Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Councillors' parking small sacrifice for opening up a city jewel

Photo / APN
Photo / APN

The latest push to link inner-city Myers Park with Aotea Square by liberating the carpark in between places councillors in an awkward situation.

The ugly stretch of asphalt they're being asked to dig up and replace with greenery is the councillors' own free parking zone. Anyone for a complimentary public transport Hop card to ease the pain?

It's not the first time the idea has been floated, but with the completion of the adjacent Q Theatre looming, and the redevelopment of Aotea Square all but done, now seems the perfect time to pull this venerable, well-established, 2.4ha park through the Mayoral Drive underpass and into the CBD for everyone to enjoy.

The wonderful thing about the idea is that as long as the landscapers and designers are kept on a tight leash, which I appreciate is a big ask, this doesn't have to be a expensive exercise.

With the resources of the old regional council parks experts now on tap, it shouldn't be so difficult to move the odd surplus tree from our Waitakere or Hunua bottom gardens into the city's front yard for nothing more than the cost of a book entry.

The underpass below Mayoral Drive is mainly car-parking at present, but landscaped with ferns and adequately lit it would make an inviting entry into the underused park beyond. For city workers seeking a leafy retreat for lunch, the underpass gives level entry into the park from the square. This is possible now, but only by weaving through the council carpark, and along a narrow, dank path edged with uninviting link fencing. The other option is down steep, heavily shaded wooden steps off Mayoral Drive, or down the path halfway up the Queen St hill next to the White Lady brothel - which is marked by a faded sign and a warning notice: "Traps set for possums."

Council contractors are now repaving the crumbling pathways, and already it's looking more user-friendly than it did during my last wander through in the summer. Though why unfriendly black asphalt, instead of the more cheery red scoria original? The good news is, with a little titivation such as this Myers Park could become the wonderful asset Sir Arthur Myers dreamed of when he gave the valley to the city in 1913.

Sir Arthur, a former mayor of Auckland, successful businessman and MP, was a pioneer in the town planning movement and saw the park project as both slum clearance and civic beautification. C.J. Parr, fellow town planning crusader and mayor in 1915 when the park opened, described the area as "a veritable eyesore" which for many years had become "an unhealthy and noisome neighbourhood, filled with ancient and slumlike buildings".

Sir Arthur bought the land from 25 different owners, removed the buildings and, said Mayor Parr at the opening, "converted [it] into a park for the people of Auckland for all time".

Sir Arthur and his wife, Vera, also paid for the Myers Kindergarten building and the adjacent children's playground, both still going strong nearly a century on. So are the exotic palms and other planting, which appear to have survived unchanged over the years.

Acknowledging its uniqueness, the Historic Places Trust has listed the park and some adjacent buildings as Myers Park Historic Area. Originally the gully was the source of the notorious Horotiu Stream, which by the time it flowed down Queen St, was an open sewer.

The Waitemata Local Board has budgeted $50,000 for an assessment and signalled the priority will be to upgrade the playground and the fountain. It's also asking Auckland Transport, which runs the carpark, to consider transferring that to Auckland Parks so it can be removed.

All of which makes one fear the number of cooks getting involved in what should be a very simple task.

In 1913, I'm not sure whether early or late in the year, Mayor Parr formulated the park project and persuaded his predecessor to pay for it. Sir Arthur then went off and negotiated with 25 separate landowners, arranged to have all the tenants and properties shifted, and the wasteland landscaped and planted. In January 1915, it was officially opened.

From idea to completion in less than two years. All our present politicians have to do is dig up a carpark, lay a path and plant some greenery. What do you reckon. Six months? Two years? Ten?

- NZ Herald

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Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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