Editorial: Planners get it just right on the waterfront

The newly cobbled Jellicoe St with tram lines placed down the road. Photo / Janna Dixon
The newly cobbled Jellicoe St with tram lines placed down the road. Photo / Janna Dixon

By and large, Aucklanders have not been well served by their civic planners. Happily, however, the city's latest development, the Wynyard Quarter, which is officially opened today, is one of those projects for which most things appear to have been done right.

This is not, and could not be, a replica of the neighbouring Viaduct Basin with its bars, cafes and restaurants. What has emerged is an area that provides the public with space and amenities while continuing to cater for what will be one of its main visitor attractions, the comings and goings associated with the quarter's fishing and marine industries.

Such an outcome was not always guaranteed. There were plans, for example, for the Wynyard Crossing, the new pedestrian and cycling bridge linking the Viaduct Harbour to the quarter, to take vehicles. In the interests of creating a pleasant public place, good sense finally prevailed.

Similarly, the success of the heritage tram loop, a core point of difference, was always going to depend on other developments falling into place.

This has happened with the completion of the likes of the Viaduct Events Centre, the North Wharf promenade and the Gateway Plaza and Silo Park public spaces. The quarter has the sort of features that should make it the all-day destination for families that its proponents envisaged.

The development will doubtless come to be regarded as a legacy of the Rugby World Cup, just as the America's Cup inspired the Viaduct Basin.

That might not be strictly accurate, because planning by the Auckland Regional Council, the Auckland City Council and Ports of Auckland began as far back as 2004. But there is no doubt the World Cup galvanised proceedings. An approach most notable for its painstaking nature was transformed virtually overnight.

Many projects, such as the tram loop, have met tight deadlines. In doing so, they have helped to create an environment that should have many of the expected 85,000 Cup visitors comparing Auckland's waterfront favourably to similar developments in large overseas cities.

It is important to recognise, however, that this $120 million development is only the first stage of a 25-year plan. The danger is that when the World Cup is over, matters will be allowed to drift because of a lack of stimulus.

If that happened, it would detract from what has been achieved. Major decisions remain, and the area would benefit hugely from the presence of an iconic public building on the promontory.

Not only would this be a further magnet for visitors but, if designed appropriately, it would provide an impressive spectacle from the sea. Already, there is a welcome element of this in the event centre's wave-like roof.

When Aucklanders visit the quarter for the first time, they will undoubtedly be startled by the transformation of what was 18.5ha of unsightly commercial land.

Yet they will also see constant reminders of the area's history in the sometimes quirky use of recycled materials and in the industrial-style sculpture. Some of this may not be to everyone's taste.

But the Wynyard Quarter was never intended to have the spit and polish of the Viaduct Basin. It has its own grittier, more workaday character and its own range of attractions - and is none the worse for that.

- NZ Herald

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