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

Monday, August 07, 2006

Future waterfront 2: good connections

A few weeks back, I asked for your suggestions about what you'd like to see on the waterfront, so that I could take those suggestions to Wellington Waterfront Ltd. I read your comments and combined some of the themes with my own thoughts and priorities, and ended up with a presentation based around three main topics: good connections, special attractions and quality design. The result was quite long (1500 words), so I'll break it up into three posts, starting with the introduction and "good connections" section.


Blue sky thinking on the waterfront

I've been asked to speak as an individual rather than as a representative of any group, but I thought I'd ask the readers of my blog for their suggestions. I had replies from 22 people, adding up to over 8 A4 pages of ideas and comments, and I've incorporated some of the responses in my talk. Apart from ideas for specific attractions, the common threads were the need for access, shelter, more dining and drinking spots and the variety of activities that comes with mixed use. Notably, no-one expressed a desire for more green open space, and car parking was mentioned only once.

In the end, it was up to me to choose three priorities. I believe that the current direction is very good, and that a mixed use urban waterfront is what we need, but I thought of three aspects that need special attention. First, good connections are vital, both to the rest of the city and within the waterfront itself. Second, amongst all the standard commercial and recreational activities, there is the potential for some special attractions. And of course, we need to ensure that the quality of design is exemplary.

Good connections

When I talk about good connections, I don’t just mean physical access, but urban continuity. The waterfront must be conceived as a part of the city, not apart from it. Part of that will come from ensuring mixed use and activity on the waterfront itself, but the blocks between it and the Golden Mile also need to have activity and a quality environment, or even a relatively easy walk to the water will seem bleak and off-putting.

Featherston St has been steadily improving, which is one reason why I'm more confident about retail success at Kumutoto than in the Retail Centre days. But the blocks between Courtenay Pl and Cable St, from the BP station to New World, could go either way. There is justification here for more proactive planning, or we could be stuck with a hodgepodge of disconnected apartment blocks among single-storey bulk retail, surface parking and open air car yards. These blocks need active edges and shelter, together with residents and workers, to create continuity of activity between Te Aro and Te Papa and the Waitangi Precinct. I'd also like to see some mixed-income housing and backpacker accommodation here, to bring more diversity to the demographics surrounding the waterfront.

Improved physical access is still important, but my readers were divided on the merits of pedestrian bridges vs at-grade crossings. At-grade access needs traffic reduction and prioritising pedestrian crossings, but bridges need to be attractions in their own right, such as the City-to-Sea bridge. One thing seems clear: "Greening the Quays" is not enough. I'm sceptical about whether the so-called bypass will reduce waterfront traffic, and I think that the quays should be reduced to 4 lanes whether or not the traffic drops off.

Continuity of shelter is important, both for pedestrian commuters and for visitors to the waterfront. Finally, connections along the waterfront also matter, in terms of the quality of the promenade and the locations of activity, and I agree with many of my readers that Frank Kitts Park and the front of Te Papa are often dead spots.


At 1:43 pm, August 07, 2006, Blogger mikeymike said...

Hey there Tom

"Notably, no-one expressed a desire for more green open space"
"Assuming mixed use development does proceed, a similar (but possibly smaller) green space to Waitangi Park should be included in that broad area."

A logical conception of "mixed-use" (for me) includes open space. So maybe there is no need to mention it.

Maybe the WWL process you're now involved with only refers to existing development areas (ie. stops at the north end of the "public" wharves).

Reserves contribution (or similar) will hopefully facilitate open space on subdivision of land further toward the Quays area...

Regardless, good work.

At 3:16 pm, August 07, 2006, Blogger Tom said...

Yes, I should have been more careful with my wording. By "more green open space" I meant "more than currently planned for", rather than "more than there is at the moment". So I certainly didn't mean to ignore your contribution!

And as you speculate, the WWL process is focused on the Lambton Harbour area as defined in the Waterfront Framework (roughly, Bunny St to Waitangi Park), but for the purposes of the "Blue Sky" session, they did want to think more broadly. The Harbour Quays masterplan currently does include green spaces (and other public spaces), though quite a bit smaller than Waitangi Park (and thus probably more usable!).

And I certainly agree that "mixed use" includes open space, though in my case I'd be inclined to emphasise pedestrian streets and small squares integrated throughout the development rather than having a big wide-open lawn.

At 10:55 am, August 08, 2006, Blogger Hadyn said...

I think we need to hold off on all discussion around Waitangi Park's big field usefullness until after this summer.

If there are enough consecutive sunny days it could become as popular a place to picnic and frisbee and touch footy as Parliament.

At 11:26 am, August 08, 2006, Blogger Tom said...

That's true enough, and I imagine that once the sun comes out (BTW, is that snow outside?!?) and the park dries out, it will be popular again. It still looks like my original prediction (that the field would be 90% empty 90% of the time) is turning out to be accurate, and that it won't be until there are a few more inhabited buildings nearby that it reaches its true potential.


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