Aucklanders, can you just imagine it? Sand between your toes at a choice of inner-city beaches, the tranquil waters of a beautiful blue lagoon, a stroll along the boardwalk, paddling down a Venetian-like canal, green space galore, trendy new apartments, offices, cafes, bars and restaurants, a Maori cultural centre, new stadium and - wait for it - even a glowing volcano!

Now picture this large-scale, vibrant, multi-use, pedestrian- and environmentally friendly area on prime waterfront real estate, in the heart of the super city, accessible to all, another magical space where Aucklanders can live, work and play.

Oh, and not a hulking great shipping container or line of imported cars in sight!

The bold vision for the city's container port site - courtesy of city architectural firm Archimedia and unveiled earlier this week - has certainly got people talking.

Okay, it's not an official plan - and even if it were it would be decades in the making - but it's a rare and brand-new vision for the port area, one that demonstrates the possibilities of thinking big, and creatively, and throwing caution to the wind. If nothing else, it will kick-start important debate: What do Aucklanders want for the area? What do we need? What could be achieved?

Advertisement

The container port - in its current location - is surely on borrowed time. Significant analysis has been and continues to be undertaken through the independent Port Future Study of 2016, the Auckland Council's current draft City Centre and Waterfront Master Plan, and Ports of Auckland's 30-year-plan for the site. The new coalition Government is likely to establish its promised port study group soon, too.

While the time scale and logistics (where to relocate to, what components to relocate, complicated land ownership issues to name a few) are far from resolved, all the major stakeholders acknowledge relocation is inevitable because of forecast growth - in freight imports and exports, in cruise ships and other tourism, and in Auckland's own population.

Getting everybody on the same page, and working to the same timeframe however, is far from straightforward.

Ports have long been the lifeblood of cities and regional and national economies. But there is increasing friction between those operating a working port - and the variety of essential industries located in close proximity - and the public, who desire waterfront access and beautification.

All around the world - from Sydney and Brisbane, to London and Glasgow, from Barcelona to Helsinki - cities in warm and cold climates alike are succeeding in balancing these competing interests, and creating vibrant, modern shared spaces in formerly dirty and depressing dockland areas.

In New Zealand, windy Wellington's waterfront has been revitalised; Dunedin, in the often chilly south, has a striking multi-purpose vision for part of its waterfront; and here in the City of Sails, as the vibrant Wynyard Quarter continues to take shape, Aucklanders can not only see the possibilities but enjoy the realities on offer as a result of imagination, innovation and collaboration.

It is inevitable aspects of the aspirational will need to give way to the achievable if the city's next harbourside redevelopment is to come to fruition. But we won't create anything of substance - for ourselves or future generations - if we don't dare to dream big to begin with.