Why is it that Auckland, with 1.4 million people doesn’t have a plaza or square where people gather as a community?
Aotea Square is the incumbent but inadequate place-holder of the role however it’s sparse and impersonal size lends it’s use more to large-scale events rather than everyday socialising.
WYNYARD QUARTER IS INADEQUATE
The Auckland Council hoped that in developing the triple-named North wharf/Wynyard quarter/Silo Tank farm area as a place to dine and drink that they could create an instant community. Perhaps the addition of some trees along the edge of the wharf would help to block the harsh winds that blow into the meals of restaurant diners. The truth is that Wynyard Quarter is too far of a walk to function as a central community hub for Auckland.
BRITOMART IS TOO CRAMPED
Auckland also attempted to create a pedestrian area with the Britomart development. However economics took precedent over the value of recreating and now what could have been a popular urban park with cafes and areas for leisure has become full of places to shop. Yet buying products unfortunately doesn’t quench the desire for connection as much as recreating in a public square.
If it is possible for a populace to self-regulate it’s tendency to crime through the use of CCTV then it is also possible to regulate civil disorder through restricting people’s ability to gather publicly. Public squares are the perfect venue for people to gather and voice their concerns. Currently Auckland lacks a community square that would serve this function. This effect was seen in the creation of the University of California’s Santa Cruz (UCSC) campus. After anti-war protests got out of hand in the University of Berkley, the UCSC was built over a large area of forest without a centralised square for students to gather in. If this was effective for Reagan’s government to control the student protests perhaps the same idea is reflected in Auckland’s town planning. To divide a people makes them weak and easy to control.
PEOPLE ARE HAPPIER IN HEALTHY COMMUNITES
Public squares provide a forum for public life. In the Netherlands and Brussels the term ‘markt’ was used for the public square because they were used as market places. If downtown Auckland functioned as a permanent market it would hold much more appeal tourists looking for the heart of the city.
Without shops to delineate people a town square acts to enmesh a populace through novel interactions. If cities are hotbeds of creativity because of the richness and diversity of interaction that takes place, then perhaps this type of thing should be encouraged. Especially if Len Brown wants to make Auckland the world’s most liveable city and we continue to see the creative and entrepreneurial among us fall victim to the brain-drain.
LETS TILE LOWER QUEEN ST AND RESTRICT THE CARS
What Auckland really needs is for the bottom part of Queen st to be closed to cars. This could be initialised with the flat area that extends from Customs st to Vulcan lane being tiled and pedestrianised. This would then encourage cafes, markets and buskers to start business in the area in turn attracting a wide cross section of the community seeking to recreate and socialise. Much like Cuba st in Wellington this area should only be open to alternative forms of transport such as Bicycles. Eventually this area should extend down though what is now the Britomart bus station becoming a green area to use as picnic space for the CBD office workers. Another option would be to follow South Korea’s example of turning the downtown Seoul back into a river with the Cheonggyecheon Restoration Project. Imagine converting Queen st back into the Waihorutiu Stream surrounded by tiled pedestrian plazas. Instead we have slow-moving traffic that is pollutive and takes up valuable space that could be used to make this city more people-friendly.
As a Rickshaw operator I meet a lot of tourists. The complaint that I often receive from them is ‘Why is Auckland so boring?’ It is true that Auckland is not renowned for it’s fierce creativity or exciting nightlife. Our city’s currently slogan is ‘Auckland: the show never stops” but I feel that it is moreover ‘the show hasn’t started’. Perhaps this is partially the fault of not having a centralised area where people can meet to be people. Not to shop or drive or sight-see. Just to be somewhere, with others, as people.
Riding through the streets of Auckland I see a lot of incredible, weird and broken things at the small end of the night. A lot of folk having the ride of their life: A lot of people devolving. These are my reflections.