If New York can reclaim Broadway for pedestrians, then so can Auckland, says Jan Gehl, the Danish urban planner credited with having more impact on more cities than any other person in the past decade.

It's like the line 'If I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere' in Frank Sinatra's classic song New York, New York, says the 73-year-old.

He has made a career of reclaiming streets for pedestrians and bicycles in the belief that people and public spaces are the lifeblood of a city.

Since setting up Gehl Architects in 2000, the former academic has worked with about 70 cities, including on the transformation of Melbourne and, most recently, the permanent closure of New York's Broadway in February this year.

Three years ago, Gehl Architects began a "public realm health check" which found Auckland was in a beautiful harbour setting but a hostile city where too many concessions to the car had created. In the words of Mr Gehl, it was "a mini Los Angeles".

On the plus side, the latest Gehl report has found more people living in the city centre - 21,600 at the last count - and a university city with 63,000 students contributing to the city's vitality and cultural diversity.

Mr Gehl says Auckland has all the goodies to be a great city and is making some progress. But a major change of mindset is needed to address the balance between how much space is dedicated to cars and how much to pedestrians.

"Having a north-facing waterfront is the ultimate dream of all cities in the Southern Hemisphere - and you have it. But it is poorly utilised and hidden by red fences and used as storage for secondhand cars."

To break the physical and mental barrier between the city and the harbour, he recommends closing either Quay St or Customs St and narrowing the remaining street.

Other suggestions are reducing Queen St from four to two lanes - Auckland City Council has stopped plans for reducing traffic and creating 24-hour bus lanes after objections from retailers - and halving the amount of city asphalt within 10 years.

The Gehl report says one of the challenges is the system of motorways creating a "traffic machine" to and through the city centre.

"The overall pedestrian environment is of poor quality and therefore does not encourage people to walk across the city centre," the report says.

Says Mr Gehl: "This nation needs a vibrant wonderful heart and you have all the makings of a good heart here [in Auckland]. What is needed is some refurbishment. One could really make a fantastic city."

He said Copenhagen had improved every day for the past 40 years "and people have come to love the city".

Jan Gehl's recipe for Auckland
* Halve asphalt in 10 years.

* Reduce Queen St to two lanes.

* Close Quay or Customs St to traffic; narrow the other street.

* Provide space for cyclists.