Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Modest structure a bridge to the waterfront Aucklanders deserve

Photo / Greg Bowker
Photo / Greg Bowker

There is nothing like a sunny spring day, the whiff of salt air and a brand new bridge to, well, nowhere in particular, to get Aucklanders curious.

Yesterday, a steady stream of us were wandering back and forth across the new drawbridge between downtown Auckland and Wynyard Quarter to see what all the fuss was about, and to check out how well our $120 million has been spent on stage one of the resurrection of the old Tank Farm.

In tomorrow's grand opening speechifying, there'll no doubt be much praise of the impressive $32 million Viaduct Events Centre, the $21 million transformation of Jellicoe St and of former Auckland Regional Council chairman Mike Lee's end-of regime folly, the cute $8 million heritage tramway. But for me, it's hard to go past the modest $3.5 million footbridge.

Not only is it the key to realising the great dream of an interconnected CBD waterfront promenade, stretching from the sandy eastern beaches to the fishing and pleasure fleets at the west, but by excluding motorised transport, it shouts to the world that this sector of the waterfront at least will be pedestrian-friendly.

It will be a space we can relax in, secure in the knowledge that a car or truck is not creeping up behind, trying to share our space. How different it might have been if money had been squandered on the $51 million, prizewinning road bridge the old Auckland City Council had set its heart on.

Having campaigned long and hard for the liberation of Michio Ihara's Wind Tree sculpture, it was great to find the familiar stainless steel pipe lattice work once more gleaming in the sunlight.

Auckland City's centennial birthday present to itself in 1971, it was removed from its original home in Queen Elizabeth Square in 2002 to make way for the fake kauri tree forest of the Britomart railway station redevelopment.

Since then, it's rested in an Onehunga warehouse. Now, after several false starts, it's out in the open again, its graceful trusses polished like new, and better still, swinging in the breeze.

In its final years in its previous site, the moving limbs had been locked into a fixed position, and, if my memory is correct, the lower bar or two removed to stop drunken revellers swinging. They are now back. In its new site, a shallow reflecting pool again offers little protection from the hoons.

Anyone for an alligator in the pool? Or nasty jellyfish?

My one regret is its positioning not far from the 12m-high, 120m-long steel gantry "art work," erected to celebrate the area's industrial heritage. Approaching from the city, the Wind Tree risks being dwarfed by the rugged rusted steel scaffolding gantry behind. Still, it's in a much better place than it has been for the past 10 years.

This week an economist was claiming the Rugby World Cup was the catalyst for the Wynyard Quarter development. Part of an attempt to beef up the economic benefits of the rugby.

It's nonsense, of course. If any sporting event can be credited with nudging our politicians into focusing on the golden possibilities of this area, it is America's Cup yachting and our need to find a place to host the 2000 and 2003 regattas after Team New Zealand's initial victory.

The need for a home for the competing contenders sparked the redevelopment of the Viaduct Harbour - between the CBD and the Wynyard Quarter - and with it came a rapid realisation among Aucklanders that it was time to copy cities all around the world and transform more of our decaying industrial waterfront areas into prime people places.

In April 2004, the ARC, Auckland City Council and Ports of Auckland signed up to a joint "visioning exercise for the whole waterfront area" which led to a draft plan reaching out to 2040.

All of which is by way of reminding everyone during the deserved backslapping tomorrow that, far from being a Rugby World Cup project, brought in on time and budget, and therefore a time to relax, what we are now celebrating is only stage one of a 25-year project to transform 18.5ha of run-down commercial land into the harbourside of our dreams.

That so much has been achieved, most of it set in place before the creation of one city council, is a cause for much wonderment and the offering of congratulations to the politicians and John Dalzell and his team at Waterfront Auckland.

But there's still a long way to go.

- NZ Herald

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Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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