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

Friday, September 29, 2006

Accessories after the fact

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The Excessive Accessories parade is underway right now, and today's weather probably justifies it being delayed from last week.

It's lovely to see such a large crowd turn out, and it's good to get schools and community groups involved, but compared to last year's parade, it seemed a little flat. I can't help wondering whether it needs a bit more input from the World of WearableArt entrants and organisers to give it a bit more variety and professional sheen.

Mystery bar number 44

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Today I could write about important stuff, like the saving of the Overlander and whether there's still a need for scepticism; the final closure of the Tattoo Museum (no tiki bar, dammit); the vast new groundscraper planned for Harbour Quays; or the further transformation of Miramar into Geek Mecca. But it's Friday, so let's talk bars.

The last mystery bar was obscure enough to inspire a few different guesses, but LX got the building right and SirMatt was spot on: it's the Stadium Bar in the backpackers opposite the Railway Station. The building is one of Wellington's grandest art deco survivors, but it's gone a long way downmarket from when the Queen stayed there.

Mystery bar #44 - chairs and lampsThis time, we're back to the other end of the market. Today's mystery bar is better known as one of Wellington's finest restaurants, but it definitely contains a bar and as Stephen would say, they can certainly drop a decent 'tini. The decor tries hard to create a level of intimacy in a cavernous space, and generally succeeds through balancing light and dark materials while varying the ceiling height and introducing contemporary chandeliers.

It's a very suity kind of place, though that's not surprising given the prices ($15 Martini, mains pushing $40), and the staff seemed professional enough to treat casually dressed customers with the same attentiveness. And while it had a very hushed atmosphere when I visited, it's been known to get a bit more lively when there's a band playing.

Mystery bar #44 - the bar

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Justice at last

Those diligent people over at Skyscraper City have posted a collection of renderings of the new Supreme Court building that I referred to yesterday. Here's one of them:

You can get a glimpse of the spherical wood and copper "free-standing courtroom" in the centre, though it doesn't seem as prominent as it did in the model depicted in yesterday's paper. According to the official press release, the bronze screen that surrounds the upper level "depict[s] the strength, durability and stature of the Pohutukawa and Rata tree". I'm cautiously enthusiastic (if that's not a contradiction in terms) about the design, but want to see more before I make up my mind.

It's a pity that Warren & Mahoney aren't having an open practice as part of Wellington Architecture Week, but next Thursday Alex Couchman, W&M's Environmentally Sustainable Design (ESD) Principal, will be taking part in a lunchtime discussion called "Can architecture save the planet? Architecture and Climate Change". Given that the building is touted as employing ESD technologies such as displacement ventilation, solar heating and ground source energy exchange, the Supreme Court design could be on the agenda.

Start the park

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It's not online, but there's an article on page A4 of today's Dominion Post announcing that the planned Courtenay Place Park survived a last-minute "Revocation by Resolution" at last night's council meeting, and construction will start on Monday. I won't go into all the details of the council wranglings behind that, except to point out that one of the councillors who tried to stop this traffic-dominated space from being converted into a park is opposed to the Hilton because it "replac[es] a public park" and will allegedly increase traffic. Hmm.

While I didn't try to occupy a carpark there on Saturday, I spent some time then sitting on a bench and observing how the parks were used. Most of them seemed to be occupied continuously for the best part of an hour, so they're not much use for people who absolutely need to park right outside a particular shop. Most of the people going in and out of the shops had either walked there or parked further away. One guy parked in a disabled park to return a video, without a disabled sticker on his car or any visible disability (unless you count morbid obesity and bad dress-sense). My observations hardly make for a scientific study, but they hint that the retailers' panic about going out of business if their customers can't park right beside their door are exaggerated to say the least.

The opponents are making a big issue out of the fact that some of the businesses are health specialists: Cr Morrison said that "You could say the sick, the elderly and incapacitated will give way to a wine bar and a urinal". While it's no doubt true that a small percentage of their customers will be so frail that walking literally ten seconds to the relocated parks will be out of the question, there's a possible solution. The MedLab building already has a rear entrance on York St, and with a bit of lighting and shelter together with a dedicated drop-off zone it could be a more than adequate option for those who genuinely need it. If the car parks on Courtenay Pl and Taranaki St are converted from 2 hour to 15 minute spaces, that will free up some space for able-bodied people who have a reasonable need to park nearby. And anyone else who grumbles about the loss of three carparks in favour of 1300 square metres of public space is obviously "incapacitated" by chronic car addiction.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

From WOW to WAW

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Wellington Architecture Week - pamphlet cover imageAs the World of WearableArt awards wrap up on Friday with the delayed parade, it's time to shift our attention from wearable art to inhabitable art. Wellington Architecture Week kicks off next Monday, and while there's a huge range of talks, open projects, debates, competitions and exhibitions, there are two very topical themes that come through: heritage issues, and the parliamentary precinct.

As the comments on my post about the Chews Lane development show, the conflict between retaining heritage and growing the city is as relevant as ever. Next Thursday's Pivotal Architectural Debate proposes the motions that "urban designers should leave heritage alone", and while I tend to inhabit the middle ground on such issues, there are fundamentalists on both side of the question so it could be a lively debate.

Yesterday's announcement of a design for the new Supreme Court building (and today's Dominion Post article about it) is relevant to both themes. As I mentioned back when the site was first confirmed, it involves the renovation of and a major addition to a significant heritage building (watch out for the first two and a half paragraphs of that page, since they appear to be interlopers from the old Departmental Building in Stout St); and it's also a cornerstone of the evolving Parliamentary Precinct. It's a bit early to comment on the design, since all I've seen is one photo of the model (not online), but it does look intriguing, and I'm glad that it's not too imitative or historicist in its approach.

The full programme is available as a 16.7MB PDF, or if that's a bit much for your connection, you can download specific sections from the Architectural Centre's homepage. I've also posted a text listing of all events on The Wellingtonista for your convenience. It could do with a bit of online promotion: though it's supported by the city council, it doesn't seem to be on the council's Feeling Great events site. Nor is it on Wotzon or the more-than-faintly controversial nzlive.com. It seems that we're always willing to moan when the built environment doesn't live up to our expectations, but this is a wonderful opportunity to debate the ways in which it could be improved, and to celebrate the things that we love about it.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


One of the things I love about Midland Park is the fact that, despite being in the pinstriped heart of corporate Wellington, it's still a true public space that welcomes all sorts of people and activities. Among the suited coffee addicts and lunching couriers, it's not uncommon to see political protests, children's games, lone guitarists and artists selling their wares, but I think that this is the first time I've seen someone selling furniture.

Vickie's Originals chairs in Midland ParkAnd no ordinary furniture, either. Vickie's Originals offer a somewhat surprising combination of 1950s vinyl and chrome with Māori designs. Since these are refurbished pieces, some might call this recycling, but with a nod to William McDonough and Michael Braungart, Vickie Davis calls her furniture "upcycled" functional art. In their book Cradle to Cradle, McDonough and Braungart argued that most "recycling" is actually "downcycling", since the materials get downgraded in the process and the "cycle" is not sustainably repeatable. With upcycling, the raw materials become something of equal or greater value. While there's presumably some new material involved, and it's not a new concept (see Upcycle Art or just about anything on Treehugger for more examples), it's great to see someone promoting the concept here.

With Māori designs, bright colours, retro furniture and upcycling, it all sounds very Nelson. And it is: Davis is based in Nelson, but has a temporary exhibition in Cable Car Lane until Saturday. Along with the Fine exhibition at Shed 11, this is an example of how Wellington might go some way towards making up for stealing the World of WearableArt awards (which are finally getting their parade this Friday) by providing a wider audience for their works.

Chews life

Corner of Chews Lane and Willis St - preparing for demolitionThe first major demolition stage of the massive Chews Lane project is starting as I write. Thus far, work has been limited to removing the "temporary" tin shed on Victoria St and refurbishing the heritage buildings, with generally excellent results. The Art Deco Caledonian Chambers at 29 Willis St and its Edwardian neighbour at number 35 have just been unwrapped, and now look quite delectable in shades of butterscotch and icing sugar respectively. While none of the Willis St buildings affected by the redevelopment are mentioned in either the council's heritage inventory or walking tour for the vicinity, they contribute much to the streetscape as a whole, so it's worth watching what's happening to the other old buildings in the precinct.

Next door, the two storey building at 37-43 Willis St is starting to disappear. While it looks quite jaunty in its vibrant paint job, the building itself is fairly unremarkable and I'd venture to suggest that it's not a great loss to the city. The only vocal opponent to its demolition that I can recall was a heritage enthusiast who seemed more concerned with the removal of an old wooden lamppost. The building's replacement will be a slick 6-storey glass building that's taller than it's immediate neighbours but hardly out of place among the general Willis St streetscape.

Most of the publicity about the precinct has concentrated on the Victoria St end, and renderings of the Willis St elevations have been relatively hard to find. However, there's this image available on the developer's website and on a real estate site:

Willis St side of Chews Lane - rendering of proposed building
This also gives the only hint of what's happening to the old Malthouse building on the other side of the lane. While the rumours about the Malthouse pub moving to Seam in Courtenay Place are incorrect (according to the bar staff, they're still looking for a big enough replacement site), the building itself is definitely set for demolition at the end of the year, with a 7-storey office building to take its place.

The Malthouse on Willis St, from the WCC's website at http://www.wellington.govt.nz/picturegallery/display-image.php?g=6&i=13On the face of it, that's a more serious blow to Wellington's architectural heritage. The building was originally built as a hotel in 1910, and it's such a recognisable and well-loved part of Willis St that it's featured on the council's online "Art and Architecture gallery". However, there's not much left of the original building. It started out as 5 storeys (or 7, depending upon who you talk to), and when its height was reduced (in the 1980s, I think) the insides were pretty much gutted as well. While the rendering above indicates yet another shiny glass edifice, the full-page ad in last Thursday's Dominion Post (page C9) says that "A new office building, in brick, will sit on the current Malthouse and Ballinger building sites. However, the original wrought-iron verandah will overlook Willis St."

That sounds like the worst kind of façadism, but if it's true that there's little left of the buildings historic fabric anyway, then retaining the only really popular and memorable features (the balcony and possibly the lions) while building up to something like its original height might be an appropriate response. I really do hope that even though the Malthouse itself (and its sometimes dubious activities) is unlikely to return to the site, some sort of bar or restaurant is able to use the space. It adds life to the street, makes the most of a sunny location, and fills a dry gap in the city.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Mystery bar number 43

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Jules was right: last week's mystery bar was indeed St Johns in the old Free Ambulance Building on the waterfront, or to give it its full name, the St Johns Heineken Hotel. If you're anything like me, such a name would have provoked waves of apprehension, evoking as it does a heavily themed and branded beer barn.

In reality, the Heineken branding is relatively subtle (probably more so than the owners would have liked) and the wine and food offerings are considerably more serious than at its beery neighbour just down the wharf. The fitout is spectacular and wholly appropriate to the building's art deco heritage (there's a better photo here), though it won't reach its full potential until the mound is removed and the lagoon extended as part of the Taranaki St Wharf public space revamp. The last time I was there, the music was a bit offputting, though that's no doubt been selected to suit the predominantly corporate clientele. Nevertheless, it's a seriously stylish addition to the city, and at a stroke it has doubled the number of waterfront drinking options south of Queens Wharf.

Today's mystery bar is, ummm, just a little bit different. No salmon tartare or pistachio-crusted lamb rack here, mate! If you want something solid to go with your Tui, then there's a choice of pies or more pies, fresh from the countertop warmer. There's a range of entertainment, running all the way from darts to TAB terminals, via a pool table and pokies. I can't say anything about the wine selection: I got suspicious enough looks from the only other customer for ordering something as posh as a pilsner. It goes without saying that a Martini was out of the question.

While it's obviously a working-class kiwi pub, it's not a staunch neighbourhood local. Despite a few vain attempts at recalling or creating a history for itself, it carries an air of impersonal dislocation and mass-produced placelessness. Perhaps this is inevitable, since it's close to some of the urban elements that in many cities are often associated with transience. On the other hand, it's in a building with at least as much architectural merit as the Free Ambulance Building, and that once hosted guests at completely the opposite end of the social spectrum from its current target market.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Street eats: Rawhide

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This installment in the Street eats series could almost go under the Shops that pass in the night heading as well: Rawhide has recently opened up in the space that was formerly occupied by Glow, and that was originally intended to be a fish 'n' chips shop. Rawhide eschews the healthful new-age juices and smoothies of Glow, and opts instead for a different form of juiciness: the meaty goodness of gourmet hotdogs and steak sandwiches.

Hang on, isn't "gourmet hotdogs" an oxymoron? Not when it's wild venison bangers in a sourdough roll with relish and onions. There's not much in the way of coffee or other drinks, but there's always Kaffee Eis just around the corner.

Together, they go some way towards filling in the activity gap along the Frank Kitts promenade, but the disadvantage of this sort of occasional hole-in-the wall takeaway compared to a permanent shop is that their opening hours tend to be weather-dependent and unpredictable. Thus, it's just when the waterfront needs some extra drawcard (at night or when the weather's dodgy) that they're likely to be closed. Nevertheless, as the days lengthen and the weather improves (fingers crossed!), this will be a welcome (not to mention delicious) addition to waterfront life.

I'm still hanging out for a fish 'n' chip shop, though.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Delayed PARK(ing)

The other day I rashly suggested a "street conversion" at the proposed Courtenay Park, to coincide with World Carfee Carfree Day tomorrow. Unfortunately, being an urban activist is hard when you're also a nine-to-fiver: I should have checked my meeting schedule first!

I can't make it tomorrow during the day, but how about 12 noon on Saturday? I'll bring some folding chairs and some light reading (Jane Jacobs, Jan Gehl), and if anyone else is keen, some pot plants would be most welcome. I'd offer to mix up some Martinis, but it might be counterproductive to put the liquor ban to the test.

If anyone decides to do something similar tomorrow instead, send me some photos and I'll document the action.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Hilton happening

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After more than a decade of wheeling and dealing, wrangling and wailing, the proposed Queens Wharf Hilton has been granted resource consent. The Dominion Post's front-page story concentrates on the positive aspects of the development, while the report on National Radio emphasises the opposition, noting in particular that Waterfront Watch and the Civic Trust are considering an appeal (there's also an audio clip from Morning Report - streaming only, as far as I can find).

In my previous post on the subject, I summarised the seven issues raised by the regional council's report:

Rendering of proposed Queens Wharf Hilton, with areas of concern from the regional council reportAccording to the full decision report (807kB PDF), it seems that these were all addressed through either amendments to the application, conditions on the consent or negotiation with other parties. Point by point, these were as follows:

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.

The consent applies some detailed conditions to ensure pedestrian priority, including design, surface treatments and signage. Ther are also strict requirements for a Traffic Management Plan, such as requiring all light vehicles to use the tunnel, requiring coaches to load and unload by the Musuem of City and Sea, and demonstrating that no more than 3 vehicles per day may service the hotel via the Shed 6 route, and those outside of peak pedestrian times.

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.

There's a lot of discussion about this in the report, and the upshot is that the southern end must be modified to have an extended glazed canopy and slots in the cantilevered roof. The commissioners had concerns that even with this, the southeast corner would still be windier in southerlies, though this was expected to happen for only about 2 hours per week on average. My take on this is that in conditions when this would be significant, not many people would be walking around the far edge of the outer T for fun, and that the sheltering effect in other wind regimes would more than make up for it.

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.

This appears to have been resolved without structural work, by way of a compromise with CentrePort. There will still be limitations, but the applicants appear to have changed their tune a bit and now say that vessels of up to 1000 tonnes could be berthed without causing vibration problems, not 300 as first stated. I still wonder whether this resolution is entirely satisfactory (it depends upon the weather, and any reduction of the maritime character is regrettable), but CentrePort seems to be happy with it and says that it will affect only a very few ships.

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

These are being redesigned.

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

All these were dropped by the applicant.

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.


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.

The Technical Advisory Group seemed to like the materials and colours (I think they could still have been a lot more interesting), and added a condition that proposed banners on the canopies be removed. The commissioners were still not unanimous about whether the design quality would be adequate for an iconic site, and I think that that question will remain controversial.

So, the regional council's objections all seem to have been met, and to some extent it shows the effectiveness of the consent process. Plenty of other people will still have objections, and while I've written before about why I think the effect on public space will be positive rather than negative, I want to touch on a couple of objections in the Architectural Centre's submission (32kB PDF). In particular, they stated that "the proposal exacerbates the violation of the viewshaft, as the proposed new hotel is longer than the existing shed, and twice its height". I made a quick mockup to get a rough idea of how it would look down the only viewshaft that would be significantly affected: down Johnston St.

I can't guarantee the accuracy of the proportions, but I think it's clear that compared to Shed 1, the Hilton would block no further views of the water, a tiny bit of the hills (a bit more if you're further towards Lambton Quay) and a sliver of the sky. Of course, another design might have opened up the view revealed by the demolition of Shed 1, but then it probably would have to be taller to be economic. And I don't know about you, but my primary concern when walking down Featherston St or Lambton Quay is not "can I see Roseneath?" With good lighting, the view of the café at the north end of the Hilton should instead act as a beacon of activity at the end of the viewshaft, a sign that the waterfront is inhabited and alive.

To really open up that viewshaft would require the demolition of a good proportion of Shed 1, which would also mean the end of its role as an indoor sports venue. The Architectural Centre also stated that "an alternative venue for these activities needs to be found", and seconded my suggested solution. Locating the regional indoor stadium at Harbour Quays, if that goes ahead, might also be a reasonable replacement. But I must reiterate my proviso that, while I think the Hilton will have a net benefit (both economic and urbanistic) for Wellington, the existing users must be adequately catered for.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

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.

street conversion: from http://www.worldcarfree.net/wcfd/street-conversion.phpIn 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?

Monday, September 18, 2006

Mystery bar number 42

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As I've already mentioned, the previous mystery bar was Ernesto. Some may quibble with my designation of it as a "bar", as it's clearly more of a café during the day, but in the evening it goes through a subtle transformation as the counter food is cleared away and replaced by bottles of hard liquor. Nice.

Mystery Bar #42 - barstools and lightsWhile Ernesto goes out of its way to achieve a casual boho vibe (serving bottles of wine with random tiny tumblers rather than stemware, for instance), today's mystery bar goes all out for jazz-age glamour. Custom furniture and light fittings combine with some clever use of proportions and colour to define spaces with varying degrees of grandeur and intimacy. There's a lot of dark leather and chrome, giving it quite a masculine feel, but that's balanced by heavy velour curtains and subtly patterned wallpaper.

The drinks selection is much more balanced than one might think at first, with prominent display being given to wine, beer and liquor. The wine list starts fairly modestly, but quickly shoots off into the stratosphere, with an interesting selection of European aromatics alongside the usual suspects. While not quite in the league of Matterhorn or Motel, the top shelf is quite impressively stocked with premium spirits, including the now-obligatory Tanqueray Ten. This is definitely an upmarket bar, but should appeal to a broad enough cross-section of Wellington bar-goers to succeed in a location that has proved difficult in the past.

Mystery Bar #42 - the bar

Friday, September 15, 2006

WellUrban on air: mixed use

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I'll be talking on National Radio at about 11:45am tomorrow, though unlike last time, I'm unlikely to be talking about Martinis (despite that fact that I'm on after the head barman of the American Bar at the Savoy, home of the Best Martini Ever). This time, I'll be discussing the late Jane Jacobs and the implications for New Zealand cities of her four "conditions for diversity":
To generate exuberant diversity in a city's streets and districts, four conditions are indispensable:

1. The district, and indeed as many of its internal parts as possible, must serve more than one primary function; preferably more than two. These must insure the presence of people who go outdoors on different schedules and are in the place for different purposes, but who are able to use many facilities in common.

2. Most blocks must be short; that is, streets and opportunities to turn corners must be frequent.

3. The district must mingle buildings that vary in age and condition; including a good proportion of old ones so that they vary in the economic yield they must produce. This mingling must be fairly close-grained.

4. There must be sufficiently dense concentration of people, for whatever purposes they may be there. This includes dense concentrations ... of people who are there because of residence.

Those principles, and many of her most important quotes, are online here. On tomorrow's show, I'll be concentrating on the first principle (the importance of mixed use), and I'll cover the other points on later shows. If anyone's got any stories, examples or pet hates about mixed use (or the lack thereof), especially in cities outside Wellington, then please let me know and they may get a mention.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Speed architecture

Tomorrow evening at 5:30, this year's 20under40 architecture competition kicks off at the Architecture School in Vivian St. Competitors get their secret brief at 6pm, and then have 24 hours to come up with a scheme dazzling enough to win a share of the $2000 prizes.

20under40 architecture competition flyer
In that way it's a little like an architectural equivalent of the 48 Hours film competition, but in half the time and with fewer handcuffs. It may or may not be a revealing fact that at the 2004 competition, one of the finalists proposed a giant orifice for the controversial Courtenay Place park site. Contrary to appearances, this scheme was not the result of one of these competitions, though it does bear the hallmarks of sleep deprivation and mind-altering substances.

Entry is $10 per team, and it's open to anyone (you don't have to be an architect,or even under 40). There have been no hints as to what the brief may be, but make what you may of the flyer's image of a crowd in front of some of Wellington's more loathsome buildings, bearing a placard that says "Irrevocable irrelevance - is it too late?"

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Supersize my Caketin

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As Auckland faffs around about how and where to build a half-decent stadium in time for the 2011 Rugby World Cup, our acting mayor has jumped in with a classic piece of opportunism. Why not upgrade the capacity of our Stadium instead? It could even be an opportunity to sneak in a new indoor stadium on the side.

Now, what was that I was just saying about stealing other cities' events?

Random thoughts

These could have been three short posts, but I've decided (for no good reason) to lump them together.


As expected, it didn't take long for the Mystery Bar to be identified. Given the amount of speculation over the future of the former Krazy Lounge site, and its highly visible location, keen WellUrbanites would have already twigged to the fact that Ernesto (sans possessive) opened on Monday.

It's looking great, and I'm sure it will be a more than worthy successor to Krazy Lounge. I can't wait to get back and try a Martini once their spirits supplies are fully stocked. Also, many Cuba St denizens would have had a wry chuckle at the sight of their poster last week.

Che sez

Point noted (but ignored)

While the rail vs busway controversy simmers away in the comments section, the letter that I wrote along with that post has gone unpublished. I was listed among the "Points noted" section yesterday, which of course is shorthand for "we're not going to print your letter".

Fair enough: I don't expect the Dominion Post to publish my letters all the time. But this letter was different, in that I was pointing out a significant factual error in a story, once which has clearly misled some of their readers. So if the letter wasn't printed, they should at least print a correction, but I haven't seen anything of the sort.

Today's edition printed a couple of corrections on page A3, including the vital information that "Dr Graham Sharpe is the president of the NZ Society of Anaesthestists, not the head of the College of Anaesthestists as reported yesterday". I'd have thought that underreporting the number of light rail supporters by a factor of 800% would have been at least as significant an error. Unless someone's seen a correction buried away somewhere, I'll be forced to go along with Baz's conspiracy theory.

Aotea underground

I've subscribed to a customised feed from the faintly controversial nzlive.com publicly-funded cultural listings service, and I've found it a reasonably useful way to keep up with upcoming events. Given my recent post about a proposed arts & crafts market for Wellington, I was interested to see a listing for the Aotea Square market in Auckland, offering exactly the sorts of things that the council's looking for here. But there was something strange about the listing: have a close look at the venue.

A strange location for the Aotea Square market
I know that Lorry's ambitious, but that's ridiculous! On the other hand, Wellington's developing a reputation for stealing other cities' events, and perhaps squeezing the market into a tiny little basement would solve the shelter issue. Of course, I've since noticed that the site is down for maintenance. Very wise.

Mystery bar number 41

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It's been a while since the last mystery bar, which Maximus promptly identified as the lobby bar at the Museum Hotel. It's certainly more interesting and individualist than most hotel bars in town, but it seems a slightly half-hearted attempt at theatrical glamour and doesn't make the most of the site. The hotel has plans to build a glass-fronted restaurant on the corner of Tory and Cable streets, and once that happens, it may be that the bar and restaurant will combine to give a bit more life to this part of town.

Mystery Bar #41 - wall and lampsToday's mystery bar should be pretty easy to identify, so I won't give too many clues beyond the photos. It certainly has some elements of kitsch, but unlike the previous two mystery bars, this is very much intentional. The decor is somewhere between faded glamour and chintzy homeliness, but the overall effect is very much Wellington haut-bohemia.

Mystery Bar #41 - the bar

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Building rumours 4: 222-232 Wakefield St

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I noticed at the weekend that the car yard at 222-232 Wakefield St (behind Courtenay Central) had partly emptied out, with signs on the window of their little mini-Te Papa office instructing people to cross the road for their SUV fix.

Car yard on Wakefield St (behind Courtenay Central)
Could this be the start of the long-awaited five-screen art-house cinema complex and retail centre? Now that the equally long-promised bowling alley is taking shape next door, perhaps it's finally happening. Of course, it could just be another car yard moving in, or a renovation of the existing one, or something equally boring. Any rumours?

Monday, September 11, 2006

Open market

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The council is considering a proposal (68kB PDF) for a market in the Wellington CBD. Not a farmers' market, nor the sort of deli/market that I've been suggesting, but a weekend arts and crafts market, presumably similar to that at the Christchurch Arts Centre. They've long considered that this would fill a gap in the city's retail sector, and in fact they have had discussions with someone who proposed such a market for Queens Wharf, but nothing came of that proposal.

For such a market to work, it needs a lot of elements to come together. The council considers that the critical mass would require about 80 stallholders, so it certainly sound like a major undertaking that would require at least 500 square metres. They also don't see it as a free-for-all full of second-hand knick-knacks and knock-off designer handbags (thank god!), but as an event that is actively managed to ensure quality, variety and entertainment. That sounds like it runs the risk of being a Disneyfied tourist experience, put perhaps we can look to Craftwerk to remind us that "arts and crafts" doesn't have to mean Uncle Fred's watercolours and Auntie Marjorie's doilies (or vice versa).

The other key element is, of course, location. According to the proposal, the ideal location would:
  • be available at the appropriate times

  • be cheap

  • work well with the rest of the city

  • have high foot traffic

  • suit the installation of appropriate infrastructure (e.g. power connections, storage facilities for stalls and coverings, anchor points for stalls on the surface or on neighbouring building)

  • be highly visible

  • have good access (which, typically and depressingly, is interpreted as having plenty of parking rather than being close to public transport)

  • offer shelter to shoppers and stall holders.

That's quite a list of requirements! In fact, they almost seem mutually exclusive, since any space that's large, sheltered and well-located is unlikely to be cheap and available. Also, if shelter is a prerequisite, then it will need to be indoors. Given Wellington's low rate of retail vacancy, that will be a challenge, and it seems a waste to leave a large retail space unoccupied for all but a few hours a week.

Several sites have already been considered, though the report doesn't specify where. Here are my own thoughts on some possible locations for an indoor arts and crafts market at weekends.

The ground floor of the NZX building has already been leased to a corporation that naturally seeks a decent return on its investment, but it's been empty for a long time now and maybe it's possible to lease it cheaply on a temporary once-a-week basis. If nothing else, that would demonstrate its value to potential commercial tenants.

Another potential waterfront location would be the atrium at the Chaffers Dock complex. That would complement the surrounding retail spaces under the old Herd St building and Boathouse apartments, as well as adding vitality to the edge of Waitangi Park. It could also combine with the "creative café" (whatever that is) suggested for one of the John Wardle buildings planned to go east of here. On the other hand, it's hard to see 80 stalls fitting within the atrium, unless they spill out into the surrounding spaces.

Of course, we already have an indoor weekend market: the Wellington Market between Cable St and Jervois Quay. But that's awaiting redevelopment, and has been looking dowdier and sadder as time goes on. Perhaps it would be possible for the council to take out a head lease on most of the ground floor, with a "skin" of permanent retail around the outside to provide commercial return and maintain active edges all week.

Another possibility is Shed 13 at Kumutoto. The current plans are to renovate it and use it for the sort of temporary events and exhibitions currently hosted by Shed 11, which would rule it out unless the exhibitions only ran during the week and could be quickly packed away. On the other hand, if it's primarily used for functions (conference, parties, product launches) during the week, then the uses could complement one another quite well

Those are some thoughts on indoor locations: I'll write soon about possibilities for open-air markets or temporary shelters.

Friday, September 08, 2006

What's the plan?

The proposed Central Area district plan change that I alluded to the other day is a complex beast, and it may be a while before I get my head around it. I mentioned 35 pages, but that's just the report to last night's meeting (293kB PDF), not the full detailed plan change complete with policies, design guides and maps. While it's apparently a simplification of the current rules, it still adds up to over 500 pages, and is too big to be put online, so I'll have to wait for my requested hard copy to arrive before I can start analysing it properly.

In the meantime, there's enough information in the report to correct a few misconceptions in the media. I can understand that editorial time pressure combined with complexity and limited information can lead to inaccuracies, but I think that Wednesday's Dominion Post article (page A4, not online) headed "New rules may cut building heights in city" makes the proposed changes seem more restrictive than they will be.

The article says that "Building heights will be cut by up to 75 per cent", but the report (section says that "the current high city/low city height limits are generally appropriate ... it is not proposed to significantly alter the height regime in the District Plan other than in identified heritage areas." So where does the 75% figure come from? The next section in the document refers to "setting the baseline for building mass at 75% of a theoretical 100% maximum".

That could indeed mean that the building is only 75% of the maximum height, but it's actually designed to give architects and developers the freedom to arrange that mass in creative ways. The building might cover only three quarters of the site, or have stepped setbacks (like an Art Deco skyscraper), or lightwells, or a modulated facade, or take on a modernist "podium and slab" typology. It could be pyramid-shaped, cone-shaped or gherkin-shaped. One would hope that in most cases, responsible developers would refrain from using the whole volume of a large site, to ensure good natural light for the tenants as well as neighbours, but this should encourage better urban design and more interesting buildings.

The article also says that "the city [will be] carved into nine new heritage sectors to protect distinctive areas from new developments". Yes, there will be nine heritage areas, replacing and adding to the existing heritage and "character" areas. However, rather than "carving" the whole central city into these areas, they only cover a small fraction of the central area: it's hard to tell without the official maps, but at a guess I'd say about 10%.

There's a table of all the areas on page 23, and it makes interesting reading. It certainly seems that some recent controversial schemes in Courtenay Place and Cuba Street would have been unlikely to have gone ahead if these rules had been in place earlier. For instance, Cuba Street between Dixon and Abel Smith streets currently has maximu heights of either 27 or 43.8 metres, but the proposed rules have a minimum of 12m and a maximum of 18m. Without the maps it's hard to tell how far from Cuba St a development would have to be set back to avoid the limits, but I don't think the ten-storey "Wellington" apartment and hotel development would have been possible. I like the idea of a minimum height as well as a maximum, since a 3-5 storey development would fit much better into the streetscape than a single-storey shed (or open air car yard, for that matter).

Here's a graph of the new and existing heights in the heritage areas. Note that some of the areas currently have a range of height limits: these ranges are shown by arrows.

New and existing height limits in central Wellington heritage areas
Another sentence in the article that confused me was "New buildings would be limited depending on their location, with the highest along the west side of Jervois Quay, tapering off away from the central business district." It seemed strange that Jervois Quay would have a higher limit than Lambton Quay or Willis St. But from the same table it looks like of the heritage areas, the western side of Jervois Quay adjacent to Post Office Square has the highest limit (40m). The rest of Jervois Quay retains a 60m limit, and the rest of the Lambton Quarter (with the exception of other heritage areas around Parliament, the Supreme Court and the old BNZ) will have the same height limits (75-95m above sea level) that they do now.

The article ends with a notable point: "Senior planning adviser Jeremy Blake said the height limits could be exceeded but any bigger building would have to be 'iconic' as it would stand out." According to the document (section, "waivers might be contemplated where a positive heritage or urban design outcome will be achieved. ... Such a policy is considered useful as landmark buildings of design excellence can visually enhance and add further interest to Wellington's cityscape." This is made more specific in the summary table on page 5, where it says "up to 35% additional height is provided for as a Discretionary Restricted Activity for all Central Area sites." Given that the maximum height limit (on west side of Willis St from Stewart Dawson Corner to opposite Bond St) is 95m, that theoretically allows for a skyscraper of 128m: several storeys taller than the 116m Majestic Centre.

Of course, I could be wrong, as I've only had a couple of evenings to read the summary of the plan, and the plan itself might contain other restrictions. In fact Cr Robert Armstrong, who should be familiar with the plans, said "a maximum building height of 40 metres (previously 95 metres) would strangle the city", according to the article. But my reading of the report suggests that these changes are far less restrictive than the article implies. Any comments from people who have been involved in the process (architects, planners, developers) would be most welcome.

Update: the plan changes have been approved for public feedback. The detailed plans and feedback form are on the council's Central Area Review page, and submissions close on the 27th of November.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Martini marathon

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stylised MartiniIt's time for some long-overdue Martini reviews (my last one was way back in July). Adding things up, I realise that after today I've now reviewed 56 Martinis this year. That may sound like a lot, but it's only about one every four and a half days, which is nothing. For some people that would be a month's worth of lunches. So, on with the reviews.

Boulcott St Bistro: 7.5
Somewhat disappointingly, this otherwise fine establishment goes the Bombay way. The result was generally okay (clear, cold and smooth), but lacking in depth of flavour.

Boss: 6.5
When I asked for a Dry Martini, the barman nodded knowledgeably, then reached for Bacardi. Thankfully, the bar manager reacted in horror and took over before an unspeakable chimera was born. He stirred South Gin and Noilly with ice and strained it into a chilled glass with three olives. The result had a muted herbal aroma, and a pleasantly strong taste of juniper, citrus and liquorice, but was let down by a hot, unbalanced "rocket fuel" finish.

Caucus: 4.5
This didn't start well, with Bombay and Martini being shaken rather vigorously, and got worse when it arrived without olives. When I enquired, the waitress said that they were out of olives, so I asked for a twist instead. After a couple of minutes, what I got was a side dish with four olives (rustled up from the kitchen), no cocktail stick, and half a slice of lemon. Oh dear. At least the drink was clear and cold, though with a distracting raft of ice chips. There was only a faint gin aroma and a watery gin taste, with just a vague hint of vermouth on the finish.

Electric Avenue: 8
This was a complex process. First, the bartender put ice into a glass for a while before discarding the ice. Then a dash of Martini vermouth was placed into a shaker with ice, briefly stirred, then strained out. More vermouth went into the chilled glass before being swirled and discarded. The bartender then added Tanqueray to the shaker, stirred it slowly with the vestigial vermouth, and strained it into the glass with three olives speared lengthwise. The result was nicely cold and viscous, with good legs. The aroma was pleasantly herbaceous, the body intensely dry with distinct citrus and peppery notes, followed by a long clean finish.

Hawthorn Lounge: 9.5
For a change, the premium gin was not Tanqueray but Crown Jewel, which combined with Noilly Prat to give an exquisite Martini. Served ice-cold in a small glass filled almost to the brim, this was a classic and old fashioned drink, as befits the surroundings. The aromas and flavours were intense, with elements of herbs, spices, black olives, juniper and liquorice. The mouthfeel and finish were both weighty and impeccable, and as reviews have suggested, the rare and powerfully alcoholic gin may have been what made the difference.

Imbibe: 9
Again, it's good to see some alternatives to the major brands of gin. The proprietors suggested that I tried Junípero, a "boutique" gin from San Francisco, and I'm glad I took their advice. The result was flavoursome and fiercely strong, and while I personally would have preferred a little more Noilly Prat, it was delicious. As you would expect from the name, juniper was the dominant flavour, with a hint of lemon and perhaps something a little like aromatic pine. The body was a little lighter than some of the other premium gins, but not at all bland as the previous review found it.

Lone Star: 7.5
Tanqueray and Martini were stirred with ice in a shaker, then strained into a small chilled glass with three olives (lengthwise - is this a trend?). The nose was a little bland and the drink not quite cold enough, but it made up for this with strong botanical flavours: juniper, liquorice and perhaps tarragon. The finish was a bit hot, but nice and rich.

Lone Star Lounge: 7.5
This bar used the same ingredients as its downstairs stablemate, with similar results. Overall, a fairly standard and straightforward Martini, but none the less satisfying for that.

Milk: 5
This is a bar with pretensions to cocktail style but an RTD clientele, and the Martini was predictably disappointing. Perhaps I'm getting fussy now, and sneer at anything less than Tanq Ten, but Gordon's?!? In the name of all things holy, no! The result was bland and plasticky, with the only detectable flavour being a hint of bitterness from the single black olive.

MVP: 7
I didn't see this being made, but from the results I'd guess it was made from fairly standard ingredients. It was clear but slightly tepid, served in a small glass with a single olive. The aroma was mellow but balanced and it was tasty if undistinguished. A touch of saltiness from the olive helped to bring it together at the end.

Rain: 3
The barman initially went to shake it, but I stopped him just in time. I needn't have bothered, as the result was never going to resemble a Martini. I was taken aback by the presence of dozens of pale particles floating in the drink, which a sip revealed to be lime juice. As I've said before, that's not a Martini but a variation on a gimlet. In any case, it was sweet and bland, topped off with the ridiculous spectacle of a huge unpitted green olive, balanced on the side of the glass with a rickety arrangement of toothpicks. I should have expected no better from a place that looks, sounds and smells like an eighties nightclub.

Sojourn: 4
I'd expect rack spirits from a cheesy Courtenay Place bar, but not from what passes for a decent hotel. What I got was a mixture of Beefeater gin and Martini vermouth, with two slightly brownish olives on a tiny stick that disappeared beneath the surface. It was cloudy and covered in ice chips, and the barman wondered aloud what had gone wrong (simple - he shook it!). There was virtually no aroma, the mouthfeel was dull and watery with a vaguely gin-like finish, and the flavour of the olives themselves was dominated by pimento. Combine this with the presence of a toothless, moustachioed pianist systematically murdering the works of Antônio Carlos Jobim, and it's hard to avoid the conclusion that Wellington desparately needs some good hotel bars.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Building rumours 3: round-up

I was going to bring you some more building rumours, but I've just started looking at 35 pages of district plan change (293kB PDF) that could have a big impact on future development in the central city after they go to the council's Strategy & Policy meeting tomorrow. The new rules are generally more restrictive on height and bulk than the current policy, but I'll have to read it more thoroughly before I consider the impact. In the meantime, here's a quick update on some previous rumours.

First, the Il Casino site has indeed been sold. There was a property ad in yesterday's Dominion Post (page C4) with a photo of the famous mural and the following caption:
Sold for a premium price, signalling the end of an era, pictured here Joseph Lupi & Cav Remiro Bresolin shake hands outside the famous site, that has now sold to a reputable Wellington property developer. Successfully negotiated by Joseph, the site is a record sale for the area for development land, Joseph states "he is extremely pleased for both the vendor who has achieved a premium price and also for the developer who has agreed that the site is of premium value for a future development".

I'll leave it up to you to work out what phrases like "end of an era", "development land" and "reputable Wellington property developer" (no guffaws, please) imply.

On my previous post, Simon commented that the El Cheapo car yard on upper Cuba St is rumoured to be temporary, with "an apartment building built to max-height with retail at ground floor" the longer term future for the site. Correction: as Simon pointed out, it's actually the fish factory between Lorne and Tennyson streets that's being developed, and the long term fate of the fish shop and car yard site in Cuba St is still unknown.

Gordon also drew my attention to an article about the old A-mart site, which Chris Parkin has sold to Foodstuffs. They will refurbish it as a branch of their new Duffy & Finns chain of liquor megastores, opening about the middle of next year. They are also talking of a multistorey retail and apartment complex on the site, but they'll take several years to plan it.

They even say that "it will be important to liaise with council, landowners and other stakeholders to produce the very best design concept and best range of uses", which is a very encouraging sentiment, though we can be forgiven a touch of scepticism. Foodstuffs also said that the adjacent New World will get a big refurbishment in 2007. Any chance that they'll look for "the very best design concept" there as well and relocate to the western half of the site, thus reopening the viewshaft down Cambridge Tce? We can always hope...

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Waterfront update

Last night, I once again forced myself to sit through a Waterfront Development Subcommittee meeting. While it was full of enough procedural tedium and political pigheadedness to make sitting in broken glass during a Celine Dion concert seem like a pleasant alternative, it was worth it to get the latest updates and to see an inspiring presentation from UN Studio's Holger Hoffman (since Ben van Berkel had to miss it due to illness) about the processes behind their design for the transition building. Here's an update on progress and plans, mainly based upon reports from the meeting, but with a few other tidbits.

Waitangi Park
The waharoa (carved gateway) will be delivered to Wellington next week, and installed in the park soon afterwards. The kiosk was recently granted code compliance, the toilets are open, and fitout for the food operation (by Mediterranean Foods Ltd) will begin this month. At last!

A consent has finally been granted to feed treated stormwater through the wetlands. There have been dark allegations of contamination in the park (beyond the hardly surprising news that birds and dogs crap all over the place), and Wellington Waterfront Ltd is working on a reply to them.

Incidentally, the Dominion Post finally published my letter about the park today, alongside one from professional anglophile Peter Beaven. While we agree on some things (such as the need for buildings and shelter), it appears from his praise of the Constable exhibition that he wants less wetland and more haywains.

Chaffers Dock
The Boathouse and CHaffers Dock apartments under constructionThe Chaffers Dock complex is rapidly taking shape, and I must say the Boathouse apartments are looking very slick. According to a recent advert, only 6 of the original 22 retail tenancies remain to be leased, and the complex is supposed to open in November. I have reason to believe that it will include either a Mojo or Kaffee Eis outlet, or perhaps even a bar of Matterhorn quality. In any case, this part of the waterfront looks set to be an exciting place to be this summer.

Overseas Passenger Terminal
Discussions with berth-holders over parking (which I mentioned two months ago) are still dragging on, but the intention is to have them wrapped up in time for the Marina AGM at the end of October.

Taranaki Street Wharf
As I mentioned last week, there have been some changes of plan here. The meeting approved a design brief (55kB PDF) for amendments to the existing public space design, including moving the wharewaka. As I surmised, this will now most likely be on what was to have been the wharenui site, and will be no larger than the planned wharenui.

A fence around the grassy knoll, in preparation for its levellingOther plans are already underway. The levelling of the grassy knoll began yesterday, and is expected to take 8 weeks. Carparking for the rowing clubs has been resolved (after all that unpleasantness!), and lease discussions are underway. The bar in the ambulance building is about to open, which is good timing climatically if not in terms of the amount of earthworks going on nearby.

The NZX plans to place a Jeff Thompson sculpture (called "Raging Bull") in Odlins Plaza. The ground floor of the NZX building was leased some time ago to what is described as "a large corporate" (rumoured to be Lion Breweries, protecting their Brewery Bar from the competitors), and it's up to them to sublet it subject to use restrictions (i.e. it must be retail or other publicly-accessible use, not offices).

Frank Kitts Park
A design brief (39kB PDF) for a redesign of the park was approved to go to the public for feedback, with the resulting submissions to be presented to the committee on December 11. The most controversial aspect of the brief (apart from the interminable procedural issues and grandstanding) was the inclusion of a Chinese Garden here, rather than east of Te Papa as previously planned.

The Chinese Garden Society gave a presentation, stating that they prefer the Frank Kitts Park location for several reasons. The transition zone next to Waitangi Park suffered from climatic and construction issues (specifically with being on top of a carpark) as well as delays with the Transition building. A Frank Kitts site, on the other hand, would have a more positive relationship with water, a symbolic location between local and central government and better sunlight. It has become a regular venue for the Dragonboat festival and Chinese New Year celebrations, would fit in well with cultural activities (such as the planned Music School across the road) and is more conveniently located for office workers.

It was surprising to hear that when they first suggested a garden (10 years ago!), they wanted a Frank Kitts location, but since that was unavailable they went for the Waitangi site. It's true that frustrations with delays has driven them to ask for a site away from Waitangi, but when they were asked which site they would prefer, "all things being equal", they chose Frank Kitts Park. This fact was lost on certain councillors who came in late and missed the presentation, and then proceeded to act outraged on behalf of the Chinese community.

The Garden would require 3000 sq m, which is about a quarter of the whole park, and presumably can't go on the existing carpark at the southern end. The brief also calls for the retention of the playground, performance space and flexible sites for temporary events, which sounds like a challenging task. There are no specific proposals for upgrading the TSB Bank Arena or for a connection across to Willeston St, but the designers must allow for the possibility of the former and are free to make their own suggestions for the former. Improving connections to the water is a high priority (the chunky masonry wall is a legacy of car-racing days), and it may be possible to open up the Willeston St viewshaft.

Outer T
A decision on resource consent for the Hilton is due this week. Whichever way the decision goes, expect sparks to fly!

The Meridian building under construction at Site 7 in KumutotoThe Meridian building at Site 7 is roaring ahead, with two and a half of its three floor slabs alread laid, and is on track for completion in December 2007 (or October, depending upon who you talk to). It's getting some attention for its use of Environmentally Sustainable Design principles, including a case study in the NZ Green Building Council's latest newsletter (738kB PDF). There's a sneak peak of the interiors if you can fight your way through Warren & Mahoney's Flash site, and while the campaign to find ground-floor tenants has completed, there's no public word yet on what will be there. The public open spaces are having their designs tweaked, and an update is expected in December.

Sites 8, 9 and 10 are having Requests For Proposal prepared, and designs for the buildings are scheduled for next year. They will have publicly-accessible uses on the ground floor, and site 8 will have apartments above, site 9 will have a mix of offices and apartments, and site 10 is yet to be determined.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Back on track: the numbers game

After my last post mentioning that the Dominion Post article had a serious typo (stating that only 56 rather than 456 people supported light rail), I didn't bother writing in to correct them, assuming that such a glaring error must have been picked up and corrected since then. I still haven't seen any such correction, and from a letter in today's paper it's clear that even rail supporters are still being misled by the mistake. So I fired off a quick letter to (hopefully) correct the misconception that virtually no-one supports light rail:
Kevin Anderson is right to point out that rail is cleaner, more popular and more space-efficient that buses or busways. He is also right to be sceptical about support for the busway, given that 87% of the support came on pro-forma submission forms provided and promoted by a vested commercial interest.

He is wrong, however, to say that rail and light rail attracted a combined total of 645 supporters. The figure is actually 1045, since light rail was supported by 456 people rather than the mere 56 that your article erroneously reported. It's not really possible to add the options together, since submitters could choose multiple options, but nevertheless Kevin Anderson can be assured that support for rail is much greater than your article suggested.

I've also previously questioned the definition of "North Wellington" that includes suburbs far from the Johnsonville line, when all of the proposed options centre on the future of the line. Criticising the Johnsonville line for not serving Woodridge makes as much sense as me blaming the Eastbourne ferry for not helping me get from Te Aro to Lambton Quay. Thankfully, the summary of submissions (350kB PDF) breaks them down by suburb (page 15) and into three geographic clusters. The cluster that is actually served by the Johnsonville line comes out strongly in support of rail, even if you include the Bus & Coach Association forms:

North Wellington public transport submissions from those near the Johnsonville railway line
This clearly shows the popularity of rail compared to a busway along the same route.

It's also worth noting that the busway option would be incompatible with some of the council's stated policies. The report on council responses to peak oil (115kB PDF) recommends that the council should "agree to take into account the peak oil issue and rising fuel prices when making future transport investment decisions, by promoting and designing a transport system that encourages more efficient use of and reduced reliance on oil-based products." Specifically, "because very little electricity is generated from oil in New Zealand, the Council's support for electricity-based transport options is an important way to reduce oil dependency." In this context, it hardly makes sense to replace an electric rail line with diesel buses.

Secondly, it's notable that among the reasons for supporting the busway cited by submitters (page 29 of the summary), "potential for growth in northern suburbs" was listed as an advantage. Given that the council's Urban Development Strategy is committed to focussing most population growth along a compact "growth spine" (Johnsonville - CBD - Airport), encouraging more sprawl in the suburbs north of there seems like a distinct disadvantage.

To sum up: people who use the train don't want it converted to a busway; buses are incompatible with the council's peak oil advice; and the busway would encourage growth where the council doesn't want it.