To Eke Panuku general manager of design and place Gyles Bendall, a key measure of success is how people talk about their local centre and whether they prefer to stay there.
"The way they describe it is important. If people love their place, they show that in the way they talk, that's what success looks like," says Bendall. "It is also a success if they stay in those locations. If multiple generations of people stay in the location over time, that is because they have a true connection to the place".
Panuku has produced a guidance document, Thriving Town Centres, which pulls together lessons learnt over the last decade of Auckland town centre urban regeneration.
It brings together all the ways the urban development agency works to create strong, vibrant neighbourhoods across Tāmaki Makaurau-Auckland. There are experiences and lessons; a list of six principles for building successful town centres and a toolbox to help anyone outside the organisation gain insight into Panuku's approach.
There's also a framework to monitor success. Says Bendall: "We can monitor all the factors and the criteria that we have. We can watch if they change: if they go up or down.
It's continuous. We will need to adapt over time. And we're going to keep on adapting."
One element of this is Take Mauri Take Hono which uses both mātauranga Māori and western science to measure and monitor the impact of Eke Panuku's projects on people, place and nature.
"As we've progressed over the last seven years, we've been building our knowledge, we've been learning more about our locations and understanding the communities better," Bendall says. "Our team has built significant expertise. It takes a holistic approach to thinking.
"We've done local research and international research. We looked at ideas that have worked elsewhere and those that didn't work. Our teams have talked to the communities and stakeholders as well as the partners we work with.
"All of this work has been growing over that time and we've reached a point where we need to gather all that information and put it down on paper in a single document."
Urban regeneration projects
Panuku is working on urban regeneration projects at 13 town centres across the city. They are at different stages of development and range in size and scope from smaller local centres like Avondale and Papatoetoe to metro centres like Manukau and Takapuna.
There are also inner-city neighbourhoods around the waterfront at Wynyard, Auckland city centre and the area around Maungawhau and Karangahape.
"There are common factors that we have through all our conversations and research: integrated transport, communities, thriving natural environment, urban living and local economy," explains Bendall. "But we're conscious that every location is different, so we don't apply all these things in the same way at each location. What we can do at each location is quite variable and there are the aspirations of the local communities; they might want different things. So, it's a guidance document to make sure we lean into those conversations and test things, ask the right questions and challenge ourselves."
The scale varies considerably. Northcote on the North Shore has a significant scale and Panuku is working in partnership with Kāinga Ora there to build a substantial number of new homes. In nearby Takapuna, there are only a couple of sites, although they are strategic.
Bendall calls this the "acupuncture approach". That is, it targets a small area but will have a wider effect.
All these areas have significant local communities that will still be there after the work is done. "That's even true of the waterfront development which was one of our early regeneration locations," says Bendall. "People say there wasn't a community there. There might not have been a residential community, but there were businesses and people who would regularly use the area. Communities do change, but every location has its own significant community and a unique identity.
"There's a lot of work with building that cultural element. There's also the question of dealing with the way Auckland developed. In many places we have lost our connection with the natural environment. It can be streams that have been lost or remnants of forests that are still around.
"I'm trying to build that all back into our town centres."
Several factors determine which areas are chosen for Panuku's urban regeneration projects, yet one basic element is that Auckland Council owns property in those locations.
"That means we can do something about it. We look for other factors: is the market attractive; are there areas of need; can we see elements that will attract private investment?"
These are places where council wants to attract growth. They might have strong transport networks, good servicing and community facilities and all the core infrastructure.
Bendall says all the ingredients may be there, but something may be missing. Other places might be ready for take-off but need a little extra push. "Because we have land holdings, we have the ability to attract investment, unlock funding and release those properties. It means we can put the money that comes from that back into those locations, so we might, say build a cycleway or a town square."
While breathing life back into town centres brings enormous benefits for Aucklanders, the projects have bigger, strategic importance.
Auckland's population is projected to grow fast in the coming years. Council wants two-thirds of any city expansion to take place within existing urban boundaries.
Says Bendall: "We can't go on spreading out further and further, so thriving town centres are vital to housing, we've got the services, we have public transport and we don't have to build more infrastructure. These elements are already there."
It won't be hard to see if Eke Panuku is successful in its project to revitalise Auckland's town centres. We all know what thriving centres look like: They are interesting, bustling places full of people taking part in a wide range of activities. They act as magnets drawing us in. When we get there, we find prospering businesses and see people flourishing.
There are formal ways to measure success, such as counting the number of people who move into the neighbourhood, how often they visit the town centre, how long and how much money they spend there. Numbers are vital, but there is also a softer side.
Five years ago, Avondale town centre in West Auckland was in clear need of revitalising.
Avondale is a growing community, currently half an hour by train from Britomart. When the City Rail Link is completed, the journey to central Auckland will be faster and more reliable. The New Lynn to Avondale Shared Path runs alongside the railway and connects to the Northwestern Cycleway which in turn links to the central city.
These improved transport links make Avondale a prime location. Better transport links, enlivening the town centre, creating high-quality residential neighbourhoods and helping local businesses grow are centre-stage for urban regeneration agency Eke Panuku.
Auckland Council and the Crown-owned much of the land in and around the town centre including suitable housing development sites. Eke Panuku has worked with Kāinga Ora and private developers to build residential apartments.
Eventually, there will be 1500 new high-quality homes in the town centre. The higher density and better use of land, along with energy-efficient designs mean the homes can be built with a low carbon footprint. Being near transport options will reduce car use and emissions. Panuku and its partners aim to provide a wide mix of home types: apartments, townhouses and built-to-rent homes.
Eke Panuku and Auckland Council's Community Facilities plan to build a new multimillion-dollar Avondale Library, a community hub and an upgraded town square.
These are being designed so they are suitable for a wide range of community events.
There are play areas for children and facilities to help with event catering. Eke Panuku is working on this upgrade with Auckland Council and in partnership with mana whenua.
At the time of writing, there is work on improving access to the railway station and making the street safe near Avondale Primary School.
Councillor Chris Darby summed up Eke Panuku's plan for Anzac St car park, Takapuna: "What was a soulless, windy car park is about to become a hugely desirable place to visit."
The $400 million Takapuna Central development will include homes, office space, retail and hospitality. It is located next to a small park with play equipment and Takapuna's public transport. The beach is only minutes away.
The development is being built in partnership with Willis Bond. Construction of the first stage, Takapuna Central Apartments, is due to start later next year and will include 115 new homes. There will be one, two and three-bedroom apartments as well as penthouses.
By the time work starts, the new town square will be completed. Waiwharariki Anzac Square will be surrounded by a mix of shops, businesses and homes. It will feature filters to treat stormwater run-off, sustainable timber and low-carbon concrete. Waiwharariki is the mana whenua name for the area we know today as Takapuna. Panuku planned the square to host events and activities. Takapuna's weekly market will move into the space.
Kate Cumberpatch, Eke Panuku priority location director — North, says the focus is on unlocking the area's potential and encouraging more people to visit and support its long-term economic well-being.
"Takapuna's growth is constrained by the limited amount of land available, so to help support its recovery and bring new residents into the neighbourhood, we need to develop opportunities for good housing and spaces that don't rely heavily on cars. Enabling quality, sustainable homes right in the town centre, allows more people to live close to everything they need, which in turn encourages more shops and businesses," she says.
"Construction works are progressing nicely. We are taking a staged approach so we can open the Hurstmere Rd edge of the square by the end of the year and people can enjoy the new space over summer. In the meantime, the Sunday Market will continue to operate in a temporary space in the car park near Anzac St."
• Panuku is a sponsor of the Herald's Project Auckland report.