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

Monday, June 11, 2007

Street evolution: upper-middle Willis St

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It's hard to label the section of Willis St between Ghuznee and Vivian streets: "upper Willis" usually refers to the sections between Vivian St and the Aro Valley, and central Willis St probably extends from Manners to Ghuznee. This block seems somewhat grey and forgotten, and yet it's actually one of the most densely populated parts of Wellington, with approximately 560 residents. Almost all of those are students or hotel guests, but apart from the B4 bar at McKenzies and the nightly streams of binge-drinking high-spirited youngsters staggering between the hostels and Bar Bodega, there's not much physical manifestation of that. Until now.

Site of new Asian market in Willis StDTR has recently moved here from Dixon St, catering for the needs of an itinerant population. Near Vivian St, the empty ground floor area that was once a commercial kitchen supplies wholesaler is being converted into an Asian supermarket, which makes sense given that the local population is about 20% Asian. Together, they'll bring a bit more street-level activity to the block, as well as reflecting the nature of the population.

The old Sharp showroom has been split into three retail spaces, which are still on the market, but it shows that the developer has some confidence in the retail potential of the location. I've seen the building in commercial real estate ads, sporting a couple of extra floors that could be either rather funky or desperately naff: it's hard to tell from the rendering. While it was a shame to lose the artist's studio and gallery that used to be on the first floor, the addition of some more permanent residents might be a positive change for the block.

Making up for the loss of the old gallery, the Mark Hutchins Gallery has just moved in to a space at the rear of this building. It's carved out a huge glass window in the side of the building, and it's going some way towards turning an anonymous service lane into quite a pleasant little space. Across the lane, Belle Vie have also moved in, in this case from Cuba St.

So, there's quite a bit of retail activity going on here now, perhaps reflecting a drift away from the Golden Mile driven by increasing rents. If anything gets built on the current Sunday market site at the Vivian St end, then the transformations could be huge. Perhaps it's time for the physical design of the street to reflect the new vitality and variety: some small street trees and benches on the wide eastern pavement, as in the block north of Ghuznee, could be all it takes to soften the somewhat drab architecture and turn a busy thoroughfare into a place to actually stop and spend some time.


At 9:14 pm, June 11, 2007, Blogger mikeymike said...

Now that traffic is reduced to an inordinately slow crawl alond this stretch of Willis St its perfect for destination stores. Such as DTR and the Asian supermarket.

Heaps of time for passers by to mull: "aaah so thats where they are... must come back when I've got time."

Of course they can never reclaim time nicked by the bypass...

I wonder whether the bridal shop moving out is due more to stagnant foot traffic or falling marriage rates.

Get those trees and benches in quick I reckon.


At 11:56 am, June 12, 2007, Blogger s. said...

> Perhaps it's time for the physical
> design of the street to reflect the
> new vitality and variety: some
> small street trees and benches on
> the wide eastern pavement, as in
> the block north of Ghuznee

Yes please; that would be lovely.

Pity about the Yangtze closing; and I noticed this morning that the newsagent in the Willis St. village is shut down too.

At 1:19 pm, June 12, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

Mike: I hadn't heard about Astra Bridal closing. A pity in some ways (though it's not a shop in which I had any personal interest...), since with Belle Vie moving in it seemed like a little mini-cluster of wedding-related businesses.

Stephen: Yes, that is a pity about the Yangtze, though it's one of the few places I've never eaten so I don't know if it's as good as its reputation. The article in the paper about the sale of the space seemed to imply that the owners were happy for either another restaurant or a completely different different sort of retail to move in. Whichever is the most lucrative, I assume!

I'd also noticed that the newsagent looked like it was going through some changes, though until the last couple of days I wasn't sure whether it was moving out or just renovating. I guess with the new newsagent/dairy moving in across the road, it was always going to struggle.

There are a whole lot of other changes happening on that block. One thing that I've noticed is that Sherbet (kids' clothes shop) closed down, and I've heard that Mojo Invincible was thinking of expanding into that space.

At 10:12 am, July 02, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just to let you know that Astra Bridal hasn't moved out of Willis Street. The building is for sale, but they will be there for the forseable future.


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