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

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Shops that pass in the night 13

Aotearoa House, 138 Cuba StAotearoa House is a new shop that has opened in what was until recently Fuji Image Plaza at 138 Cuba St. Actually, it's not brand new, but a consolidation and upgrade of two previous outlets, one in the James Smith Markets and one just a few doors up the road. It sells Māori-themed clothing, jewellery, art and other products, and also has an online store. It's a nice shop, but what makes this move especially interesting from an urbanist perspective is what's happening to the previous shop at 158 Cuba St.

'Save the flavour Cuba St' - graffito at number 158This site has already attracted a lot of discussion here, since it's an old and very run-down two-storey building that's about to make way for new apartments. After the shop closed for good, someone (perhaps the previous occupants) had quite a riotous party and almost began the demolition process ahead of schedule. There's now this graffito in the window, saying "7 story [sic] nightmare appearing here soon! Save the flavour Cuba St".

As I wrote earlier, while I think the new building could do with being a little bit lower (it'll actually be 8 storeys, whereas 5-6 would seem more appropriate for the context), its narrowness, setback and detailing will all help it fit in to a street that already has a couple of tallish buildings. I don't think it's a "nightmare" at all: on the contrary, I think it looks very well-designed, and far ahead of the standard of many recent or proposed apartment developments.

You can measure "flavour" in storeys, and I think the most important contributor to Cuba Street's character hasn't been that it's low-rise, but that it's cheap yet accessible. Strengthening the original building to meet new earthquake codes could, paradoxically, have been more damaging to Cuba Street's flavour than rebuilding from scratch, since the high cost would have had to have been offset by hugely increased rents. Building seven floors of apartments above means that, theoretically at least, the replacement retail unit wouldn't have to recoup so much of the costs.

I'll have to repeat the statement I quoted earlier from the building's architect and developer Karen Krogh: "Cheap rents attract funky new businesses. These businesses give the street its reputation. With Cuba St popular, people come to experience the atmosphere created by these cool little places. What happens when high rents force them out to somewhere cheaper? We might lose our soul." With that statement on the public record, Ms Krogh really has to keep the rents in the new retail units low enough for "funky new businesses", and we should keep a careful eye on it to keep her honest. It should be possible, since The Wellington complex up the road still seems to be attracting "cool little places". Then again, if we really want to "save the flavour" and keep Cuba St the way it has been, perhaps number 158 should become ... a Fuji Image Plaza.


At 12:26 am, May 21, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Tom, not sure if you know, but the presbyterian support service is selling all their shops in upper Cuba street - from the lawn mover shop up to the op shop - about 3 in all. The 247 Cuba shop (op shop)will close at end of June. So maybe more development? J-man.

At 9:08 am, May 23, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

Yes, I noticed that, and there's an article in today's Capital Times about the opshop closing. I think the shops are still for sale, so I guess there are no concrete plans just yet, but development seems the obvious consequence.


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