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

Friday, September 30, 2005

Shops that pass in the night

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Despite all the justified worries about gentrification in Cuba St, it's still home to a bewildering, ever-changing collection of strange and unique shops. A case in point is this space, next to Café Istanbul, that has gone for years without a permanent tenant.

Until recently it was the "Fakery", a film set that fooled many passers by. It's now selling furniture from Thailand of varying degrees of authenticity (I doubt that the designs that incorporate brass clocks are entirely traditional). It's also a temporary space, and will only be selling Barron Imports' merchandise for a few weeks before emptying again. It might seem sad that this space can't settle down as some sort of permanent shop, but on the other hand the transient nature of the tenants adds to the variety and dynamism of the street.

Around the corner in Ghuznee St, the barber's shop (the one that also sold collectible toy cars) has left for Willis St Village. The shop windows are currently papered over in preparation for re-opening, and a sneak peek reveals an eclectic style of decor and range of products. There's a tiki-bar style kiosk made of bamboo, racks of clothes hangers, and a lot of what look like 1950s hot rod posters. Watch this space. Update: this has just opened, and is called Eyeball Kicks.

I've already mentioned the smallest bar in Wellington, and back in Cuba St is what must be the smallest shop in the city. It's literally just the width of the doorway, and can't be more than 5 metres deep.

This little hallway used to be the takeaway booth for Ban Dong (which sounds more like a lesbian separatist movement than a Malaysian restaurant) next door. Ban Dong first morphed into a weird "forest with restaurant", then was replaced for a time by an outpost of Auckland's Hard to Find Books before Hunters and Collectors moved in.

The Asian theme is now back, and if you can squeeze your way inside, it may very well satisfy all your needs for fairy lights, toy parrots, psychedelic cellphone faceplates and (ahem) "tasteful erotic" portraits of young Asian women. You have been warned.

Mystery bar number 6

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Today's mystery bar has a definite old-school bohemia feel to it that perfectly suits the grainy, sepia-toned photo that I'm using (not that I'm trying to disguise the terrible image quality of my phone camera, of course). It may also be the smallest bar in Wellington - even smaller than Minibar (although I've never been inside there: it's always full of real estate agents). Just enough room for a handful of tables and chairs, with the bar itself tucked into a snug corner, an old piano and guitar along one wall, and a silvery airplane sculpture flying overhead.

It's not a stand-alone bar, being attached to another establishment, but I'm sure they wouldn't turn you down if you walked in off the street and asked for a drink. It's not a cocktail bar, and it really only has a tiny selection of wines and beers, though it does include some very tasty choices (like Hoegaarden Verboden Vrucht). It tends to get packed for very brief periods of time before emptying out again.

I doubt that this will be any more obscure than the previous mystery bar, so I hope that we get some new ones opening soon!

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Urbanland and Sprawlistan

Wellington polling booths by immorality - thumbnail (click to see full image - 27kB GIF)Last week I posted an analysis of all the polling stations in the Wellington region, according to a rather dodgy formula based upon the supposed "morality" of the various parties. I promised a map, and here it is: click on the thumbnail to see a high-res map of the whole region (it's only 27kB). The dot in the middle of the harbour actually represents the Chatham Islands, which for some reason had some Wellington voters.

Red booths voted predominantly for allegedly "immoral" parties (such as Labour and the Greens), blue for supposed moral guardians (such as National and United Future), and grey booths were fairly evenly divided. Bearing in mind the limitations of assigning booth voting patterns to neighbourhoods (people vote wherever is convenient, not necessarily where they live, so a lot of CBD votes may have been shoppers), what does this tell us about the local implications of the alleged "divide" in NZ politics?

It's clear that most of inner Wellington is staunchly left-of-centre. The only blue booths south of Khandallah are in the affluent neighbourhoods of Oriental Bay, Seatoun and the city end of Karori. Other well-off places like Thorndon, Kelburn and Mt Victoria lean to the left.

The other red neighbourhoods are in traditional working-class state-house zones like Strathmore, Wainuiomata, Naenae, Taita and Porirua. Interestingly, some other less well-off places such as Upper Hutt, Miramar and Newlands were generally neutral, and Tawa went very blue. Might this be the influence of the Christian right? That looks like the case in parts of Tawa, which had a relatively high United Future vote - the full Excel data might hold the clues.

The Mana electorate looks highly divided, with some of the reddest (Cannons Creek) and bluest (Whitby) regions just across the ridge from one another. This shows that the "Latteland vs Sheepistan" dichotomy doesn't really apply in the cities: there aren't many lattes in Waitangirua, and there are very few sheep grazing along Discovery Drive. So, if we are to give names to these two opposing lands, what should they be?

There seem to be two distinct blocs among the red booths: inner-city neighbourhoods and working-class suburbs. There are several different groupings of blue booths, including: the most affluent suburbs (Khandallah, Seatoun, Eastbourne); the more affluent of the post-war suburbs (southern Upper Hutt, central Lower Hutt); and more recent subdivisions (Churton Park, Whitby, the western Hutt hills). Is there one characteristic that divides the two?

I don't think it's that simple, but half-seriously, here is my suggestion. People near red booths are either those who can walk or hop on a quick bus to work; or who live further out but have no qualms about the "public" aspect of public transport. People near the blue booths don't want to rub shoulders with the masses in the central city and like the "freedom" that private cars offer, so they're happy to live in the dormitory suburbs where there are no nearby amenities but there's plenty of room to park the SUV.

So, if there's a division in New Zealand, it's not between urban and rural but between urban and suburban. Between apartments and state houses on one hand, and McMansions on the other. Between urban diversity and vitality, and the quietly comfortable "mainstream" respectability of suburbia. In short, between Urbanland and Sprawlistan.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Building on the edge

I've mentioned before that Wellington Waterfront Limited are holding an architectural competition to design four new buildings for the Waitangi precinct. It's reaching the final stages, and from next Monday the five shortlisted entries will be on public display, initially at the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts on Queens Wharf (4-9 October) and then at the Waterfront Project Information Centre in Shed 6 (10-21 October). I haven't seen the proposals yet, but here's some background on and thoughts about the five teams.

Oosterhuis_Lenard: Rotterdam, The Netherlands

Kas Oosterhuis was one of the original proponents of "blob" architecture in the late 90s, and this practice maintains a reputation for the theoretical and experimental, with an emphasis on media, information and the possibilities of digital design. Their mission statement includes the text:
"The architectural bodies can now be literally animated · Architecture no longer has a static final image, its visible form is becoming as unpredictable as the weather · Architecture is turning wild"
That could produce some interesting results in Wellington, if they really want to challenge the wildness and unpredictability of our weather! Most of their more radical projects remain unbuilt (and perhaps unbuildable with current technology), but one truly extraordinary building has been realised: the Saltwater Pavilion. Enigmatic and sluglike on the outside, its interior is a sensorium of twisting surfaces, acid colours, all-pervading moisture and data-driven multimedia environments.

UN Studio: Amsterdam, The Netherlands

UN Studio also take a theoretical approach that generates unconvential forms, but these tend to be faceted and folded (as in their famous Mobius House) rather than blobby and organic. They're also famous for one of the world's most beautiful bridges: the Erasmus Bridge in Rotterdam.

Though they're better known for their investigation of space and structure, they've recently turned their attention to surfaces, wrapping Seoul's Galleria department store in thousands of iridescent discs, which change colour with sun angle during the day and are illuminated at night to replay the previous day's weather patterns.

Shin Takamatsu Architect and Associates Co Ltd: Kyoto, Japan

Takamatsu's buildings show a more Euclidean approach to geometry, with stark assemblies of cones, cylinders and pyramids in the 80s and 90s (especially in public institutions), followed by a calmer rectilinearity in recent work. In photographs, they project an aloof monumentality which is often beautiful and memorable, but it's hard to imagine how they'll fit into an intimate pedestrian environment.

Architecture Workshop Ltd/Kerstin Thompson Architects Joint Venture: Wellington, New Zealand/Melbourne, Australia

Amenities block in Oriental Bay - by Architecture WorkshopThis team certainly has the advantage of local knowledge: Architecture Workshop has been responsible for no fewer than three projects within 500m of the site! These include the "love them or hate them" Wakefield apartments, the award-winning Oriental Bay enhancements (including the amenities building pictured here) and Chris Kelly's own house in Oriental Bay. They are also rising stars internationally, thanks to the recent success of the Peregrine winery (the distinctive swoop of which reminds me of the Freyberg pool).

Thompson's work is less well known on this side of the Tasman, though her discreet use of materials and considered response to urban contexts could come in useful for this site. Kelly and Thompson will be giving a talk about their entry on Tuesday night (6pm at the City Gallery). They will apparently be discussing "promenade, promontory, reinstated view corridors and new (play) ground", which might give some hints as to the nature of their scheme.

John Wardle Pty Ltd Architects: Melbourne, Australia

John Wardle has a strong track record in Australia, including large-scale urban projects such as residential towers and university buildings. A casual look at images of his buildings seems to show a hard-edged modernism, fairly conventional apart from the odd twist or slice. But when he spoke here in August, he described his design process in terms that showed an intense research into and engagement with local landscape and history.

He uses aggressive contemporary design techniques such as exaggeration, scalelessness, crimping and slicing to transform shapes and ideas, but he also likes to work with artists and artisans to integrate humble materials (such as wicker, rammed earth and plywood) into his buildings in an expressive way. He described waterfront projects in Australia that sought to embody historic memories of containers, derricks and other hard-edged industrial equipment, rather than a romanticised and softened maritime ideal. Given Waitangi Park's history as graving dock, incinerator and bus terminal, might this be his approach here as well?

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

So so modern

Wellington Architecture Week 2005, a collaboration between the Architectural Centre, the NZ Insitute of Architects, the Historic Places Trust and Docomomo NZ, starts on Monday. This year the focus seems to be very much on the classic era of post-war modernism from the 40s to the 70s. The self-guided walking tour extends from the glorious swoop of the Freyberg Pool, via the quirky Racing Conference building, the elegantly Corbusian Massey House and the infamous Beehive to the discreet and relatively little-known Lilburn House in Thorndon. There's also a tour of the sleek 1950's buildings of central Lower Hutt, showing that despite the baleful impact of modernist planning on the suburb, there is a legacy of quality architecture there.

For the full schedule, see the Architecture Centre website (in HTML or as an 8MB PDF) or pick up a brochure at the Library or various other venues. Here are some of the things that I'm particularly looking forward to:

Friday 30th September: It's not strictly part of Architecture Week, but there's a foretaste this Friday lunchtime with Ian Athfield giving a talk at the City Gallery on "45 Years Of Learning To Be An Architect".

Tuesday 4th October: The Shape of the City, a public debate on the changing face of Wellington. This could get messy! 6pm at Rutherford House.

Detail of PSIS Investment House, Whitmore StThursday 6th October: Chris Kelly, director of the ar+d award-winning practice Architecture Workshop and shortlisted for the Waitangi Precinct competition. Update: Chris Kelly and competition collaborator Kerstin Thompson will also be speaking about their Waitangi entry on Tuesday night, conveniently clashing with the Shape of the City debate!

Saturday 8th October: This is the biggest day of the week, with open practices, open projects and Latte, Lunch and Harry, a discussion of the role that Parsons coffee shop and bookshop played in Wellington's cultural life (book at Parsons: get in quick!). There's also the intriguing-sounding Draw Wellington, a "spontaneous performance, interactive architectural drawing event" to be held at five sites throughout the city.

Sunday 9th October: Ian Bowman guides a walking tour through Lower Hutt (Walking? In the Hutt?!?) to point out modernist gems amid the megastores and carparks.

There's plenty more going on, including exhibitions at various galleries and an architectural film festival at the Penthouse cinema: much more than I can list here.

Let's Freak again

Salon Freak posterSome people would be offended if they were called a freak show, but the members of Freak Productions have no such qualms. Fresh from the launch of their fashion creations at Hunters & Collectors, this Saturday night they will present for your delectation, stimulation (and possibly trepidation) Salon Freak!, a "cutting edge cabaret".

Though not evident from the poster, the theme is "Jazz Age", promising "an underground, seedy spectacle" of "Bathtub Gin in back alley Juke Joints, speak-easies, [and] machine gun wielding, Zoot suited gangsters driving large expensive cars". So, definitely not your average night at The Big Kumara, then. Expect a large contingent from Cuba St and other hotbeds of immorality.

Princess Hanz at Midnight BurlesqueAs well as fashion shows from Miss Demeanour, Native Sista and Mr Freak himself, the entertainment will include jazz performers, the VauDevil Drag Kings, the Rocky Horror Rockestra, an avant-garde one-woman show from Svetlana Fullonskiva-Kissoff, and cabaret stalwart Princess Hanz (pictured here at Midnight Burlesque).

Doors open at 10pm, there's a $10 cover charge and a costume and mask will be compulsory (time to dust off the fedora and violin case). For those of you who for some strange reason are having trouble reading my low-resolution shot of a grimy poster on Cuba St, check the Freak Productions website for more details.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Shops we love: Parsons

Parsons Books and MusicIt's often said that there are few independent shops left on Lambton Quay, with the chain stores having driven them all out. Parsons Books and Music is an exception, a family business that maintains its own identity.

It's a great little bookshop, and the first port of call for anyone who's serious about classical music, but it's much more than that. It's also a vital part of our architectural and intellectual history, bringing together the stories of three immigrants who helped Wellington start on its slow and painful journey from drab introspective conformity to cosmpolitan vitality.

Roy Parsons, an Englishman with a commitment to progressive politics and intellectual debate, began selling books in Lambton Quay in 1947. Since 1958, the shop has been housed on the ground floor of Massey House, often considered Ernst Plischke's most important New Zealand building. While its original proportions have been distorted by a later addition towards the south (above the Dog and Bone), and it's hard to imagine now what an impact this glass skyscraper had when it was first built, Massey House retains a cool elegance and an urbane street presence. For more on Plischke, see Douglas Lloyd Jenkins' article for the Listener or Greg O'Brien's article for the Historic Places Trust.

At the top of the staircase (part of Plischke's original design) there is a small café that has also changed little from its original 1957 appearance). This café was started by Harry Seresin, a pioneering restaurateur and co-founder of Downstage Theatre. At 2pm next Saturday (the 8th of October), as part of Wellington Architecture Week, there will be a discussion here to explore the contribution that Seresin made towards Wellington's intellectual, cultural and political life.

Hilton catfight

As expected, the proposed waterfront Hilton has attracted some opposition in the letters pages. I've just rattled off a response to one of them:
Grahame Anderson (September 24) opposes the Queens Wharf Hilton for allegedly privatising a public space. I walked around Shed 1 the other afternoon, and the doors were locked. And when it is in use, I wouldn't exactly be welcome walking through the middle of a soccer game. How is this a "public space"?

Anderson also claims that a hotel would "colonise" the surrounding areas. I suppose one could claim that Astoria, the Brewery Bar and Plum also "colonise" Midland Park, Taranaki Wharf and Cuba Mall respectively, but anyone with an appreciation of urban vitality would choose a different verb: "enliven". Which is more than you can say for Shed 1.

Wellington lacks high-quality hotels, and if the Hilton's bar and restaurant are as good as Auckland's Bellini and White, they will be a welcome addition to our dining scene. Sure, not everyone could afford to eat or drink there, but the same applies to Shed 5, and that doesn't stop people strolling past or eating their sandwiches beside it.

The Hilton would take nothing away from the public, but it will fill a gap in our hospitality market while bringing 24-hour life to an often-deserted part of the city.

And yes, the title is a shameless attempt to increase search engine traffic.

Update: this was published in the Dominion Post on Monday the 3rd of October.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

R.I.P. Joe Kum Yung

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Ceremony to mark the murder of Joe Kum Yung - actor representing Lionel Terry in the backgroundThis morning there was a ceremony on the corner of Tory and Haining Streets to mark the centenary of the racist murder of Joe Kum Yung by Lionel Terry. While Terry's action was that of a lone nutter, it's frightening to think of how much he was supported by the public at the time.

Nowadays it's hard to visualise a thriving Chinatown among the apartments, film studios and scrappy light industry of Haining St. There are a few visual reminders next door in Frederick St, but in a town as young as Wellington, history leaves just the faintest of physical traces.

Friday, September 23, 2005

We've been Wallpapered!

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Well, it had to happen. Lifestyle magazine Wallpaper*, which usually attracts epithets such as "über-chic" or "painfully hip", has done a feature on Wellington. The photo-essay is not quite what you'd expect, though: no Gucci-draped waiflets making ironically bored moues in front of fetishised Modernist buildings. Which is a pity, since the Hannah Playhouse or PSIS House could look bleakly glamorous with the best of them, given stark enough lighting and a dramatic camera angle.

Instead, the photos are determinedly ordinary, with ordinary Wellingtonians populating the streets or peering suspiciously from behind curtains. Oriental Bay is choppy and windswept; a suburban subdivision spreads along a ridge above scrubby bush and a couple of cabbage trees; Lambton Quay looks half-deserted in a shot that catches the edge of TPK House (aka State Insurance House, of which local photographer mlr has a much more Wallpapery shot).

When it comes to bars and restaurants, the usual suspects (Matterhorn, Good Luck) get a namecheck, but no photos. Shopping fails to excite them, claiming that most of our promising designers leave for Auckland, though Hank gets a mention. Hotels get short shrift (perhaps we really need that Hilton), but overall their writer is pleased that we're still "boho" rather than glam.

Unfortunately, the article is full of errors. Some are just typos ("Freyburg" pool, "Mirimar", "morpork"), but others seem decidedly odd. For instance, there's a shot of old houses in a narrow street, with a view of the Carillon in the background. The caption claims the street to be in Miramar, but I can't think of anywhere near there that could have that view: somewhere between Kelburn and Aro St seems more likely. Or perhaps everywhere in Wellington is part of Miramar now, thanks to PJ? They also somehow think that you're likely to catch Fat Freddy's Drop at Amba, which closed well over a year ago. Some of this might seem like nit-picking, but surely a magazine that celebrates quality, attention to detail and up-to-the minute insider information should know these things. As the phrase has it, what would Tyler Brûlé do?

The art of excess

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The Excessive Accessories parade is on its way from Parliament to Civic Square, officially kicking off the World of Wearable Art festival that started with some window displays. The beast made from a mass of black umbrellas shows that some people must have been thinking about the southerly change due at 3 o'clock.

And this guy gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "walking in crocodile file".

The booths of sin

I've been itching to do some analysis of the local election results, and now that I've got the booth-by-booth results (thanks to Pip for the link) I've been able to do some detailed number crunching. Given all the talk about the supposed divide between metropolitan and provincial New Zealand (what No Right Turn half-jokingly calls "Latteland" and "Sheepistan", in response to the infamous "Jesusland vs United States of Canada" map), I decided to look for patterns within the Wellington region.

I'll try to do a map soon (it might take a while, unless someone's already geocoded all 230 local polling booths) but in the meantime here's some non-spatial analysis. Unlike the US, we don't have a two-party system, so things are more complicated here. I needed some way to arrange the parties on a spectrum, so I resorted to the party immorality ratings, courtesy of the (presumably) "good" folks of the Centre Church in Paraparaumu. This ignores economic policies and rates the main parties based upon their voting record on "moral" issues, such as prosititution and civil unions. This provided a clear spectrum from the Greens (97% immoral) to United Future (only 3% immoral, bless their little polyester socks). So, based upon this spectrum, where are Wellington's dens of iniquity and havens of virtue?

Voting analysis thumbnail: click to see full image (178kB)This chart has the answers (this thumbnail just shows the top and bottom: the full image is a 178kB GIF that legibly shows every polling booth, plus legend, in a mere 1240 by 4558 pixels). I multiplied each booth's party votes by the immorality rating for each party, added them up and ranked them, with the most moral booths at the top and the most sinful wallowing at the bottom. The purest booths were all in the north of the region, with places like Whitby, Churton Park and parts of Tawa all clocking in at over 60% moral, and you have to go a long way down before you find the first booth south of Khandallah (Seatoun on 56%).

The least "moral" booths were more diverse, including several central city booths (such as the infamous Aro Valley Community Centre) alongside the state house zones of Porirua. In fact, the most "immoral" booth of all was Cannons Creek's Glenview School, just pipping Aro Valley with a whopping score of 74% immoral! But hold on: aren't these areas home to a lot of Māori and Polynesians, who are supposed to be morally conservative?

It's true that many of these booths returned greater than average results for Destiny NZ, and there's not a lot of Green support there. The answer lies in the fact that they are still loyal Labour voters, many of them over 80% Labour. So it seems that despite the Sunday Star-Times' dire warnings of a moral backlash, the urban Labour heartland seems not to have been dissuaded by Labour's alleged "PC social engineering" (78% immoral, according to the Centre Church). Similarly, some of the "moral" booths may actually have been affluent neighbourhoods (keen on National's tax cuts) rather than Bible Belt. A case in point is Ohariu Valley Road: only 1% for United Future, but a solid 60% support for National.

There are a lot more trends (such as the distribution of the Green vote, and the potential link between education and (im)morality) and anomalies (an outbreak of republicanism in Maungaraki!) to discover, but I'll leave it for now. For those who want to crunch the numbers further, you can download the Excel file (just over 1MB). Update: I've now mapped the results.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Mmmm, vermin...

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This article was on the front page of today's DomPost. And to think that I almost ate there once, only to be turned away by the fact that (contrary to their sign) they're one of the few Asian restaurants that's not BYO. So we took our bottle of Riesling off to good old Tulsi, where they've been known to serve goat, but never mouse.

This shouldn't put you off going to Taste Bugs Buds, since as the article says, the incident was way back in June and they now have "a clean bill of health". Besides, some people pay good money for invertebrate cuisine.

Mystery bar number 5

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Mystery bar number 4 turned out to be far too easy: it's Beau Monde in Tory St. Either you guys are very observant or you drink too much.

I'm hoping that this one will be a bit more of a challenge. It's down a corridor beside a restaurant, in a part of town that has a few cafés and the odd pub, but is certainly not a nightlife hub. The bar is in a covered courtyard that feels almost outside: the floor and back wall are brick, and the translucent ceiling is covered in creepers and fairy lights that dangle down to just above your heads. It's very close to being kitsch (there are putti winging their innocent way through the greenery) but the plants and decor have been around long enough for it to feel charming rather than contrived.

It's not a cocktail bar, but a wine bar with a small but tasty wine list and a couple of interesting digestifs. The food is Italian, with the usual pizza and pasta and a few original dishes (try the Fegato Modo Mio), and the theme was continued by Dino crooning away. We didn't try the desserts, which sounded appealing, though this is not a place to have your cake and eat it too. It was very quiet early on a Wednesday evening, though I imagine that on a summer's night the courtyard's appeal would be enough for it to hum along quite nicely.

Artful windows

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The World of WearableArt festival is nearly upon us, and having gone to all the effort of creatively nicking the event from Nelson, the council is making the most of the opportunity with a busy calendar of events. For those who don't already have tickets for the awards events themselves (which are all sold out already), the most visible manifestation will be the Excessive Accessories street parade tomorrow. Update: I've now got some photos of the parade.

Also, local shops are being encouraged to create WearableArt-themed windows from today. Abstract and Iko Iko in Cuba Mall were among the first to get into the spirit. Kirkcaldie and Stains have lived up to their reputation for high-quality window displays with a series of "Edible Art" displays in their Cuisine shop. New World Metro, Dymocks and Whitcoulls have done their bit, but otherwise, the Lambton end of town is looking like it hasn't bothered so far. It looks like all those foreign-owned chain stores that are being put to shame by the local shops.

I've posted photos of the window displays on flickr. Look carefully at the skirt in Abstract's window: it looks like someone's put in a lot of work welding all those spoons and forks together!

Wednesday, September 21, 2005


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You'd think that it would be a straightforward and popular thing to do: while renovating a park, use murals by local artists as an attractive alternative to the usual plain fences. But this is Wellington, so somehow we managed to turn it into a controversy.

One panel, by artist and concrete poet "Nia", showed a game of "I Spy". Suggested answers for "something beginning with d" included "drunks, drugs addicts, ... degeneration, ... dregs", among other references to the gloomy side of urban life, whereas the actual answer was the much more innocent "dog". After a few days, this panel was removed by the council, allegedly to avoid offending the homeless people who used to frequent the park.

This seemed a little strange, as the council had not previously seemed overly concerned about the feelings of street people, to the point where they tried to prosecute some for "trespassing" in the park, thus showing a strange attitude to the concept of "public space". Someone suggested that the phrase that spooked the council was none of the above, but "dastardly developers", given that certain councillors are known for being, ahem, friendly with property developers.

New artwork at Glover ParkPersonally, I read the mural not as an insult to any of those groups, but as a gentle play on some people's tendency to see the worst in everything. In any case, the panel was briefly replaced with blank plywood, which had only a couple of weeks to start accreting the usual Wellington graffiti and stencil art before this replacement mural arrived. This one seems to be free of any potentially offending references, and includes plenty of cutouts to allow the public a view of the work in progress (Nia's panel had been the only one with a cutout) as well as a rollcall of all the artists involved in the project.

New artwork at Glover Park - through a dog's eyesOn second look though, there's very much a "cloak and dagger" theme going on, with sinister silhouettes and trench-coated spies peering suspiciously out from behind trees. So perhaps this is a subtle allusion to hidden controversies and back-room dealings. One thing remains constant from Nia's work, though: the answer to "I spy with my little eye something beginning with d" is still... "dog".

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Our own little Hilton

Queens Wharf Hilton - artist's rendering from the northeastIt looks like it might finally be happening: on Saturday the Dominion Post carried a story saying that a deal had been struck to build a Hilton Hotel on the site of Shed 1. This proposal has been debated for years, and commercial negotiations seem to have been continuing for almost as long. Of all the proposals for waterfront development, this has been one of the most controversial, and I expect the opponents to continue to fight it through the consent process, so it's likely to be several more years before guests check in.

One of the objections has been the usual one: loss of views. It will be a couple of storeys higher than the existing Shed 1, but on pretty much the same footprint. I've tried to superimpose a very rough envelope (the actual design is more complex) over Shed 1, and as you can see, it will block out a little of the sky, but won't actually block any harbour views beyond those which are already blocked by the Shed.

Envelope of proposed Queens Wharf Hilton, as seen from north of the Loaded HogAnother objection is against "privatisation" of public space. This puzzles me, since the boardwalk around it will still be publicly accessible, and will in fact be extended with pontoons. These boardwalks will actually be more attractive than they are now, as I'd rather walk past a group of café tables than a blank steel and concrete wall. The shed itself can hardly be counted as "public space": you'd be no more welcome walking into the middle of an indoor soccer game than you would in a hotel lobby.

Some claim that it will be only for tourists, and does nothing for locals. But hotels are also local amenities: I know Wellingtonians who have stayed at the Intercontinental or Bolton for a special occasion, or who work out at the Intercontinental's gym. Arizona bar is part of the Intercontinental, yet that doesn't seem to deter the locals. If the bar and restuarant are as good as Bellini and White at the Auckland Hilton, then they will be great additions to the local scene. Besides, look at the view...

View of the city from Hilton site
... where else in the Lambton quarter will you be able to enjoy a drink in the setting sun while looking across the water to the city? It seems such a waste to leave this as a dingy, introspective shed.

Queens Wharf Hilton - artist's rendering from south of DocksideThe design itself has also attracted criticism. If you look at the detailed plans and renderings (the most recent are in the consultation document from 2003) you'll agree that it's not the most exciting building. However, it's quite finely articulated, it makes interesting use of materials, and it avoids the shiny white "ocean liner" look of the Auckland Hilton. I think that the interplay between the solidity of oxidising Cor-ten steel and the transparency of glass will be quite appealing, maybe more so than the renderings suggest. It certainly addresses the public space in a positive way, which is more than you can say for Shed 1. It was unimpressed when I first saw it, but I'm starting to like it.

So, is this a wasted opportunity to make the most of an "iconic site"? While I'd love to see something like a national art gallery here, housed in a stunning and memorable building, no-one's come up with a concrete, practical plan complete with funding. There have been alternative proposals, such as a wintergarden, but without detailed plans, business case and sponsors nothing was going to happen.

A hotel might seem like a prosaic and unimaginative use of such a location, but it's actually a good way to introduce a mixture of uses: accommodation, workspace and entertainment. Wellington needs a hotel of this calibre, and while I'd have preferred something a bit funkier than the Hilton chain (like a W or Ian Schrager hotel), it certainly fills a gap in the market. It will bring 24-hour habitation to a space that's often deserted, provide fantastic new drinking and dining venues and give completeness to the north Queens Wharf basin. With a few provisos (that a home is found for indoor sports; that public access is maintained around it; that vehicle access is indeed via tunnel), I think this will be a welcome addtion to the waterfront.

Monday, September 19, 2005


Time to do a quick round-up and link to some older posts that are still of interest.

I started WellUrban primarily to comment on architecture and urban design, and while I've broadened the focus since then, it's still the distinguishing feature of this blog. Of the posts that concentrate on urban design and urbanism, here are the most significant:
I haven't written much recently about architecture per se, though that's likely to change with Wellington Architecture Week coming up. Some of my posts on the subject discuss the Ebor St townhouses, the Prudential building extension, the State Insurance building foyer and the exhibition In the neighbourhood. My UrbanEye reviews also cover architecture as much as urbanism.

My interests in sustainable development mostly centre around issues of transport and density. Posts about transport (specifically the Green Party's policies for Wellington) include The green bandwagon and Ride the wind, and my density-related posts are mostly rants against suburban sprawl: Wind farms vs sprawl, Gullibility, and Cities vs sprawl. My last post on Urbanism Down Under covers both issues in relation to the emerging Wellington Regional Strategy.

This is about the only part of WellUrban that has anything to do with my profession!
  • I've added census data to GIS maps to look at demographic patterns in Wellington. Nga Wahi o Te Reo Māori shows the distribution of Māori speakers through the region. Much more frivolous, and much more popular (including an ongoing trickle of disappointed Google searchers) was the series Where the boys are parts 1 and 2, and its follow-up Toyboys and Sugar Daddies.
  • I've also created maps to show the location of green spaces, cocktail bars and the opening and closing of restaurants.
  • The ongoing series I can see my house from here (parts 1 and 2 so far) looks at online resources for visualising Wellington, including maps, satellite imagery and aerial photography.
Urban Life
Many of the posts that fall into this last category might seem superficial and gossipy, but they give a flavour of life in the city and help explain why I'm so passionate about it in the first place. They can also spark off serious discussions, with posts on fashion collections and coffee shops attracting comments on gentrification and globalisation respectively. Some ongoing series:
Posts tagged "flanerie" are intended to capture some of the Baudelairean spirit of the flanêur, picking up traces of "the fugitive and infinite" amid the signs and experiences of the street. I also write ad hoc notes on art, music, politics and events as they occur.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Mystery bar number 4

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A sidecarIt seems that with such a dedicated crowd of imbibers reading this blog, it's getting hard to find a bar that remains a lasting mystery. I may have to venture further afield, stylistically as well as geographically, to track down a watering hole that is truly virgin territory.

In the meantime, this will have to do. It's tucked away a little from the braying herds, and its location up an unpreposessing staircase means that it has apparently escaped the notice of most. It's often rather quiet, but its habitués prefer it that way, and it definitely promotes relaxation and conversation ahead of raucous inebriation (not that there's anything wrong with that).

It was one of the first to sport the rock-clad walls and fireplace that are now de rigeur in so many watering holes. In some of the more recent versions, that look is getting very tired a resembles a great big pile of schist. This place seems to do it with greater aplomb, however, and the feeling is very much that of a comfortable living room.

Of course, that presumes that your living room happens to come complete with a fully stocked bar and friendly bar staff ready to pour you a Côtes du Rhône or mix you a Sidecar while you recline in a comfy sofa (almost too comfy, as one finds upon trying to rise after too many Sidecars). The combination of stone, wood and leather is not terribly distinctive, but there is one design feature that stands out: a massive fan that slices through a wall and takes a gigantic bite out of one banquette.

One thing it does very well is the toilets. In common with several upmarket bars, it has individually rolled white cotton hand towels in place of nasty paper rags or dodgy hot air blowers. But the most distinctive element is the sinks. Or to be more precise, the apparent absence of sinks. In place of the standard porcelain or glass basin, the water pours onto a near-horizontal plane of stone slabs before trickling down the drain. Nice touch, though a little disconcerting after too many Hemingway Daiquiris.

I don't expect this to be too difficult for the more dedicated tipplers amonst you to recognise, as any Welly cocktail aficianados worth their salt-rimmed Margaritas should know it well. But sometimes I'm surprised by how many are still unaware of its discreet charms, so at the risk of swamping it with thirsty WellUrbanites, here it is.

Oh, and thanks to The Sifter for the link to Droogle. He's just put up a nice post about the world's oldest cocktail, and no, it's not the Fluffy Duck, as apparently served in record numbers at last night's opening of Boogie Wonderland. I might try coming up with my own cocktail on Saturday night: I'm not sure how it will turn out, but I'm hoping for a lot of something red and a healthy dash of something green. Cheers!

Thursday, September 15, 2005

I can see my house from here - part 2

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Following on from my previous post, which concentrated on satellite imagery and aerial photography, this instalment will deal with online maps of Wellington. Google Maps has no street maps for New Zealand, just the medium-res satellite pictures I mentioned before, so we miss out on the nice interface and API mashup madness that it has inspired overseas. Thus, we'll look at the local offerings.

Part of a Wises map for Te Aro - click to see the full mapIt's hard to go past Wises, an established name in New Zealand street maps. The map graphics are familiar from the print versions, and they show some interesting landmarks and amenities (including dealer galleries like Peter McLeavey!), though some of these are out of date: I wonder whether anyone's turned up to the "Repertory Theatre" on Dixon St and been surprised to run into a Drum & Bass gig at Stage? Also, to avoid potential embarassment, note that a cross above the word "Meth" refers not to a P dealer (that's further down Taranaki St) but to a Methodist church.

It's very much a street map, with bulbous oversized roads and an emphasis on parking buildings and the route to the airport, and it omits a lot of pedestrian connections. The interface seems a little clunky compared to Google Maps, but it's not too bad, and overall Wises is a good old reliable standby.

An interesting alternative is Where Are We? Despite the cheesy name, this site (which concentrates on selling maps and software for GPS systems) provides a very good free online street finder and mapping system. You can follow a link to see a broad overview of Te Aro, but it's when you zoom right in that it gets really interesting.

This map is so detailed that it include property boundaries and street numbers! The legal boundaries don't always match up to what the casual observer would see on the ground: for example, Victoria St shows up as a patchwork of properties along what used to be Sturdee St before they were demolished to make the wide, winding arterial that we know and loathe today. But for someone who knows Wellington well, this just adds another fascinating layer and a deeper understanding of the urban environment. They get points off for gratuitous use of Comic Sans for street names, but their interface is easy to use, with proper Google-style panning.

As well as the property boundary map, Where Are We? lets you choose LINZ's topographic maps from the NZTopoOnline server (though it's mostly to slow to use). These maps are also available direct from the LINZ site, which has its own map viewing interface with the catchy name ArcIMS Viewer (you have to go through the terms and conditions page first). These maps emphasise physical geographic features rather than streets, and indeed the streets disappear if you zoom in too far! So it's not so useful for urban purposes, but the contours and shading are nice at a regional scale.

Their viewer is much more complex and seriously cartographic than the others, with options to choose specific layers (just in case you want to see kilns and bivouacs but not moraine walls and fumaroles), convert between projections and download vector data in PDF or ESRI Shapefile format (though I haven't been able to test that). However, it can be a bit daunting for non-specialists, and it's often very, very slow.

Back to detailed urban maps. The Wellington City Council has its District Plan maps online in PDF format, and these are also very useful. As well as showing various elements specific to the Plan, such as heritage buildings, significant trees and natural hazard zones, these maps are also interesting for their detailed property boundaries, as this enlargement from the Te Aro map shows. They're not labelled with street numbers, but the advantage is that the maps are in a vector format rather than bitmaps (not that I'd recommend that anyone try reverse engineering PDFs, of course). The map of central area height limits also makes for interesting reading.

Update: there's a new mapping site on the block (ZoomIn), and it's looking very promising. I've added a post about it here.

The next instalments will cover more photographic and remote-sensing views of Wellington, as well as some more unconventional approaches to mapping.

The green bandwagon

We're getting to the pointy end of the election campaign, so the candidates are out in force in Wellington now. We've had the Maori Party bus outside Midland Park for a couple of days now, and I must say that waiata at lunchtime are a nice change from a load of pants at Vic and bomb threats and other bollocks in Tauranga. Today's gimmick was this Green Party train tootling around the CBD.

I've tried not to be too political in this blog, though with my interest in sustainable urbanism (not to mention my colour scheme) it's not hard to tell where my sympathies lie. I was impressed by the Greens' Ride the Wind package for Wellington, since it contains real, concrete, functional solutions rather than just feel-good waffle: a true example of thinking global and acting local.

Anyway, I hope that the motive force for this little train was electric! I'm not sure that Thomas the Tank Engine is the best way to promote public transport as modern and forward looking, but I guess they want a friendly, positive image rather than a dour "shame on you, V8 drivers" message. I watched it go north along Lambton Quay, wondering whether they'd be cheeky enough to use the green bus lane, but no, they were well-behaved road users and kept out of it. I doubt that the bloke in a ute stuck behind them was too impressed, though.

Update: a slight correction - it's actually Henry the Green Engine, not Thomas. Also, frogblog have added a link to this post.


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Attention all Wellingtonians! Are you tired of local bands creating distinctive original music that mixes popular appeal with musical integrity? Sick of innovation, creativity, sophistication and imagination? Unable to understand any music recorded after you left puberty? Well, salvation as finally at hand in the glitz-tastic form of Boogie Wonderland!

Now, I hate to sound like a snob ... oh, who am I kidding, I love to sound like a snob ... but this one has "bridge and tunnel" written all over it. It's a nightclub that is about to open underneath the Paramount in Courtenay Place, and it's an offshoot of an Auckland club (on Queen St, no less). A quick Googling reveals a large number of mentions on a site called nzweddingplanner.co.nz as a suggested hen night venue. 'Nuff said.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Playful places

I probably sounded a bit negative when I wrote about the play area at Waitangi Park, so here are some positive observations and local examples of the kind of play equipment that does give a sense of place and express local character.

Albatross on top of lighthouse slide at Frank Kitts ParkThis is the well-known slide at Frank Kitts Park: it's built in the shape of a lighthouse, referencing Wellington's maritime heritage, and the albatross at the top swings to face into our notorious winds. A climbing net and telescope add to the nautical feel. I'm not quite sure what the spiky blobby bits at the top are supposed to be, but they give the whole thing a quirky cartoonish aesthetic that's consistent with the Fane Flaws-Debra Bustin-Six Volts-Leod Hais milieu that was so influential in Wellington in the early 90s.

Children playing on the Tuatara in Cuba StThe slide in Cuba Mall is more generic, but curling up underneath it is this giant tuatara. It's a good example of something that doesn't need to be explicitly "play equipment", yet is immensely popular with kids (and parents, from the looks of things). Another crucial point is that it's right next to a couple of cafés, allowing caregivers to keep an eye on their kids while relaxing with a coffee, rather than standing around in a windswept park. Grownups need something to do, too! At least Waitangi Park will have a kiosk next to the play area.

Children playing around Nga Korerorero, the fountain in Midland ParkAnother alternative to "play equipment" is what I like to call a "playful landscape". This sculpture, Nga Korerorero by Sivia Saldago (mentioned as part of the CBD heritage walk), is in Midland Park just in front of Magnetix. It's a great example of a multi-functioning urban element, since it's not just a sculpture and water feature, and a memory of the Kumutoto Stream which used to enter the harbour just across the road, but it also provides informal seating and a place for children to play. It's not a "playground" in the way that we've come to expect, with swings and slides in primary colours, but children can never resist running water and stepping stones.

Waitangi Park will actually have plenty of playful landscapes and opportunities for imaginative play other than the play area itself (the wetlands, climbing boulders and "manuka tunnel"), and I applaud the design team for that. It's just a pity that the equipment they've bought from a European multinational , while no doubt educational and enjoyable, doesn't continue that level of creativity and sense of place.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

An urban vision

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Saturday's Dominion Post magazine carried the alarming headline "Wellington's Future Shock". It turns out to be an article about the Wellington Regional Strategy (which I wrote about earlier), and although it kicked things off with a sensationalist sidebar outlining a scenario for the year 2020 consisting of stagnation and decline, the article was mostly about how the WRS Forum is planning to avoid such a fate.

It was more about economic development than urban design, and the various CEOs and chairmen who were asked for their solutions generally gave very high-level (a euphemism for "waffly") answers full of words like "vision", "excellence", "productivity" and "innovation". But at the end of the article, the DomPost called for readers' visions for Wellington. Of course I couldn't resist, so despite the difficulty of expressing a vision for the future city in just 150 words, I wrote this and sent it off:
My vision for Wellington takes the qualities that distinguish it from other New Zealand cities, and realises the full potential of those qualities.

We are educated, creative and diverse. We need more than lip service to these values: we need the right conditions, including affordable accommodation for students, artists and immigrants.

We have the beginnings of a good public transport system. We must invest in this to make it reliable, affordable, frequent and pleasant enough to get people out of their cars.

We have a compact, lively centre. We need to curb sprawl and realise that higher densities are not only more sustainable but more enjoyable than suburbia. The CBD will stretch from Kaiwharawhara to Newtown, mixing workplaces, homes, education and entertainment, and urban design will encourage architectural diversity within a coherent streetscape.

Wellington is a really good little city, but it can become a truly great world-class city.
They're accepting letters until midday tomorrow (the 14th). Since you're reading this blog, I know you must have your own vision for how Wellington should look in the future (you can't all be looking for toyboys!), so dash off some insightful words and send them to vision@dompost.co.nz (up to 150 words, with name, address and contact details).

Monday, September 12, 2005

Not such a mystery

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Okay, so Mystery Bar #3 proved not much of a mystery: it's Eclipse, which is part of the recently opened Just Hotel on the corner of Willis and Dixon Streets. I thought that its location away from the usual nightlife zones, together with the tendency for hotel bars here to appeal to hotel guests but not locals, might have made it a bit harder to guess, but evidently not. The fact that it lists in the Package makes it far too easy: I must try harder next time!

But can anyone tell me what other "hospitality" businesses the owners of Just Hotel also run? And can anyone confirm the rumour that it's the only hotel in Wellington with hourly rates?

Inglorious beans

Some months ago, Telecom and Country Theme moved out of the ground floor units on the corner of Lambton Quay and Waring Taylor St. The space has been divided into four small units: one is still to be leased, one is being refitted, one just opened today as a TSB branch, and one is about to open as a café.

"Great," I thought, "I'm always eager to try out somewhere new". But as the refit continued, the fittings and signage started to look a little plasticky and mass-produced. Then the signs went up - "Gloria Jean's Coffees" - and some visitors to my blog confirmed my suspicions that yes, this is a branch of a global chain. A quick Google showed that they are everywhere, and it's perhaps revealing of their commitment to local character that their New Zealand site only mentions Australian outlets, and to find out about their New Zealand branches you have to go to their Australian site!

I've always been proud of Wellington for largely resisting the Starbucks invasion (three appeared in the CBD a few years ago, and as I'm far as I'm aware, there have been no more). But then, when we have places like Fidel's, Felix, Midnight Espresso, Olive, Espressoholic, Deluxe and the Lido, each with their own character, quirks and individual flavours, why would we bother with Starbucks? The UK has succumbed rapidly, but then they've never had an established coffee-shop culture, so Starbucks, Cafe Nero and their ilk actually seemed like a nice change from the local greasy spoon.

Granted, this is the suity Lambton Quarter, and all of the hip cafés I mentioned above are in bohemian Te Aro. But even here, our slick daytime cafés for office workers (Ground Floor, Espresso Republic, Arabica) at least have their own sense of style. We have some chains (Wishbone, Wholly Bagels), but at least they're our chains!

I won't go as far as one of my anonymous commenters and call for a boycott, but if the thought of sitting in a soulless ersatz café drinking the same coffee that's served in suburban malls all around the world actually appeals to you, then have a look at this review before visiting.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Spicing up a blank wall

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If you can't have an Italian village grocer in your neighbourhood, you can always try painting your local substation to look like one. This mural is in Oriental Parade, on the way to Point Jerningham.

On days like this...

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... who wouldn't want to live in Wellington?

And for some better quality pictures, have a look at photos in the Wellington flickr pool tagged "harbour".

Friday, September 09, 2005

I can see my house from here - part 1

Some other Wellington bloggers have mentioned the view of Wellington from space that's available on Google Maps and Google Earth, so I thought I'd have a look at the various views of Wellington that are available on the web. Google Maps seems to use the same satellite imagery as Google Earth, but the latter adds all that juicy 3D functionality, so I'll start with that.

Google Earth has a competitor: NASA's World Wind. There's some debate as to which is best in terms of usability, functionality and performance, with no clear winner as far as I can tell, so I'll concentrate on the quality of imagery available for Wellington.

Oh dear. World Wind has a real problem with its detailed LandSat data for us: there's a double image, and neither matches the placenames! This only affects the Wellington region, and for the rest of the country, World Wind's imagery looks as good as if not better than Google's. Google has some odd placenames (Titahi Bay drop's its 'h', and where on earth is "Yoxon"?!?) and some might quibble that the false colour looks a little too false, but otherwise Google Earth has to be the winner at this scale.

Zooming into the CBD, we can see that neither is particularly good compared to the resolution available elsewhere in the world (you can't see trees and cars like you can in Sydney). World Wind appears to have marginally more detail, but it might just be that Google have tried to over-sharpen their images to give a crisper look, resulting in a blobby image with blown-out highlights. World Wind's darker look is probably due to the double-image problem, with a translucent texture getting overlaid on the sea. Google offers a hotlink for Wellington (the red dot), but all it does is trigger a Google search on the word "Wellington", giving all sorts of false hits for things other than the city of Wellington, New Zealand.

Both applications offer 3D capability, allowing you to fly over the terrain. Here are two screenshots looking from approximately Te Aro towards the Hutt Valley.

No, that's not a Tsunami washing over Ngauranga and up to Newlands (however much that might improve the architectural standards there...). Google's elevation model is fairly chunky, resulting in some of the water being mapped onto the pyramidal hills. World Wind is knobbled from the start, given its texture problems for Wellington, but the hills are definitely smoother and of higher resolution. The rest of the country offers some wonderful opportunities for virtual fly-bys: it's just a pity that we don't get the same opportunity for Welly.

For really high resolution images, you have to go to the LINZ website and download some orthophotos. Orthophotos are defined as aerial photos with any distortion removed. If you look at LINZ's Wellington page, you'll see that these photos are black and white rather than colour, but that the images are available in a range of resolutions, right up to 46MB uncompressed tiffs with pixels representing 2.5m x 2.5m squares on the ground. The image at the right is a detail from the highest resolution pic: if you click on it you'll see individual trees and waves on the harbour. The images are a bit old (2000-01, so you can see Te Papa but not Courtenay Central), but endlessly fascinating nonetheless.

Unfortunately, it's LINZ's requirement to return revenue that (as far as I know) make these images unavailable for applications like Google Earth and World Wind. Most developed countries (and the USA) have plenty of high-res imagery available for free on the web, but not us. Since World Wind is an open source project, it might be possible to add these orthophotos to their application, but they're not geo-references, so a bit of manual work would be required.

Finally, for a slightly less aerial view of Wellington, have a look at this magnificent nighttime panorama of Wellington taken from Mt Victoria. The page shows a low-res version with information, and links to the full version in all its 13939 x 1788 pixel glory. The little thumbnail I have here just shows one insignificant part of Te Aro: the full panorama stretches from Newtown to Kaiwharawhara.

In the next instalments: more photography, maps, historical guides, satellite pictures and webcams.