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Agencies need to learn to share

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cities

Last spring, I attended two significant events in the building of Auckland City. The first was the Newmarket Viaduct open day, and the turnout was impressive—I was reminded of archive images of Aucklanders walking over the new Harbour Bridge in 1959. Could they have envisaged what that connection would mean for their city?

At that time, the North Shore was still largely rural. The bridge paved the way for Auckland’s expansion, and provided the rationale to re-route State Highway 1, taking the motorway through the central city and severing it from its fringe suburbs. Today, the validity of this decision is moot, but the example highlights the impacts of infrastructure design on the form and development of cities.

We’re entering a new era of infrastructural development for the country, and Auckland in particular. With the city tipped to reach two million inhabitants by 2050, systems put in place now will shape that growth. While progress is exciting, I’m wary that projects with such long-term effects are conducted from a singular point of view. To date, development and management of infrastructure in New Zealand has been characterised by a lack of co-ordination between agencies.

I’m not the only one to be exasperated at seeing newly-sealed footpaths torn up for maintenance to underground services. At the macro level, silo thinking has more serious consequences, because of the potential for big projects to disrupt complex, established systems. Inter-relationships between infrastructure, environment, economy, social wellbeing and land-use patterns are intricately balanced and require far greater co-operation between agencies in order to maximise their potential.

This is evident at the Victoria Park tunnel project, which will replace the State Highway 1 viaduct over Victoria Park, and required the relocation of the historic Rob Roy hotel. One sunny September morning, I watched the crew roll the old pub 40 metres up the road. It’s quite an exercise moving a two-storey brick building … and one that is to be repeated shortly when the hotel is moved back to its original site. This was not part of the original programme, but the result of a campaign led by landscape architect Richard Reid.

This protest questioned the location of the tunnel entrance and provided the impetus to create a plan for the space at the junction of Victoria Street and Franklin Rd—a major through-point for pedestrians and a gateway to the Victoria Park precinct.

How could a project of this scale, located in such a busy part of the city, be approved without an understanding of the context or the integration of the tunnel entrance? Perhaps NZTA considered it the responsibility of the council?

Back in Newmarket, there are indications of change. Urban design assessments for both Auckland City and NZTA highlighted the need to develop land under the viaduct. Owned by Transit, the land is leased out short term, which guarantees ready access to the bridge but effectively neuters its development potential. As a result, Newmarket, one of the most expensive real estate locations in the country, has vacant lots and carparks under and around the existing viaduct.

Auckland City and NZTA have acknowledged the benefits of working together closely—but the development process for the viaduct has remained very linear, and we have yet to see evidence of an integrated design approach.

Infrastructural projects should be seen as opportunities, not just for the services they provide, but for their potential as sophisticated interventions that contribute to the city on multiple levels. They need a different approach, specifically inter-agency collaboration and the use of a fundamental urban design process. The question is, will we see this approach employed in the current wave of development?