Bob Harvey: Auckland's best warm welcome

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Quay St is the ideal place to do it, but it needs to be turned into something special, not just an ordinary road.

Quay St may be the country's most expensive real estate. Photo / Steven McNicholl
Quay St may be the country's most expensive real estate. Photo / Steven McNicholl

There is nothing like a warm Pacific welcome. It is something Auckland should be very good at, which is why I liked the comparison made by Graeme Lay in the Herald last week between Auckland's waterfront and the harbour-side of Papeete, Tahiti's capital.

It made me think that for all our claims of being the world's largest Pacific city, Auckland could improve the way it provides a warm Pacific welcome. I believe the greatest opportunity to do this lies in Quay St, where hundreds of thousands of people arrive in our city every year.

My Auckland Council colleagues, with the help of Auckland Transport and my people at Waterfront Auckland, have the revitalisation of Quay St and the harbour edge firmly in their sights, realising the street has become much more than a road as interest in waterfront redevelopment has surged.

Quay St forms part of a grand waterfront parade stretching from Mechanics Bay to Beaumont St on the western edge of Wynyard Quarter.

With change comes opportunity, and with changing land uses at the eastern end of the waterfront comes the opportunity to re-think Quay St to serve today's public needs.

Auckland is thinking hard about what it wants on Queen's Wharf, on Captain Cook Wharf and about how Britomart precinct can be better linked with the waterfront.

The great, broad avenue that is Quay St must continue to carry traffic, but that cannot be its only role. It is the key to getting redevelopment in the east of the waterfront right and enabling the waterfront's various components to function effectively and allow efficient and enjoyable movement of pedestrians.

Quay St is possibly the country's most expensive real estate, yet is being used in the main as a commuter highway!

Shed 10, the region's primary cruise-ship terminal now being restored on Queen's Wharf, will open early next year and is designed to provide a warm welcome to hundreds of thousands of cruise passengers a year.

Quay St is not only an international welcome mat, it is the "Heeringa Waka" - the place of arrivals and departures - for hundreds of thousands of Aucklanders every day.

Between the transport hub at Britomart, the ferries, and the buses that arrive from around the country, this place sees four million commuter trips a year. It should be a special place. Not just another road.

This confluence of people and uses highlights the important role Quay St plays for all Aucklanders and indeed New Zealand. Some may feel they have an enshrined privilege to the space but something I have learned is that, when the time comes, listening to a range of people and taking their feedback into account before you create a city space is the key to developing something people can be proud of and want to use.

The way in which we use spaces changes over time, as circumstances change and people's aspirations change.

Twenty years ago, who would have imagined a light industrial area by Westhaven could be transformed into Wynyard Quarter, with superyachts lining the water's edge undergoing maintenance, that luxury apartments would line the rundown Viaduct area and that Aucklanders would be used to seeing America's Cup and Volvo Round the World yachts just a stroll from Queen St?

In the Wynyard Quarter we seem to have struck the balance about right so far, and I know that the mayor and his team are equally determined to get the balance right on Quay St, a place that should be the jewel in Auckland's crown.

My Auckland Council colleague and chief visionary Ludo Campbell-Reid has rightly said the area has not been a great experience for many years and that the key problem is that Quay St is a daunting barrier between downtown Auckland and the waterfront - not such a problem when almost everything on the seaward side was ports land inaccessible to the public behind the red fence, but no longer appropriate for a city which wishes to celebrate its wonderful maritime location on both sides of the road as part of reclaiming the eastern waterfront.

Ludo is also right when he says the revitalisation of the street is the key to making the rest of the waterfront work.

Wider footpaths, better crossings, better native planting, access to touch the water and space on the street for a tram are the sorts of things that people have been calling for.

Although Graeme's suggestion that we take a trip to Tahiti sounds like a great idea to whet the imagination, the council knows Aucklanders are brimming with ideas for their waterfront and together we can't wait to get out there and hear them.

It's not a matter of copying what works in Tahiti, but a matter of making sure, like them, we don't settle for an ordinary road alongside an extraordinary waterfront.

We must come up with something inspirational.


Bob Harvey is chairman of Waterfront Auckland.

- NZ Herald

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