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

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Dude, where's my carpark?

Every time that I feel proud of Wellingtonians for being less car-dependent than their counterparts in other New Zealand cities, along comes a reminder that the hard-core vehicle addicts are still with us. Over the last couple of weeks, the controversy over Courtenay Park that first emerged back in June has been getting more attention from the media and some councillors.

Part of the argument is based on the idea that the council decided "not to consult the public about the park" (according to a Dominion Post article on the 14th of September). So I guess I must have been hallucinating when I made a submission on the council's website. And it's contradicted by the fact that after meeting with retailers, the council has backed down from the original plans to remove 6 carparks: the net loss is now a measly 3. I guess that "consulting the public" means "doing exactly what the noisiest complainers want", rather than "balancing the needs of different sectors of the public".

There have been some ridiculously histrionic comments along the lines that unless retailers have carparks directly outside (rather than 15 seconds walk away), they will go out of business. The fact that some of the private businesses involved (such as Medlab) are in the medical industry allows them to present themselves as hard-done-by "community facilities". It's possible that a small fraction of their customers may be too frail to walk that extra few metres, but it should be possible to create a rear entrance to the building on York St. The Architectural Centre's submission against the park (35kB PDF) was more balanced, based on design issues and whether this is the best location for such a park, though interestingly part of their opposition was due to the thought that moving traffic from the slip road to a new lane on Courtenay Place would encourage car use.

There was an interesting comment in a letter to the editor by one of the MedLab doctors: "We were told at a meeting with council officers that the city's long-term plan is to ban cars from Courtenay Place altogether and create a giant mall from Lambton Quay to Courtenay Place." Really? Woohoo! But as far as I'm aware, there's never been any public statement of such a goal, and it seems unlikely given the current council. The writer also seemed to think that an inordinate number of car parks have been removed from the city, so that deserved a reply:

Lorraine Smith (11 Sep) objects to council land being reclaimed from cars for public space, and wonders how many car parks have "been removed from the central city in the past five years". I don't know the answer, but one thing's for sure: it's no more than a drop in an asphalt ocean.

Wellington has over 15,000 central city car parks, an astonishing number for a city its size. Jan Gehl compared this to Copenhagen (2.1MB PDF), which was once as car-dominated as Wellington, but where "2-3% of inner city parking has been removed each year during the last ten years. Alongside the positive side effect of less traffic the road space has been used for cycle lanes and widened footpaths. At present the excess width of the Wellington streets is used for car parking. A better use is possible."

Courtenay Park would remove only 3 car parks: Wellington would have to create two such parks every week to match Copenhagen's achievement! This Friday is World Carfree Day: an appropriate time to point out that sunny public space on a popular street can be put to much better use than the storage of private cars.

street conversion: from http://www.worldcarfree.net/wcfd/street-conversion.phpIn fact, the theme for this year's Carfree Day is "street conversions". It's too late to enter their design competition to convert road and parking space into lively, people oriented places, but they're encouraging people to put these plans into action. How wonderful it would be to see Wellingtonians do something like Rebar's PARK(ing) intervention, and take over one or more of the parking spaces as temporary public space! I've got a couple of folding chairs: if anyone has some potplants and readylawn, would you care to join me for a picnic in the (car)park?


At 5:57 pm, September 19, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Love your idea Tom! I would join you if I was in Wellington this Friday. The whole concept of street reclaiming sounds very worthwhile.

At 6:36 pm, September 19, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

sounds great. If you need a potted flax and some native grasses count me in. :)

At 8:16 pm, September 19, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This exact thing used to happen in Cuba Street in years gone by when the bypass was still a distant yet looming prospect. It would be great to see this happen again when the bypass is officially opened (apparently between xmas and new year - not doubt intentionally rubbish timing).

At 8:48 am, September 20, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

the last thing this city needs is a KRAP.....A park however, a small park with great sun and on the Golden mile? Definitely

At 11:36 am, September 20, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What's nice about the location is the sun it gets, which is why I hope they turn the toilets into a cafe rather than a pub (or maybe a cafe-cum-pub would suit both worlds).

Still in terms of the money being spent it would be good to see entirely new park areas developed, this space is already reserved for the future and has been seen to fairly recently (in terms of the rest of the city).

At 11:42 am, September 20, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

They should be doing this in the context of a master plan for the whole Taranaki St/Courtenay Plc intersection area. AFAIK no such plan/vision exists.

What happens if when they come to look at the wider area they discover the development of the Courtenay Plc Park doesn't align with desires for developing the wider context. A couple of million in wasted money. A master plan for the whole area, encompassing Te Aro Park, Taranaki St, and that end of Courtenay Plc should be created first, perhaps even a design competition (since these seem to be the best way to elicit public input, and probably in the most democratic fashion).

At 2:56 pm, September 20, 2006, Blogger Tom said...

> I hope they turn the toilets into a cafe rather than a pub

I think the cafe/pub distinction is becomeing more and more blurred, & while it's planned to be a wine bar, I'd be surprised if they wouldn't be happy to serve you a coffee. The current mystery bar (still no-one's got it!) is very upmarket, but I was able to just order a soft drink at lunchtime and sit outside in the sun.

> in terms of the money being spent it would be good to see entirely new park areas developed, this space is already reserved for the future and has been seen to fairly recently

I think it's probably pretty good value, in that it's already council land, and that by removing the road they can connect a pleasantish but isolated public space with a well-used footpath to create a useful-sized square. The same money spent elsewhere to buy private land would buy a much smaller space, and without an existing active edge.

> They should be doing this in the context of a master plan for the whole Taranaki St/Courtenay Plc intersection area. AFAIK no such plan/vision exists.

I agree that there are other things that could be done here with some more integrated thinking. For instance, one of the things that makes the corner by the old WC so awkward is the proliferation of poles (trolley wires, lighting, traffic lights) that chew up and divide the space. Surely they could be combined into one?

But I think there is already a sort of plan, in that there's mention in the new district plan of protecting sun to something called "Clock Park", which I'm guessing is this place. Also, this the second of three small parks in Te Aro getting attention, though I'm not sure where the third will go (the Manners/Victoria plan seems to have been axed).

At 12:16 pm, September 21, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I reckon they should make courtenay place a pedestrian (and light rail) only area like cuba mall and manners mall from Taranaki St to Cambridge/Kent.

When they closed it to traffic following the lions game it was a great place to hang out.

At 5:36 pm, September 22, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Only problem with Courtenay Place becoming a transit mall is that there are too many damn pesky pedestrians (myself included). Ever try catching a bus through this area on Thursday/Friday after 5pm? The busses back all the way up to Cuba Street because so many pedestrians are using the pedestrian crossings. Granted it'd help to remove the cars, but I'm not sure that would help enough, some pedestrian crossings might have to go.


Post a Comment

<< Home