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

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Voting space

You have until 5pm tomorrow to vote for your favourite public space in the With My Little Eye exhibition: either online or at the exhibition itself. I promised a quick summary of the places in the exhibition, so here's the list in my (ascending) order of approximate preference, with a bit of a justification for my choices.

Parliament groundsParliamentary Forecourt: Not that there's anything specifically wrong with it, but it's not a place where I spend a lot of time. Of course, it's extremely informal by international standards of Parliamentary precincts, but it still has a solemnity and wide-open feel that Tom Turner describes as "White Space", and that has never really appealed to me.

Waitangi Park: It's full of fascinating details, layers of history and innovative design, and might eventually become a truly exceptional public space. But there are a lot of niggling issues with maintenance, deferred elements and failed vegetation that spoil it for me, and until the trees grow and the complementary buildings are complete (which may take decades), its spatial and social qualities will remain far below its potential. Currently, the promenade on the seaward edge of the Chaffers Dock complex is far more appealing to me than the park itself.

Oriental BayOriental Bay: A wonderful, wonderful place, of course, but I don't really see it as an urban space, and unless it's a really nice day, it's not on my radar.

Taranaki St Wharf: There are some very good bits in this area, such as the City-to-Sea bridge, St Johns and the lagoon, but it really needs the Wharewaka and completion of the public space development to feel like a well-defined sequence of public places, rather than an aggregation of somewhat diffuse spaces.

Lambton QuayLambton Quay: Spatially, it's one of the most memorable and defining parts of Wellington: I love the curves of the street and the sense of urban containment that the tall buildings give, with plenty of trees to give a pleasant street environment. But the post-war buildings rarely even aspire to mediocrity, the shops are less and less appealing to me, and it dies after dark. The current upgrade might make things a bit better physically at ground level, so we'll have to wait and see.

Civic Square: Very well proportioned, with some of Wellington's most interesting architecture and public art, and a great combination of shelter and sun. But, as we've been discussing recently, it needs more active edges and life after dark.

Woodward St: Perhaps the closest we currently get to Melbourne laneways: narrow and rarely sunny, but buzzing with life (at least during the day) and a great example of a public place that's not what most would consider "open space". I'll reveal my Eurocentrism by saying that part of my attraction to it is due to its European feel, and if it had more life after work hours it would rate even higher.

Midland Park: The right sort of park, in the right place, and at just the right size. Rather than great big paddocks along the waterfront, the city could do with more intimate parks and squares like this, distributed at regular intervals. It attracts a surprisingly diverse range of activities for such a corporate area, and the shops and café on the eastern side are a major part of its success.

Cuba St: It's probably no surprise that my favourite public space in Wellington is a street rather than a park or even a square. Cuba Mall, in particular, is almost exactly what I think most streets should be like: pedestrianised, diverse, quirky, layered with history and modernity, and most of all: alive. It's the only one of these spaces that maintains its activity no matter what the weather or time of day, and it combines residential, commercial and recreational activities in a way that attracts people of all ages and walks of life. It has greenery, but it's not a green space; it's open to the sky, but it's not really "open" space; it's a "Mall", not not just about shopping. Quite simply, it is urban space.

Cuba Mall at night
It may be interesting to consider the spaces that didn't even make the list. Te Aro Park, Frank Kitts Park, Glover Park, Blair St, the Railway Station forecourt, Manners Mall, Queens Wharf, Post Office Square: for most of those, there are enough obvious flaws to rule them out. But are there any others which should be there?


At 8:54 pm, October 05, 2007, Blogger David said...

I wandered past Parliament today and there was a group of kids about 10yo or so playing down the library end of the grounds. And one girl had climbed right up to the top of one of the trees. It was nice... she wouldn't be doing that outside the Palace of Westminster, even if she managed to climb over the razor wire and dodge the guys with submachineguns shooting at her.

Oh... and I liked your post about Melbourne last week. Excellent city... I love it.

At 5:11 am, October 11, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

very interesting!

my/our favourites are:
-Cuba Mall (68 out of 80 pts)
-Parliamentary Grounds (66 pts)
-Bunny Street right in front of the university (62 pts)
-Civic Square (61 pts)
...at least that's what we found out during our internship in Wellington last year when we did an analysis of inner city squares, places, streets, etc.

At 10:41 am, October 13, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Midland Park? What is your fascination with that place? OK, no need to answer that as you explain yourself throughout multiple blogs...

However! It surely is a place where office workers just go to unwrap their limp sandwiches at lunchtime. It is dull, dull, dull - even with ejaculating sperm as a water feature.

Otherwise, what a great blog! Can I suggest a new theme? Hidden bar-crawls. Here's the first - The Terrace from Parliament upwards, starting at the BB, ending at the piano bar at the James Cook. Less crowds, loads of cocktails, and the ability to walk into town for 'afters'.


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