What will downtown Auckland be like in 30 years? Here's what Simon Wilson dreamed up.
Five things that should have happened
• The name of the city is Tāmaki Makaurau and the name of the country is Aotearoa.
• Several million people live in the new city. They've come from all over the world and helped to build one of the world's most vigorous, climate-friendly economies – and enjoy the barbecue lifestyle, too. Clean-burning fuels, of course.
• It took 20 years of very hard work, but everyone who wants to now lives in a warm, dry and safe home. It's turned out to be a foundation social policy with immense benefits: in healthcare, education, ability to work, crime, social cohesion.
• The old idea of young families living here and retired people living over there has fallen deeply out of favour. In communities, different age groups are far more integrated, with a widespread "grandparent culture" in which everyone helps look after each other.
• Technology has probably changed everything, but right now it's hard to know how.
Listen to Simon Wilson explain the Ports of Auckland controversy on the Front Page podcast
• Ports of Auckland fights back: Study estimates $626m import cost rise, more carbon emissions
• Premium - Port in a Storm, part 2: Why move the Auckland port?
• Premium - Move the Auckland port? Why the numbers aren't everything
• Premium - Port in a storm, part 5: Crunching the numbers to shift the Auckland port
WELCOME TO TĀMAKI MAKAURAU, 2050
And then, here's the city we might have made ...
The old port
The containers and cars were all gone by 2030. Now we have beaches, pontoons on the water, and an amphitheatre where barges draw up with bands to play concerts. There's a protected seawater pool, a headland for jumping and diving off. The water is very good for swimming.
Lots of parkland, trails for walking and riding bikes, and cafes and picnic areas throughout. City workers and residents alike flock to the downtown waterfront in the evenings, weekends, lunchtimes.
The buildings are medium density, a mix of residential, commercial, educational and more. There are markets, pop-up stalls and a "new thinking" promenade where people with inventions and new ideas can engage and display their wares. In the context of Aotearoa's international reputation for exciting new ways to make things work, it's always popular.
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A big cultural centre introduces visitors and locals alike to the history of mana whenua, and the city, and the land beneath it.
There's a busy world under the water, too: restaurants and viewing platforms connected by travelators, and in 2044 the first Under the Mountain undersea volcanic adventure ride opened, inspired by the novel by Maurice Gee.
Cruise ships flock to Auckland, four or five at a time all summer long. They're powered by electricity as is the way with most ships now, and they berth to the east, near Mechanics Bay, and at Devonport, at the old, long-ago-repurposed Navy base.
Queens Wharf and Quay St
Queens Wharf is busy with ferries lined up along both sides, some big, some not much bigger than water taxis, all of them electric, connecting all the waterfront suburbs of the city.
Quay St is largely a pedestrian promenade, with a long stepped terrace along its edge, leading down to the water. The pohutukawa, planted all the way along in the winter of 2020, are mature now.
The Ferry Building is still there, preserved and much loved: it's nearly 140 years old. The area all around, reaching up into Queen St, was fully pedestrianised in 2021 and has been redesigned twice. A furious debate is raging about what kind of public art should be installed. The backlash against wild animal holograms is well under way.
The Crater got built, eventually. That sunken stadium idea from 2019 turned out to have a clever way of bracing itself against every storm, and the thrill of being inside, with the game locked up and lightning in the sky, has become one of the city's great experiences.
Climate change batters Aotearoa as it batters everywhere, but the country is luckier than most. Droughts, storms, floods and plagues of disease-carrying insects aside, the rising sea levels are not especially dangerous to the downtown city. Storm surges are dissipated by the islands of the Hauraki, and the seawalls built in the 2030s are doing their job.
Since 2025, Queen St, like many streets around town, has a central two-lane avenue for personal vehicles: bikes, little driverless pod vehicles, scooters with big wheels that don't maim their riders. Hovercraft and flying machines are banned in the central city.
To either side, people walk, hang out, shop, tell the world what they think about things. As the world threatens to unravel, making street-corner speeches has become quite popular. Busking is popular too. The fad these days, with all the techie possibilities, is transubstantiation: guitar players who turn themselves into polar bears, that sort of thing.
Better known colloquially as the Centre of the World, the square has become the place that celebrates the great mix of cultures and ethnicities of the people of the city.
Elevated transit lines
In the 2020s as more rapid transit started to come on stream, the authorities found they just couldn't keep up. Every new elevated rail line filled with passengers as soon as it opened. There were terrible struggles as citizens from outer suburbs demanded to be kept in the loop, so to speak, but by 2040 the problem had largely been solved. Transit was everywhere.
The pioneer line ran east/west over Wellesley St. Out to Newmarket, Ellerslie and all the way to the airport in one direction; over the bridge to open the north in the other. The elevated waterfront line was highly controversial: running above Quay St and following Tamaki Drive all the way to St Heliers, there were great fears it would blight the waterfront. But it has a slightly loopy track, so it's fun to be on, and besides, so many people want to visit the eastern beaches there's no other way they can get there. The gridlocked traffic on Tamaki Drive in the summer of 2020 helped people see sense.
Aotea station, underground in the middle of town, was the busiest station in the country from the day it opened, on time in 2024.
Another decade, another two lanes changed: that's how it's been on the bridge since 2025. Now there are just two lanes for cars, with four for transit, one for micro-vehicles and one for pedestrians and tourist stalls.
The bridge may be rebuilt but we may not need another crossing as well.
The first tower block taller than the Sky Tower was topped off in 2031 and more have followed. The city's design rules don't limit the height of buildings, but they do insist on pedestrian-friendly ground-level design. Big atriums for walking through are popular. The Sky Tower itself followed the trend in 2035 when it relocated all the ground services into the unused basement car parks and opened the building up at street level on all four sides. A bylaw says the gambling cannot be visible to people passing by.
There are gardens on rooftops: market gardens, pleasure gardens, little forests of trees. Greenery grows all over many buildings, playing an important role helping to keep the air clean inside and out.
In 2026 the whole of Victoria St became a park with trees, seats, little performance venues, wide paved areas and long strips of public herb plantings, for the use of inner-city residents.
Vacant lots, when they occur, are quickly converted to pop-up vege gardens, under a bylaw permitting this provided local tenants look after them.
The old "shared space" idea of the 2010s was finally abolished in 2030: now there are pedestrian plazas, separate lanes for personal vehicles, and a few key designated lanes for larger vehicles.
It's no longer legal just to drive around the city. Ride-share vehicles are found at designated zones and delivery vans have been replaced by cargo bikes, pods and other micro vehicles.
Systems have been developed for service workers and their vans to do their work, but there's no parking in most of the streets.
New buildings in the Wynyard Quarter have just grown and grown, but so have the parks and public spaces. By 2040 the precinct was as full as it was allowed to be, with apartment blocks lining the western edge of Wynyard Pt and parkland on the east.
That was the year they started work on Tangata Moana, the Museum of the People of the Sea. Astonishing technology, rich history, vibrant culture and so much adventure, all in one wonderful place.
Grafton Gully became the next Wynyard Quarter in 2036, and is now busy with a mix of commercial and residential mid-rise buildings. A wide, sweeping and very beautiful pedestrian bridge, opened in 2048, stretches across the gully to link the city with the Domain. A dream of the "founding fathers", once severed by the motorway, finally made real again.
Apart from the very magnificent large pieces, the city has art to discover wherever you look. Following a public art programme established in 2028, there is graphic art on individual bricks on walls, in gutters and drains, running around buildings and up and down lampposts. In 2032 someone painted ARD Fairburn's poem that starts "There are ferries at the bottom of our garden" on a road in Devonport and it caught on in suburbs all over the city. In Pt Chev there was a row when someone sprayed all the words to Hera Lindsay Bird's poem about John Keats on the road in day-glo orange.
You'll find planted berms in most suburban streets. It became a thing in 2021 and every few years people get enthusiastic all over again.
With 35,000 children living in the city centre, there are several schools, mostly in tower blocks. The best of them have floors open to the elements, with carved out play areas, big gardens and outdoor learning areas, as well as safe and secure spaces inside.
THE PORT: SHOULD IT STAY OR SHOULD IT GO?
Not many people alive today have ridden the rail line to Northland. These days, it doesn't even take passenger trains. But if you've been driving in the north you may have seen it and maybe you were surprised: why does it wander around so much?
That line meanders its way all over the northern Kaipara, before eventually winding its way back to Whangārei. The reason is that it was a pet project of Gordon Coates, prime minister 1925-1928, who lived at Ruatuna, at the top of the Kaipara Harbour, on the west side of Northland.
Coates made sure the railway was built close to his home, even though it had to find its way through very hilly country, because he wanted to take the train all the way to Wellington and back.
Meanwhile, other interests upgraded the main road north on the east side. Eventually the port was established at Marsden Pt, near the road but nowhere near the railway.
It's a cautionary tale about the intergenerational importance of infrastructure. But what's the lesson?
Some might say Shane Jones is the new Gordon Coates, although Jones doesn't want the railway redeveloped for his own use: it's primarily for freight.
Others might say the lesson from Coates is just the reverse: a decision to keep the port in Auckland would be a victory for all the modern-day Coateses attached to the Auckland port, who can't see past their existing vested interests to identify the greater national good.
This is not a mere proposal to move the Auckland port. At heart, it's a plan to transfer freight haulage to the railways. Seventy per cent, up from 12 per cent now. And in doing that, to achieve great economic and environmental efficiencies and help bring vitality to Northland and the Auckland northwest.
Moving the port, enlarging Northport and building a giant new inland freight hub: they're the consequences of restoring the capacity of rail. None of them makes sense on its own.
The peculiar position of Mayor Phil Goff
Speaking of politicians, what is Auckland Mayor Phil Goff up to? When the proposal was first announced he complained, "You're intending to take this company and give no compensation to the owners of the company which happen to be all of the people to Auckland. I can't think of a time in my lifetime where that's happened."
In fact, with the port gone the value of the land will appear on the council's balance sheet. The working group "conservatively" puts it at $6 billion. If some of that land is leased for development it will generate rates, which will increase council income and allow the council to lower rates or borrow more. Or it could pay down debt.
Whatever else it does, this proposal is a fantastic financial opportunity for Auckland Council. But the mayor wants "compensation"? Does he even understand this proposal?
Why doesn't he take a position? If he accepts the arguments that the port should stay, let him say so. But if he does want it gone, what's the reason for waiting?
We need a decision now because if it's to go, Ports of Auckland has to be told to stop wasting money. Don't dredge 2.5 million tonnes of sludge from the harbour. Don't put up new buildings. Don't spend more on automation.
We need a decision now because, if not now, when? The Government is about to begin a massive new infrastructure spend. Does Goff – does anyone – think there will ever be a better time to shift the port?
This is the Government's decision to make. The mayor could have the decency to decide where he stands.
10 THINGS YOU MAY NOT KNOW
About the Auckland port, New Zealand freight and the plan to shake it all up
1. That wall of containers on port land at the bottom of the Strand: they're empty. Any stack three or more high is just storage.
. The working group talked to 78 companies in the freight business, or affected by it, and more than 90 per cent said they wanted better rail services.
3. The price of goods does not go up, in general, the further they have to travel. Christmas toys cost the same in Ashburton as they do in Auckland. This is because prices are not usually set on a cost-plus basis. So the idea that a longer supply line will increase costs to consumers is debatable, at best.
4. If moving the port and transferring freight haulage to rail succeeds, Auckland probably won't need a new harbour crossing for decades.
5. Short of closing all schools, moving the port would reduce traffic on Auckland roads more than any other single measure.
6. The Port of Tauranga has not been ignored or rejected. The plan says it should expand quickly and take up what capacity it can. But there are geographic constraints. Northport has the bigger potential.
7. The Auckland port employs 500 people. But not for much longer. Most of the container operation will be automated, probably next year.
8. Ports of Auckland and consultancy NZIER say GDP will fall by $1.3 billion if goods have to enter the country at Northport and Tauranga and be rail freighted to Auckland. That's an analysis of transport costs, and is disputed by the working group. Further, it doesn't take account of the opportunity cost of keeping the port at Auckland or of developing the whole of Northland on the back of Northport.
9. A 1000-tonne train with a diesel engine can take the load of 30 large trucks, with only a third of the carbon emissions. Emissions from an electrified train are much less again.
10. How many cars can you get on a train? So many, this many.
PORT IN A STORM: THE SERIES
Moving the port is the biggest infrastructure project Auckland has faced. This week we're examining the proposal in detail, and looking ahead to ask: what does the future hold for the city?
Monday: The Big Idea.
Tuesday: Why move the Auckland port?
Thursday: The North of Plenty : The prospects for Northland
Today: Auckland 2050: Our city in 30 years.