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

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Mojito roundup

File under: , ,

Mojito at Plate, Holidy Inn, WellingtonNow that January is at an end, it's time to sum up the results of my mojito-sipping month. The weather was relatively kind to my quest, and if it wasn't quite as sunny as we would have hoped for, the humidity often demanded something long, cold and refreshing. Most of the bartenders were either too polite to turn up their noses at my request, or didn't realise that it's a deeply unfashionable drink.

While it has a very simple recipe, it's by no means a "safe" cocktail to order, as it depends very much on the freshness and quality of the ingredients, the skill of the maker, and a subtle balance of flavours. I haven't attempted the sort of numerical rating that I gave to Martinis, but instead I'll just share some of the highlights and lowlights of the month.

There were no really stunning examples, and that might have something to do with the subordinate role played by the rum. Most of the time they tasted like minty lime and sodas, perhaps with a subtle alcoholic kick, and on a hot day there's nothing wrong with that. Nevertheless, a few places stood out, and Plate (yes, that was the mystery bar), Imbibe, Sandwiches and the Tasting Room all delivered the goods. The key seems to be the quality and treatment of the mint, ensuring that it's not too shredded or bruised, and that it doesn't overpower the lime. There was a variety of sweetening methods uses, from raw crushed sugar through standard table sugar to sugar syrups, and while the raw sugar may have added a subtle richness of flavour, overall I was suprised to find that the type of sweetening didn't make as much of a difference as the amount.

Mojito with Elephant! Harem, Manners MallHarem and Vintage both departed from tradition by serving them in a short glass, which seems to miss the point of a mojito. Vintage's one still tasted delicious, but Harem's version had very little ice, just a token mint leaf and a single slice of lime. On the other hand, it came garnished with an orange plastic elephant perched on the side of the glass, and that's got to count for something! Restaurant 88 made it way too sweet, using what seems to have been lime cordial rather than fresh limes, and while Havana used real lime juice, the fact that it was squeezed out of a bottle detracted from the experience somewhat. I guess they've had to streamline their technique to deal with high volumes.

The Southern Cross and Matterhorn both made delicious mojitos, neither too sweet nor too sour, but were let down by filling the glass with shredded mint: it was like drinking pesto! The Lanes and Concrete both suffered from poor quality mint, and after a while there was a distinct, unpleasant vegetal aroma.

Overall, there were some delicious experiences, but I can understand why it's going out of favour. There are a lot of other, better summer drinks out there, so stay tuned for February's drink of the month.

Sneak peak

Here's a couple of quick shots inside the lobby of an apartment building that's not quite finished yet. If the lavishness of the fittings (contemporary chandeliers, chain curtains, glass mosaics) is anything to go by, the much-anticipated public areas could also be worth the wait.

Now, who can name this building?

Apartment lobby - chandeliers
Apartment lobby - glass mosaic

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

City Fringe

The Fringe is just over a week away now, and as usual there's a good selection of events that either interact with city spaces or are about urban experience. Here's a quick roundup of several that caught my eye.

Fringe '07 - Lovers of Central ParkIn the city spaces category there's Baby Where are the Fine Things you Promised Me?, a mixed-genre work by theatrical director and designer Stephen Bain. It's a miniature replica of one of the cottages that didn't survive the bypass, and it somehow plays host to two performers as well as objects and images. It will also move about the city and change from day to day, so you'll have to keep your eyes open. If you prefer the greener spaces, then Lovers of Central Park will be for you. A combination of guided walk and immersive theatre, what's billed as "the most romantic show of the fringe" will take you literally up the garden path and surround you with "an amorous montage of lovers from throughout the Park's history". Oo-er, missus!

Fringe '07 - Public AnnouncementThere's also a couple of art installations that play with urban signage. Public Announcement will take the form of daily posters around the city, offering what's described as "heart thumping thrills from the Pacific past". Cause to Pause takes on an even more transient form of sign, as it invades the scrolling LED lighting on the corner of Tory St and Courtenay Place with unexpected messages. Looks like an inspiration for the waterfront!

Fringe '07 - soundtrack CD for 'Hotel'Two works of theatre take over hospitality spaces and make the most of their unconventional settings. A Man Walks into a Bar takes place at Good Luck, so as well as getting humour and absurdist metaphysics you'll also be able to drink some excellent (if pricey and slow) cocktails. Hotel also does what it says on the tin, as it'll be staged in Room 217 of the Museum Hotel apartments. It promises to be most intimate show on the fringe, since only 12 audience members can fit in the room, but potentially also the slickest, given the look of the website (complete with blog, soundtrack CD, t-shirts and myspace video trailer). According to the site, it "will target the same demographic who enjoy local music and fashion, people who read publications such as Pavement, audiences who listen to music from LOOP Recordings" - a description that will no doubt appeal to some of its potential audience while nauseating others.

Fringe '07 - SoundmarksFinally, there are two works that deserve a genre of their own: I'll call it "audioflanerie". Soundmarks is a radio work by the Sound Nerds, consisting of one-minute "audio snapshots" recorded around the city, to be broadcast at 8:45am every weekday on Radio Active 89FM. In contrast, Sounds like Light, Lights like Sound is an interactive audiovisual installation at the back room of Happy, but it also uses recordings of distinctive mechanical sounds and aural spaces around Wellington. As I wrote earlier on The Wellingtonista, the artist ("Frey") sought public input to suggest interesting sounds and locations to become part of the piece, and you can keep up with its progress on his blog.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Wetland celebration

Some people may snarkily deride the Waitangi Park wetlands as "swamps", but most people these days are aware of the vital ecological role played by wetlands, and recognise the symbolic and aesthetic value of this stylised recreation of the former Waitangi lagoon.

Waitangi Park wetlands
It's thus fitting that as part of this Friday's World Wetlands Day, there will be a series of events at the park. These will include displays by wetland restoration groups, children's activities and guided tours of the wetlands by their designers. Real wetlandphiles can also take a trip out to Karori Wildlife Sanctuary on Saturday for a teal-spotting boat trip on the reservoirs.

Hat tip: Future Ecology Designed.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Building rumours 7: Piermont

Unlike most of my previous "building rumours" posts, in this one I'll be sharing some gossip rather than asking for it. The Piermont apartment development on the northern half of the current Warehouse site hardly counts as a rumour anymore, given its sudden publicity blitz this weekend, but it's hard to get the full story without visiting the display suite.

Piermont apartments - rendering from northeast cornerThere's only one rendering generally available, but it looks pretty good by comparison with other recent proposals. The detailing is crisp and contemporary, and there are enough angles to suggest that it's not just another "envelope-filling" cuboid. Of course, they've carefully selected the most interesting corner (the northeast) and a dramatic angle, and the model shows that the development as a whole won't be quite as exciting. The north (Cable St) elevation will be nicely animated by a deeply serrated facade, but the eastern (Tory St) elevation will be a more conventional grey wall apart from a few small balconies. Nevertheless, the whole building gives an impression of quality, as befits the fairly desirable location.

How will it fit into the urban context? At nine storeys it seems pretty high for what is, after all, still supposed to be the "low city", but with a context that includes the Museum Hotel apartments, Te Papa and the new Portal apartments, it doesn't seem too dominant. With the exception of Tory St, it's got some big wide-open spaces to contend with, and there are no small-scale historic buildings or important public spaces that will be overshadowed. Here's a shot from Waitangi Park, and to give you some impression of scale, the new building will be just a shade shorter than the black Museum Hotel apartments on the left.

Piermont apartments - location and context"Piermont" itself will only take up the northern half of the Warehouse site, but here's where "the full story" comes in. The model in the display suite also shows a blank white building on the southern (Wakefield St) side, and at first I assumed this was just to show what could conceivably be built next door. But the estate agent told me that this was indeed another new apartment building by the same developers, and that it had already received consent. It will consist of 1- and 2-bedroom apartments, and will be aimed at "a different market" (i.e. those who can't afford harbour views). Once there's (non-bulk) retail and verandahs around all three sides of this site, it will go a long way towards rehabilitating a block that I've often said is long-overdue for improvement.

Piermont apartments and second stage - plans on aerial photoIt's worth considering how these buildings would have fared under the new Central Area Rules, which as far as I'm aware, are still to come into force. In particular, buildings will only be able to use 75% of the volume defined by maximum height multiplied by plot area, and as I wrote somewhat hopefully back in September, that might encourage some more interesting and creative building shapes.

While Piermont uses some of the available volume for light wells and a token courtyard, by my rough calculations it still uses well over 80% for building mass. It's hard to tell from what is obviously just a preliminary model, but the second stage seemed to use all of its volume, so the combined development looks like it would have struggled if it had been proposed under the new rules. At least the decision to design two separate buildings, and to treat the two elevations of the first building differently, should stop the result looking too monolithic. But I still think that the new rules would encourage more use of setbacks, and perhaps a lower edge to the narrow Tory St, and thus a better urban outcome.

But the question that I know some of you must be asking is: what's happening to The Warehouse? According to staff there, there's definitely going to be another inner-city site, but the management can't tell them where yet. Wherever it is, I'm dearly hoping that the company will break with the "red shed" typology and respond to the inner Wellington context by incorporating it as the ground floor of a multi-storey mixed-used building, but that's probably asking for too much. As always, any rumours or hearsay will be gratefully accepted.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Crystal balls

Thanks for all your prediction help: it came in handy for Wednesday's event. For those of you who weren't among the crowd, m-net has a summary of the evening, Mauricio's winning predictions are here, and here are my own predictions for 2007.

No-one under the age of 25 will buy an iPhone. Seriously, have you tried texting and walking at the same time on something without buttons? Plus, it's too expensive, and without an open platform there's no chance for random, unpredictable killer apps to be developed by unknown bedroom coders. It'll go down a treat with baby-boomer Mac-fetishists, but it won't become a mass hit.

Geospatial data will start to open up, and we'll see the first NZ "killer mashup" that gets everyone excited. The Guardian has been fighting for some time to get taxpayer-funded geodata freed in the UK, and there are small but encouraging signs that it's happening here. LINZ is gradually releasing its stranglehold on cadastral data: you still have to pay, and be prepared for some major data-munging to get anything useful, but you're now allowed to share the results. Statistics NZ will for the first time be making census meshblock data available for free, but to do anything useful with it you'll still need to buy the digital boundaries for at least $1500 (though I've heard rumours...).

When some of this vital data is properly freed up, it will combine with steadily improving open source GIS software and online mapping applications to create the fuel that someone's creative spark will ignite. ProjectX are already doing some great stuff (such as mashing up ZoomIn with YouTube, though Wellington's tourism bods won't always like the result!), and there's more on the way.

Only Georgina Beyer can unseat Kerry Prendergast. I've already covered this, but I said a bit more at the event. Perhaps a bit more than I should have, given that the video will be online: do libel laws cover YouTube?

Wellington will get light rail incorporating a tiki-bar. For my reader prediction, I reluctantly passed on the flying cars comment, as lucid and concise as it was, and went with George Darroch's elegant mash-up of the two things that Wellington needs the most: sustainable transport infrastructure and 'fifties Polynesian kitsch. Okay, so it's still a little fanciful, but I still have hopes that the increasing public awareness of climate change will put non-roading transport on the political agenda this year, and I just know that the Mai Tai will be the mojito of 2007.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Mystery bar number 54

File under: , ,

It's been a little while since the last mystery bar, which was in fact the last bar I had to visit in order to complete my quest last year. That was Endup, a dodgy "day club" in the old Santa Fe premises, and it seemed to be primarily frequented by people who'd taken too much BZP to get to sleep. Today's mystery bar is likely to attract a very different type of patron.

Mystery bar #54 - the barIt's not quite what you'd expect from the outside. The decor is by a well-known designer with a string of high-profile bars and restaurants to his name, and it's certainly striking. If I had to categorise the style, I'd say it's a cross between retro futuristic and international luxury, combining shiny high-tech materials with dark brown leather, and organic shapes with crisp planes. A lot of thought has gone into bringing some intimacy into what could be a cold space, and while it doesn't quite achieve that, it's certainly comfier and more interesting than it could have been.

While the interior might say "Copenhagen circa 1960", the food and cocktail list has a definite Iberian and Latin American accent. In a refreshing change for Wellington, which has been tending towards "Asian Tapas" as the finger-food du jour, the bar snacks come in the form of picadas (South American street food). I also think this is the first time I've seen bacalao on a menu here, and I think I'll be back to try dinner here. There's a reasonable selection of different rums, and many of the cocktails have Caribbean or Brazilian themes. While that's hardly unique in Wellington, there are enough points of difference here to warrant a break from the usual routine to try this out for after-work drinks.

Mystery bar #54 - blobby lamp

Cheerleaders for sprawl

Suburban property developer Hugh Pavletich and his allies at the American right-wing lobby group "Demographia" are at it again: blaming soaring house prices on rules designed to limit urban sprawl. I won't repeat the arguments that I wrote last year (in this post and letter), but it's good to note that people don't seem to be falling for it. There's a string of reader comments on the Herald's website, few of whom seem to buy the line that insufficient sprawl is to blame for high property prices. I especially like the comment by Julie Anne Genter: "Unlimited suburban development could perhaps lower the cost of housing in the short term, but it will create huge burdens for society in the medium and long term." There's also a thread on Public Address Cafe, which if you ignore my ill-informed comment on the CPI, also has some interesting reading.

It's perhaps worthwhile to consider that among Demographia's targets is Vancouver, which has the 13th "least affordable" housing in the world. Vancouver also regularly tops surveys of the best places to live, hinting at a simpler explanation of why anti-sprawl cities are becoming expensive: they're great cities, so people want to live there!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

A bit of a Mayor

File under: ,

Well, it's all over already, so we may as well not bother voting this year. That is, if you believe the Dominion Post's article yesterday, which stated that Kerry Prendergast's decision to run for re-election is "likely to torpedo the city's mayoralty race even before it begins". Wouldn't it be nice if our major dailies actually tried to promote public engagement in local body democracy, rather than making it seem like a waste of time?

On the other hand, when you look at the alternatives, they do have a point. So far, the only other confirmed contenders seem to be Bryan Pepperell and Rob Goulden, who came a distant second and third respectively in the 2004 mayoral race. While I'm completely opposed to many of Prendergast's policies (particularly this one), and Pepperell is closer to me on transport policy, I have to say that the thought of either of those two in power fills me with dread. It's likely that Alick Shaw won't stand now that Kerry is, and it appears that he has as much trouble with anger management as Goulden does.

It's easy to get the impression in some quarters that Prendergast is deeply unpopular. But her powerbase is up in the northern suburbs, where building motorways and picking on the homeless are seen as good things. And until the centre-left puts forward a strong, credible candidate, Kerry's going to be pretty hard to move. Some people are keen to help find such a candidate (when is the Wellington Mayoral Idol blog going to get going?), but it seems from recent experience that to run for mayor you need at least one of three things: a pre-existing public profile, wealthy backers or a borderline mental illness.

There is one potential candidate that I can see as a contender: Georgina Beyer. She's yet to announce whether she'll run, but as some people are suggesting, if she does then she'll be real competition for the incumbent. As a Labour MP, as well as for her biography, she'll attract the "Grey Lynn" vote that's so prevalent in Wellington. She also seems to have the charisma, the well-known name and the willingness to take part in publicity stunts.

But as a local body politician, her policies on urban issues are still a bit unknown. Where does she stand on public transport, for instance? On waterfront development? From what she's told her local paper, I get the feeling that she may not have the experience and passion for urbanism that I'd like to see ("The job as mayor of Wellington is no different to the mayoralty of Carterton except there is a far greater population to reach" - I'd like to think that Wellington is qualitatively different from Carterton). Nevertheless, here's hoping that she runs and makes October's election a real race.

Update: Ray Ahipene-Mercer has now announced that he's running. This could be interesting, since he's somewhat left of centre yet not completely averse to the waterfront developments. I'll have to check out his voting record on various issues.

Welcome to Grey Lynn South

After a few technical glitches (the 8tribes website wasn't keen on linking to results pages), I've received enough replies to my "which tribe are you?" questions to do some simple analysis. Bear in mind that I don't have a lot of faith in the tribes concept itself, and certainly not in the reliability of the online survey, but the results might reveal something about WellUrban readers.

Here's a graph (click for a modicum of legibility) showing the mean score for each of the tribes as a blue bar, with small black dashes for the individual results.

Graph of '8 tribes' survey results for WellingtonClearly, Grey Lynn is the dominant tribe. That's not at all surprising, given Wellington's reputation as an educated, liberal public-servant enclave, and since you're all WellUrban readers, naturally you're all going to be "well-educated, highly principled, socially aware, culturally sophisticated people" (ahem). Then again, some people have suggested that the online survey is slanted towards Grey Lynn, and they might have a point: after all, is anyone to the left of Ayn Rand really going to answer "no" to "Acting ethically is so much more important than financial gain"? When even well-known libertarian bloggers end up nearly 30% Grey Lynn, something's not quite right.

But it's not all grey cardigans: Cuba St and Raglan also scored highly. The former shouldn't be a surprise, given that it's the only tribe named after a part of Wellington, and someone's got to keep all that freaky fringey carnival stuff going. The latter confused me for a while, but then I realised I was thinking of "Raglan" as being a bit like Golden Bay, whereas on closer reading it seems the tribe is more about free-spirited entrepeneurs than hippies and surfers. So these two tribes offer quite a useful balance to the Grey Lynn tendency: it seems that Wellingtonians (or at least WellUrbanites) are a bunch of principled, cultured, creative entrepreneurs.

I didn't have enough responses to make a really significant geographic analysis, but I thought I'd try a quick map nonetheless. "Tribes" are not supposed to be exclusive, and people can have characteristics from more than one, but for the sake of simplicity, I've assigned respondents a colour based on their single most significant tribe:

Map of '8 tribes' locations in WellingtonGrey Lynn dominates even more in this case, notably in Te Aro and the city fringe, though with one person way out in Stokes Valley. There are only two Cuba Streeters, and while one was in Te Aro as expected, the other was in Karori (presumably getting odd looks from the neighbours). There's a hint of a pattern to the Raglan locations, though not quite what I expected: just beyond the inner residential neighbourhoods, in suburbs that are close to nature yet still in touch with the city. And there's one really notable outlier to show that Petone is neither the new Newtown nor the new Thorndon, but the new North Shore.

Of course, there's a whole chain of weak links to invalidate all of this as even vaguely serious research: the tribes themselves are debatable, the online survey is too short to useful, my own survey had only a handful of respondents, and that was from a self-selected sample of readers of a blog which may not represent Wellington as a whole. I'll write another post soon to expand upon some of those weaknesses and explore how one might try something more meaningful. But it does confirm my belief that the mythical "real kiwi joker", who dreams of a quarter-acre section and a garage full of Holdens, is becoming an ever more irrelevant and even dangerous cliché (especially in Wellington). Some people are still banging on about this blokey "national identity", but it's time to realise that there is no single national identity, and that as a collection of peoples we are much more diverse and adaptable than some realise.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Signs out of time

One of the commenters on last week's post about the ill-judged (and hopefully stillborn) Q on Taranaki development noted that what he or she would miss most about the old Murdoch factory is "the very cool icing sugar advertisment in very faded paint on the north side ... that, along with the Champion Spark plug mural in Vivian Street are my two favorite signs in town". That got me thinking about these old painted signs, and the connection they give us to the not-so-distant, yet already nostalgic, past. Perhaps the unexpected survival of what was intended to be ephemeral, combined with the often ghostly appearance of the washed-out and peeling paint, adds to their emotional impact.

They're even more vulnerable than the heritage buildings themselves, since all it takes is a coat of paint or a new billboard and they'll be gone. So, here's a quick photo-essay on the antique advertising of Te Aro, before any more disappear.

Old signs in Wellington - Murdoch's, Taranaki St"Murdoch's Icing Sugar, Spices & Pickles", near the corner of Taranaki and Frederick streets.

Old signs in Wellington - Watkins, Vivian StThe Watkins building, on the corner of Vivian and Cuba streets. You should be able to work out the name of printers L. T. Watkins, as well as the ads for tyres, batteries and spark plugs.

Old signs in Wellington - Laundrette, Abel Smith StA slightly more recent, though still dated-looking, laundrette sign on Abel Smith St near Cuba St.

Old signs in Wellington - Memory Lane, Ghuznee StSome much more recent signage in Ghuznee St, between Cuba and Leeds St. It probably doesn't count as an "antique sign", but I like the irony of the "Memory Lane" antique shop itself becoming a memory. Just above it, you can just make out a painted-over sign for the "Casa Nova", one of a long string of massage parlours in this building.

Old signs in Wellington - Cadbury, Ghuznee StA very faded Cadbury's ad in Ghuznee St, nearly opposite Glover Park. It looks like one of the oldest examples, but does anyone know when this was originally painted?

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Waterfront tweaks: NZX signs

The NZX building with animated electronic signsWhile we're looking at Taranaki St Wharf, I've been intending for a while to write about the scrolling signs on the NZX building. I have no problem with their visual presence, and I don't have some sort of ideological grudge about watching capitalism in action. However, when the council paid for the signs, one of the public benefits was supposed to be that they were for (as the council website still says) "displaying stock prices and showcasing upcoming city events". So far, apart from a brief Christmas wish, I have seen none of the latter. We haven't forgotten, and we want some public benefit beyond a bribe to the NZX to stay in the city!

Here are just a few examples of how they could show things that are more interesting (to the non-investor) than stock prices.

Events. This is the bare minimum that they should try to display. These could be a few hand-picked public events (Fringe Festival, Dragon Boats etc) or grabbed from an RSS feed provided by the likes of Texture, NZlive.com or any of the "what's on" sites that Mike has kindly listed.

Weather and environment. Okay, so every radio station has its clock and temperature display, but we could get more creative. How about grabbing live wind, temperature, rain and pollution readings from Greater Wellington's stations around the region? With an animated, multi-coloured graphic display, it's not limited to text and numbers: maybe we should be experimenting with graphs and animated icons.

Social accounting. As a counterpoint to all the financial data, how about showing something of Wellington or NZ's triple bottom line? Figures on unemployment, income disparity and CO2 emissions, while not available in real-time, could be based upon projections.

Art. Based upon the crazy images that flash up when it's in testing mode, this display has better graphic capabilities than your average LED display. How about interactive abstract art, based upon sensors detecting motion of people in the plaza? Or maybe now that Martin Thomson has moved into digital media, perhaps we could commission him to create some work specifically for this pixellated medium.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Nightmare on Taranaki St

Perspective of proposed Q on Taranaki apartmentsFor those of you who wonder how something as ghastly as Q on Taranaki could be okayed by the planners, the answer is: it hasn't. I have it on good authority that the proposal is still at the "pre-application" phase, and that the council's urban designers have told the developers that their design is utterly wrong for the site, and that not only should they rethink their plans but they should try to retain the Murdoch building. Furthermore, the current owner of the land has yet to sell.

I don't think this is the last we've heard of this proposal, but there's some hope that the system can work for the benefit of Wellington's urban fabric. It does seem odd that ArcHaus would promote this design on their website at such an early and speculative stage: surely they're not proud of this design?

Further down the road, though, is another ugly building project that is definitely too late to stop. The steel frame for the Bellagio apartments next to Molly Malone's has almost reached its full 12-storey height. Hold on, wasn't it supposed to be nine storeys? Yes it was, but no longer: the excavations unearthed the remains of Te Aro pa, and the owners were presumably allowed some extra height to compensate for not being able to have underground carparks. It's only now that we've got to see the new version, and here's a rough comparison between the old render on the left, and a new one (taken from a billboard on the street) on the right.

Bellagio apartments, taranki St - comparison of old and new renderingsAs you can see, it was never going to be exactly pretty. But at least in its shorter incarnation it was less imposing, and something about the detailing seemed to break up its bulk a bit more. It now seems more monolithic, and reminds me of Rutherford House by the railway station, which despite the best efforts of its refurbishers has just served to prove that you can't make a hippo attractive by slathering on some orange lipstick.

But the worst thing about it is that, like the twin lumps of Q, it's clearly not a work of architecture: it's a maximum allowable volume diagram with some balconies slapped on. Twelve stories needn't have been entirely out of context here, if only the building could have exhibited the merest whisker of grace, elegance or imagination. As it is, it looks like one of the Ministry of Works' worst sixties efforts in Thorndon. Wellington doesn't have many physical traces of pre-European occupation, so retaining the pa remnants was essential, but surely there was a better way than this. It smacks of archaeological blackmail: "Give us some extra storeys, or the whare gets it".

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Wrong building, wrong place

It's no secret that I'm generally in favour of density and high-rise living, as my cautious defence of the planned 8-storey complex at 158 Cuba St would indicate. But there are some developments on the way that get it wrong in so many ways that it's time to step back and consider better alternatives.

For instance, have a look at "Q on Taranaki", an apartment complex that's rumoured to be planned for the corner of Taranaki and Frederick streets. I first found it via SkyscraperCity, but there's a whole series of images on the architects' website. There are some vaguely interesting angles on the sliding screens and balconies, but otherwise this pair of unimaginative eleven-storey rectangles is grindingly dull and completely out of place.

Q on Taranaki - Frederick St elevations
Murdoch factory on the corner of Taranaki & Frederick streetsThe old Murdoch pickle factory that's currently on the corner is hardly an architectural gem, but it's an increasingly rare reminder of Te Aro's light industrial past. At least they've kept the Chinese Mission church, though it's hemmed in so unthinkingly by these brutes that some might say they needn't have bothered. Either one of the towers will be considerably taller and arguably uglier than the sludge-brown apartments on the other corner, so imagine two of these along Frederick St.

There's some hope that this is just a speculative series of drawings, as some of the council people I've spoken to haven't seen it, and apparently the land owner hasn't even sold the site yet. But I'm told that what's planned for the old Forest & Bird building across the road (the Art Deco one with the famous mural) is even more hideous. With so many car yards and single-storey big box stores on Taranaki St, it seems that the development of Te Aro, while arguably good for the life of the city, is going to need something resembling actual "planning" if it's not going to be an aesthetic disaster.

Monday, January 15, 2007


As I've already announced on the Wellingtonista, next Thursday I'll be on the panel for the What's UP - 2007 event. As part of that, I'll have to make 3 to 5 predictions for 2007 across the following categories:
  • Gadgets & games
  • The Internet
  • Business & telecommunications
  • Technology
  • Wellington & NZ
I've got a few ideas, but cheating is encouraged, and that includes asking readers for their suggestions. So, what are your prognostications for the year to come? Flying cars? Flying pigs? A new mayor who understands the value of sustainable urbanism (see above)?

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Tribes of Wellington

8 tribes book coverIf you've been reading the paper this weekend (or reading Unlimited last year), you'll have come across the buzz surrounding the book 8 Tribes: The Hidden Classes of New Zealand. While it's hardly the first attempt by marketers to conjure up demographic or psychographic clusters among New Zealanders (and I've dabbled in it myself), it's certainly a good conversation-starter and there may be something in it.

While I haven't read the book, I have plenty of reservations about what I can gather from the articles and the web site. First, the word "tribe" seems inappropriate, since it conjures up images of tightly defined and feuding clans: "tendency" might be more accurate. Attempts to promote it as a "new class system" seem way off the mark, given that it's not a hierarchy. The online "Find your tribe" quiz seems hardly more substantial than those cheesy blogthings.com memes, and the descriptions of the eight tribes seemed to leave out substantial chunks of New Zealand (especially those whose main allegiance is to tribes that existed long before PR consultants).

But it's definitely fun, and it's refreshing to see acknowledgement that there are New Zealanders who don't belong to the Balclutha or Papatoetoe tribes (maaate!). And the quiz results suprised me a little. I would dearly love to consider myself a Cuba Street person, but my lack of piercings and my straight-laced career point more towards the PC intellectuals of Grey Lynn. As it was, the results flattered me by edging out the Grey Lynn earnestness with some perhaps unearned Cuba St funk:

My 8 Tribes profilePerhaps that's not such a surprise, since the "tribes" concept is more about attitudes and aspirations than one's real lifestyle and actions.

While I'll continue to argue with the tribe definitions, there's a lot that rings true and might help crystallise discussion of demographics and attitudes. For instance, my aversion to Tauranga could be linked to the fact that it's gone from Balclutha and Papatoetoe to North Shore in a single generation, and while there may be a few bemused Raglan types hanging around the edges, there's no sign of it developing any Grey Lynn or Cuba St touches in the forseeable future.

I suspect that most WellUrban readers would fall into the Grey Lynn or Cuba St tribes, with perhaps a touch of North Shore (after all, I do write about shopping occasionally), but that's a hypothesis worth testing. So, fill in the online form and send the results to: tom [dot] beard [at] paradise [dot] net [dot] nz. Attach the graph image, since links to the result pages seem to be unreliable, and add some sort of description of where you live (suburb at least, and preferably street). With any luck, I'll get enough responses to map the results and show you where the "tribes" of Wellington actually live. Update: the results are here.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Little China

Ghuznee St alley as a film setOne of the things I've always loved about the Left Bank is the feeling I get at the dark western end that I could have walked onto the set of Blade Runner, or been transported to Kowloon Walled City. It has a combination of ad-hoc density, grimy melancholy and eclectic Asian businesses that's unique in Wellington, and I always thought it would make a great film set.

Well, now it is. I'm not sure whether it was a film, TV show or ad that was being shot here today, but the producers certainly made the most of the location. Some sections needed hardly any set dressing, but the nameless alley that leads to Ghuznee St was transformed with Chinese signs, lanterns, stacks of produce and hanging laundry. For a moment, I was fooled into thinking that a new bar had opened in the alleyway!

The downside is that they had to paint over what I once described as "an ever-changing collection of street art". I'll miss some of Wellington's best graffiti, but it's in the nature of street art to be transient and vulnerable. I wonder how long it'll be before it's filled up again?

Friday, January 12, 2007

Waterfront tweaks: Taranaki St Wharf

As much as we Wellingtonians are happy to live in a "cold-yet-cultural" city, most of us would have to admit that this "summer" has been pretty gruelling. Which is why yesterday, with it's balmy temperatures and spectacular sunset, seemed to switch so many of us into outdoors mode for one delicious evening. Most of Waitangi Park was humming by about 5:30, but even though the lawn was relatively dry and looking sweetly bucolic with its lush grass and clover, it had attracted a grand total of eleven people, mostly on the berms around the edge.

At the same time, there must have been about five times that number on the relatively tiny patch of grass at Taranaki St Wharf. Some of them were just sitting and relaxing, or throwing around a frisbee, but the majority were patrons of St Johns bar, which was so popular that all the chairs were taken.

Patrons outside St Johns bar at Taranaki St Wharf, WellingtonAround the corner, the same had happened to the Brewery Bar (despite being in the shade), and drinkers were taking advantage of the lengths of wharf timber for informal seating. There was only one of these beside St Johns, and while many punters seemed happy enough to sprawl on the grass with a pint of Weissbier or a bottle of wine in an ice bucket, some more informal public seating wouldn't have gone amiss. I know the lawn is only temporary, and the final design will have more of a slope and some seating, but in the meantime how about dragging a few lumps of timber around the corner to create somewhere to sit? I'm not sure whether all this drinking on the grass is even legal, given licensing restrictions and liquor bans, but it's a most civilised way to drink, and showed the public and private realms blending together very nicely.

Incidentally, while it was definitely mojito weather, the barman was very apologetic about the state of their mint, so I tried a Moscow Mule instead and accepted his suggestion of a dollop of honey. Fantastic! St Johns may have a bit of noisy, suity reputation, but on a day like this its location and quality can't be beaten.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Smooth texture

There's a new site in town, and it looks like it'll be taking over a lot of WellUrban's territory. It's called Texture, and since mid-December it's been covering Wellington's drinking, dining, shopping and nightlife scenes.

Texture bannerIt's a very slick site, though a bit slow to load with all that Flash and Javascript, and it comes loaded with RSS feeds, community forums, tag clouds and all that Web 2.0 goodness. As that might lead you to expect, it's not a product of one person with too much time on his or her hands, but a venture by Positively Wellington Tourism. It's the content that'll make or break it, though, and while it's yet to develop much presence on the search engines, the forums are busily discussing vital topics such as "Matterhorn vs Mighty Mighty?" and "What's the best drink you have had lately?". It's also been the bearer of some sad news, such as the fact that Cabaret has closed, and will now just be an extension of Chow.

A quick look through the links, reviews and gallery shows that there's a definite upmarket scenester bias to the site: I don't expect you'll see a "Glassons vs Supré?" thread, or a discussion on where to find the cheapest petrol in Tawa. Not that I'm complaining! In fact, have a glance at the Drink, Eat and Shop sections and ask yourself: would you find something like any of those places in, say, Tauranga? Exactly. It's another great reminder of why we love Wellington.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Waterfront tweaks: Waitangi Park

I agree with the general direction that waterfront developments are taking, but there are a few areas that could definitely do with some work. So, I'll start a little series of posts about parts of the waterfront that could definitely do with a little tidying up, or some more imaginative uses.

Ugly blue pipes at the start of Waitangi StreamIt's hardly park weather, but let's start with Waitangi Park. In my last update, I mentioned that it (or at least Area 1) is officially complete, but there are definitely some areas that could do with some work. My main gripe is with the cheap little blue plastic pipes at the head of the wetlands. I keep hoping that these are just temporary, and that there's a plan to have something more attractive here, perhaps when the pou whenua are installed in the park before Waitangi Day. This is the first above-ground manifestation of the Waitangi Stream, and surely its historical, cultural and ecological importance deserves something more distinctive and prestigious than some left-over plumbing.

Waitangi Park - location of wetland featuresThe wetlands that constitute the rest of Waitangi Stream are looking lush and fantastic, and certainly have a more established feel than they did throughout last year. The exception is the "subsurface wetland" at the southeast corner. While the maze-like layout works well, and people seem to like threading their way through the various boardwalks and stepping stones, the gravel and reed-beds look sad and dead. There was a hint of new growth during spring, but that hasn't amounted to much, so there's a lot of work for the plant experts to do here. The little concrete "passing bays", with wood and red metal uprights, also look a bit odd and unfinished. I had heard that there were vague plans to put interpretive signs on these, and certainly it would be great to let people know about the important role the subsurface wetlands play in cleaning the stream water.

There are a lot of other problems with the greenery in the park, although most of those are presumably just teething troubles and will either sort themselves out when the plants become more established, or can be easily fixed as part of the park maintenance. The drainage in the field seem more problematic, and the entire northern edge resembles a second wetland for much of the time. I'm told that the ground never had time to recover from the compaction it suffered during last summer's concerts, and once the appalling winter set in, the damage was done. Perhaps once this "summer" is over, there'll be an opportunity to dig up the problem areas and re-seed them.

Waitangi Park wind garden - awaiting finishing touchesFinally, I don't think the Wind Garden is complete. The uprights for the wind screens have been installed, but there's still no sign of the screens themselves, apart from a single sheet of perforated metal lying around. Perhaps they're waiting for the poetry screens that were originally planned before the budget blew out, and they'd definitely be better than boring old metal screens. In the meantime, though, neither people nor the trees that are supposed to provide future shelter stand much chance of surviving a decent Wellington wind on this corner.

That probably all sounds too negative, but otherwise I think the park is working well, and the Chaffers Dock development should really liven things up when it (finally!) opens. Waitangi Park could still benefit from a few small changes and a bit of attention to detail, and I'm sure you've all got your own suggestions and niggles.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Exit the Dojo

Closure notice outside Dojo in Woodward St, WellingtonIt looks like we've seen the first closure of the holiday period (apart from the Malthouse): this notice recently appeared outside Dojo in Woodward St. It's a bit hard to work out the details, but it seems clear that chef Ming Poon will be opening a new venture elsewhere in the not too distant future. The notice also seems to hint that something will be re-opening in the existing space before long, though the wording is a bit cryptic. Both the chef and the location have long and interesting histories, so it'll be intriguing to see what becomes of each. Update: next month it will revert to its previous incarnation, and become Chow Woodward again.

In the meantime, just around the corner on The Terrace in a brand-new space, a very different sort of Asian fusion restaurant has just opened. Gallery Deli is a Vietnamese café, and since Vietnamese cuisine has a strong French influence, you'll find steak baguettes and croque-monsieur alongside the Pho Bo and rice paper rolls. As the name suggests, it's also a gallery (though confusingly, not a deli at all), with paintings and lacquer boxes for sale. It seems to be some sort of chain, with the original version in Ho Chi Minh City. With the forthcoming Butler's Chocolate Café originating in Dublin, it seems like the sources of global chains are becoming suprisingly diverse!

Gallery Deli, 101-103 The Terrace, Wellington

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Shops that pass ... forever

Shop at 158 Cuba St: up for demolitionOne of the shops that kicked off my "Shops that pass in the night" series was this run-down old space at 158 Cuba St. For the last year it's been home to Aotearoa Streetwear, but prior to that it's been a film set, a secondhand bookshop, an anarcho-feminist art space (does anyone remember The Girlies Project?), a craft shop and home to innumerable temporary and sale shops. Short of including a tattoo parlour and a café that sells heroin under the counter, it's as close as one shop can get to being a microcosm of old-school bohemian upper Cuba St.

New apartments planned for 158 Cuba St - thanks to nzman for the photo - http://www.skyscrapercity.com/showpost.php?p=11193574&postcount=248But not for long. There was a major article on pages E1 and E2 of Saturday's Dominion Post about the fate of buildings that don't meet the new earthquake codes, and it started with a large picture of the 7-storey apartment building that will replace 158 Cuba St. I can understand why some people will be horrified by the very thought of it, but while it's hard to make judgements based upon a single perspective, from an architecural and streetscape point of view I think it's a more than decent replacement (update: thanks to nzman at SkyscraperCity for the picture).

Seven storeys seems awfully tall in the context of mostly low-rise Cuba St, but that's the same as the TAB building (Crombie Lockwood House) a couple of doors down, and just a bit taller than the Watkins building and former "People's Palace" just up the street. In New Zealand, we're used to arty and bohemian quarters being in low-rise neighbourhoods, but that's presumably because any buildings old enough to be cheap and run-down are likely to be from an era when anything above two storeys was rare. In older cities (London, Paris, New York) the equivalents to Cuba St have been in mid-rise districts, so there's nothing inherently wrong with a seven-storey building in such a place. Two to four storeys would seem more fitting here, but given that it's a very narrow building with a 2-3m setback beyond the first floor, and with balconies and plenty of detailing to break up its bulk, it could conceivably be a fine addition to Cuba St.

Stylistically, I have no qualms either. The article quotes the building's architect Karen Krogh about Cuba St: "The last thing we want is for it to be Pleasantville, like Tinakori Rd or Greytown [she could have added Tonks Grove], where everything is ersatz and painted the same colour". I have to agree. Her building is unabashedly contemporary, but I think that the essence of Cuba St is not historical consistency but eclecticism. To this block's current mix of Victorian, Edwardian, Art Deco, sixties modernist and eighties postmodernist, she will be adding what looks like a pretty good example of early 21st Century modern. The Cuba Quarter's vibe doesn't depend upon highly decorated quaintness: Slow Boat Records is quintessentially Cuba St, yet inhabits a plain box of concrete, steel and glass.

But what of the gentrification effect? There will presumably be retail space in the ground floor, but will the history of weird and wonderful retailers that I've celebrated here be ended by the high rents that a new building makes inevitable. Quite possibly, though it's worth noting that the current tenant has already found another space (in the James Smith Market), and in any case is an offshoot of an Auckland shop. Bringing the building up to the new earthquake standards would have been exorbitantly expensive anyway, and perhaps the proceeds from selling 14 apartments above will mean that the owners don't have to charge quite as high a rent for the shop space. As I noted earlier, the gentrification of Cuba St is happening fairly slowly, and there's a whole lot of retail space coming on the market soon to take some of the heat out of the market. I'll be a bit sad to see another bit of scruffy old Te Aro disappear, but there are some much worse potential losses looming thanks to the earthquake standards.

The biggest potential source of worry is noise complaints, given that it's opposite the San Francisco Bath House. Here's hoping that the building's got proper acoustic insulation, and that the people who move in aren't idiots. Perhaps new residents here should sign a covenant that says "I am aware that my home will be across the road from one of Wellington's noisiest music venues, and I know what I'm getting into. If I don't like it, I will move back to Karori."

My one last quibble with the building is that the model shows a large mural of Che Guevara on the first floor. Granted, the appropriation of revolutionary imagery is hardly new in Cuba St, but what seems natural and acceptable in a café or bar really does seem excrutiatingly silly on a shiny new apartment block. I really hope that it's just a placeholder rather than a serious part of the design.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Te Wino

File under: , ,

I've just found out that according to Wikipedia, Te Aro's "characters" are all associated in one way or another with alcohol. What the?!

I suspect this has something to do with it. Should I feel flattered to be in such illustrious company? (Thanks, Matthew)

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Drink of the month: mojito

File under: , ,

Last year's New Year's dissolution turned into quite a mission, and it wasn't until late December that I managed to have a drink at every bar in central Wellington. That left me wondering what to do this year: a drink in every bar in Greater Welllington? A coffee in every café? Something that's actually good for me?

Surely you jest. In the end I decided not to decide, or to decide upon a much looser task. Each month I shall choose a "drink of the month", and while not attempting some sort of ridiculously obsessive quest to drink one everywhere, I will sample enough establishments to get a representative cross-section of the drinking landscape. Each month's drink should be seasonally appropriate (e.g. a Mai Tai in summer, port in winter, Champagne in December), and while many of them will be cocktails, that won't always be the case. Some of them may even be non-alcoholic (tea?), but the key will be to choose a drink that offers some variety or requires some skill to make.

No Mo Mojito!I'll kick off the year with the mojito. What?! Isn't that a bit hackneyed? Yes, and that's precisely the point: now that everyone and their dog can make a mojito, its ubiquity should make for an interesting range of results. While clichéd beyond boredom, it's still a damned good summer drink, and I'm determined that we will get a summer in January (unlike last month, which was more suited to mulled wine).

The Guardian has declared war on it ("the mojito has become the cocktail of choice for the noisy and notably undiscerning crowds of revellers who stream out of offices and off trains for a Big Night and will probably be found at midnight blundering about the streets, either shouting wahey and trying to pull a policeman or hysterically dialling the numbers of exes stored on their mobiles"). The "vodka professor" says that it's "one of the world's great drinks, but right now, bartenders wish it wasn't - they're sick to death of making them". Most damningly, the Dominion Post declared it "the drink of 2006". So, I'd better do a mojito round-up before it's too late.

But before we declare "no mo' mojito", I'd like your recommendations for where to get the best and worst in Wellington. Havana's an obvious goodie, I had an appalling one at Go Go (tonic?!), and anywhere with an outdoor area (St Johns, Southern Cross) should be worth a try, since a mojito's at least as much about drinking in the sun as it is about rum, lime and mint. Share your mojito raves and horror stories, and I'll try to fit them into January's mojito mosh.

Bleu murder

Cordon Bleu logoWith Martinborough and Masterton fighting it out to be home to New Zealand's only Le Cordon Bleu International School of Cuisine, I had to ask: why not Wellington? Sure, Wairarapa has the wine, but Wellington has the population, the infrastructure and a formidable culinary reputation. For the 300 students, wouldn't it be more educational and inspirational to be based in a city with a thriving metropolitan restaurant scene? After all, the major Pinot Noir NZ events aren't held in the vineyards, but in the capital.

The promoters seem to be looking for a greenfields site for a purpose-built facility, and while such sites are rare in the city, there could be plenty of places at Harbour Quays or on the waterfront (Kumutoto sites 8-10; the OPT) that would make fantastic locations for such a school. Cordon Bleu schools around the world often offer top restaurants and public cooking courses, both of which are likely to attract more customers in downtown Wellington than in the Wairarapa.

All this speculation is presumably too late, however. According to the press release from UCOL, "The International School of Cuisine is a central component of the Major Regional Initiative (MRI) developed in partnership with UCOL, Go Wairarapa and the Wairarapa Wines Promotion Group", so the school was always intended to be in the Wairarapa. Of the two, Masterton might be better for Wellingtonians, since it's directly accessible by rail. On the other hand, Martinborough is more visitor-friendly, and represents the new, gentrified side of the Wairarapa. I remember a Speights ad on the outskirts of Masterton not that long ago: the young Southern Man said "I could murder a Pinot Gris", and the grizzled Southern Man replied "You hold it down, son, I'll shoot it". Hardly Cordon Bleu!

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

A great place to live - if you're a kiwifruit

Mt Maunganui and suburbs from MauaoThis time last year I wrote a kind of "what I did on my hols" about Christchurch, and I'll start this year off with a similar post on Tauranga and Mt Maunganui. Those of you who know me, and who know the western Bay of Plenty, will realise that it's not exactly my kind of place, but I put my preconceptions aside as much as possible in order to learn from the contrasts between it and Wellington.

I know I was supposed to be enjoying the beach, but of course the first thing I wanted to do was see the city. Which raised the question: where is the city, exactly? Part of the problem is due to the urban form of the Tauranga district, which consists of a seemingly unplanned patchwork of subdivisions, motorways, industrial areas and malls. All that sprawl has assimilated older town and village centres, making it hard to envision what is undeniably a continuous urban area as a "city". Auckland is very similar in that regard, but at least if you gathered together all of Auckland's scattered hubs into one place you'd get a good-sized urban centre. Mentally conglomerating all of Tauranga and Mt Maunganui's non-residential areas didn't quite seem to provide the urban fabric one would expect from NZ's sixth-largest and reputedly fastest-growing urban area.

Don't get me wrong: there are parts of the region that seem to be perfectly pleasant little town centres. Downtown Tauranga has some nice pedestrianised shopping areas, with a few interesting shops and restaurants hidden among the chains, but it still feels like a much smaller provinical town. Mt Maunganui's shopping strip is a lot better than an enclosed mall, and while dining outside tended to be ruined by the continuous throb of boy racers taking the automotive equivalent of la passeggiata, at least there is a true public realm. There's another cluster of shops and cafés under the towers by Mauao itself, but it's clearly still a beach resort rather than an urban place. Where is the actual CBD?

It turns out there isn't one. Wikipedia states that "Although the population has increased dramatically, the city is proportionally underrepresented in businesses, and the CBD reflects a city of less than half the population as that of Tauranga". Why? How does the city support itself?

My first thought was based on Tauranga's reputation as a Grey Power stronghold: maybe it really does have very few workers, since the place is one big retirement home. But the latest census stats don't quite bear that out. While the proportion of people not in the workforce (35%) is slightly higher than the national average of 30% (and much higher than Wellington's 24%), it's not enough to explain the difference. I had expected Tauranga's demographics to be similar to Kapiti's, so I repeated the analysis that I did for the Wellington region, and compared Tauranga to Wellington City, Kapiti and the national average:

Age structures 2006: Wellington, Kapiti, Tauranga, NZThere's definitely something in the comparison, with more over-65s than average, and fewer 15-24 year-olds (though that's not the case at the Mount over summer!). But the 25-40 age bracket is bang on the national average, and much higher than for Kapiti. If there's no CBD, then where are they working?

Of course, the answer is obvious to anyone not as blinkeredly white-collar as me. The Port of Tauranga is the largest export port in the country, responsible for 27% of NZ's exports by sea. That, combined with tourism (over 11% of workers are in sales - the highest in the country), speculative real-estate riches and the tradespeople required to build all those McMansions and flyovers, has been enough to quadruple the population in 30 years.

I shouldn't belittle the importance of those industries: if it wasn't for all those logs and kiwifruit going through Tauranga harbour, none of the rest of us would have jobs. But I can't help being a little perturbed by what it says about New Zealand and its future. The western Bay of Plenty has a lot of people shipping stuff, building stuff and selling stuff, but where are all the people thinking of new stuff to sell and how to make it? They could all be in Auckland and Wellington, coming up with ideas that the practical people in the provinces put into action, but somehow I doubt it. We still seem to be stuck with selling low-value bulk produce, exporting logs rather than high-design furniture, and that's not a recipe for increased productivity and international competitiveness. It could be that Tauranga is a shining success story, an economy that has boomed on the back of natural advantages and down-to-earth entrepeneurship, but I think it's far from a sustainable model for the rest of New Zealand to follow.

All of which comes back to my original quest: where is the city? To put it bluntly, there isn't one. Tauranga is a combination of provincial service centre, industrial port, retirement village and beach resort, but it's not a city. That may seem a bit harsh or narrow-minded, but I believe that a city has to be more than just a big town. According to a quote from Margaret Mead, the vital thing about a city is that:
... any day in any year, there may be a fresh encounter with a new talent, a keen mind or a gifted specialist - this is essential to the life of a country. To play this role in our lives a city must have a soul - a university, a great art or music school, a cathedral or a great mosque or temple, a great laboratory or scientific center, as well as the libraries and museums and galleries that bring past and present together. A city must be a place where groups of women and men are seeking and developing the highest things they know.
With all due respect to the University of Waikato at Tauranga, I don't think the Tauranga conurbation has any of that. Without an intellectual heart, not only does a would-be city lack the urban bohemia that could give it grit, vigour and self-awareness, it lacks a vital spark of innovation and imagination. Residential density is not enough, as the faux-Queensland condos of the Mount demonstrate: you end up with all the worst aspects of poorly-designed density (lack of views, sun, visual and acoustic privacy) without the benefits of urbanity (vitality, walkability and convenient public transport). Nor is mixed use, at least not when that mixture is limited to residence and retail. And it's definitely not enough just to concentrate on the nuts and bolts of civic infrastructure, despite all the outraged ratepayers of Tauranga complaining about paying for such frivolities as an art gallery.

Tauranga may not be a lost cause: after all, Wellington was once dependent upon whaling and flax for survival. But it suggests to me that a true "city" is not like a town, only bigger: it is something qualitatively different, something that generates a life of its own beyond a reliance upon land and leisure. Urban design and Smart Growth principles are all very well, but without an urban vision and attitude, an "urban area" can never be a real city.