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

Sunday, June 10, 2007


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I've been wondering when the houses relocated for the bypass would be re-inhabited, thus bringing some life back to a ravaged district. Surely it wouldn't be long before they were snapped up? But no: Karo Drive and Tonks Grove are going to look like toytown for quite some time to come.

'Toy houses' in Tonks GroveIt turns out that under the Public Works Act, Transit has to look for the original owners or their descendants, and then offer the properties to them at market prices. Since some of the relocated buildings now lie across up to three separate land parcels, and some of the properties were acquired 50 years ago, it's going to take them a long time to sort everything out. This "heritage precinct" is thus going to remain a ghost town for at least another year.

I don't supposed it's occurred to them to offer the buildings for short-term lease in the interim? At a time when residents, artists and small businesses are worrying about being driven out of the city by rising rents, both Transit and the city could benefit from making use of these buildings. They'd need a bit more internal renovation to make them liveable, but surely that's preferable to leaving these houses as sadly empty as they were when the bypass opened.

Acai House, Footscray Ave, Te AroRight next door in Footscray Ave, there are some quiet signs of life. Because these cottages weren't moved, they haven't run into the same land ownership complexities, and those that weren't torched burned in a tragic accident are still inhabited. It's not quite the lively mixed-use precinct that upper Cuba St should be, but it's probably the best we can expect for the rest of the cottages. If Transit had actually made the re-inhabitation of the precinct a priority, they could have started searching for the owners long before the motorway construction was complete, and the whole area might actually have been alive by now.

It all goes to show that for all the talk by the bypass' backers that the project was above "improving" Te Aro, they either never cared or never understood what cities are really about. It's not a fresh coat of paint and a few token plants that make a city, but people. When these cottages were falling to pieces, the bypassers were quick to talk about "blight", but to me it's a lot more "blighted" now that it's empty. It's the same with the post-bypass modifications to Ghuznee St, since while all the actual highway building was completed on or ahead of schedule, Ghuznee St is still a scruffy building site despite all the work being scheduled for completion last month. Never mind the rhetoric about improving the city: once the drivers get their way, everything else is an afterthought at best.


At 5:14 pm, June 10, 2007, Blogger Will de Cleene said...

Another year??! Another year until the open wound from the bypass surgery will be stitched up? That's too mucking long. If they could manage monthly leases for the affected buildings years before the carnage, what's stopping them now? Is it because Rex Nicholls doesn't want competition for business while he's filling his Lego block?

At 11:22 pm, June 10, 2007, Blogger bennn said...

You're not making it very tempting to come back Tom. :(

At 9:10 am, June 11, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

It's okay to come back, Ben! Just don't wander around the very top of Cuba St and expect it to look good.

At 2:58 pm, June 11, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't supposed it's occurred to them to offer the buildings for short-term lease in the interim?

If it has, they will well remember how all-but impossible it was to evict the tenants that were in them before needing to move the houses for the bypass.

Some of those evictions were dragged out for years by the tenants.

At 5:02 pm, June 11, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tom - where did you get the first image in this post? Are there more?

At 5:36 pm, June 11, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

M-D: I took it on Saturday, then did the old fake-depth-of-field thing in Photoshop to make it look even more like toytown ;-) I've got several more originals, if you'd like to see them.

At 8:26 pm, June 11, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd wondered if it was in-camera or post-processing - I think a series of them would be great given the nature of developments in that area.

Do you have them on your Flickr account?

At 8:29 am, June 12, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nonsense, most tenants left when they were told, and those that remained on the whole did not last much longer. Perhaps you are thinking of Mike Murray at 289 Cuba Street? As far as I can recall, an isolated case my anonymous friend.

At 1:46 pm, June 13, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The area has been lobotomised into a fake and soul-less 'heritage' museum, terminally unimaginative and devoid of any human aspect. (does this sound like anyone we know?)

At 9:55 am, July 26, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"they will well remember how all-but impossible it was to evict the tenants that were in them before needing to move the houses for the bypass."

Rubbish. The vast majority of these houses were sitting empty for years (decades in some cases) before construction started. Transit owned most of them and let them fall apart through lack of maintenance, then pointed to their run down state as a reason for putting the road through.

Transit deliberatly degraded what had been a thriving area around upper Cuba Street to reduce opposition to the bypass. A classic case of using money and power to trump democracy.

- Sam Buchanan

At 1:22 pm, July 27, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As I understand it, there are legal reasons why you can't lease out surplus PWA buildings while you're looking for their previous owners. Something to do with not affecting the interests of who they might go back to.

At 3:24 pm, July 27, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

That's a pity: I hate to see narrow legalities and the interests of former owners (who may or may not want them anyway) ahead of the life of the city. Transit must have known about that sort of thing years ago, any if they'd actually cared about what happened to the buildings, it could all have been sorted by now.


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