Street evolution: Taranaki St
This city has some great streets, and some fairly mediocre ones, and Taranaki Street would be lucky to count among the latter. It's focus has always been on traffic rather than pedestrian amenity, much of it is lined with car dealerships or blank bulk-retail outlets, and there's been a rash of inappropriate, thoughtless and just plain hideous apartment developments of the sort that give density a bad name. Now that part of it has ceased to be State Highway 1, and with the controversial NZ Memorial Park provoking an extension of the "Greening the Quays" project along much of its length, there may at last be some improvements to its physical environment. However, it has always struggled to attract any of Courtenay Place's vitality, especially towards the south.
There are some small but encouraging signs, however. Cubita has just opened around the corner from Burger Fuel, opening up what one commenter described as "the most foul elevation to Taranaki St - blank white hardies sheets with nasty external wiring" and turning it into a pleasantly active edge. It's just a tiny little hole-in-the wall café, with room for fewer than a dozen tiny tables, but it's a bold step towards enlivening this stretch of street. It's right next to the bus stop, so the wall no longer "treats bus users like savages" as the same commenter said, but offers a place to sit and have a coffee instead.
So far, it just does coffee and cake, and has no license or real kitchen, but it plans to open late every night and offer live music on Sundays. Some people may yawn at the rather well-worn Cuban theme, but they've done a good job of bringing some character to a building that Gerry Melling famously described as a "classic [example] of an architecture which has croaked in the chrysalis of its third-rate, third-hand, two-dimensional representation".
Next door, in a retail space that was very briefly home to a pharmacy but has otherwise struggled, something called "Pizza King" is about to open. There are plenty of pizza vendors around the world with that name, but I'm not sure whether it's part of a chain: does anyone recognise the logo? The signs that have appeared so far don't give me any reason to think it might rival Scopa or Pomodoro for quality, but still, it's a lot better than a blank wall.
These are just two very tentative steps, but it's a sign that Taranaki St might not forever be doomed to pedestrian-hostile blankness. The Film Archive has brought life to the Ghuznee St corner, and if that street gains any benefit from being bypassed, then some of that might also spread through to Taranaki. There's still a long way to go before it becomes an attractive streetscape (a consistent six stories of shops and apartments would help, as would some benches and small trees along the pavement to complement the larger ones planned for the median), but we may at least get some more street-level activity, and it's brave small businesses like this that are leading the way.