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

Friday, December 22, 2006

Plum position

Typical! Literally minutes after I wrote that I'd finally ticked off all the bars in Wellington, another one pops up. Not only that, but Jo goes ahead and outs it as a mystery bar before I've even had a chance to visit it.

The new Plum cafe/bar in Cuba StAs anyone who frequents Cuba St should know, Plum has been undergoing renovations for a while. The old Plum had been well-liked (as these reviews attest), but was starting to feel a little tired: perhaps somewhere between the late Krazy Lounge and Mr Bun. I expected little more than a lick of paint and some new furniture, so it's a bit of a surprise to see it in its sleek new incarnation by Alistar Cox of Matterhorn, Mojo and Mighty Mighty fame. As the barman said, it's now pitched as something between a European-style café (with a much more relaxed attitude to alcohol than our original 90's cafés) and a proper bar. While Martinis weren't on offer (the barman said his Martini glasses were still at home!), with Tanqueray and Noilly on the moderately well-stocked shelves and apparently knowledgeable staff, the signs are good for the future.

But this brings me back to one of the old problems with this year's quest: nomenclature. Where do I draw a line between a bar and a café, restaurant or venue? A license is obviously a prerequisite, as is being open at night at least some of the time, but the line can get a bit fuzzy. It seems that a lot of this year's openings are primarily cafés, bistros or diners, but are very congenial places for a quiet (or occasionally very noisy) drink, so I've tended towards inclusiveness. If you can get a pitcher of Margaritas at Sweet Mother's Kitchen, or shots of grappa at Scopa, or a decent Martini with live music at Ernesto, then I'm more than happy to call them bars. Some would argue that on these criteria I should also include places like Fidels or Katipo, but I'll stick with my somewhat subjective and arbitrary decisions for now. Besides, I've had a drink in both of those, just to be safe (and besides, I was thirsty).

This blurring of the boundaries is only a problem for taxonomists, of course. For the good folk of Wellington, it's great to see the breakdown of the old distinctions between café and pub, bar and nightclub, restaurant and music venue. Of course there will always be a place for seedy pubs, swanky cocktail lounges, sweaty nightclubs and scungy dive bars, but I expect in the future to find more places where a group of people with diverse needs could get a good coffee, a full meal, an inventive cocktail and a beer and nibbles all at the same time.

Speaking of which: cheers! I'll be out of Wellington, and in fact out of my normal comfort zone in the sprawl capital of the Bay of Plenty, for the rest of the year. So enjoy yourselves if you're staying in Wellington, but I expect to find it still in one piece when I come back.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Bar none

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Well, I did it, and only just in time! Several people recognised the interior of the current mystery bar as the old Santa Fe on Taranaki St, but only Perrin identified it as Endup: Wellington's only "day club". Since I visited Curve the night before, that now means that I have had a drink in every bar in central Wellington.

Since I first listed my target bars, I have had to constantly refine and update the list. Partly to keep up with openings and closures, partly to include bars that I'd missed (mostly well-hidden hotel bars) and in a few cases (Hog's Breath, Taste of Korea, The Front Room, Subnine) because I decided they didn't really fit my definition of a "bar". Here, for your dubious edification, is the complete list:
Arbitrageur, Arizona, Atlanta, B4, Backbencher, Ballroom, Basement, Beaujolais, Big Kumara, Bisque On Bolton, The Black Harp, Blend, Blondini's, Blue Note, Bodega, Bohdans, Boogie Wonderland, Boulcott St Bistro, Boulot, Breakers, Brewery Bar, The Bristol, Brix, Bull & Bear, Cabaret, Calzone, Cambridge Hotel, Capitol, Caronia, Caucus, The Cavern Club, Chameleon, Chicago, Chow, Club K, Concrete, Confidential, Copita, Courtenay Arms, Coyote, Crazy Horse, Cue Room, Curve, Dockside, The Dog & Bone, Dojo, Downtown Local, The Dubliner, Eclipse, Electric Avenue, Endup, Ernesto, Establishment, The Feathers, Ferrymans, Floriditas, Flying Burrito Brothers, Gibbon's Bar, GoGo, Good Luck, Green Room, The Grill at Duxton, Happy, Harem, Havana, Hawthorne Lounge, Hope Bros, Hotel Willis Lodge, Hugos, Hummingbird, Imbibe, Imerst, J'aime Bordeaux, Jet, The Jimmy, JJ Murphy's, Juniper, Kazu Yakitori and Sake Bar, Kitty O'Shea's, The Lab, The Lab Underground, The Last Supper Club, Latinos, Leuven, The Lido, Liquidate, The Loaded Hog, Logan Brown, Lone Star, Lone Star Lounge, Lovelocks, The Malthouse, Matterhorn, Maya, Medina, Mercure Terrace, Mercure Willis, Mercury Lounge, Mezzaluna, Mighty Mighty, Milk, Mini Bar, Ministry Of Food, Mixjah, Mojo Invincible, Molly Malones, Monsoon Poon, Motel, Museum Hotel, MVP, Occidental, The Old Bank Bar & Café, One Red Dog (Blair St), One Red Dog (Kumutoto), Orchid Lounge, Our Bar, Paradiso, Paramount, Parlour Bar, The Pit, Plum (see my update) Pod, Ponderosa, Portland Hotel, Pravda, Rain, Red Square, Sandwiches, San Francisco Bathhouse, Scopa, Seam, The Shack, Shed 5, Shooters, Sojourn, Southern Cross, Speight's Ale House, Spice Island, Sports Cafe, Stadium Bar, Stellar, St Johns, Sweet Mother's Kitchen, Syn, The Tasting Room, The Thistle Inn, Toast, Trax, Tupelo, Urbane, UU, Valve, Vespa Lounge, Vintage, Vivo, The Wellesley Cafe, Welsh Dragon Bar & Scorpio's, Whitbys Piano Bar, Zibibbo, Zing
That's a total of 159 160 bars in about 50 weeks (plus those that I visited before they closed). And yes, at times I did think I was mad to do this (The Lab was one experience I don't care to repeat!), but I think it was worth it. It took me outside of my comfort zone into places I wouldn't normally choose to visit, occasionally providing some pleasant surprises (such as the food at The Black Harp - superb!). I also got so see a broader view of the Wellington bar and pub scene, and sometimes through chatting to bartenders and regulars I heard some very useful gossip. Even the numbing blandness of most hotel bars gave me a not unpleasant sense of transience and placelessness, and helped me to feel like a tourist in my own city.

I'm bound to give myself some other challenge for the new year, preferably one that deepens my experience of Wellington without causing permament liver damage. As yet, I still haven't made up my mind what it will be, but I've still got ten days to decide.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Movable feasts 3: and the feast goes on

As I promised earlier, here is a full accounting of changes in the Wellington hospitality market over the last year or so. Rather than create a totally new map with just the changes since my August version, I've decided to update it to reflect the net changes since my first map in August 2005. That keeps a fixed baseline at my first survey and gives a broader picture of the long-term trends. So here it is (click for a larger version), with red dots for openings, blue for closures and purple for closures that are set to reopen shortly.

The first thing that stands out is that there are many more openings than closures: 30 compared to 5, for a net increase of 25 establishments in just under eighteen months. A large proportion of the openings are slightly away from the Golden Mile, which is not surprising given the low vacancies there, with quite a few on the waterfront and along Wakefield St. There's also a tight cluster around Waring Taylor St, mostly takeaways and coffee outlets, perhaps driven by a drift north of hungry 9-to-5ers.

Of course, it's hard to equate the loss of a revered institution like Il Casino with the gain of a kebab house or a clothes shop selling coffee and muffins. But the openings included at least ten proper bars, cafés and restaurants, so as well as a trend towards lots of little daytime cafés, there's still a gradual increase in the more serious hospitality market. So that you can check my calculations, here's the full list, with the "openings" further broken down into the revival of vacant dining venues, retailers doing coffee on the side, and brand new spaces that were previously retail, office or non-existent.
Re-opened (red)
The Ambeli
Café La-La (ex-Svago between Leeds & Eva St)
Crazy Horse
Green Room (former Shed 5 functions room)
Kaffee Eis (Frank Kitts)
Siem Reap (Dixon St version)
St Johns

Retailer also serving coffee/food (red)
Café 181
de Nada
Meat on Tory
Milk Crate
Offbeat Originals

Opened (red)
Burger Fuel
Centre of Gravity
Cube Bakery & Café (cnr Webb & Taranaki)
Fuel (Waring Taylor St )
Gallery Deli (The Terrace)
Gloria Jean's
The Immigrant's Son
Ka Pai
The Lanes
Midland Sushi
Mojo Factory
Mojo Summit
One Red Dog Kumutoto
Rawhide (Frank Kitts)
Waitangi Park Café

Closed (blue)
Bar 155
Higher Taste
Il Casino

Pending (purple)
Butlers Chocolate Café (ex-Kopi)
General Practitioner (ex-Bouquet Garni)
There are more changes on the way, of course. The Malthouse is about to shift to Courtenay Place, the Holiday Inn will open early next year, and Chaffers Dock will be full of restaurants. The old Santa Fe premises are still being used in at least one form (that's a hint for the mystery bar, folks!), but there are rumours that its building might not be around for long. The Chews Lane and Wellington Hotel developments are steaming along, and of course there's a whole village of pretty cottages at the top of Cuba St that'll be perfect for Devonshire teas now that those pesky anarchists are out of the way. On the other hand, there may be a slew of businesses on their last legs, and the holiday season often shakes out the less robust operators. Watch this space.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Back on track: a missed opportunity

It should be time for some cheerful and frivolous posts (and it will be, once someone correctly identifies the mystery bar), but here's another serious post that I have to write now. A few weeks back, there was an article in the Dominion Post entitled "Commuters return to cars". The trouble was, since it only showed relative figures ("Peak-time passenger growth soared 11.6 per cent in mid-year as fuel prices peaked. This had slowed to about 9 per cent by September."), it was hard to tell whether passenger transport numbers were actually falling, or just growing more slowly. I had to email Greater Wellington in order to get the underlying figures. I then graphed these with a different series for each year, in order to show both month-to-month and year-to-year changes. Here are the results.

For most of this year (dark green), ridership has been considerably higher than previous year. There was, however, a big drop from August to September: more than the usual seasonal spring easing, and in fact enough to take it lower than last September. There's been a slight recovery in October, and since the October numbers are incomplete (some small bus companies take a while to file their figures), the final counts may be higher than last October.

It's hard to escape the conclusion, though, that passenger numbers have peaked for the time being. Recent falls in petrol prices are the obvious main culprit, but don't forget that Metlink put their prices up (in a notably complex and unpopular manner) in September, and even the weather may have something to do with it. It seems obvious that cost is the main driving factor in choosing public vs private transport.

Imagine if the $40m or so spent on the bypass had been invested in public transport. When petrol prices rose this year, instead of facing packed carriages, clapped-out buses and unreliable service, new passengers might have actually thought "hey, this isn't bad!", and become regular patrons rather then switching back when the costs changed. It's clear that the challenge is not "getting Kiwis to give up their love affair with the car", as we're constantly being told, but making sure the infrastructure is ready when they do.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Car-o drive

As I said I would, I took a walk along the bypass on Saturday. I was too late to see the protests, but some of the protestors were still there chalking slogans on the pavements, and there a certain tension remained in the air.

There's a lot of things I don't like about the bypass, but the thing that struck me the most about it on the weekend is that it just doesn't look like Wellington. While supposedly "just a two-lane road", parts of "Karo Drive" are three to four lanes wide, and with empty sections on one side and small detached houses on the other, the approach to Victoria St looks as flat and bleak as any anonymous arterial road in the Hutt Valley. This is not an urban streetscape.

Wellington inner-city bypass: Karo DriveOn the northern side, the relocated heritage buildings sit oddly along Karo Drive. The façades don't follow the curve of the road as the buildings in an inner city street should, but instead retain their original orientation and are set back in a staircase fashion, as shown on the map. This disrupts any potential sense of the street as a unified volume, and leaves a series of awkward, disconnected spaces that are unlikely to be successful as public space, especially once the bypass is full of roaring traffic. In fact, back towards the corner with Cuba St, the designers have dispensed with any pretense that this could be a proper street, and built a blank concrete wall to protect the cottages from the road noise.
Wellington inner-city bypass: blank wall on Karo Drive
So much for insisting upon active edges! How comfortable would it feel to walk along here, either at rush hour stuck between a hard wall and a torrent of traffic, or at night with no sense of human occupation?

At least on the other side of the wall there is a human-scaled cluster of cottages, safely away from the traffic: the bucolically-monikered "Tonks Grove". The buildings certainly look pretty, with plenty of shiny paint and white picket fences, and posters in the windows recount their historic uses. But there's a startling lacuna in that history: the writers have been quite happy to tell the tale of the settlers, a quaint and wholesome community of coal merchants and butchers, but they elide the more recent history. For instance, the written history of what is simply labelled "ex-272 Cuba St" stops before the 20th century, and without the pre-renovation photo there would be no way of telling that this was the Freedom Shop. The recent community of artists, anarchists and students has paid the price for their opposition: not only were they evicted from their homes and businesses, they've been evicted from history as well.

Wellington inner-city bypass: Tonks Grove - 'These used to be our homes'
There's no visible indication of what sort of shops and residents will be moving in here, but the "For Lease" signs indicate that the market will drive the character of the streets. One new shop has already arrived, in Karo Drive itself just around the corner from Cuba. As yet it has no name, but it sells flowers, scented soaps and delicate embroidered thinggies. The proprietors have heard that the front shop will be a jewellers, and they plan to open a tea room on the carpark next door. Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Thorndon South.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Mystery bar number 53

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As I've already confirmed, the previous mystery bar was Vintage, a new "Asian tapas" bar in the old Monkey Bar space under Zibibbo. Its mixture of Orientalist decor and old-school hip-hop might sound odd, but like their cocktail that blends apple, elderflower and wasabi, somehow it works very nicely to kick a bit of freshness and spice into what could have been a tired genre. To top it all off, alongside the Bruce Lee videos and bombing-inspired signage, there's just a hint of retro kiwiana: another very contemporary form of nostalgia.

Mystery bar #53 - the barThis week's mystery bar, which may well be the last for the year, is in a very different sort of timewarp. The music is pretty new, but sounds very 90s. The decor probably dates from the late 90s, but looks stereotypically 80s, with vast swathes of black paint, chrome and neon. Much of that is left over from a previous occupant of the space, and some elements look so incongruous that they could be seen as either hilarious or quite misleading, depending upon your point of view.

It's certainly not a place that you'd pop into for a quiet afternoon drink. It's all about late nights and dancing, though the pool table and pokies seemed to be getting more use than the dancefloor when I visited. Accordingly, the drinks selection leans more towards combinations of energy drinks and Jagermeister that sound not only nauseous but downright neurotoxic. Needless to say, a Martini was out of the question, and while I gained a kind of guilty pleasure from some of the music, I don't think I'll be hurrying back.

Mystery bar #53 - patrons

Friday, December 15, 2006

Christmas wrapping

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While there's still a couple of weeks left in the year it feels like time to start wrapping up the year. I'll be on National Radio again tomorrow at 11:45am, mostly talking about inner-city revitalisation and the design of streets, but I'll probably also do a quick summation of the year in urbanism and Martinis. Speaking of which, I've already had to add to my Wellingtini booklet, and I'll post my last set of Martini review for the year next week.

With the end of the year nearly upon us, it's time to answer the burning question: how have I done in my quest to drink at all the bars in central Wellington? Well, the target has been in constant motion all year, not just with all the openings and closures, but as I discover fusty little hotel bars that really have to be ticked off, and as I reconsider the status of some on the list. For instance, I've decided that places like Subnine don't really count, as they're more venues than bars. To my mind, a "bar" has to be open regularly without a cover charge. That just leaves me two bars to visit: Curve and Endup.

Both of those are also quite debatable. According to a comment from Tatjna, Curve is open with DJs most Saturdays, though I've had other suggestions that it is more of a sporadic functions venue. And while Endup used to pump away until midday at the weekends (which I know from painful experience, having lived opposite there), my recent attempts to visit after dawn have found the doors locked. I may have to stock up on barely legal substances so that my ageing metabolism can function during Endup's very narrow opening window. If I'm successful, or if I conclude that neither Curve or Endup count as proper, functioning bars, then presuming nothing else opens at the weekend, there will no longer be a single bar from Thorndon to the Basin in which I have not had a drink. Phew.

Tiki night at ImbibeIn the meantime, though, there are some bars that I can't help gravitating towards again and again. For instance, Wellington may still be waiting for a proper Tiki Bar, but Imbibe is having a Tiki night tonight: no prizes for guessing where I'll be from 9pm! Mind you, the thought of Minuit's Ruth and Paul performing Cole Porter at Cabaret is pretty damn tempting, especially when followed by some live electronica.

Next week, presuming my liver survives, I'll be a gentleman of leisure. In other words, unemployed. In still other words: more time for blogging! So, with any luck I'll have a chance to finish off a few analyses and other projects, post a whole bunch of them, and save some up for the long slow summer.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Moving on

Wellington Inner City Bypass trench detail - from http://www.transit.govt.nz/projects/wicb/gallery/photos/trench-5.jspWellUrbanites will know my views on the 'bypass' by now, so it may seem strange that I plan to take the opportunity to "Walk the Bypass" this weekend. Not, as you might think, to engage in some guerilla urbanism such as erecting a shed and then recording an album or brewing some ginger beer, or any of the other things that used to happen back when this was part of the city rather than a trench to help people get slightly more quickly from one suburb to another. No, it's because it's time to accept that the bypass is now a physical fact, and to look at the remnants of neighbourhoods around it, thinking about how the city's flesh can heal around the damage and produce the best urban environment possible. By walking along a route that will henceforth be forbidden to pedestrians, and looking at the newly-opened "heritage precinct" of relocated and tarted-up buildings, I hope to start some thinking and hence debate on the best future for this part of Te Aro.

Brent Efford has written an article for the Aro Valley community newspaper that sums up many of the same feelings I have. I've reproduced it here with his permission.


How to love your local Bypass
We didn't want it, we resisted it for decades. We lost. Active resistance collapsed soon after construction started but that feeling of loss persists to this day. The main bit of the Bypass opens December 28.

To deal with our grief we need to move through two stages:

Recognise the loss
The negatives of the Bypass are real, and justified our resistance:

Traffic induction
– it is obvious from local experience, and confirmed by international research, traffic increases to fill the lane space provided for it. (for a US summary of research on this see www.sierraclub.org/sprawl/transportation/seven.asp). So building the Bypass has simply added traffic which will clog every other part of the network. Promises of reduction in SH1 car journey times will be forgotten as over-all congestion mounts.

Heritage destruction – because the land had been designated for the Bypass, or even grander motorway schemes, for nearly 40 years the route became a unique time capsule preserving (albeit with increasing decrepitude) the last 19th century neighbourhoods in Te Aro. The relocation and restoration of most of the historic buildings, and the intensive archeological investigation do not fully make up for the destruction of the historic neighbourhoods.

Disruption – maybe not as bad as we expected in total, but it happened (and the lack of priority given to unobstructed footpaths in Oak Park Lane, Willis St and Cuba St implies a lack of respect for pedestrians.)

Other stuff - higher volumes of traffic, faster traffic at our front door (50 km/h? yeah, right!) and the ugliness of the trench structure are all potential negatives which may or may not be mitigated over time.

Move on
To leave grief behind we need to recognise that there have been positive outcomes:

Pedestrian and cycle access – the wide cycle and footpath provided beside the roadway will make pedestrian access to Upper Cuba St, Buckle St etc from the Valley much easier. Might even get me on my bike.

Building restoration – let's face it, the relocated houses and shops along the Bypass route have been very thoroughly restored and this will ensure their long-term preservation, albeit not on their original sites. Let's hope they are sold and used for their original purposes in the not-too-distant future.

No more excuses – remember how we were repeatedly assured by the Mayor and senior City and Regional councillors that the Bypass would make all sorts of liveability, pedestrian and passenger transport improvements possible once the through traffic was diverted? OK, perhaps they didn’t really mean it at the time, but now we can demand those promises be made good – more bus lanes, better bus circulation, traffic calming (especially in Ghuznee St), better pedestrian areas, etc.

It's a benchmark – the all-up price for the Bypass was reputedly $40m, including our stormwater culvert. Having monitored the work closely, I am sceptical that it could have been anywhere near as low as that. It will probably be revealed when all the bills are in that the final cost was significantly higher. However, whatever the cost, the size of the job sets a benchmark for major inner-city engineering jobs. It makes me more confident when advocating light rail through the city, for instance. There is no way that a light rail line would be a bigger job than the ICB – almost certainly smaller, in fact – so it confirms that extending the rail system is indeed affordable.

It's a permanent choke point - the Bypass was originally planned as only Stage 2 of the urban motorway extension – but in 2004 we were assured by Transit that Stage 3, a full 4-lane grade-separated motorway, was permanently off the agenda. We were cynical then, but the size and strength of the 2-lane concrete trench under Vivian St, as immovable and non-expandable as a hydro dam, seems to confirm Transit's undertaking. Which means that future travel growth in the corridor is going to have to be accommodated by sustainable, non-road, means – like light rail (even though the City Council bristles at the very mention of the term). And of all the Bypass outcomes that help us accept it and move on, that might be the best of all.
Brent Efford

There's only a couple of things I can add to that. First, I want to reinforce the "no more excuses" point. The Greening the Quays project is allegedly only stage one in a plan to humanise the mini-motorway that separates the city from the waterfront, and originally the intention was to reduce the roads from 6 lanes to 4. That's now been partially weaselled out of, with the lane reduction subject to a review of traffic levels post-bypass. I'd say to the council: if you have confidence in the bypass, commit to a lane reduction now, together with a rephasing of traffic lights so that pedestrians don't grow old waiting to cross the road. After all, if CBD traffic volumes dropped by 9% last year without the bypass, why wait?! Also, while the redesign of Ghuznee St looks pretty good, with widened pavements and some street trees, we should be aiming higher: remove some on-street parking, and maybe a lane or two at the Taranaki St end, and it could be a fantastic urban environment.

Secondly, I'd take a different tack on the "building restoration" section. Rather than letting Te Aro become the new Thorndon, with cutesy cottages and chi-chi antique shops, use some of the restored buildings for community facilities, affordable housing and artists' studios. Toi Pōneke is great as far as it goes, but it doesn't make up for the loss of affordable space due to the bypass and other redevelopment. Maybe even make this a "noise-control-free" zone, an anything-goes environment where would-be developers of expensive housing would think twice. Upper Te Aro will never be the same again, but perhaps it's not too late to retain some of the characteristics that made it, and hence Wellington, something special.

Waterfront update

I must be a sucker for punishment, since on Monday night I attended the latest Waterfront Development Subcommittee meeting. Some people would consider that the study of local government consultation belongs under governance or public policy studies, but I've come to realise that it's a branch of psychopathology. The range of social dysfunction, paranoia and anger-management issues on display would fill several chapters of DSM-IV-TR: and that's just among the councillors. Those in the public gallery are worse, and I include myself as an obvious textbook example of chronic masochism.

Nevertheless, it's the only way to get the latest updates and gossip, which I've combined here with my usual other sources (public notices, real estate advertisements, unsubstantiated rumours, peering through windows) to update my previous post on current and upcoming waterfront developments.

Waitangi Park
Blessing the waharoa at Waitangi Park - from the 'On the waterfront' newsletterWaitangi Park is now officially finished. Well, it's been officially finished for a while, but now it's even more finished. The waharoa (or should that be waharoa iti, given its somewhat diminutive height?) was installed and blessed in October, and besides its spiritual and symbolic functions, it now provides a useful landmark. The final (really final, this time) act will be to install some pou whenua prior to Waitangi Day, and while I haven't heard about where they're going to go, earlier renderings of the park showed some in the wetlands. Here's hoping that they use this opportunity to do something about the crappy blue pipes pouring the Waitangi stream into the wetlands: I have to believe that they were only an interim measure.

Chaffers Dock
A month ago I described the confirmed tenants of the ground floor spaces, and while there have been no more announcements, it looks like the "sophisticated, relaxed dining" restaurant Home will be in the desirable northwest corner of the building, and will be designed by The House, who are responsible for the slick decor of Matterhorn and Mojo among others. Then again, they also created Mighty Mighty, so anything could happen.

If you're worried about the cheap-looking vents that have been stuck all over the old building, you can relax: these are contrary to the scope, so the Technical Advisory Group is getting the contractors to replace them with something less obtrusive. The new Boathouse apartments are looking great, and I can't wait until the complex opens (still no more detail beyond "after Christmas") to see how it transforms this section of the waterfront.

Overseas Passenger Terminal
There's little progress to report here, as Wellington Waterfront Ltd are still negotiating with the Marina board over access to carparks. Let's hope they can come up with a solution that allows reasonable car access for berth owners without smothering the area in cars.

Taranaki Street Wharf
Goodbye, little green mound. While some people really miss it, and Jo will have to get a new banner for her not-blog, the flatter lawn should be a more flexible space, and it allows better views both to and from the Free Ambulance Building. This is still a temporary lawn, though, and while the final layout of this area is still being worked out (to accomodate the relocated wharewaka), it will probably get a bit more of a slope than it has now. The pohutukawa are gradually being installed in their final homes along the Quays, the timber garden is back in place, and with St Johns looking like a big success it'll be good to see how the spaces work over summer.

It finally looks like something is happening at the bottom of the NZX building. While the spaces were leased to Lion Breweries some time ago, and they didn't seem in too much of a hurry to sublet them, it appears that they are in discussions with a potential operator for one of the two spaces. Whatever it is (please be a food market!), it's possibly going to open in the first quarter of next year.

Frank Kitts Park
This was the main source of controversy at the meeting. Waterfront Watch were there in numbers, and as I didn't make an oral submission myself, all of the public presentations were against the Design Brief, and in particular the inclusion of a Chinese Garden here rather than at Waitangi Park. This was in contrast to the written submissions (107kB PDF) which were primarily supportive of the move.

That didn't stop Waterfront Watch from claiming the moral high ground and brandishing a 12,000-signature petition that "proved" that the public were against the brief. In fact, the petition was from the 1990's, and was against putting multi-storey buildings along the park edge, and had nothing whatsoever to do with a Chinese Garden. Strangely, while they think that a Chinese Garden would be a wonderful public open space at Waitangi, at Frank Kitts it would "ruin the open space". They also continued to speak on behalf of "the Chinese Community", and it wasn't until the end of the meeting that an obvious yet inconvenient fact was pointed out to them: most of the submissions in favour of the change came from people with Chinese names!

While little extra detail was available (this is still a design brief, not a design, as some people couldn't get through their thick skulls), the Mayor hinted that the most likely location for the Garden would indeed be at the northern or western edges as I speculated earlier. Also, the recommendations (76kB PDF) stipulated that the design will be put out to an invited competition, with the finalists subject to public feedback and a jury decision. Good stuff.

Outer T
Appeals against the Hilton consent will go to the Environment Court in March or April next year. This is going to be a long process.

David Irwin from Isthmus Group gave a short presentation on the revised master plan for the Kumutoto public spaces. These are going ahead quite rapidly now, with services laid and a contractor approved, and work is expected to start in January or February next year, ready for a Christmas '07 finish.

There are two significant changes from the plans that are still shown online: the low jetties that were to have been added beside the promenade have been dropped, and the mouth of the Kumutoto stream has been modified. The former change is partly due to the desire not to overly "domesticate" the wharf, which makes sense since larger vessels would not have been able to dock at the low jetties, and it's good to keep some of the robust industrial feel of a working wharf. I can't quite agree with Irwin when he says that the current ones near Shed 5 are hardly used: I was there at lunchtime yesterday and all the benches were taken by people seeking a sheltered lunch spot. On the other hand, they make more sense in that spot, where the enclosure of the Outer T creates a more intimate scale, than immediately north of there where the tug wharf is more open.

In any case, the extra seating at the stream mouth should make up for it. This includes a cluster of north-facing platforms and jetties stepping down from the Meridian building to the widened stream. Part of the tug wharf promenade will be replaced by a bridge (just slightly narrower than the existing promenade) to mark the stream mouth and create a sense of opening out towards the harbour. The bridge will be supported by a minimalist crane-like structure, partly for engineering reasons but mostly to create a vertical element as a marker along the harbourside promenade.

The Meridian building itself is proceeding rapidly, and looks set to open in September next year, which is earlier than I suggested before. There's still no confirmed tenant for the ground floor space, but Wellington Waterfront is actively negotiating with several potential tenants. It's possible that part of it might become a ticket office for the Eastbourne ferry, given its proximity to the new extended ferry wharf.

Waterloo Quay
MADINZ shop at Waterloo on QuayThere's been a small but encouraging development in what has become the forgotten section of the waterfront between Whitmore St and the Railway Station. The ground floor of the old Shed 21 (now Waterloo on Quay apartments) was always supposed to have been for retail, but its hitherto isolated location has made that difficult and the tenancies have ended up as offices or studios. That's changed just slightly, as MADINZ, a corporate gifts specialist, has opened to the public.

Most of their business has come from government or diplomatic clients, but there's been enough public interest for them to start a quiet little retail operation. Interestingly, they say that they get a lot of business from the Statistics building up in Harbour Quays, and they're expecting more from the new BNZ building when that's complete: a small demonstration of the fact that for retail to thrive on the waterfront, there needs to be people working nearby. Much of their predominantly New Zealand-made stock is quite touristy and available elsewhere, but they apparently have a significant discount, so it could be worth the journey.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Young Wellington

One of the trends that the Wellington Regional Strategy is intended to address is the loss of people in the 25-45 age group as young people go on their OE and decide to stay. The release of regional demographic data from this year's census provides an opportunity to examine the age structure across the Wellington region and see how things are looking in this regard. Here's a graph of the four urban councils plus the Kapiti Coast, with the NZ average shown in red for comparison:

Wellington region age structures in 2006The first thing to note is that the commuter cities (Porirua and the Hutts) are pretty similar to the national average, although Porirua has many more children and teenagers. I've shown Kapiti in grey, for very good reason: the stereotype of the Coast as one big retirement home is not far off the mark. But look at Wellington City! There's certainly no lack of 25-49 year olds at the moment, and in fact the proportion of twentysomethings is about 50% higher than the norm.

So I decided to look at the trends for just Wellington City, and found that there has already been a small decline in the proportion of 25-39 year olds, with just a slight increase in the number of 40-44 year olds. What's very striking, though, is the spike in the 20-24 age group:

Wellington City age structure trends 2001-2006Is this a surge in the number of postgraduate students? Weta's Wellywood workforce? A rush of hip urbanites zeroing in on a happening city? Or an influx of fresh young policy analysts brought in to feed Thorndon's insatiable appetite for unsullied youth? Whatever it is, it may help explain the continuing health of the hospitality sector, and if they stay on in Wellington rather than heading off for more lucrative overseas careers, perhaps Wellington City can help counteract the youth gap in other parts of the region.

Remember that these figures are for all of Wellington City Council, which includes places like Tawa, Churton Park and Newlands (not exactly known as magnets for people in their early twenties), so a similar graph for central Wellington should show the trend even more strongly. But if the planners behind the regional strategy want to retain these people as the future 25-49 workforce, perhaps there's one simple lesson: make the region more like Wellington City, and less like Kapiti.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Bouncing back 4

Butlers Chocolate Cafe - opening in Willis St, Wellington, in the former Kopi siteAfter nearly a year, the last of Vim Rao's former restaurant sites is set to reopen. The fomer Kopi at 103 Willis St is going to become a Butlers Chocolate Cafe, an Irish brand that seems to be new to New Zealand. I have to admit that when I think of chocolate (mmmm, chocolate...), Switzerland or Belgium may spring to mind, but not Ireland. Butlers, however, is apparently a very succesful brand both commercially and gustatorily. While I'm usually wary of international brands moving in, as far as I can tell this will be the first branch outside Ireland, so it's not exactly as ubiquitous as Starbucks.

Just down the street, the Malthouse is set to close in a fortnight's time to make way for the Chews Lane development. There was an interview in yesterday's Dominion Post with the Malthouse's Sean Murrie, and while there will obviously be a sense of loss when the building goes, Murrie's clearly looking forward to bringing some serious beer culture to Courtenay Place. The new location is described as "a totally redeveloped 200 square metre space next to the Sports Bar on the corner of Courtenay Place", which implies that contrary to my previous post (which was based upon conversations with the Malthouse bar manager), they will indeed be moving into what is now Seam at 48a Courtenay Place. So my apologies, Duncan, you were right the first time.

Vintage Bar - graffiti logo in alleywaySpeculations about Monkey being transformed into a tapas bar also proved correct, in a way. It's now an "Asian tapas" bar called Vintage, which was correctly identified by Perrin as the current mystery bar. It's a rather curious mix of pseudo-Oriental design and old-school hip hop, exemplified by the use of Buddha graffiti to signify its presence in the alleyway, but it seems to work rather nicely. While David Burton was appalled by the very concept of "Asian tapas" when offered by the Orchid Lounge, the versions here seem to be "tapas" only inasmuch as they're small snacks, and there's not much attempt at fusion cuisine. In fact, the decor, food and drinks at Vintage are very much the sort of thing that something called "Orchid Lounge" should have been, and the use of ingredients such as ginger, lemongrass, tamarind and even wasabi in their cocktails adds an intriguing (and often delicious) point of difference.

In my previous "bouncing back" post I tried to calculate the net effect of all the changes, so I'll update that now. With Monkey and Kopi now accounted for, of this year's closures that only leaves Bar 155, Play and Higher Taste still empty. Seam will have to make way for the Malthouse, though some would say that's not much of a loss, and in any case there's a "gastro pub" planned for the other end of Chews Lane in what was once the women's drop-in centre (surely there's some kind of post-feminist irony there?). I like to think that the demise of Boss is a sign of the good taste of Wellingtonians rather than an indicator of a saturated hospitality market, but nevertheless the shuffle with Santa Fe results in the net loss of one bar. Endup does appear to still be alive in Taranaki St, and I've still heard no confirmation as to the fate of that building. Curve in Edward St appears to be moribund (though perhaps I've just never been there at the right time).

With Boss and Curve gone but Monkey and Kopi replaced, that leaves us in the same position as last month: i.e. pretty healthy given the much greater number of new openings during the year. At the end of the year, I'll do a full accounting (with maps, of course!) to show the hospitality trends for the year.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Where the Boys Are - part 3

I said yesterday that there wasn't enough detail to update my "man drought" maps yet, but there is enough regional data to do some rough geographic analysis. I defined a couple of simple "man drought indices" (one for the 20-39 age group, and one for 25-49) based upon the ratio of men to women in each region. For instance, a drought index of 15% means that for every 100 men, there are 115 women, and one of -9% means that for every 100 men there are only 91 women. Here are the results across all the city and district councils (click to enlarge):

While most places do indeed suffer (if that's the word!) from a man drought, in other places it's the opposite. Most of the extra men are in rural areas, but for any women not willing to travel to the Chathams in search of a man, the Queenstown-Lakes District may be more to your liking. That may be due to an influx of hunky outdoors types from exotic locales, or it may be lonely, grizzled Southern Men. She's a hard road finding the perfect woman, son.

In the Wellington region, most cities are about as drought-stricken as the national average, but there's one anomaly: Upper Hutt. There's a very slight man drought in the 25-49 age group, but in the 20-39 cohort it's the only urban area to have more men than women. So there's hope for Wellington women, but also a catch: you'd better develop a taste for Holdens and black jeans.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Brave New World

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New World Metro at the Wellington railway stationWith plenty of hoopla, including three full pages in the Dominion Post, New World opened their fourth inner-Wellington store this week. It's a New World Metro at the the railway station, and while it looks tiny from the concourse, it expands Tardis-like into the forgotten parts of the station and is actually larger than the Willis St Metro. While some people are unhappy about it, including the proprietors of the old kiosk that it replaced, I can only say: about time!

In Europe, urban railway stations are full of mini-supermarkets, restaurants, small shops and other amenities. Of course, over there they're used for much more inter-city travel and are more like airports than the glorified bus stops we're used to, but with tens of thousands of commuters passing through every day it deserved more than a kiosk, dodgy hot-dog vendor and crummy old pub. As well as making life easier for commuters (and thus possibly saving a few shopping trips by car), it will no doubt be welcomed by local workers, students and residents, and it should be a lifesaver for the poor sods stuck out at Harbour Quays. Personally, I'll just be glad that when I go to visit my drinking buddies marooned in the suburbs, there's somewhere on the way with a good selection of wine, beer and cheese!

Most people won't want to brave the supermarket queues just to get a coffee or paper, but New World is also about to open a new kiosk in the grand old booking hall. As Rosemary Howell said in My Wellington, "[The] booking hall - the most architecturally striking part of the building, is sadly underused. ... So, why not use this space as a booking hall, as intended? Why not include a quality café with terrace-style seating? Why not install information services for tourists?" The new kiosk will go some way towards ensuring that one of Wellington's greatest interior spaces actually gets some life.

I hope that as part of the wider renovations, some good use is found for the old kiosk space closer to the platforms. Presumably the previous occupants were given the boot to ensure New World a monopoly over station patrons, but I'm sure some sort of vendor or service could be found that complements rather than competes with the supermarket. Now all we need is to do something about Trax, and Wellington's public transport hub will acquire the dignity, functionality and vitality that it deserves.

The final count

The first batch of official census data is now out. The detailed geographic data won't be out for another month or so, so I can't yet update my popular sexual geodemographic posts about toyboys and sugar daddies to guide those who might be worried about the continuing man drought. What we do have at a reasonably detailed level is simple population and dwelling counts, so I can update my Wellington City population growth post that I based upon May's provisional counts. It'll take a little while to update the map (some of the area unit names have changed, so I have to manually match them up to track the changes), but in the meantime here are some key updates and corrections.

The overall census night population of Wellington City grew by 10.8%, nearly 1700 people more than the provisional counts suggested. The "usually resident" count grew by only 9.5%, so this suggests an increase in the number of tourists and other visitors. In general for these analyses, I stick with the census night counts, since from an urbanist's perspective I'm interested in the number of people present in the city rather than where they usually live. Both numbers are higher than the average growth for New Zealand as a whole (7.8%).

I was a originally puzzled by an apparent drop in the population of Berhampore and Awarua, but the final data confirm my suspicion that they were undercounted, and they actually grew by 10.2% and 0.6% respectively. Intriguingly, as well as Awarua, many of the other area units along the Johnsonville line were undercounted, by a total of over 500. Hmmm...

Only a few places were significantly over-counted in the provisional data. The biggest overcount was in Lambton, by 279 people. However, this was more than made up for by undercounts in neighbouring inner-city area units (perhaps the borders were slightly off in the provisional data?), and the initial estimate of 6,500 extra people in the CBD and city fringe was actually 400 too low. The percentage census night increase for Lambton and Te Aro was over 45%, and the city and fringe increase was over 26%. That helps explain the continuing growth in the inner-city hospitality industry.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Mystery bar number 52

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I was hoping that someone would get the actual name of the current mystery bar, but Simon was close enough: it's the "Parlour Bar" at the Comfort Hotel Wellington in upper Cuba St. This was better known, and much livelier, when it was Trekkers, and I have some hazy memories of "poets' pub" nights there back in the early nineties. One performance poem stuck in my mind because of its title, Here's to the Crazies of Cuba Street, though it made more sense back then when come Cuba St café owners kept pit bulls in their upstairs flats and sold Class A substances over the counter. Now it's a fairly quiet hotel bar (the odd RSA platoon notwithstanding), after undergoing renovations that emphasise the "heritage" aspects of the old People's Palace building but leave few traces of its more raucous and bohemian recent heritage.

Mystery bar #52 - the barFor a complete change of pace, today's mystery bar is very typical of the "new" Wellington nightlife. It combines dark, loungey intimacy with a contemporary take on Orientalist decor, and the Asian theme continues through to the food and cocktails. Combine this with a discreet entrance and a policy of appealing to a more mature crowd than the stereotypical Courtenay hordes, and you've got a place that could be a stylish and quiet retreat for the serious drinker.

Not that it's always quiet, however. Music is a big part of this bar's appeal, and it can get pretty loud in here when a live band or DJ is playing. Despite the overall Asian look, there's nothing Asian about the music, with jazz, downbeat and Latin styles the preferred genres. When live music isn't on offer, you can leave the dancefloor alone and take to the barstools or the low tables in one of the small rooms. They offer some intriguing signature cocktails, but if you'd rather not muck around with lychees and lemongrass, they can certainly make an excellent Martini, so the Europhiles among you can relax.

Mystery bar #52 - tables and lamps

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Building rumours 6: 24-34 Taranaki St

Brendon Motors site at 24-34 Taranaki St - adapted from DeepRed's photo at http://s79.photobucket.com/albums/j132/deepred6502/Wellington%20-%20A%20City%20In%20Progress/?action=view&current=P1010153.jpgIt's been a bit quiet on the building rumours front for a while, but here's something new. The Brendon Motors site at 24-34 Taranaki St has long seemed ripe for development, and now Deep Red (from whom I nicked this photo) has a picture of the site labelled "Land Equity Group Building, possible requisition of adjacent space".

The Land Equity Group Building (officially "182 on Wakefield") is the one on the right, above the Green Parrot. They're the developers behind the Watermark apartments across the road, and I've heard some speculation that they may have purchased the Brendon Motors site simply to preserve views for the Watermark. That seems a little unlikely, since given the 43.8m height limits in the area there's little that anything on the site could block beyond that which is already blocked by 182 on Wakefield.

Perhaps the time has finally come to knock down the Brendon Motors building and build the apartment development that this site is clearly suited for? I could envisage some creative uses of the 75% volume rule in the proposed new Central Area rules, maximising sun and views while creating something more interesting than a rectangular block. Even if that doesn't happen, it would require a real talent for ugliness to design something worse than the back end of the James Smith carpark.

Adding further fuel to the speculation is the fact that the other tenants of the existing building have moved around the corner to Dixon St, shocking the locals with their rather more public lewdness. That could purely been to take advantage of a more prominent site (Santa Fe's owner says that business is better in the new location), or it could have been forced upon them by impending demolition. Does anyone know for sure what's going to happen here? And while I'm digging for rumours, does anyone know whether Endup still exists?

Monday, December 04, 2006

Yay for sprawl!

Billboard advertising the Hutt Valley - The term 'off-street parking' hardly seems adequateSpotted in Willis St: a new billboard for the Hutt Valley, with the slogan "The term 'off-street parking' hardly seems adequate". Really? Well, how about "Pig-ugly, land-hungry, obscenely unsustainable, architecturally ludicrous McMansion for ignorant petrolheads": would that be adequate?

I know they're supposed to be "celebrating the Hutt stereotype", but really! There's also the article on page A3 of today's Dominion Post, saying that the Hutt City Council has bought the rights to the 2Hot2 Handle boy racer extravanganza for $5000. Not only that, but they're considering making it part of a motoring festival to "showcase Hutt City's relationship with the car". Oh joy. No wonder it's hard to get the Wellington Regional Strategy to commit to any meaningful actions towards sustainable urban form, when some of the component councils are acting as if we're in 1950's Midwest America.

A mighty backslapping

Che & Jo presenting the Wellingtonista awards at Mighty Mighty - stolen from Hadyn at http://www.flickr.com/photos/94364624@N00/313131785/in/set-72157594403874096/The results are in from the First Annual Wellingtonista Awards for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence, held at Mighty Mighty on Friday evening. Compered by the mightily organised Jo, assisted by a veritable army of co-presenters (including Dr Che, pictured), the event has been captured for digital posterity by Mike and Flickrised by Hadyn. The fabulous Mighty Mighty proved an appropriate (though loud) venue, with one famous ex-Auckland blogger commenting approvingly on the female clientele, and the rest of us realising how much our Defender and Joust skills have deteriorated after a mere couple of decades. They could do with a little more alcohol in their cocktails, though.

I feel very flattered to have been awarded the "best Web-Writing-Wellingtonian" gong, though given that the "I love you the mostest Wellingtonian of the year" award went to Blanket Man, I'm not quite sure what to make of the honour. For those with a serious WellUrban interest in the architectural and urban space awards, the winners were:
  • If this building was a person, I would be making sweet luuurve to it right now: Wellington Public Library
  • Forget parking places, the best park is: the Botanical Gardens
  • Best public art: the Bucket Fountain
  • And in the "no surprises there" category, everyone's favourite part of town was the Cuba Quarter.
Some of you may also be glad to see that, as voted by Wellingtonista readers, what Wellington needs most of all is light rail. But you really ought to read the full results.

Noizy, Jo, Hadyn & the crowd after the Wellingtonista awards at Mighty Mighty - stolen from Hadyn at http://www.flickr.com/photos/94364624@N00/313148497/in/set-72157594403874096/

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Now that's more like it!

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Pōhutukawa blooming in WellingtonSunshine, light breezes, and pōhutukawa blooming along Kent and Cambridge Terrace: can this mean that summer really is coming at last?