Key Points:

The prognosis was bleak when Tom Nielsen arrived on Sunday to begin an investigation into the quality of pedestrian life in central Auckland.

He was stunned to find roads the size of motorways. It was hard to see where pedestrians fitted, and harder to find the entrance to Myers Park.

It was not the "Auckland, City of Sails" he had read about in the travel books. It was "Auckland, City of Cars".

Mr Nielsen is an urban quality consultant with the Danish firm Gehl Architects, which specialises in transforming car-dominated cities to pedestrian-oriented ones.

He and a colleague, Sia Kirknaes, are in Auckland this week beginning an investigation that will help Auckland City Council make the downtown area a more human area where the needs of people and pedestrians come first.

"My first impression was Auckland City is full of cars," Mr Nielsen yesterday told more than 200 council staff, architects and urban designers in an address titled "Winning back public spaces".

Mr Nielsen said he would have to go back to Houston, Texas, in the 1990s to find a first-world city with so much space given to cars.

But he has also found encouraging signs, such as the Viaduct Harbour and Vulcan Lane, and believes Auckland has enormous potential - a harbour location, for starters.

The investigation will look at the possibility of creating carfree zones.

It was Jan Gehl, the founder of Gehl Architects, who was largely responsible for creating Copenhagen's first pedestrian street in 1962 and the gradual expansion of replacing cars with pedestrians and bicycles.

Copenhagen, with more than 340km of bicycle lanes, has a goal of becoming the number one bicycle city in the world.

Nielsen, a cyclist himself, says the growth has led to congestion in bicycle lanes.

Another city Gehl Architects has worked in over the past 20 years is Melbourne.

Last month, the New York-based Ethisphere Institute, which encourages ethics in business, ranked Melbourne sixth on the top 10 list of the most sustainable cities in the world.

It praised Melbourne for plans to cut the number of cars, impose a 30km/h speed limit, have only 10 per cent of workers commute to the city, build bike paths, increase public transport, build more affordable housing and other measures.

Nielsen says Melbourne chose a path of transformation. To give an example of where Melbourne had come in 20 years, he displayed a road grid with three or four red spots marking the location of cafes back then. The same grid today was a sea of red.

"If you want to change your city it is possible. Melbourne has shown it."

How an urban consultant sees Auckland:
Likes: Viaduct Harbour, Vulcan Lane.
Dislikes: Too many cars.