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Ludo Campbell-Reid: Auckland urban design champion

Ludo Campbell-Reid has helped revitalise London, Paris, Barcelona and Cape Town. What can he do with the empty soul of Auckland?

'The city doctor' layout

Idealog September/October 2006, page 24. Photograph by Simon Young

Last year Auckland Mayor Dick Hubbard recommended the city appoint an urban design manager to “champion better quality, design-led development of the city”. That champion is now here. His name is Ludo Campbell-Reid and his CV contains a list of formerly blighted urban areas that are now flourishing, stretching from the boroughs of London to Paris, Barcelona and Cape Town. He’s worked with diverse talents like architect Richard Rogers and London Mayor Ken Livingstone, advised on Olympic bids and designed urban renewal policies and projects. What will he bring to Auckland?

You’ve picked a tough gig. Auckland especially has seen a lot of cheap, ugly development, but we tend to see urban design as an intrusion.

At the cutting edge of urban design, it’s about insertion—it’s new things into existing fabric. It’s appropriate placement of a building, street, public space, a new block or new housing scheme into existing situations. It’s about historical context; it’s about where people want to walk. You don’t put the public space where no-one wants to go.

And it’s also about the big picture. For instance, the skyline from different vantage points—that’s slightly subjective, but urban designers look at the impact of the wind on a tall building and what it does on the ground. It often trawls through the air downwards, so what are you doing to make the ground plane more human? What’s the design there?

Urban design is thousands of years old, but only since the early 80s I think have people started to practise it. It started in the States with urbanism and the urban movement, and then moved into London with the urban renaissance, the idea that the cities of England had fallen away through the collapse of the manufacturing industries in cities like Manchester that used to pride themselves on the huge amounts of wealth that they brought to that city, and when the industry went, it died. The heart died.

And urban design has been the catalyst for lots of cities to start reinventing themselves. Look at Barcelona in the late 80s and the movement to dignify the centre of Barcelona, to green the city. It was all done through public space.

It’s dramatically obvious in Barcelona. It seems the Olympic bid changed Barcelona incredibly.

It’s happening here. You’ve got the World Rowing Championships in 2010 and the Rugby World Cup in 2011. We’ll be having a big party in 2010 and 2011, and we’ve got to get our house in order. Kiwis are so proud and the pride and effort they put into their homes now needs to come out of the houses and it needs to be the public space.

In Barcelona in the 80s they achieved public works that would normally take 50 years to do. They had six years, so they got on with it. We have this opportunity with the Rugby World Cup. We can say this is going to happen in five years, it’s on August 15, people are arriving whether you like it or not. When the visitors arrive we want them to say, hey this is a great place.

We’ve built almost ghettos in the city. How do you motivate developers and the people who live in those places?

Good design is good business. People in a well-designed workplace tend to perform better. There’s less truancy at schools that are designed properly. Hospitals that are well-designed help patients recover more quickly. Now that’s pretty powerful stuff.

Developers are looking to maximise their return, of course—that’s why they’re in the game. It’s about understanding their imperatives, their commercial needs, working within them and with them to say, how can we make you more money but make a better product? A partnership where the public, council and the private sector don’t see themselves as combatants. If we set the parameters together we end up with a better product, they’ll get resource consents quicker and they’ll get more attention for those products.

How do you know when you’ve made a difference?

Land values going up, less crime, a perception that the city is less noisy, perhaps more environmentally friendly because we’re giving the streets back to people. It’s about the retail sector being happier. Not complaining about the Council not doing X, Y and Z. People having a degree of more pride in their streets, in their places. There’s a whole range of stuff like when we start seeing families come back to the city centre, as they have in London.