Drag Queen

Trans­form­ing Auckland’s shabby golden mile

Weekend Herald - - Front Page -

It’s the Queen’s own street, in the Queen’s own city — Auckland’s golden mile, or just over 1.7km to be ex­act.

Ev­ery day thou­sands trek its blue­stone pavers, past tired old build­ings and shiny new ones, past the mas­sage hawk­ers by day, the drum-beat­ing Hare Kr­ish­nas by night and the scat­tered beg­gars by all hours, past the queues out­side Prada and Gucci and the chock-full sou­venir shops sell­ing “Made in Bangladesh” New Zealand T-shirts for $10.

Mayor Phil Goff calls Queen St not just Auckland’s golden mile, but New Zealand’s.

But the life­long Auck­lan­der takes his vis­i­tors else­where, where the cen­tral city ex­pe­ri­ence is more pub­lic space than sim­ply thor­ough­fare and shop­ping.

Auckland Coun­cil’s six-year-old City Cen­tre Mas­ter Plan lays out a 20-year vi­sion for what it calls — north of the Vic­to­ria St in­ter­sec­tion — the city cen­tre’s “en­gine room”.

But Goff says lit­tle has been ac­tioned and Queen St needs change, among that per­ma­nent sec­tions of shared space with pedes­tri­ans when trams re­turn next decade.

His plan­ning com­mit­tee chair­man, coun­cil­lor Chris Darby, said he was of­ten asked when Queen St would be pedes­tri­anised and he thought the street was in “dras­tic need” of re­vi­tal­i­sa­tion.

He said the mas­ter plan was be­ing “re­freshed” by coun­cil staff and would be pre­sented to his com­mit­tee at a workshop next month.

“Po­ten­tially it’s look­ing at a no­cars en­vi­ron­ment for Queen St, it could be one or two blocks.”

Plans were needed be­cause trams

We’re evolv­ing from a city that was very fo­cused on cars to a city fo­cused on pub­lic trans­port. Viv Beck, Heart of the City

could not just hap­pen in iso­la­tion on Queen St — when they come it will be a “com­plete trans­for­ma­tion” for the street.

“We don’t call [the Queen St area] the en­gine room with­out good rea­son . . . the op­por­tu­nity is enor­mous.”

At the start of Queen St, a few foot­steps from the wa­ter­front, fu­ture Auckland has brazenly shown its hand — the old Down­town Mall is gone and the $1 bil­lion Com­mer­cial Bay re­tail, ho­tel and of­fice tower development is chang­ing the sky­line above, just as the $3.4b City Rail Link will be­low.

At its end, those cross­ing the Karanga­hape Rd ridge on wheels whoosh down into the Queen St val­ley, where apart­ment build­ings and of­fices lean into the in­cline as a few hardy pedes­tri­ans inch up it.

In be­tween is, well, ev­ery­thing. Rows of Asian restau­rants north of May­oral Drive re­flect the now twodecade old chang­ing face of our big­gest city, and sticky pave­ments out­side McDon­ald’s and Wendy’s re­flect a chang­ing globe as multi­na­tion­als ever-tighten their grip on the wal­lets of the world.

Big box chains have staked their claim around the street’s cen­tre and few fam­ily-owned busi­nesses re­main on the coun­try’s main drag — 138-yearold de­part­ment store Smith & Caughey’s is a prom­i­nent ex­cep­tion, while tucked away, the 84-year-old Mar­becks mu­sic store is a less vis­i­ble one.

And for all the con­ces­sions made for pedes­tri­ans, and the push for pub­lic trans­port — in the past decade wider foot­paths and pedes­tri­an­friendly traf­fic light se­quenc­ing have sent a strong mes­sage to those at the wheel, and trams will re­turn af­ter 65 years by 2021 un­der a gov­ern­ment plan — mo­torists re­tain a strong pres­ence.

All of the above means Queen St is noisy, tired, ex­cit­ing, busy and frus­trat­ing.

Ask peo­ple on the street — vis­i­tors, lo­cals or re­tail­ers — what they think and the an­swers are as var­ied as the thou­sands who fre­quent our most high-pro­file street ev­ery day.

Daniel Kerr, 22, spoke for many when he de­scribed Queen St as “pretty good”, but with room for im­prove­ment.

“It’s the one place in Auckland there’s al­ways a place to eat. On Satur­day night you can go any­where.”

But when his friend’s fa­ther vis­ited from the Philippines re­cently he asked Kerr why Queen St was so quiet. “He thought it was dead.” Watch this space, Heart of the City chief ex­ec­u­tive Viv Beck might have told Kerr’s vis­i­tor.

The changes go be­yond the planned Com­mer­cial Bay development on the wa­ter­front. Barely a block west is the up­mar­ket Queen’s Rise precinct, where 11 dining op­tions opened in the newly re­fur­bished QBE Cen­tre three months ago.

The trans­for­ma­tion of parts of our best-known street would en­dure, Beck said.

“It will con­tinue to de­velop be­cause the city it­self is de­vel­op­ing.

My vi­sion is when we rip up the road for light rail

. . . there will be sec­tions of it we’ll per­ma­nently pedes­tri­anise. Phil Goff, Auckland Mayor

More peo­ple are liv­ing in cities world­wide and there’s def­i­nitely an ap­petite for in­vest­ment, pub­lic and pri­vate.”

An in­creased cen­tral city pop­u­la­tion also meant in­creased de­mand for ameni­ties, and not just shop­ping but pub­lic spa­ces, she said.

Heart of the City, the busi­ness as­so­ci­a­tion for Auckland’s city cen­tre, also saw op­por­tu­nity in the night­time econ­omy.

Among their ini­tia­tives is a plan to up­grade the LED lights be­low Queen St’s liq­uidambars and nikau palms, with var­i­ous colour op­tions cel­e­brat­ing the fes­ti­vals and oc­ca­sions of the Kiwi cal­en­dar.

A grow­ing city cen­tre didn’t come with­out chal­lenges, Beck said. Home­less­ness and other so­cial is­sues must be tack­led, and care­ful thought was needed around ac­ces­si­bil­ity.

The bot­tom of Queen St is a con­struc­tion site for the City Rail Link, with nar­row path­ways kept open for pedes­tri­ans.

But when the con­struc­tion work­ers pack up their tools in 2020

the site out­side Brit­o­mart will be­come a large pedes­trian square with street fur­ni­ture, space for events and pave­ment de­signs that de­pict waves com­ing to shore and the Wai­horotiu Stream, which once ran into the har­bour and still ex­ists be­low Queen St, ac­cord­ing to Auckland Coun­cil con­cept de­signs re­leased in April.

It’s all part of the chang­ing city, a change that would take time, Beck said.

“We’re evolv­ing from a city that was very fo­cused on cars to a city fo­cused on pub­lic trans­port.

“We’re in the mid­dle of th­ese changes and you can’t just snap your fin­gers and have it change.

“We have to be re­al­is­tic. There are chal­lenges . . . but I think we’ve got to be pos­i­tive about the op­por­tu­ni­ties ahead.”

That’s Goff ’s mantra too.

His fond­est memories of Queen St are the times it was closed to traf­fic for the Santa pa­rades he at­tended as a child and the Amer­ica’s Cup vic­tory pa­rades he at­tended with his own chil­dren. He wants to bring back par­tial and oc­ca­sional clo­sures with a view to eas­ing the pub­lic into per­ma­nent pedes­tri­an­i­sa­tion.

He puts numbers to Beck’s talk of a chang­ing city; city cen­tre daily pedes­trian numbers dou­bling to be­tween

300,000 and 500,000 be­tween 2012 and 2016, the city cen­tre pop­u­la­tion ris­ing from 9000 in 2001 to 53,000 in

2018 and 37,000 stu­dents trav­el­ling into the city cen­tre ev­ery day.

Queen Street prob­a­bly will in 10 years’ time be a re­ally first-class av­enue. Julie Stout, Ur­ban Auckland

“What that means is we’ve got to adapt the city to the changes hap­pen­ing there and in Queen St. We’ve got to make it more peo­ple fo­cused, rather than trans­port fo­cused.

“My vi­sion is when we rip up the road for light rail . . . there will be sec­tions of it we’ll per­ma­nently pedes­tri­anise.

“Long-term with the pop­u­la­tion growth, the cruise ship vis­i­tors and the peo­ple work­ing there, we’re go­ing to run out of room for the pedes­tri­ans,” Goff said. His wishes haven’t gone to his coun­cil, but tem­po­rary road clo­sures for events and shared space along some of Queen St’s length, as well as pub­licly­ac­ces­si­ble Wi-Fi for the whole city cen­tre, were among fu­ture changes en­vi­sioned in the City Cen­tre Mas­ter Plan Goff re­ferred to.

Matt Lawrie, di­rec­tor of trans­port and ur­ban is­sues lobby Greater Auckland, said the street should be for pedes­tri­ans, pub­lic trans­port and, at cer­tain hours, de­liv­er­ies only.

“There’s no load­ing docks be­tween Aotea Square and the bot­tom of Queen St . . . there’s not a sin­gle rea­son for a car to be on Queen St.”

Not ev­ery­one is ready to ban­ish cars to the sur­round­ing streets.

AA in­fra­struc­ture prin­ci­pal ad­viser Bar­ney Irvine said Auckland AA mem­bers were keen to see more pedes­trian-fo­cused spa­ces in the cen­tral busi­ness district, but get­ting into, and through, the cen­tral city in ve­hi­cles was still im­por­tant to them — whether for work or plea­sure.

An AA sur­vey of Auckland mem­bers last year found 50 per cent of re­spon­dents had never heard of the idea of pedes­tri­an­is­ing Queen St, and 38 per cent were only vaguely aware of it.

“So pub­lic sup­port might not be quite as high as some peo­ple in the coun­cil are as­sum­ing . . . we’d want to see the coun­cil tread pretty care­fully with this idea.”

Goff was con­fi­dent that at­ti­tudes to­wards keep­ing cars out of the city cen­tre, po­lit­i­cal sui­cide a few years ago, were chang­ing.

More than half of peo­ple com­ing into the city walked, biked or used pub­lic trans­port and shared spa­ces had proved pos­i­tive in places such as Fort St, where re­tail spend­ing in­creased by 47 per cent af­ter cars and pedes­tri­ans be­gan shar­ing the road, he said.

The coun­cil is do­ing its bit to im­prove pub­lic spa­ces, from bet­ter pub­lic trans­port to more room to move, to cleaner streets, would also en­cour­age big busi­ness to see a fu­ture in the city.

That would have its own ef­fect of im­prov­ing Queen St, he said.

“Keep the best of your his­tory . . . [but] in­stead of drab old build­ings we’ll start to get iconic build­ings ar­chi­tec­turally de­signed to be out­stand­ing. Auckland is New Zealand’s only po­ten­tially truly global city.

“We’ve got to en­cour­age that with this sort of in­vest­ment in Auckland.”

The coun­cil-Gov­ern­ment Hous­ing First pro­gramme to sup­port home­less into per­ma­nent ac­com­mo­da­tion was also key to solv­ing so­cial prob­lems that could blight busy lo­ca­tions such as Queen St.

For now, Goff would con­tinue to take his vis­i­tors to Wyn­yard Quar­ter and Frey­berg Place, where they can watch kids play, have a drink and re­lax. That will change.

“Queen St is not yet re­ally spe­cial . . . but I ab­so­lutely be­lieve Queen St can be an ex­ten­sion of what you get in those places.”

Ar­chi­tect and ur­ban­ist Julie Stout reck­ons Queen St is al­ready a good ur­ban en­vi­ron­ment.

And the fu­ture was look­ing even brighter for the di­rec­tor of Stout Dodd Ar­chi­tects, who is also chair­woman of Ur­ban Auckland, a lobby group fo­cused on qual­ity de­sign of the city and development of the wa­ter­front.

“It’s packed on the week­end — it never used to be. [Now] it’s about chang­ing the bal­ance.”

That meant grad­u­ally get­ting cars out to make way for the “in­evitable” pedes­tri­an­i­sa­tion.

She wasn’t con­vinced by any claims the street was tired, and a few more sum­mers Queen St will be a dif­fer­ent place. “Queen Street prob­a­bly will in 10 years’ time be a re­ally first­class av­enue. It’s a street right now, but it will be­come an av­enue.”

Pic­tures: Nick Reed, Michael Craig / Her­ald graphic

Artist’s im­pres­sion of pub­lic square out­side Brit­o­mart in Lower Queen St. The square will open in 2020.

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