Opening the waterfront: World's best harbour - just add people

By Michael Dickison

Readers say it's time to think creative and courageous, and have a full conversation about opening up the city's waterfront balanced with the port's needs. Michael Dickison reports.

A thousand readers have given their ideas on what they want to see on the waterfront. The most common phrases are illustrated in the diagram above, created on wordle.net, letter sizes reflecting how often they were repeated. Photo / Supplied
A thousand readers have given their ideas on what they want to see on the waterfront. The most common phrases are illustrated in the diagram above, created on wordle.net, letter sizes reflecting how often they were repeated. Photo / Supplied

The first chapter in Auckland's waterfront renaissance was the America's Cup and Viaduct Harbour, just over a decade ago.

Chapter two was Wynyard Quarter, which opened successfully last year.

"Chapter three is those central wharves and how we can take Aucklanders back to the water," said Ludo Campbell-Reid, Auckland Council's environmental strategy and policy-planning manager.

"It's not world-renowned - yet. But with its renaissance you could start to see quite a dramatic place emerge."

Mr Campbell-Reid spoke to the Herald following a survey of 1000 readers who said they wanted more of the waterfront opened up to them.

Seventy-seven per cent said they wanted to see more wharf space, while 62 per cent didn't think Queens Wharf was being used as an attractive space.

"Auckland desperately needs an iconic focal point on our beautiful harbour," said Rebecca Russo. "With imagination we could make the wharf area so much more attractive," said Jane Malone.

"Auckland has one of the most beautiful harbours in the world and I'd really like to see the waterfront opened up more to public use. I'd like to see the city look towards the harbour, not back on itself," said Marion Dixon.

Advocates for progress in Auckland said momentum was growing around the desire to create a world-class public waterfront, and it was time to have a full conversation.

"Let's imagine ourselves standing on Mt Victoria, sometime in the future, and looking at the harbour and city centre. How will it look? How will we know that we've done a good job?" asked Heart of the City spokesman Greg McKeown.

"With our beautiful harbours we have the opportunity to be regarded as one of the great maritime cities of the world."

Today, if you walked down to Queens Wharf - the city's most central wharf - the red fence is open. But behind it, on the near end of the wharf's wide, open space, there is a bus stop to the airport, a container kiosk, and a few benches. On the far end, there is nothing. The eastern edge is lined with a metal fence, and Shed 10 and the Cloud are reserved for events.

Local authorities said they had been listening to Aucklanders' desire to get down there.

"It's a high-profile open space, and we're working out how to bring that area to life," said Waterfront Auckland spokesman Luke Henshall.

Last week's "public" Olympic medal ceremony for Valerie Adams epitomised how the Cloud, on its own, cannot be a public space. Just 2500 ticket-holders were invited to what was called a national celebration.

Waterfront Auckland's general manager of development, Rod Marler, said the bar had been raised since the large crowds of the World Cup.

"Without doubt, since the Rugby World Cup the waterfront is the go-to place. Not only for Aucklanders but also visitors," Mr Marler said. "The challenge for us is to keep it going. There's a high level of expectation."

But visits to the waterfront had already been growing, he said, and recent announcements that Shed 10 would be developed by April into a cruise ship terminal and events space had generated excitement.

Next to Queens Wharf, Captain Cook Wharf is currently used as industrial storage for importing of cars.

It is the next space that should be made available for the public, and the ports are willing.

But they would need to replace the existing facilities on the wharves first, a spokesman said.

That could involve a modest extension to Bledisloe Wharf to replace lost berth space and possibly a low-rise car park building, all subject to consent.

The ports have, in the past, already released about 70ha of space to the public, and designing the areas well is just as important as sheer scale.

Earlier this year, a public outcry against the ports expanding into the harbour led to a review of the waterfront's long-term future.

Consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers are looking at how port needs could be met in the upper North Island, with the possibility of realigning Ports of Auckland operations in the long run.

The review opens up imaginings of the entire waterfront from Mechanics Bay to Westhaven, a huge area. It is comparable to, if not bigger than, international and local examples of successful waterfronts which many readers pointed to.

Sydney, Melbourne, San Francisco, Wellington, Singapore and others have attractions ranging from markets, artists' studios and gardens to amusement parks, convention centres and stadiums - which are balanced against industrial operations continuing around the cities.

Ports spokesman Matt Ball cautioned against opening up too much land at once.

"A city of 1.4 million has a realistic sustainable uptake of new land," he said.

Previous estimates had suggested Auckland's CBD could take 1.5ha of new space every year, Mr Ball said.

Wynyard Quarter still had 20ha to be redeveloped, which would take about 20 years. And there was another 3ha at Queens Wharf, a further 3ha when Captain Cook and the breastwork between the wharves were sold, and several more hectares still to go in the Britomart Quarter.

But Mr McKeown of Heart of the City said what was important was to be planning for the long term, to avoid making piecemeal decisions.

"The problem with taking an incremental decade-by-decade approach is you run the risk of ending up with a waterfront and city centre that is simply uninspiring."

Looking back on the waterfront in 50 years' time, it was unlikely that a huge industrial port would be part of the picture, Mr McKeown said.

Taking the long view would avoid another missed opportunity in Auckland, he said.

For one reader, Cordelia Lockett, it was time to be bold.

"The opened-up spaces on the waterfront present a huge opportunity for New Zealand to do something forward-thinking and courageous."

The end of cheap energy sources was the big issue we faced, and the waterfront could be used for power stations and research centres, she said.

Some still pushed for a waterfront stadium, an idea raised for the Rugby World Cup that faltered.

Many others took a wide view of the possibilities.

"Wouldn't it be great to have a waterfront stretching from the ports to the Wynyard Quarter catering specifically to tourists and Aucklanders?

"It would be wonderful to see a permanent tram between these two points - maybe even a monorail - with cycling and walking tracks, and the whole area filled with restaurants, bars, museums, the Cloud, art galleries, a cultural centre, cruise ship terminals, parks and public areas." said Aroha Whippy.

"I love Auckland, but it could easily be so much better."


Vancouver

Vancouver's Granville Island, originally a sandbar that was turned into an industrial zone of factories and sawmills, now features a waterpark, market, brewery, artisan studios, performance spaces and restaurants. On a relatively small 15ha (5.5 times the size of Queens Wharf), the island has created one of the world's most admired public spaces. The food market buzzes with visitors and locals picking out gourmet treats. Granville Island has become Canada's second-most-popular tourist attraction - trailing only the Niagara Falls.


The campaign

This week, we examine the key issues in a campaign to break open Auckland's waterfront. This means:

1 opening up what's already there for everyone's use - particularly Queens Wharf, which is still far from reaching its potential;

2 looking ahead to more wharves being opened, notably Captain Cook Wharf; and

3 planning the entire waterfront - importantly, including ports land - as urban space, whether or not the working port is retained or developed.

Today: What readers want on the waterfront

Tomorrow: Auckland Architecture Association sketches the all-time good ideas

Wednesday: Tourism on the waterfront

Thursday: The working port and its vision for Auckland

Friday: Where our city leaders stand

- NZ Herald

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