbolic reasons as well as practicalities] and seems like a better location for it in any case. One submitter claimed that Frank Kitts Park is too small and well used to fit the Chinese Garden, but that doesn't match reality. At a rough estimate, I'd say that only 15-20% of the park's area would have to be converted to create a garden the size of the one planned for Waitangi. Apart from the playground and promenade, the park is sparsely used and is only full when there are organised events, which would work better at Waitangi Park anyway. Often I've seen more people around the relatively built-up parts of Queens Wharf than in the whole of Frank Kitts Park. There are some good bits of the park, such as the amphitheatre and playground, but it's looking rather dated and was built with the assumption that it had to be protected from the waterfront car race. It can only benefit from a thorough redesign that engages with the water and the rest of the waterfront.

Waterfront Watch's submission quotes Jan Gehl as saying that there needs to be more green space and that new buildings should only be two or three storeys. I wasn't here for his talk, but that's inconsistent with his final report.

On page 57 (204kB PDF) he says "Given the large spaces along the water's edge there are plenty of opportunities to introduce dwellings, retail outlets and cultural institutions along the water." On the next page he shows examples from Auckland, Malmo and Perth to demonstrate that "a level of intimacy has been achieved … where the presence of residents and a multitude of people orientated activities … create a lively and safe environment." The accompanying images show buildings of four to seven storeys.

When quoting Gehl's advice, it's worth bearing in mind that his best-known book is called "Life between buildings", not "Life without buildings".

He has also consistently shown that the archenemy of urban public space is not well-designed buildings but cars. In Copenhagen he has shown the advantages of gradually reclaiming roads and carparks as pedestrian space, and he provides plenty of local examples where we have the same potential. How ironic, then, that many of the self-styled defenders of "open space" are also quick to decry the lack of car parking!

I realise that existing users such as the marina require some parking for loading, but the last thing we need is an inner-city waterfront that resembles exurban nightmares like Seaview or Mana. I urge you not to be swayed too much by those who think that fit young rowers can't walk a few metres from Cable St [a dispute that looks to have been resolved satisfactorily for both parties] or that surface carparks count as valuable public space in danger of "privatisation". Keep on with your vision for an urban waterfront with enough activity to attract people out of their cars to the water's edge.

Monday, June 26, 2006


I didn't go to the Save the Trolleys meeting yesterday, partly because I'd run out of time and energy, but mostly because it was already redundant. On Saturday, the Dominion Post reported that the regional council and Land Transport NZ had got their act together and sorted out a funding agreement to keep the trolleys running.

Prototype trolley bus, from Greater Wellington Regional Council websiteNot only that, but the trolleys will be completely refitted, along the lines of these prototype trolleys that have been on our streets for a couple of years. Most of the problems that critics of the trolley system didn't like were due to the age and poor condition of the old buses themselves, rather than the concept: they are slow, cramped, grotty, inaccessible and vulnerable to dewiring and power cuts. As the DomPost article and the regional council's website point out, the refurbished trolleys will:
  • be faster;
  • have 51 seats rather than 40;
  • be refitted with decent seats;
  • have low floors and wheelchair access;
  • have redesigned poles (to halve the incidence of dewiring); and
  • include auxiliary diesel power to get them out of the way if there's a power cut.
That only leaves two downsides to the trolleys: "visual pollution" from the wires and inflexibility of route. I addressed both these issues earlier, but here's a quick summary.

Whether or not the wires are unsightly is a matter of opinion, and personally I've never minded them. There are much more beautiful cities (such as Rome, Vienna and Amsterdam) that are full of tram wires, and you rarely hear people complaining about them. Besides, Wellington's a messy, busy, eclectic city full of signage, contrasting architecture, advertising hoardings and other visual clutter. It's part of what I love about this place, and a few wires hardly seem out of place among all that. And if it's a choice between wires and diesel fumes, I know which I'd choose.

As for inflexibility, I see that as a benefit rather than a problem: you can choose a home based upon proximity to a trolley line and have reasonable certainty that the line won't be moved in a hurry. That's not the case with a bus route, which can be changed upon the whim of the bus operators.

It looks like the only potential barrier now is Commerce Commission approval. Apparently, they are concerned that Stagecoach will have a monopoly on the trolley bus market. Do passengers really care? I'd have thought that most people would rather have a single, straightforward, integrated transport system than a plethora of private operators with incompatible timetables and ticketing. Let's hope that "free market" ideology doesn't get in the way of providing high quality, sustainable infrastructure.

Friday, June 23, 2006


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Mystery Bar #32 - the barThere haven't been many attempts to guess the current mystery bar, and I'm starting to build up a backlog of mystery bars! Even my attempt to drop hints on the Wellingtonista didn't help, so here are a couple of extra photos to help you identify it. The clues so far:
  • small
  • moderately upmarket
  • more café than bar
  • minimalist decor
  • not open on Saturday nights
  • claim to offer cocktails, but don't train their staff
  • has something in common with Sandwiches
Does that help?

Mystery Bar #32 - stairs and mirror

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Back on track: rants and raves

There's a lot going on regarding transport at the moment. First of all, if you believe that shutting down the trolley buses is a bad idea, then there's a public meeting at 3pm this Sunday to discuss what to do about it. Where? At the Aro Valley Community Hall, of course.


The northern corridor study is a very complex issue, and I don't have the detailed technical knowledge to debate some of the important issues that have come up in the comments. Libertyscott argued that light rail vehicles would never be allowed to run on lines other than the Johnsonville line, as they would then have to share the tracks with heavy trains, and that the costs would be prohibitive for the Johnsonville line alone. While he's correct that mixing light and heavy rail is not common overseas, another commenter said that it does happen, and there are at least six cities now using the so-called Karlsruhe model. I need to do some more research on this, and questions of priority in the CBD, before responding more fully, but for now I just want to make sure that the light rail option stays in the public eye and is taken seriously.

So, I wrote a letter to the Dominion Post in response to their (apparently) neutral article on the study, and took the chance to also correct the inaccurate figures that they published in an earlier article about regional public transport spending.
It's heartening to read that light rail is being considered for the Johnsonville line (June 17). Wellington's railway network is one of our greatest assets, and light rail is the only option that not only maintains the ageing infrastructure but addresses its main limitation: that it stops just short of the CBD. Extending through the streets to Courtenay Place would encourage many more commuters to switch to this clean and space-efficient mode.

The most short-sighted option is the one that you describe as "upgrading bus services and encouraging walking and cycling". That sounds environmentally friendly, but in reality it means abandoning the Johnsonville line. As a cycle or walking track, the corridor would hardly be a serious option for commuters, who would switch to buses or cars with an inevitable increase in congestion and pollution. The flow-on effect to the CBD is why even those outside the northern suburbs should take an interest, and why the costs should not be seen in isolation.

Also regarding public transport funding, your article of June 12 ("Commuters face levy for $2b upgrade") is not quite accurate. Much of that is for normal operations, and less than $1.4b is for actual upgrades.
I haven't responded to the "busway" option yet, again because the details are complex, but from what I've read they have consistently failed to attract the same level of ridership that light rail can deliver.


On the subject of (alleged) alternative transport modes, Richard Boag kindly offered to give me a presentation on the ULTra "pod" system that he's promoting. I've been too busy to visit him for a presentation yet, but in the meantime I thought that the Wellingtonian article called for a reply. Since I (like all of the public) haven't seen the detailed proposal yet, I kept my letter measured yet sceptical, and concentrated on correcting the (mis)quote about Wellingtonians thinking that public transport is 'for losers':
Whether Urban Light Transport (ULTra) technology (June 8) itself is feasible (and as an untested system, that is doubtful), it seems a poor fit for Wellington's needs.

The proposed CBD track wouldn't improve capacity or convenience from the suburbs into the city, as commuters would have to change from train or bus to use it. A single loop would also miss the main benefit claimed by ULTra: that pods will be able to deliver passengers to their destination without changing lines. An extensive suburban network might conceivably provide that benefit, but would cost vastly more than the (probably conservative) $50 million estimated. Extending the existing rail corridors as street-level light rail through the CBD is a much more appropriate solution.

Of course the proposal should be independently assessed, but there's an aspect of your article that disturbs me. I hope Mr Boag was misquoted as saying "Wellingtonians have a view that public transport is 'for losers'". This is both inaccurate (statistics show that our public transport use is virtually unrelated to income) and insulting. Advocates of similar systems overseas seem more interested in bashing public transport than promoting their own solution. I hope that this is not the case here.
This was published today, but the editor commented that "to be fair to Mr Boag, he was not saying that public transport was for losers but that it is a 'perception' some Wellingtonians have". I think my letter addressed this alleged perception rather than ascribing the view to Mr Boag: if Wellingtonians (and note that the original quote didn't use the word 'some') thought that public transport was the last resort of the underclasses, then it's hardly likely that people of all income levels would use it as much as they do. He may have said that 'some' Wellingtonians have that 'perception', but that's not the way it came through in the article.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

What the bleep?!

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Bleep workshop - zoomingTime for a quick plug, in case you haven't already seen my Wellingtonista post on the subject. From 8pm tonight at Happy, a group of local musicians will be gathering random bits of electronic machinery to make music together. This is the result of a workshop that was held a couple of weeks ago at the Arts Centre, and is the first in a series of events called bleep.

They are being organised by the While_you_were_sleeping collective, who have run electronic / ambient / experimental gigs by major international electronic artists (Biosphere, Monolake) as well as local acts such as Jet Jaguar, seht, Aquaboogie and Signer. Thanks to Damian (aka frey) for putting this event together.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Bouncing back 2

Wellington's retail and hospitality market continues to be turbulent (or dynamic, if you're Robin Slade). There have been some more closures, but it looks like the tide has generally reversed, and many places that closed within the last few months are already opening up again in new guises. Here's a quick round up of a few recent and upcoming re-openings.

Tiles and table outside what was Cordoba Nights, and is now Roxy Vafe, at 203 Cuba StThe space that was Cordoba Nights reopened last week, though not (as I speculated) as an Asian restaurant. It's now called Roxy Café, and though the menu is a little more ambitious than the average café, it has gone for the standard informal café vibe of brick walls, warm dark colours and wooden floor. The service had a lot of glitches, but was so friendly and well meaning that I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt until they get started.

Next door, Neat finally succumbed to the inevitable. The fittings got stripped out almost overnight, and the lack of "For Lease" signs is a hint that someone may already have plans for this famous old building, which has been part of Wellington's dining scene for decades. Let's hope that the next owners do justice to it.

Half a block further down Cuba, the Steinburg bakery/café, which had been going through a protracted decline, has been converted into Simply Paris, which aims to be a combination of patisserie, delicatesen and Salon de Thé. On Sunday night they were working frantically away inside, and it's probably open already. It's interesting to note attempts to break the hegemony of coffee in Wellington: the irritatingly-named t leaf T created a bit of a stir (no pun intended) when it opened in Dukes Arcade, and Roxy is also promoting their range of teas (though they haven't quite worked out how to serve it yet).

Another couple of blocks north, and right at the opposite end of the pop culture scale from Earl Grey and tiny cakes, Catalytic Attack is set to open shop in part of what was the old video arcade on the Dixon St side of the Oaks complex. To me, their range of sneakers, T's and hoodies looks very similar to that of the adjacent Area 51, though I suppose that streetwear afficionados will not only know the difference but be salivating at the prospect of brand names such as Rogue Status, Skoold in Korrectnuss and Fucking Awesome. Does it make me an old fogey to wish that someone would open a Paul Smith boutique?

Just east of here, the venue that was Stage (and Phoenix before that) has risen again as Imerst. As the excruciating spelling suggests, the emphasis is very much on trance, hard house and related genres. If this excites you, you'll probably already be aware of its convenient location just down the road from Herbal Heaven.

There are a couple of other places in the vicinity undergoing renovations, but I'll skip over those for now and note some developments near the corner of Manners and Willis streets. This area lost almost all its nightlife when Bouquet Garni and Kopi collapsed with the rest of Vim Rao's empire. The former has never had "For Lease" signs, and for a while there were workers inside knocking through walls and generally looking like it was being prepared for a relaunch. Things have been a bit quieter recently, but it's too good a building and location to stay empty for long. The "For Sale" signs in Kopi's windows have finally disappeared, and I take as a hint that somone's got plans for it. If either of these go through a rebirth as successful as Rouge's transformation into Scopa, it will be worth the wait.

Monday, June 19, 2006

In the end you will submit

With all the consultation and public feedback processes going on recently, it's been easy to lose track and miss the chance to have one's say on the future of the city. So, thanks to the magic of JavaScript, I've added to my sidebar a little semi-automated listing with a countdown to various submission deadlines. I might expand this in the future to incorporate other events, but for the moment it will help you (and me!) remember to make submissions on time.

Those of you who read this in the next three hours will note that feedback on the Lambton Quay redevelopment plans closes today. I've taken all your comments into account, and I'll probably submit something along the lines of "it's nice to see improvements to the pedestrian experience, but it's all a bit timid, and I'd like to think that this is just a step towards even greater pedestrian priority". I'm a little sceptical about whether anything can be done about the extreme grottiness of Farmers Lane, but I'm willing to be optimistic.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Neonate unmasked?

Last year I posted about the prolific street artist who goes by the tag "Neonate". Since then, astroblastro has kept an almost scarily comprehensive archive of Neonate's "work", which I found thanks to Alan's comment on Stephen's most recent post about Wellington street art. Astroblastro adds notes on subgenres and stylistic evolution, points out a possible Neonate-forger, and speculates that Neonate's real (or alternative) name may be "Jerome Copeius".

This theory is based upon at least two examples, and seems a reasonable deduction, though the last name could be "Copelus" or "Cope!us". Some recent graffiti at Waitangi skate park (which is probably being wiped out as I write) offers more clues:

Waitangi skate park - Neonate/Jerome Copeius graffiti montageThese are still ambiguous, since while the faces on the right seem to link the names together, the handwriting is very different.

Neonate's daily 'strugles'But the strongest hint yet comes from this sticker I saw near the corner of Allen and Wakefield streets. It's in quite a different style from the toothy monsters and bulb-headed angels that we're used to, and the use of a sticker suggests that Neonate/Jerome might have a more ambitious approach to street art than the average teenage tagger. Perhaps an art student or designer working towards an illustration contract via street cred? But the new figure and text convey a sense of working-class ennui and alienation, struggling against the strictures of a menial job (and the English language) while idly dreaming of escape. On the other hand, the drawing that astroblastro thinks might be a portrait of Neonate shows a tousle-haired smiling skatey kid.

I wonder whether Neonate knows about the attention he's getting on line? And if so, what he thinks of it all?

Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Silver Mile

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Wellington's CBD has traditionally been very linear, with most of the shopping and entertainment concentrated along a single extended "street" comprising Lambton Quay, Willis St, Manners St and Courtenay Place: the well-known Golden Mile. This has advantages for legibility and transport, but it made the rest of Wellington (with the exception of Cuba St) seem dead by comparison, and Wellington felt like it was only one street deep.

Map of the Golden and 'Silver' Miles in WellingtonRecently, though, several factors (including zoning changes, high rents and the opening up of the waterfront) have resulted in a spread away from the Golden Mile. One consequence of this is the piecemeal emergence of a secondary shopping strip, parallel to the Golden Mile and approximately one block closer to the harbour. For want of a better term, I'll call it the "Silver Mile".

Here's a quick rundown of key developments along this strip, which runs from the Railway Station, down Featherston St, wiggles around Customhouse Quay and Victoria St, then heads along Wakefield St to Cambridge Tce. Some parts of this route are already surging ahead as shopping destinations, other sections have piecemeal developments on the cards, and some have quite some way to go before they could rival the Golden Mile as an urban experience.

Railway Station to Ballance St

Wellington's 'Silver Mile' - Holiday Inn under constructionMy thesis looks a bit shaky here: surely this is more grey than silver? But there have already been some big changes, including Victoria University's Pipitea campus spread around Government Buildings, Rutherford House and the Railway Station. More are on the way, including a New World Metro at the station, the Holiday Inn that's shooting up on the corner of Whitmore St, and a big dumpy office block proposed for the site next door on Bunny St.

All of that bodes well for the connectedness of the city, as this is a vital nexus between the CBD, waterfront, station and government precinct, and it has suffered for too long from vacant sections and inactive street frontages. If the council follows Jan Gehl's suggested changes for the station forecourt (62kB PDF), this neighbourhood would also have the quality public space that the increased activity would deserve.

Ballance St to Grey St

Wellington's 'Silver Mile' - new shops on the corner of Featherston and Waring Taylor StThis is more like it! Already, the number and quality of boutiques here makes it look more "golden" than Lambton Quay, which is being taken over by bland mass-market chains. The demand for retail space on Featherston St has been so strong that brand new spaces have had to be created from office lobbies, and the general look is very upmarket (if a little conservative).

It's also what passes as the nightlife hub of the Lambton Quarter. There are six bars within half a block of the Johnston St corner: a year ago, that would have been more than on the entire waterfront! Physically, the street is improving too, with the Waring Taylor St intersection upgraded recently, and the upcoming Lambton Quay upgrade will include a continuous paving link along Johnston St.

Grey St to Willeston St

Wellington's 'Silver Mile' - Bill Culbert's SkyBlues sculptureThis was the hardest section to identify. The last block of Featherston St has some strong claims, and Hunter St is coming along, but I couldn't miss out Grey St and the boutiques of Customhouse Quay. This way also brings you past Post Office Square, the second public space along the Silver Mile and home to one of our newest public sculptures.

While Willeston St was recently tarted up, it's still let down by the fiddly spaces around the base of the State Insurance tower and the glowering mass of the multi-storey carpark: let's hope that any plans to use the latter as a link to the waterfront introduce some activity to the area. Pod and Stanley Road have done their bit to enliven the corner of Willeston and Victoria, but it still needs work.

Willeston St to Mercer St

Wellington's 'Silver Mile' - renovations at 42 Victoria StThis stretch starts badly, and the street interfaces of both the State Insurance tower and the Police HQ are pretty much irredeemable short of major structural work. But then you come to the Chews Lane development, which has the potential to really kick some life into the street. I was worried about the gentrification of the area, but it looks like nearly all the old shops (Polygon jewellers, the coin and stamp shop, the Lightbulb man) have found alternative premises nearby.

The modernist office building at number 42 Victoria St is looking spectacular after its refurbishment, and Avid will soon be joined by Tinakori Gallery (relocated from Featherston St) to give an upmarket arty flavour to the arcade entrance. Further along Victoria St, you get to Athfield's famous Nikau palms, but what the street really needs is some real trees and a wider footpath.

Mercer St to Cuba St

Wellington's 'Silver Mile' - street trees outside the LidoThis is probably the most attractive stretch of the Silver Mile. It has some lovely old buildings, some decent modern ones, an elegant curve and plenty of urban greenery. It also has plenty of life, with designer shops (Tamarillo, Karen Walker, Artikel) complemented by at least seven cafés and bars in just a short block.

In this regard, it's only really let down by the City Corporation building and Town Hall on the north side of Wakefield St: while these are a significant part of our architectural heritage, they present a rather inactive face to the street. I've heard vague suggestions of turning the City Corporation building into a boutique hotel: with restaurants and bars on the ground floor, it could enliven both Wakefield St and Civic Square.

Cuba St to Taranaki St

Wellington's 'Silver Mile' - Wakefield St near the Duxton HotelHere's where it starts to go pear-shaped. The Michael Fowler Centre has never been interested in addressing the street, and the triangle of open space to the east is so dominated by car parking that its green spaces seem lost and gloomy. On the south side, the Duxton provides a textbook example of how to ignore the street: to the pedestrian it offers neither shelter nor visual interest. The recent addition of Mojo on the corner of Taranaki St is an encouraging sign, though its café tables look like a brave but inadequate attempt to bring street life to the bleakest, windiest, most pedestrian-hostile intersection in Wellington.

I don't know whether the Watermark apartments are going ahead, and if they do, it's hard to tell whether the new residents and shops will make up for the loss of the Rialto cinemas and Wellington Market. In any case, this stretch of Wakefield St needs some serious urban design attention if it's going to connect the two ends of the Silver Mile, as well as being the most prominent link between Courtenay Place and Te Papa.

Taranaki St to Tory St

Wellington's 'Silver Mile' - car yard in front of Reading cinemasThis block is crucial, since there is great potential for development and the result could either make or break Wakefield St as a pedestrian environment. It's currently blighted by service stations and open-air car yards, with SUVs and Hummers insulting the very concept of a human-scaled inner city. There's been no news for a couple of years about Reading's plan to build a five-screen art-house cinema complex (a branch of the Angelika Film Centre chain) and retail centre here. If done well, that could create an active edge to Wakefield St and provide a better link through to Courtenay Place, but given the example of Courtenay Central, I wouldn't be too confident about the results.

Across the street, the old multi-storey warehouse building that used to house Cash Converters has been cleaned up a bit, but it looks like the ground floor tenant will be something dull like offices or an estate agent. East of here, there's a mish-mash of car yards, wholesalers, a derelict service station and, of course, the red shed. The Warehouse site has apparently been sold to developers, but I haven't heard of any specific plans (update: there will be two apartment blocks there, with ground-floor retail). This cluster of properties offers a great opportunity for enlightened urbanism, with attractive, medium-rise mixed-use buildings and a mid-block pedestrian connection to Cable St to break up the coarse street grain. Of course, what we'll probably get is a couple of oversized apartment blocks, more big-box retail and a festering vacant lot used for "land banking".

Tory St to Cambridge Tce

The Tory St intersection is improving, with a Wholly Bagels branch helping to turn the corner towards the emerging foodie district (Meat on Tory, Schoc). The new Museum Apartments are a few storeys taller than they should have been for the context, but I think they look better than the renderings had indicated. Only one of the retail tenancies has been leased so far (a posh furniture shop called Ashton Grove), but given the demand for retail in Wellington, it might not be long before these go.

Wellington's 'Silver Mile' - corner of Wakefield and Blair streetsThe rest of this stretch has long benefited from the overflow from Allen and Blair streets, and the only real blight on the last section is the suburban-styled New World supermarket. It's certainly very popular, but from an urbanist point of view everything else is wrong: there's a big surface carpark, no active edges to the street, and the truck entrance is smack in the middle of the Cambridge Tce view shaft, blocking what should have been a long, spectacular view of the harbour. Urban designers and architects keep wistfully talking about some glorious day in the future when it might be resited or demolished, but there's no sign of that yet. By shifting it to the western half of the site, wrapping it with shops and building three storeys of apartments above it, this could be converted into a proper urban block while freeing up the eastern half for a high-quality boulevard to Waitangi Park. That would really be a fitting marker for the end of the Silver Mile, but I'm not holding my breath.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

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.

Plan for new park on the corner of Courtenay Place and Taranaki StYou'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?

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.
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?

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.

Back on track - or is it?

The regional council has finally released the results of the North Wellington public transport study that they've been promising for a while. The study looked at the public transport needs of all the northern suburbs, but the crux of the study is the future of the Johnsonville rail corridor. They present four scenarios:

1) Enhanced rail: improving existing rail services between Johnsonville and the Railway Station, with new or refurbished units. Cost $125-$160m.
2) On-street bus with walking and cycling: replacing current rail services with buses on existing streets. Rail line transformed into a walking and cycling track. Cost $95-$105m.
3) Busway: converting Johnsonville line into a guided busway, operating in the peak direction only. Cost $120-130m.
4) Light rail transit (LRT): new light rail vehicles on an extended Johnsonville line through the CBD to Courtenay Place. Cost $165-175m.

Part of me is encouraged to see light rail being considered at all, as this is the first time in years I've seen it as an option in a document for public consultation. However, I'm a little nervous that we might be being set up for one of the cheaper (in the short term) options. Option 1 does little more than maintain the status quo, with some long-overdue refurbishment and minor tweaks. Option 2 is ridiculous: how many people can you imagine walking home along the Johnsonville line (apart from the occasional drunkard who missed the last train - you know who you are!) . It's a recipe for congestion and pollution as train passengers are forced to switch to diesel buses. Option 3 sounds intriguing, but while busways or "Bus Rapit Transit" (BRT) lanes are often touted as "just like LRT, only cheaper", their inferior speed and comfort makes them far less popular with commuters. There are plenty of overseas cases where BRT has failed to attract passengers: in the US, "busways have attracted only one-third of the rider-trips estimated for them by FTA-approved modelling. LRT has attracted 122 percent".

I haven't had a chance to study the reports in detail yet (there are 157 pages of PDF to wade through!), but I'll write more when I have. However, I already get the disturbing impression that they're taking the costs in isolation, rather than looking at the bigger picture. For example, the LRT costs include $50-70m for laying LRT infrastructure through the CBD, along a route that's mostly similar to the route I described earlier. This would also contribute to conversion of the other rail lines, and for any extended route to the airport, so it's unfair to allocate the costs purely to the Johnsonville line.

One thing is clear, though: extending seamless services to Courtenay Place would attract more riders. The report says this:
The benefits of extending services into the CBD are highlighted by the large patronage increase achieved on Newlands bus routes in 2000, largely as a result of extending routes from the northern suburbs to terminate at Courtenay Place. Combined with frequency improvements, this resulted in some 40% increase in patronage as passengers were able to travel further into the CBD without having to interchange.
Combine this with the attractions of fast, comfortable new light rail vehicles, and it's obvious that a light rail service from Johnsonville to Courtenay Place would attract many more people away from increasingly congested roads.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Decorate your playground

I saw this graffito recently at the Waitangi Park skate park:

Graffiti at the Waitangi Park skate park - 'Come on Sk8ers, decorate your playground'
Come on sk8ers, decorate your playground. While some might see that as an incitement to vandalism, I actually like the sentiment, and the sense of a subculture taking responsibility for shaping its own environment. And judging by the amount of new graffiti there since I last wrote about it, the skaters have been doing just that.

Not that everyone's pleased. Wellington Waterfront Ltd will soon be going to great lengths to remove the existing graffiti and graffiti-proof the surfaces, despite their original statement of "We accept the park is in an urban setting and graffiti art reflects that". While I agree that the tagging has spread too far, and that much of it is simply ugly scrawling (at least to my ageing bourgeois eyes), some of the pieces add real visual interest to the blank surfaces:

Graffiti at the Waitangi Park skate park - visual montageAnd there's this sequence that while visually unambitious, makes good use of the grilles and exudes a strange mix of humour and poignancy:

Graffiti at the Waitangi Park skate park - 'Help Me' sequenceI'll be sad to see some of this go. At least the official "graffiti walls" will stay, but while these have more colour and mainstream appeal, it seems contrary to the spirit of graffiti to corral it into officially sanctioned ghettos. Meanwhile, Stephen over at Dorking Labs has been tracking the further exploits of our old friend Neonate.

Monday, June 12, 2006

On track for confusion

What are we to make of the lead story in today's Dominion Post? "Commuters face levy for $2b upgrade", it says. Leaving aside for the moment the question of whether it's fair to ask today's commuters to pay for future upgrades, surely a $2 billion upgrade is a substantial investment and should significantly increase the capacity of our packed buses and trains. But how much of that sum will actually go towards improving the service?

There's little detail in the article, but it quickly becomes clear that this is not an announcement of a brand-new $2b investment:
Greater Wellington regional council has already budgeted $1.33 billion for public transport till 2016. But officials now say a further $670 million is needed to encourage more people to swap cars for buses and trains.
Of the extra money, "more than" $500 million would go to upgrading rail infrastructure, such as electrifying the main trunk line to Waikanae and doubling the tracks between Pukerua Bay and Paekakariki, and these are measures that public transport advocates such as Option 3 have been promoting for a while. This could definitely increase capacity on the Paraparaumu line, so it's to be applauded. There's no information on what the rest of the money being asked for (up to $170 million) will be for, so it's hard to see whether that will help improve capacity.

Of the $1.33 billion already budgeted for, how much will go towards increased capacity? Very little, as far as I can see, but it's hard to tell. The transport section (83kB PDF) of the regional council's current proposed long-term plan makes no mention of such a figure. All I can find is a table on page 49 about "procuring a range of passenger transport assets costing a total of $523.1 million". This shows that $343.1 million will be spent on new and refurbished rolling stock, and the rest on a mixture of station upgrades, bus/rail interchanges, accessibility, real-time information and integrated ticketing. It's important to improve the passenger experience, but it won't provide more capacity.

So, of the "new and refurbished" rolling stock, will there be any net increase in the number of carriages available? Again, there's no information, but a bit of searching through the regional council website uncovers a news release from last year saying that the 58 new electric units will "initially replace English Electric Units and then increase passenger capacity". This part of the upgrade will cost "more than $160m": that's less than half of the total rolling stock upgrades, and we still don't know how much of that will actually go to increased capacity! I'd guess it's not much, since they were only planning on maintaining a 15.6% share of commuters, not increasing it. For the sake of argument, let's estimate that $100 million goes towards new capacity rather than just replacing the museum pieces currently on the tracks.

Of the existing 10-year budget, that's $100 million for increased capacity and $423.1 million for refurbishment and miscellaneous improvements. Where's the rest of the $1.33 billion? I'm no expert at reading accounts, but the 10-year financial forecast on page 47 of the plan indicates that the rest is just operating expenditure, and doesn't go to upgrades at all. So let's break down the details of what the Dominion Post calls a "$2b upgrade":

Greater Wellington regional council's spending on public transportOnly about $600m can truly be said to be devoted to increasing capacity, and that's if the new proposal goes ahead. A further $170m might be, if we knew the details. $420m goes towards improving the passenger experience: some of that might be counted as an "upgrade", but much of it is just long-overdue maintenance. And the rest, nearly $640m, is just normal operating costs over the ten years of the plan, and should never be included in a story about new investments.

So, this is hardly "an ambitious $2 billion plan to improve Wellington's public transport"! The Kapiti upgrades are indeed significant news, and it's heartening to see that they're finally aiming to increase mode share to 20% rather than keeping it static, but if we really were to get $2 billion invested in public transport we would expect much more. It's hard to know whether the Dominion Post has an agenda to make public transport look like it's getting more money than it actually is, or whether it's just sloppy journalism. Despite their general pro-motorway bias, I'd suspect the latter, especially when you look at the headline on page C1: "Property values drift down". Really? No, they're just not increasing as fast as they were. We should expect better from our only daily newspaper.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Shops that pass in the night 6

Most of the recent musical-shops action has been going on around Cuba and Ghuznee St, and that continues with Leather Direct moving down Cuba from number 177 to the space vacated by Bellamys bookshop. The Cuba St hospitality scene in the area is going through a steady revival, too: Neat may have finally closed (and no, that's not the latest mystery bar: do I have to drop some more hints?), but the former Cordoba next door looks close to reopening, with one of Neat's former chefs at the helm. Another former café is set to reopen very soon too, but I might just keep you guessing on that one.

Wellington Hatters in Woodward StSome retailers are making bigger moves than just shuffling around Cuba St. House of Hank is moving all the way from Willis St to the more corporate environment of Woodward St, in the space where Morrison Hotel used to be. But the new shop will be quite different from the old. While his tailored menswear will still be for sale, the focus of the shop is on hats, and it has accordingly been christened Wellington Hatters. As my brief Wellingtonista post described, the headwear on offer ranges from the traditional to the spectacular.

Felt hat with feathers from Wellington HattersAlong with Working Style and Beaujolais wine bar, this will turn the top end of Woodward St into a welcome bastion of gentlemanly refinement. Mr Saxby would cautiously approve, though with perhaps a debonair eyebrow quizzically raised at some of Hank's more outré sartorial innovations.

It's a pity that Hank's cutting table will no longer be visible to the public, as the arrangement in his old shop offered a wonderful connection between manufacture and retail. But Hank and his assistants will still be cutting and stitching away nearby, in the basement of the adjacent building, to save us from blandness and conformity. Oh, and isn't it nice to live in a real city full of real shops, and not have to fight our way through gridlock to a crappy assortment of barns in a giant carpark?