Tāmaki Makaurau / Auckland has undergone some seismic changes in the last five years.
Five years ago the “SuperCity” was in its infancy, as was the City Centre MasterPlan. The progress we’ve made in that half-decade is extraordinary.
Don’t believe me? Well, five years ago Auckland had:
- No new bus network
- No double deckers (we now have 100 running)
- No protected cycleways (Quay Street was the first and is now New Zealand’s most popular and busiest)
- No 'hot pink' Lightpath
- No electric trains. I don’t even remember seeing one electric bike but I’m sure there were a few
- No electric buses
- No integrated ticketing and fares (no HOP card)
- No redeveloped Freyburg Place or O’Connell St shared space
- No residential development at Wynyard Quarter
- No ASB Theatre, Grid AKL or Westhaven promenade.
In addition to all this, five years ago more people travelled into the city centre during morning peak by private car than by public transport. Now it’s the other way around.
We’ve done good in five years, but there’s more to come in the next three years before we’re ready to host the Americas Cup and APEC in 2021.
So what’s in store for the city centre by 2021?
The Commercial Bay Development by Precinct Properties will be complete.
Where some small-scale urban interventions or streetscape upgrades are the equivalents of stitches or acupuncture, Commercial Bay (like the waterfront redevelopment) is open-heart surgery.
This will be a catalytic game changer and transform the downtown water's edge into the engine room of the region.
Commercial Bay will have a retail spine with global shopping brands leading to a new bus terminus, on a newly configured Lower Albert Street, and views north out to the harbour.
More than 10,000 office workers located in the Commercial Bay development adjacent to the Britomart transport interchange will provide the energy and economic vitality that is needed to finally anchor Lower Queen Street. Furthermore, it will complement Britomart, which has matured to become Auckland’s version of Sydney’s “Rocks” development and, for me, is the best example of a heritage restoration project of its kind in the world.
Queen Elizabeth Square will also have been rightfully returned to the city and will be Auckland’s best (and the country’s busiest) pedestrianised space, re-stitching the downtown to the water's edge, the newly configured ferry terminus and the excitement of the America's Cup.
As part of the Commercial Bay redevelopment and enabled through the sale of QE Square, Quay Street from Albert Street to Britomart will have been reconquered for people and detuned to discourage through traffic and improve conditions for walking, promenading and recreating.
By 2021 the City Rail Link will be nearing completion. This will trigger significant above-ground development along the entirety of its route, doubling the efficiency of the entire rail network. Thousands of new business and residences will also be completed and housed in new high-rise developments along the newly constructed Albert Street. This will transform Auckland’s shameful back door into a premier business street with rapid buses, widened footpaths, mature trees, seating and exciting artworks.
The city centre is already a residential city – it’s no longer simply a place for business as it was in the 2000s. In 1991 the residential population of the city centre was 1800, today it’s home to 52,000 and conservative estimates put it at 70,000 by 2021.
Other changes we’re likely to see:
- We’ll have a fully connected central-city separated cycleway. Who knows, maybe even Mike Hosking will have been caught riding an ebike with his family
- Walking is already the predominant mode of transport (in 2018 more than 500,000 walking trips are made daily) and will continue to drive the redesign of our street network and grid
- Like most Aucklanders, I’d like to see Queen Street pedestrianised from Customs Street to Aotea Square/Mayoral Drive. I’d also like to see a car-free Queen Street valley. These types of public realm experiences are commonplace in Sydney, Melbourne, Los Angeles and Vancouver and we absolutely must seize the moment offered by the America's Cup
- Pedestrian numbers on Queen Street will have reached 100,000 per day (they have doubled in the last five years). The footfall and economic lifeblood will have spread from Queen Street valley to Albert Street and the Hobson Street ridge, activating those areas
- High Street will no longer be a casual parking space for white vans but will instead be Auckland’s pre-eminent fashion street
- Wynyard Quarter will have a residential community of up to 5000 people
- Albert Street will be a second business spine for the city centre, complementing Queen Street
- A bus boulevard will be in operation from Grafton Gully to Victoria Park, providing a high-quality rapid bus facility
- Parts of the game-changing Light Rail (City Centre to Māngere/Airport) programme may be delivered, setting Auckland on a new transit-orientated development path.
As for the way we will think:
- The America's Cup will have been defended successfully. We will have hosted APEC and will feel part of the global community. We will be more confident and Auckland will be open for business
- Māori design will be an inherent and integral part of informing every public realm design and will reinforce Auckland’s unique identity and competitive advantage. Māori will see their faces in their places!
- We will feel prouder, more excited, more confident and more in love with our city. We will have found our mojo and not be worried about what others are doing
- A city centre heart will be beating and a sense of what is possible will be crystal clear.
Lastly, we’ll have a city centre for all of Auckland, where everyone is welcome and you don’t have to pay to enter any part of it.
How’s that for the start of a story?
Ludo Campbell-Reid is Design Champion and General Manager of the Auckland Design Office at Auckland Council.