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Incognito urban design

Incognito urban design

“Cycling in Auckland’s only for the brave now. Only what I call Road Warriors are left.” So lamented a neon-bib wearing member of Cycle Action Auckland Inc as he, sandwich and plonk in hand, waited for the start of ‘Urban Design for a Super City’, part of the cycle club’s AGM. He joined many other avid pushbikers at the event, campaigning to make city cycling a safer, more pleasant and viable travel option for Auckland’s bike-scared commuting masses.

In London and Copenhagen they’re all at it; it’s time Auckland got into gear. And who better to start the battle, than Auckland’s Environmental Strategy & Policy Manager, Ludo Campbell-Reid.

The former public space champion of Cape Town and Canary Wharf, Campbell-Reid slide-showed his way through the greatest hits of his time in the Auckland job. On the back of Jan Gehl’s Auckland Public Life Survey, Ludo’s over-riding message was that despite resistance from other council bodies, always remember where Auckland was and where it’s going, and that street-level changes are being made, just by stealth, little by little.

He quoted Italian architect Renzo Piano when talking of the big Auckland picture: “...a multitude of little elements and great ambition”. Queen Street was singled out as a step in the right direction for pedestrians—after decades of absence, wheelchair users can now venture to Downtown’s department stores thanks to quality pavement options. And the new Aotea Square has added more shared public space to the retail-laden street.

Symonds Street’s new zebra crossings and traffic lights have added decorum to pedestrian travel, as have Newmarket’s new piazza-like walkway. The walkway are taking space from cars and giving it to people and in the process inverting the hierarchy of travelling options from cars, trains, bikes and pedestrians, to pedestrians, bikes, trains and cars.

Moving into the first year of Super City governance, Campbell-Reid shifted his chant to what the cycle-mad crowd wanted to hear. Bogotá laid 344km of bike tracks in 2 years, why couldn’t we do the same, he asked.

Basically, if you want to bring about the paradigm shift that will turn Auckland’s car obsessed transport on its head, don’t tell anyone you’re doing it and keep up the pressure; nag the woman in charge of traffic lights to subtract a second a month off the green light for cars, and month after month you’ll increase the flow and quality of environmentally friendly travel. 

The panel’s reaction to Campbell-Reid’s presentation was mostly empathetic, though local architect James Lunday slammed Auckland as “shit”. He challenged him to expand on what he’s done in the CBD and break the village-mentality strangle-hold that has stunted the city’s progress. Melbourne is in a boring bay, surrounded by swamp, Lunday continued. Auckland has the best geographical landscape of any city in the world, but has relied too long on its bush, beaches and small communities. Let’s get rid of engineering-led leadership, he rallied. Let’s make Auckland the city that gets the calls from others, asking us how to do urban design.