Cities, like people, need a reason to get dressed up. The Rugby World Cup has given many a reason, not least Auckland. The cup was not the inspiration for all the civic improvements we have featured in our pages today but it was the incentive to get them done. It provided a deadline without which, sometimes, nothing gets done.
The most visible of Auckland's new attractions, the Wynyard Quarter on the waterfront, is already thriving. People can stroll along a wide quay with rough fishing trawlers tied up on one side of them and stylish restaurants and bars on the other. As it develops residential life the area should be able to retain the industrial elements characterised by the preserved silos, converted cargo containers and steel sculptures.
It looks capable of acquiring a character quite different from the Viaduct Harbour, linked to it by a new lifting bridge, but no less appealing in its own way. The big, glassy, wave-roofed Viaduct Events Centre looks completely at home in the middle of them.
What a pity, though, that the civic designers have thought it necessary to bring a road into the Viaduct for the sake of a carpark that should not be there.
The wide entrance from Quay St to the Viaduct, that pedestrians used to share with vehicles, now has lines of bollards delineating a path of traffic and pushing pedestrians to the margins. Parked cars enjoy some of the most splendid waterfront areas around the Viaduct. They detract from the whole development and they ought to go.
The division of formerly shared space at the Viaduct entrance is all the more strange since quite the opposite has been introduced in other parts of the city centre. Narrow streets have had footpaths removed and repaved with nothing to separate vehicles and pedestrians. Cars can come through but the paving hints that people have priority. They share the space at pedestrian pace and already Elliott St and Federal St are more lively.
Public transport makes any city more accessible for visitors. Auckland's trains have been improved and bus services made more convenient with dedicated lanes and an electronic cash card for easy transfers. Trials of free services for rugby match ticket-holders have worked well. Aucklanders have complained at the wait for post-match trains but visitors will probably understand the time it takes to clear a crowd. For match-going residents, buses direct to Eden Park may be a better bet.
With better designed inner-city bus loops and a new bicycle hire service, Auckland's central attractions should be within reach. Karangahape Rd has been smartened up a little and Ponsonby Rd has more "pop up" bars. Discounted wireless internet will reach those ridges and lower Parnell, and extend to the vicinity of Eden Park. A "fan trail" for the energetic to walk from the city to the stadium has even cleaned up the footpaths of Arch Hill.
Part of the thrill of hosting an event of this scale is the completion of so many long-desired projects. With less than two weeks remaining to the World Cup opening, there are still one or two fruits Auckland has yet to see. Queens Wharf, the promised "party central", still has barricades and builders at work but the "Cloud" is visible and Shed 10 has had some paint.
When cruise ships tie up there, the party will be on. It is a pity the port company has seen fit to let a giant car carrier berth at the adjacent wharf. Good citizenship is obviously not in the company's code. But otherwise, the city is going to be well dressed.
Just about all its new finery will be a lasting legacy of the World Cup. Downtown Auckland will look better for the lift and the western waterfront will be its new face.