A handful of trees that survived the axe in Queen St, including two tall London planes outside the SkyCity entertainment centre and a mature liquidambar outside the Methodist Mission Chapel, are making the most of the Indian summer with their green foliage in full splendour.
Nearby, on the corner of Queen and Wakefield Sts, workmen are putting the final touches to a new open space with a grassed lawn and water feature to give pedestrians somewhere to relax and enjoy views of the historic Auckland Town Hall, Aotea Square and Queen St valley.
It's almost like the controversies and disruption of the past two and a bit years are a blur. Next month, the teams of construction workers, planners, architects, designers and arborists will celebrate the new Queen St with its 40,000 new bluestone pavers and 2210sq m of extra footpath space.
The first plans to revitalise Queen St emerged in 2003. Research by Auckland City Council showed people found Queen St had "no character" and was "cheap and nasty". They complained about traffic jams and unreliable public transport.
The physical work on upgrading Queen St started with a Maori blessing in January 2006 under a cloud of controversy. The hubbub over the so-called "Queen St massacre" had barely settled down when the then mayor, Dick Hubbard, made the first cut in the roadway outside the Airedale Hotel to begin work.
The first stage, from Wellesley St to Mayoral Drive, focused largely on the loss of 20 threatened trees and plans to replace exotic trees with a native planting theme.
In the end, the council decided 17 of the 20 trees would go but would be replaced by other mature exotics. Three cabbage trees outside the town hall and three pin oaks fronting Aotea Square were among those to escape.
Next came the construction of tree pits, the laying of kerbstones weighing nearly 50kg each, followed by the bluestone pavers.
Last, but not least, was the installation of eucalyptus timber benches designed by furniture maker Humphrey Ikin, and clusters of circular and elliptical polished stone seats with contrasting insets designed by sculptor John Edgar. The architects for the project, Architectus, and Hub Street Equipment had a hand in these works.
Special areas and points of heritage interest along Queen St, such as the Civic Theatre and the town hall, were identified with text engraved into bluestone pavers.
A $250,000 glass and light sculpture, Source, hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Critics panned it and glass artist Elizabeth McClure demanded her name be removed from a plaque in the pavement because her role was limited to conceptual development. Making matters worse, it had to be repaired four months after being installed.
The artwork is made up of hundreds of pale green and clear glass panes stacked in five 600kg blocks set in a "river line" to represent the Horotiu Stream that once flowed down Queen St. The blocks are lit below by light-emitting devices.
Talking of the civic and arts precinct, work is due to start mid-year on an $80 million project to replace the leaky roof on the Aotea carpark, upgrade Aotea Square and alter the entrance of the Aotea Centre.
Thanks to some engineering ingenuity, the council plans to repair the roof in stages instead of removing much of the 20,000sq m square in one hit, to allow part of the carpark to stay open and the Aotea Centre to continue theatre activity for the Auckland Festival.
Other nearby projects include the $3.5 million upgrade of Lorne St and the $2.3 million upgrade of lower Khartoum Place that occurred after a battle to save the tiled women's suffrage centenary memorial.
AN EXCELLENT RESULT THAT WILL GET BETTER
Leading architect Gordon Moller, who designed the Sky Tower and opposed the waterfront stadium, gives his views on the outcome for Queen St:
Queen St, with its strong and multifaceted design principles, is an excellent result that will last a long time and get better with age.
The footpaths are wider and formed into connected "mini plazas" punctuated by contrasting paved laybys including subtle use of design elements with a variety of surface textures for the paving, street furniture and lamp standard cladding. The result is a much more pedestrian-oriented street and a more unified north-south axis for the CBD.
The trees have been cleverly grouped to create more drama to the inner city, experienced through using landscape as a series of urban sculptures.
There is an excellent recognition of the "nodes" of Queen St, including intersections and the laterally placed lanes and arcades.
Other notable features are the recording of historical landmarks with incised paving at locations of particular interest, together with sculptures at key points.