Martin Snedden: City rulers can make or break waterfront

Queens Wharf, Auckland. Photo / Richard Robinson
Queens Wharf, Auckland. Photo / Richard Robinson

When Auckland came alive for Rugby World Cup, the city and its people revelled in the heart and soul they were showing to the world. And, at the centre of all this, Auckland's waterfront was a genuine star attraction.

Remember the fun we all had? After decades of prime space being hidden behind the ugly red fence, wasn't it delightful to have the freedom to explore and enjoy Queens Wharf?

This wharf, with its Cloud and Shed 10, and its open-air entertainment areas, shone.

So, too, did the Wynyard Quarter, the refurbished Britomart quadrant and a vibrant Viaduct Basin.

Aucklanders and visitors alike, hundreds of thousands of us, flocked down to the city waterfront to soak up the brilliant RWC buzz and to be part of the action. Aucklanders were rightly proud of their sparkling beauty.

Maybe, just maybe, Auckland was starting to become world-class.

But development of the waterfront is not even half-finished yet, and pressure is (and should be) growing on the city's leaders to ensure that future development embellishes rather than undermines this "jewel in Auckland's crown".

If Auckland is genuinely serious about preserving this asset, and using it as a catalyst for its world-class aspirations, can its leaders seriously risk allowing the proposed encroachment of its commercial port into the inner harbour?

Is that what Aucklanders really want - more huge container ships, a narrowed inner-harbour entranceway, and more inner city traffic chaos caused by the unrelenting stream of heavy vehicles needed to service and be served by an enlarged commercial port?

Nor should the city's leaders be complacent about the next stage of the Wynyard Quarter development.

The first phase is settling well but this project's long-term success depends on what happens next.

Get the recreational/commercial/residential mix right and the area will hum. Get it wrong and it will die a slow and very visible death.

People who live and work in inner-city communities want a healthy vibrancy in their environs, something they can connect and add to.

That's why people tend to choose busy, rather than quiet, restaurants and bars.

Vibrancy begets further vibrancy. There is a snowball effect.

And people who visit cities want the same.

If Auckland wants to significantly increase its visitor numbers and stay nights, and therefore the economic and social benefits of tourism, its inner-city waterfront needs to be recognised worldwide as a must-see destination, a destination with character, with heart and with buzz.

If Auckland is to develop a character and a heart that is widely recognised and appreciated, if it is to become world-class, one non-negotiable component of this development is that it must make the very best use of its best natural asset.

Within the city's plan for the wider development of Auckland, there must be a vision for the development of the waterfront, a vision which its people understand, embrace and want to tell others about.

Look at other places around the world that have faced these challenges and have succeeded. Likewise look carefully at and learn from others that have failed.

All of this adds up to the fact that, right here right now, Auckland has a wonderful waterfront opportunity, one that will be realised only through inspiration and insightful decision-making by its city leaders.

Martin Snedden was Rugby World Cup 2011 chief executive and is now head of the Tourism Industry Association.

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