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

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Shops we love: Kirkcaldie & Stains Cuisine

It's been quite a while since I wrote a "shops we love" post, I guess because there haven't been that many new shops that I could honestly say I regularly patronised. But while there's been plenty of talk about new specialty food stores (Zarbo at Chaffers Dock, the expansion of Moore Wilson, La Cloche), a comprehensive fine food emporium has been stealthily taking shape on Lambton Quay.

The fromagerie at Kirkcaldie & Stains CuisineI've always thought that Kirkcaldie & Stains was a bit dowdy and fusty, and could benefit from the sort of reinvention that Selfridges has gone through (though that might alienate their core market of K-block matrons and Wairarapa farmers' wives). Their Cuisine store, which has been growing like a particularly delicious fungus through the neighbouring Harbour City Centre, is a different story. What started as a posh kitchenware outlet with a small deli has now sprouted separate shops for cheese, chocolate, tea, coffee, pantry items and wine: pretty much all the essentials of life.

Okay, that may be a slight exaggeration (they don't yet sell hard liquor), and the selection and prices don't exactly lend themselves to shopping for everyday staples. But it's nevertheless a droolworthy cornucopia of special-occasion goodies, with the presentation and service to match. One of my favourite sections would have to be the fromagerie, where the cheeses are labelled with maps indicating their provenance and individually wrapped with hand-written notes when you purchase. The staff know what they're talking about, and will happily offer you samples to make sure that you are getting what you want for a specific purpose: for instance, when I ordered some spectacular-looking Shropshire Blue, the attendant suggested that while it would go superbly with onions, it might be too salty for a cheeseboard: after tasting, I agreed and went with her suggestion of a Whitestone Blue instead.

As one might expect, one could do serious damage to one's "food miles" budget here. Nevertheless, they have made the admirable decision to stock almost entirely local wines (except for Champagne, of course), and the cheese maps help you make an informed decision about where your food is coming from. I think insisting on a "100-mile diet" is far too extreme, anyway, and while it's ridiculously extravagant to live on out-of-season produce flown from the other hemisphere, there's nothing wrong with the occasional exotic treat. Apart from anything else, it helps us broaden our palates and appreciate the different qualities of our local foods.

It's not quite the local food market that I've been promoting for a while, but it's getting closer and it's one of the best shops on the increasingly chain-ridden Lambton Quay. Rather than an upmarket food hall like this, I'd love it if its role were fulfilled by dozens of small, independent, unpretentious specialist shops throughout the city: from the Basin to Thorndon, you'd never be more than a couple of blocks from all the bread, cheese, meat, drink and fresh produce you'd need. While our shopping habits may have been permanently altered by the convenience and predictability of supermarkets, it may be that with the increasing residential population of central Wellington, that sort of vision is getting closer by the day.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

A breath of fresh air

A Swift Rooftop Wind Energy System by Renewable Devices - http://www.renewabledevices.com/swift/index.htmWhile the council's first moves after announcing their "carbon neutral" aspirations were dubious to the point of being counter-productive, here's one very tiny step in the right direction. Vector Energy is trialling urban micro-turbines, first in Waitakere and then in Wellington. The respective councils are taking part in the initiative, and our Mayor was quoted in the announcement as saying:
... she is delighted Wellington has been chosen to trial this new initiative, which fits well with Wellington's recently adopted carbon neutral vision.

"Wellington is the home of creativity and innovation and therefore very amenable to new initiatives that will ultimately benefit our city and, indeed, the rest of New Zealand. We know that alternative renewable energy sources are crucial for sustainability. We look forward to the trial."
Well, if you ignore all the puffery, it certainly fits better than cheap parking and more expensive public transport! According to the manufacturer's website (from where I grabbed this photo), each of their "Swift" turbines "produces more energy in its lifetime than is incorporated in the materials and processes used to manufacture it", so while it might take a while to pay off the capital cost, in the long term these are a great idea.

Large scale wind-farms will still be needed, but the fact that urban microgeneration is entering the mainstream is good news. These models look fairly utilitarian, but looking around me at a skyline of satellite dishes, aerials and air conditioning units, I'd say that if anything they'd have a positive effect on the visual environment. Some people aren't content with turbines that look merely okay, though: Tara-iti Wind Kinetics is a local blog that researches the question: "Would residential wind-turbines develop a widespread application if they were to be marketed as kinetic sculpture, in a manner akin to exquisite architectural fittings?" I've seen some of the author's designs, and they really do look beautiful.

I've often promoted the idea of a waterfront "eco-centre" (though preferably with a less cheesy name) that is not only the site of, but also a living example of, research into sustainable building and energy technology. There should be nothing to stop Wellington designing and even building our own turbines and other systems, and a research centre that acts as a very visible laboratory would be a great way of promoting these ideas. The DOC and Meridian buildings are a good start, but rather than just reducing energy consumption, the next step would be for buildings to become net energy exporters.

Also, now that the council is set to spend $220 million on upgrading social housing, wouldn't it be great if some of it could go towards something like this project in London? Combining local design, environmental sustainability and affordable housing: that would really be "creativity and innovation".

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

How not to go carbon neutral

A couple of weeks ago, Wellington City Council decided that Wellington should aspire to become carbon neutral. Since then,
The first initiative aims to get between 1000 and 1500 more people coming into the city (by car, of course) at weekends, and while some of those people would have been driving to suburban shops anywhere, others would be switching from public transport now that parking in town is cheaper than coming by bus from virtually anywhere. The second move is by the regional council rather than the city, but the city has a part to play in those decisions too.

I tried not to be too cynical about the "carbon neutral" aspirations, even though it's a debatable and wishy-washy concept. But one thing's for sure: making it more attractive to drive and less attractive to take public transport is exactly the opposite of what they should be doing.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Mojo rising

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Mojo Invincible and the former SherbetMojo already has six cafés in Wellington, and the cartel continues to expand. There's an outlet planned for the ground floor of the Watermark apartments, and according to the neighbours, there will soon be a Mojo in upper Cuba St. The website news page mentions something called "Mojo on the run", and there's also good reason to believe that Mojo Invincible in Willis St is about to expand into the space next door (that was recently vacated by Sherbet).

The question is: when does a much-loved local success story become a depressing chain store? Mojo has done more than most chains to avoid homogeneity across its outlets: the slickness of State contrasts with the ornate Old Bank and the industrial chic of Factory; the openness and light of Summit responds to the style and location of the contemporary building in which it is housed, while Invincible opts for dark Old World inwardness. Some are strictly daytime cafés, while others have flirted with becoming wine bars. Variety, local origins, style and quality have helped distinguish Mojo from the likes of Starbucks, Esquire and Gloria Jean's. But that can only go so far. Are we already starting to think "oh yawn, another Mojo"?

Friday, June 22, 2007

A subtle message

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This spray-painted message recently appeared on some new asphalt on upper Ghuznee St:

Get the message?I love the "please" at the end. So polite!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Building rumours 14: buildings everywhere!

There's just so much going on at the moment (not just apartments), this will have to be just a brief survey of all the building activity and proposals that I've come across.

The controversial Mt Cook Pak'n'Save is to get a competitor down the road on the corner of Adelaide Rd & John St. I don't think either of them have applied for consent yet, so we're a long way from being able to see what we're arguing about (How tall will they be? Will they have active edges?).

Potential building at 76 Willis StThis ad appeared in yesterday's Dominion Post (thanks to AdamNZ from SkyscraperCity for the scan). It shows a 95m tower at 76 Willis St, but the context of the ad suggests that this isn't a real proposal, just an indication of what a potential developer could get away with under the District Plan. I can just imagine the poor architect or illustrator asked to come up with design that does nothing more than show the financial potential of the site: "God I'm bored. I know! I'll whack a great big sail on the side - that'll wake me up!" The implication is that something is likely to get built there, but not straight away: the website is still just a placeholder (update: there's something there now, but no useful information), so there's no clues there yet. Further update: there was a detailed article in today's DomPost: SkyscraperCity has a transcription.

Speaking of transactions involving "virtual buildings", the land at 13-15 College St has been sold. This had long been earmarked as the site for an apartment development called Vivo, but that's no longer going ahead as planned. According to the article on page C6 of Tuesday's DomPost, it was bought by an anonymous local developer, who is apparently "working through a number of different schemes for the site". Given that the nearby Mitre 10 site recently sold, and that MasterTrade moved out from the site across the road, College St could still be in for some big changes. Update: according to an article about the Chaffers Dock Zarbo on page C3 of today's DomPost, Moore Wilson is taking over that MasterTrade building "to expand their operations". Sounds like good news!

There's a big splash on the front page of today's DomPost and a council news item about the redevelopment of the Overseas Passenger Terminal. These appear to be exactly the same plans that were announced over a year ago (see my post from May last year), but what makes this news is that the plans will be presented for approval at the Waterfront Development Subcommittee meeting next week. That presumably means that talks with Marina berth-holders have reached a satisfactory conclusion, and I certainly hope that a compromise has been reached that allows the Marina to operate without turning the downtown waterfront into Seaview. One downside of the interminable delay is that revenue from the commercial development is required to pay for public space improvements, meaning that according to the draft waterfront development plan (153kB PDF), Taranaki St West won't get started until 2008/09, and the Frank Kitts Park/Chinese Garden construction will be delayed until 2009/10. That makes me feel old just thinking about it.

Wellington Overseas Passenger Terminal redevelopment, selected scheme: details of northern endAt the other end of the CBD, site works appear to have begun on two long-awaited (though not universally eagerly-awaited) buildings: the Supreme Court and the corner of Featherston & Bunny streets. If the latter site is going ahead as originally planned, it could be Wellington's largest building by floor area. There have been various renderings floating around of what this might look like, none of them exactly inspiring, but there was perhaps a hint that the new Central Area rules might influence a change towards a less bulky building.

The Warehouse is movingUpdate: and the Warehouse is definitely moving to the old Big Save furniture site in the "Top of Tory" complex, so the development of the Monument & Piermont apartments on the current site won't be a complete disaster for lovers of the Red Shed (I hear there are some of you out there).

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Sign of the times

It's hard to miss this recent addition to the corner of Customhouse Quay and Willeston Street: a large animated LED sign, bright enough to be clear during the day and to light up the nearby buildings after dark.

Illuminated animated sign, cnr Customhouse Quay & Willeston StIt's nice of the advertisers to provide pedestrians at this busy intersection with something to take their mind off the trivial matters of everyday urban life, like watching for buses.

Tag team

We've already had a few discussions here on WellUrban about graffiti, and while I've tended to be sceptical of anti-graffiti "flying squads" while singing the praises of street art in Waitangi Park and Ghuznee Street's "Graffiti Alley", a lot of other people see all graffiti as mindless vandalism. There's been a bit of a debate over on Texture about "friggin' taggers", and I of course waded in with a qualified defence.

Tagging by Crepes-a-go-goNow the Architectural Centre has weighed in to oppose the flying squad ("Look out Sarge, 'e's got a sprayer!"), and while the local media don't seemed to have picked up on it, there was an article in the Sunday Herald about it. I hope that the council's hit squad has the discrimination to leave the creative stuff alone, and to realise that some walls are better off being used as a canvas than left blank, but I also don't like it when sculptures and good buildings get defaced. So where does one draw the line between street art and destructive stupidity?

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Mo' hotels

'Ohtel' under construction opposite Waitangi ParkNo-one builds plain old "hotels" any more: they're always "boutique hotels". The cutely-named Ohtel opposite Waitangi Park sounds like it will be exactly that, however. The official website doesn't say very much, but there's an online news item (scroll down a few pages) that gives a few more clues. At 10 rooms it could never be anything but boutique (it wouldn't be possible to fit in any more on such a tiny site), and the description has all the expected buzzwords such as "contemporary-style" and "urban chic". There's no hint of what the hotel will look like from the outside, but I don't expect architectural theatrics given that the ground floor seems to be using pre-cast concrete to imitate weatherboards.

There's one part of the description that is either very confused copywriting or signs of a new nadir in new-age silliness: "on-demand digital audio and movies via state of the art flat screens and speakers will complete the extra-sensory in-room experience". Extra-sensory? What, are they offering psychics along with the room service now?

The news item also refers to a much more down-to-earth "boutique" hotel opening next month: the Boulcott Suites at 5 O'Reily Ave, off Boulcott St behind the old St George Hotel. There's nothing about urban chic or in-room ouija boards here: just suites that are "ideal for corporates looking for quality and space". The building (which has been chronicled by DeepRed) is a very conventional block, though with some attempts to enliven it through semi-random application of yellow and red. It might not look too bad once it's finished, and doesn't seem too out of place alongside the no-frills rear of the St George and the semi-industrial low-rise next door (formerly part of the journalism school, if I remember correctly, and once host to the "Naked Angel" dance parties, which I definitely don't remember clearly).

It's interesting that neither of these "boutique hotels" appear to offer restaurants, bars, conference rooms or any of the other facilities that one usually associates with hotels: they're little more than a collection of rooms. This seems to be a bit of a trend, and it may be that the Wellington market is suited to serviced apartments, given the number of short- to medium-term corporate and government visitors. That could all be good news for restaurants in the immediate vicinity.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Quick questions

Is it better to have a supermarket in Mt Cook, so that the locals can do their shopping on foot rather than taking a taxi from Thorndon via the bypass, or a swimming pool? Is it possible to have both, even if it doesn't make any money?

Would replacing Crossways with 3-4 storeys of apartments, and creating a new set of community facilities on the ground floor, be a possible compromise that would keep Mt Vic residents happy? Or is it just a much a case of "please don't let the world change"?

Is it election time already? With long-awaited central government funding recently announced for the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary visitor centre and the School of Music, can a permanent home for a combined national photography and portrait gallery at Shed 11 be far away?

What amazing new statistical analyses will be done by the general public after August, when the census digital boundaries (and a whole lot more) finally become free?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Stepping back

182 Lambton Quay, WellingtonThere was a brief article in Saturday's Dominion Post about the conversion of 182 Lambton Quay into a hotel. This will require the addition of eight storeys to the existing nine storey building. The resulting seventeen-storey tower would hardly be out of place on Lambton Quay, but there is something special about this site: it's due west of Midland Park.

The developers wanted to extrude the building straight up, thus maximising the floor area, but the council told them that it would cause too much extra shading onto the park. After quite a bit of behind-the-scenes wrangling, the modified design now steps back in a series of terraces, resulting in what's described as only minimal extra shading, and none during the peak noon-2pm period. From what I could see of the design, it also looked a lot more visually interesting than a straight tower.

The developers sounded very grumpy that it took so long to get consent, and were quoted as saying that they shouldn't have to worry about shading the park. I'm all in favour of more density, but Midland Park is something special, and it's good public spaces like that that help make Wellington and attractive place for visitors in the first place. As it stands, it seems like the process has worked well: the developer still gets to build a hotel, but the building ends up looking better and impact on the public realm is minimised. We usually only hear about the consents process when it goes wrong, but from what I've seen, this appears to be one of the cases when a compromise will provide better results for everyone.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Street evolution: upper-middle Willis St

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It's hard to label the section of Willis St between Ghuznee and Vivian streets: "upper Willis" usually refers to the sections between Vivian St and the Aro Valley, and central Willis St probably extends from Manners to Ghuznee. This block seems somewhat grey and forgotten, and yet it's actually one of the most densely populated parts of Wellington, with approximately 560 residents. Almost all of those are students or hotel guests, but apart from the B4 bar at McKenzies and the nightly streams of binge-drinking high-spirited youngsters staggering between the hostels and Bar Bodega, there's not much physical manifestation of that. Until now.

Site of new Asian market in Willis StDTR has recently moved here from Dixon St, catering for the needs of an itinerant population. Near Vivian St, the empty ground floor area that was once a commercial kitchen supplies wholesaler is being converted into an Asian supermarket, which makes sense given that the local population is about 20% Asian. Together, they'll bring a bit more street-level activity to the block, as well as reflecting the nature of the population.

The old Sharp showroom has been split into three retail spaces, which are still on the market, but it shows that the developer has some confidence in the retail potential of the location. I've seen the building in commercial real estate ads, sporting a couple of extra floors that could be either rather funky or desperately naff: it's hard to tell from the rendering. While it was a shame to lose the artist's studio and gallery that used to be on the first floor, the addition of some more permanent residents might be a positive change for the block.

Making up for the loss of the old gallery, the Mark Hutchins Gallery has just moved in to a space at the rear of this building. It's carved out a huge glass window in the side of the building, and it's going some way towards turning an anonymous service lane into quite a pleasant little space. Across the lane, Belle Vie have also moved in, in this case from Cuba St.

So, there's quite a bit of retail activity going on here now, perhaps reflecting a drift away from the Golden Mile driven by increasing rents. If anything gets built on the current Sunday market site at the Vivian St end, then the transformations could be huge. Perhaps it's time for the physical design of the street to reflect the new vitality and variety: some small street trees and benches on the wide eastern pavement, as in the block north of Ghuznee, could be all it takes to soften the somewhat drab architecture and turn a busy thoroughfare into a place to actually stop and spend some time.

Sunday, June 10, 2007


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I've been wondering when the houses relocated for the bypass would be re-inhabited, thus bringing some life back to a ravaged district. Surely it wouldn't be long before they were snapped up? But no: Karo Drive and Tonks Grove are going to look like toytown for quite some time to come.

'Toy houses' in Tonks GroveIt turns out that under the Public Works Act, Transit has to look for the original owners or their descendants, and then offer the properties to them at market prices. Since some of the relocated buildings now lie across up to three separate land parcels, and some of the properties were acquired 50 years ago, it's going to take them a long time to sort everything out. This "heritage precinct" is thus going to remain a ghost town for at least another year.

I don't supposed it's occurred to them to offer the buildings for short-term lease in the interim? At a time when residents, artists and small businesses are worrying about being driven out of the city by rising rents, both Transit and the city could benefit from making use of these buildings. They'd need a bit more internal renovation to make them liveable, but surely that's preferable to leaving these houses as sadly empty as they were when the bypass opened.

Acai House, Footscray Ave, Te AroRight next door in Footscray Ave, there are some quiet signs of life. Because these cottages weren't moved, they haven't run into the same land ownership complexities, and those that weren't torched burned in a tragic accident are still inhabited. It's not quite the lively mixed-use precinct that upper Cuba St should be, but it's probably the best we can expect for the rest of the cottages. If Transit had actually made the re-inhabitation of the precinct a priority, they could have started searching for the owners long before the motorway construction was complete, and the whole area might actually have been alive by now.

It all goes to show that for all the talk by the bypass' backers that the project was above "improving" Te Aro, they either never cared or never understood what cities are really about. It's not a fresh coat of paint and a few token plants that make a city, but people. When these cottages were falling to pieces, the bypassers were quick to talk about "blight", but to me it's a lot more "blighted" now that it's empty. It's the same with the post-bypass modifications to Ghuznee St, since while all the actual highway building was completed on or ahead of schedule, Ghuznee St is still a scruffy building site despite all the work being scheduled for completion last month. Never mind the rhetoric about improving the city: once the drivers get their way, everything else is an afterthought at best.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

What's up, Dock?

Herd St BrasserieOkay, so the mystery bar wasn't much of a mystery: it's the Herd St Brasserie that's just opened at Chaffers Dock. The food and décor is all fairly predictable, but the location is spectacular and it's exactly the sort of place that the waterfront has needed for a long time. It does breakfast, coffee, lunch (including cheapish panini as well as full cooked meals), reasonably-priced dinners (mains in the mid-twenties), cocktails (including a rather excellent Tanqueray Ten Martini for $12!), beer and wine (thankfully not tied to a single distributor's range). For people who've been waiting for a waterfront dining option that's neither an expensive restaurant nor a dodgy pub: your wait is over.

This is perhaps relevant to a comversation I got involved in yesterday. I tend to agree with Russell Brown on many topics, but when he wrote yesterday:
The next public-spirited architect who proposes a "residential mix" for Auckland's waterfront can piss off. Building swanky apartments for your mates kills public space. Bah.
He may have a point about Auckland's Viaduct: I don't know, since it's years since I visited. From what I've seen second-hand, there's some pretty good architecture going on there, but the ground floors tend to have either private residential use or blank walls. I replied by saying that it's a lack of active edges at ground level that kills public space, not "residential mix".

For the record, here's what public space look like when it's been killed by swanky apartments:

Chaffers Dock & promenadeToday, this dead space played host to dozens of people walking, cycling or jogging past on the recently opened promenade, while others sat down and enjoyed a coffee or a beer in the sun. In fact, there appeared to be slightly more people at the Brasserie than there were on the whole of the Waitangi Park lawn, despite the lovely day. Can it be that residential, retail and recreational uses can actually co-exist? When the seats and lighting are complete, this is going to be a really nice space, and a lot livelier than it's ever been before.

Chaffers Dock atriumI've found out a few more things about some of the other upcoming tenants in the Chaffers Dock complex. The Port Café will indeed be a "gourmet fish 'n' chips" place, with BYO and takeaways, and is expected to open in about a month. Mövenpick is even closer to opening, but the Chaffers Store and Empire skate shop will take a while longer. The atrium, which is nearly finished and looking quite spectacular, will eventually be home to a branch of Auckland's Zarbo deli/café. While I'd prefer something unique and local, it seems to be very highly regarded, and a delicatessen would be a really nice complement to the other businesses (update: Zarbo plans to open in October, and will include a pizzeria). There seems to be just a couple of tenancies still to be let, and I'm hoping that the remaining waterside one becomes a cheap Malaysian place, something like Rasa or Roti Chennai. Martinis, fish 'n' chips, ice cream, antipasto, pizza, subs and roti: with or without swanky apartments, that sounds like a good mix to me.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Mystery bar number 60

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The previous mystery bar required a few guesses, but an anonymous commenter was the first to definitively identify it as The Lotus Room. As that commenter said: "Not the finest place in Wellington but at least it's not as bad as it was during its last few months as gogo". I can't really add much more to that.

Mystery bar #60 - the barToday's mystery bar is different in many ways. It's not in Courtenay Place, but it is very visible. It'll probably attract an older but more casual crowd, and since it's a restaurant/café first and a bar second, it's unlikely to get people up and dancing. It definitely is a bar, though, as it has a separate bar area and a small but classic cocktail list (including several variations on Martinis, Negronis, and Mai Tais). The food is mid-priced (a step or two up from standard bar food, but below fine dining prices), but the impressively independent wine list stretches all the way from cheapies up to Grange and Bordeaux.

The décor starts out with very predictable dark wood, leather and exposed concrete, but takes a twist away from that towards something more homely. There are a few splashes of colour, some whimsical bits and pieces, and artworks that might strike you as either endearingly naïve or slightly amateurish. The layout takes full advantage of the light, and while some people won't be keen on the fishbowl effect from all the glass, it's certainly appropriate for the location.

Mystery bar #60 - menus and benches

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Neutral aspirations

Thanks to ShoppingFix for pointing out that at tonight's Strategy & Policy meeting, Wellington City Council will consider becoming carbon neutral. At first I thought that this just referred to the council's own operations, but on reading the report it turns out that they also intend for the whole city of Wellington to become carbon neutral.

That is indeed a lofty aspiration: reducing and/or offsetting the emissions from all the residents and businesses in Wellington would be a huge task. How do they intend to do this? The short answer is that they don't know yet. The long answer is that the process will take three steps:
1. Set an aspirational vision. An aspirational vision can be useful in galvanising support and inspiring action. For example, the Government has stated its aspiration for New Zealand to become carbon-neutral in the longer-term. Such a vision for Wellington could have value and would provide a framework for intermediate targets.

2. Consider an increase to existing targets. ...the Council’s existing emissions reduction targets are modest, both in comparison to those of other cities, and to what is eventually required to keep global warming at a level which can be reasonably managed. Targets for the short-term (2010), and medium-term (2020) should be re-evaluated, and a long-term target (2050 or beyond) should be set that approaches the aspirational vision.

3. Scope a work programme. The chosen set of intermediate targets to achieve an aspirational vision will need to be supported by a detailed work programme that is likely to achieve each target. This will provide practical and quantifiable benefits to the Council and the city.
All that this meeting can (potentially) agree to is step 1: revised targets would then then be decided on in September this year, with the subsequent work programme intended to inform the 2008/09 annual plan. The closest the report gets to suggesting concrete measures is to list existing council programmes (energy, transport, urban development, water management, waste minimisation) and mention a few in-house measures (appointing an Energy Manager, Sustainable Building Guidelines for Council buildings, and partnering with Nova Gas to generate electricity from landfill gas). The report also suggests a few broader policies, including Sustainable Building Guidelines for the wider community, urban development and transport planning around a compact growth spine, travel demand management and bus priority planning.

Obviously, there's a lot of planning to be done before anything bolder can be suggested, but at the moment it does sound like just minor tweaks to the status quo. It's worth pondering this chart, showing sources of Wellington community CO2 emissions in 2001, from appendix 2 to the report:

sources of Wellington community CO2 emissions in 2001There are several things that can be read from this:
  • Switching to carbon-neutral electricity sources could make a major difference (so it's good news that Project West Wind's consent won't be appealed);
  • Petrol, diesel & LPG make up 38% of Wellington's emissions, so unless something drastic is done about transport, the council's going to be planting an awful lot of trees;
  • The council's report writers haven't learned that if there's one thing worse than a pie chart, it's a tilted 3D pie chart.
Perhaps the funniest thing in the appendices, though, is the list of existing council initiatives that contribute to reducing emissions: among the "public transport initiatives" section there is a bullet point for the Johnsonville Line. Hang on: is this the same council that did its best to replace the electric Johnsonville trains with diesel buses?

It's best not to be too cynical, though, and the council should be encouraged to set bold targets. The question is: can they back it up with bold action?

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Fear and Loathing

The Dominion Post have followed up their lists of the best and worst buildings in Wellington (selected by the Architectural Centre) by telling us what "we" like and "loathe". It's not clear from the article exactly who "we" are: it seems to be a combination of reader's letters in response to the other lists, random vox pops, pupils from Upper Hutt College, and Russell Walden. I'd thus wager that the sample is not exactly scientific or representative of "us". Part of the article is online, but not the lists, so here they are:

"You" like:
Futuna Chapel
Freyberg Pool
Westpac Stadium
Te Puni Kōkiri
Public Library and Civic Square
St Francis de Sales Church, Island Bay
Old St Paul's
Government wooden buildings
Wellington railway station
Berhampore State Flats

"You" don't:
Te Papa
Car Park, Boulcott St
Chinese Embassy
Museum Hotel
QBA apartments, Webb St
Apartments at 318 Oriental Parade
Southern Plumbing, Brooklyn
Ruins on the corner of Kent Tce and Dufferin St
Gateway Apartments above Pt Jerningham
Wakefield St apartments

Most of the "liked" list is uncontroversial, though they've gone beyond the age limit set by the Architectural Centre in their original list, and I don't know St Francis de Sales Church well enough to comment. There are many among the loathed that I agree with, though I don't mind Te Papa as much as some do and I quite like the QBA apartments. It's interesting to see that the Wakefield apartments were the only ones from the architects' list to be hated by "the public", though I wonder how many people would mention them unprompted.

I scratched my head over 318 Oriental Parade, since it didn't stand out in my memory. As far as I can work out, it's the one highlighted in this photo.

318 Oriental ParadeIt's a fairly typical example of the sort of cheesy "upmarket" postmodernism that ruled through the 80s and 90s, but there are plenty of worse examples around. It's certainly nowhere near as loathsome as its neighbour to the south, which stomps up the hill in a series of galumphingly heavy and poorly detailed terraces, so I wonder whether someone got them mixed up. Then again, the article mentions that "readers also hated the Oriental Parade high-rise in which mayor Kerry Prendergast lives with her husband, developer Rex Nicholls", so maybe this is the one they're referring to, and it's just a convenient chance to get in a dig at Rex & Kerry.

I was interested to see that Walden picked out the new Audi-Porsche dealership in Cambridge Tce as one of his favourites. I quite like it as a building, with its high-tech detailing almost reminiscent of Nicholas Grimshaw, but to me it's exactly the wrong sort of typology to be encouraging in the inner city. Instead of low-rise, single use car yards surrounded by vast areas of asphalt, we need to make the most of the space and put such retail outlets at the base of multi-storey apartment of office buildings. There are so many better buildings to be highlighting at the moment.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Drink of the month: hot chocolate

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Hot chocolate at CubitaI promised that this month's drink would be different, and it is: shockingly, it's not even alcoholic! With winter's belated arrival comes the desire to wrap one's hands around something hot and comforting, and in this case I'm referring to hot chocolate.

The familiar style of hot chocolate in the capital is made with hot frothy milk and chocolate powder, often Cadbury's Drinking Chocolate, served in a large bowl with marshmallows and topped with yet more chocolate powder. There's nothing wrong with that, but it can be a bit watery and unsatisfying if it's not strong enough, and it's a world away from "real" hot chocolate. Real hot chocolate, as opposed to hot cocoa, is made from actual chocolate rather than powder, and has a texture more akin to molten chocolate sauce than to the milky American style that's become common here.

Chocolate stirrer at ScopaBut things are changing. Branches of Mojo keep vats of the stuff stirring away, kept hot and ready for their wickedly strong "chocolate shots". Scopa does the same, and Floriditas supplies shots of "dipping chocolate" to go with their churros: not quite as gooey as I remember from Spanish cafés overseas, but delicious nonetheless.

Wellington now has several specialist chocolate café: Butlers, Dorothy Patisserie and Schoc. I'm not that keen on Butlers' identikit décor, but I've heard people rave about their white hot chocolate, so it should be worth a go. Dorothy's has been a Cuba St institution for generations, and it added a new dimension when it started opening late at weekends. But it's Schoc that is the true home of chocolate in Wellington, and it is justifiably famous for its fiery chilli-enhanced version. Simply Paris do something similar, though it's creamy rather than dark and viscous, and they also offer "Mocha Zesty" with orange and spice.

June is thus shaping up to be an enjoyable (though fattening) month for me. Is there anywhere else that does a particularly excellent or unusual version that I should be aware of?

Sunday, June 03, 2007

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.

Cubita cafe in Taranaki StThere 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".

Pizza King logo, Taranaki StNext 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.