It should be time for me to introduce the drink of the month for March, but while I'm working on that post, here are a few important bits of council-related news that couldn't wait.
At last, the council has acknowledged that the exterior of Toi Pōneke needs to reflect the vitality of the creative work going on inside. I wrote way back in 2005 that "stained concrete, blank ground floor windows and faux-domestic brown weatherboards hardly say 'vital creative community'", and now the Public Art Panel has called for "creative concepts" to enliven the façade of the east building. This could be "a sculptural form, a moving image projection or new media installation, light boxes or other work involving light", or anything else the applicant chooses. It seems that any local artist can apply, and the winning artist will get $10,000 towards design, construction and installation. I wonder whether it'll take more than that to counter the grinding mediocrity of the building itself, but it's a welcome move nonetheless.
Another prominent public facility that's up for a design competition is Frank Kitts Park. It won't be a completely open competition, but this month "expressions of interest [will be] sought using the networks of the New Zealand institutes of architecture and landscape architecture", followed by a public exhibition of entries in the middle of the year. The design brief for the redesign has already attracted controversy from the predictable quarters, and meeting all the requirements on a limited budget is going to be extremely challenging, but I'm sure the entrants will come up with something much more exciting than my rough scratchings, and I can't wait to see the options.
A less visible but probably much more significant upgrade to Wellington's infrastructure is also on the way, with a Council commitment to "affordable, high-speed broadband access throughout the city by 2012". It's a great example of the benefits of sharing infrastructure, because by using the trolley bus network and existing ducts as the host for a fibre network, the entire exercise becomes much cheaper. 2012 does seem an awfully long way away, though.
Finally, something less positive. With regional council officers, bus companies, taxi drivers, couriers, Autoholics Anonymous, the Greens and geeks all blaming the bypass for recent gridlock, it looks at the moment to have been a complete disaster. While I've always been opposed to it, I think it may be too early to say "I told you so" and blame increased congestion on induced traffic, as the Greens and Transport 2000+ have done. There's obviously a lot of confusion out there with the temporary layout, and with Vivian St currently spookily deserted it looks like the traffic has had to go elsewhere for the moment. Ongoing bypass-related construction and unrelated roadworks have added to the problem, and I suspect that some people have been so aggravated by recent bus fiascos that they've switched to driving.
Once the new southbound route opens on March 25th (which is earlier than previously suggested), and drivers have sorted out their way through the new intersection layouts, we may see a return to some sort of normality. What I don't expect is any significant improvement on pre-bypass travel times, and while Ghuznee St should theoretically benefit from reduced traffic, will that really be enough to justify $40 million and all that destruction? Of course, the Mayor is still whole-heartedly behind it, and according to a small article in yesterday's Dominion Post (page A7, apparently not online), she
scolded Mr McDavitt for his comments, saying the bypass was not yet finished and such public criticism by an official was unhelpful. ... "Of course it's going to work," she told Mr McDavitt at a meeting of the transport committee.We should remember that. And by "work", we should take that to mean more than just going back to what we had before, but the full suite of benefits that we were promised. There are a lot of weasel words in there, and not a lot of measurable targets, but if there are not, for example, "fewer delays to people travelling across and through the city" than there were before it opened, then we can indeed say "we told you so".