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Wynyard Quarter: Auckland's social heart

Stage one of Wynyard Quarter's redevelopment barely scratches the surface of Waterfront Auckland's extensive vision

San Francisco, Sydney, Stockholm and Nice: these cities boast some of the planet’s best examples of a truly great urban experience on the water. Locally, Wellington ought to take a bow, too. But there’s another waterfront nipping at the heels of the world’s best, and it's only just getting warmed up.

In August 2011 Auckland’s Wynyard Quarter opened to the public, the first stage in what is set to become one of the largest waterfront urban renewal projects ever undertaken in New Zealand. Stage one of the design-led transformation of the reclaimed western waterfront land, affectionately referred to as ‘The Tank Farm’, was six years in the making, the culmination of 35 resource consents, 45 building consents, two district plan changes and a cool $120 million price tag.

Dubbed Auckland waterfront’s ‘cultural and social heart’, the 36-hectare mixed use residential and commercial site features the Gordon Moller-designed Viaduct Events Centre, a new pedestrian bridge linking the eastern side of Viaduct Harbour (Wynyard Crossing), nine new restaurants and bars at North Wharf, a revitalised tree-lined Jellicoe Street and Silo Park, a new inner city park with westward views of Westhaven Marina and the Auckland Harbour.

Silo Park also features the old 35m Golden Bay cement silo as a nod to the area’s industrial heritage, the historical significance of which is a theme running through the entire Auckland Waterfront Plan, part of the larger Auckland Plan.

Former Waitakere City Mayor Bob Harvey is chair of Waterfront Auckland, the Auckland Council-controlled organisation that’s leading the strategic approach to development across Auckland’s waterfront. He says preserving Auckland’s heritage “is everything”.

“I think our historical path should be our legacy to the future,” Harvey says.

Other heritage touchstones include trams that travel on a 1.5km loop. Prior to their redeployment in Wynyard Quarter, they were last seen on Auckland streets in 1956. Elsewhere, shipping containers re-purposed to house toilets, an ATM and a visitors centre pay tribute to the areas historical port-related industry.

It’s been mere months since 50,000 eager visitors attended Wynyard Quarter’s opening weekend, but already Harvey is heralding it as “the hottest space in Auckland” – one to rival the waterfronts of Wellington, Sydney and Melbourne.

Long road to change
Wynyard Quarter’s rejuvenation stemmed from the Western Reclamation vision and concept instigated by Ports of Auckland in 2005, which sought to transform the wider Auckland waterfront into a harbourside community in stages in the space of 25 years.

Waterfront Auckland chief executive John Dalzell, whom Harvey describes as a “fellow wharfie”, says the original plan with Ports of Auckland was very much a commercial proposition – one that over time evolved to become much more publicly-orientated.

When the deadline for the Rugby World Cup was looming in 2007, Auckland Regional Holdings established Sea+City Projects to oversee landholdings in the Wynyard Quarter as part of the Western Reclamation vision.

A dream design team was established, made up of the best talent available in Australia and New Zealand. It included Megan Wraight of Wellington-based architectural firm Wraight & Associates and Perry Lethlean of Melbourne-based landscape architectural firm Taylor Cullity Lethlean and Architectus, which has offices in both Australia and New Zealand. Rounding off the team was New Zealand environmental planning and design consultancy Boffa Miskell, engaged to help prepare a sustainable development framework to guide the development of the waterfront.

Following the amalgamation of Auckland’s local government bodies in 2010, Sea+City became the Auckland Waterfront Development Agency (Waterfront Auckland).

Future-focused
Over the next 20-25 years, around 29 hectares of Auckland’s waterfront within Wynyard Quarter will be transformed in stages into a harbourside community made up of parks, plazas, offices, retail and residential living, a far cry from Auckland’s shameful leaky box apartments of the past.

Dalzell says there’s a real opportunity to do inner-city residential in a very different way to the “refrigerator boxes” in other parts of the city.
He adds that Wynyard Quarter’s work, live and play environment creates a “joyous collision of activities in the central precinct”.

That joyous collision will in turn attract 7,000 residents to Wynyard Quarter by 2040. Moreover, it’s anticipated that around 4,740 of these residents will also work in the precinct.

Plans are afoot for the next stages of the development, but there’s one in particular that will contribute to the bolstering of those workforce numbers.

In October 2011, Waterfront Auckland announced plans to create the Wynyard Quarter Innovation Precinct, something Harvey likens to New York’s SoHo area. Though still in its early stages, science and innovation minister Wayne Mapp is confident it will help connect entrepreneurs and businesses with international investors looking to tap into New Zealand’s knowledge-intensive companies.

“It’ll be at the cutting edge of smart,” says Harvey, attracting high tech, smart, innovative and creative players, as well as thinkers, writers, artists and technologists.

But large and heavy equipment-focused businesses need not apply.

“I want people to bring their brains,” Harvey says. “We set the scene and we invite players to come and do their stuff.”

Harvey says good waterfronts around the world have all traditionally offered a creative edge.

“If you look at waterfronts in San Francisco and New York, they somehow lift people’s ideas of place and space.”

If you’re having a mental block, urban waterfront environments can offer everything you need to inject much needed inspiration – be it cafes, green spaces, or simply the ability to catch a healthy dose of fresh air off the ocean water.

“It’s a bloody great destination to have your business because it ain’t dull. It’s alive!”

While the tree-lined Jellicoe Street already offers inner-city green space respite, there are bigger plans to expand the waterfronts greenery, including Point Park, a 4.25 ha park on Wynyard Point, which will maximise access to the water’s edge and provide views of the waterfront and CBD. Also in the plan is Daldy Street Linear Park, which will link Point Park to the Daldy Street axis between Fanshawe Street and Point Park. The park will provide a strategic route for passenger transport, pedestrians and cyclists through Wynyard Quarter as well as recreational and social space.

TEAL Park, Harbour Bridge Park and a waterside park at Westhaven round off the parks set to take their place on Auckland’s waterfront.

Beyond Wynyard
Dalzell doesn’t want to throw all the eggs into one basket, and he’s certainly not going to replicate Wynyard Quarter elsewhere on the Auckland waterfront, even if it is arguably one of Auckland’s most successful urban renewal projects to date.

“I think if we deliver the next stage of the waterfront and replicate what we’ve done with Wynyard Quarter, we’ll have failed,” he says. “We will have failed to meet the public’s expectation of what Wynyard Quarter has set the scene for.”

Spanning an area that stretches from the base of the Harbour Bridge in the west to Teal Park in the east, Waterfront Auckland is leading the way in rolling out plans for the area under the Auckland Waterfront Plan. That plan gives spatial and physical definition to the principles of the Auckland Waterfront Vision 2040.

There is, of course, the already completed Queens Wharf, which played host to streams of fans during the Rugby World Cup. Its next incarnation will see it become a cruise hub as part of a cruise terminal project lined up for completion between 2012 and 2018.

A report by PricewaterhouseCoopers on the economic value of the redeveloped Auckland Waterfront says direct employment in Auckland as a result of the cruise industry will reach 3,440 direct jobs by 2040, culminating in a GDP of $214 million.

The total impact on regional GDP is expected to reach $4.29 billion by 2040 when the Waterfront is fully redeveloped.

Most jobs in the revitalised Waterfront are likely to be in the business sector (including scientific research, surveying, engineering consultant, technical and computer services). As it stands, 2122 (49 percent) of Waterfront jobs today are in business and other office jobs. Come 2040, that’ll jump to 8293 jobs, or 61 percent.

“We are bringing to the waterfront a fantastic agenda of space, of place, of families and of future thinking,” says Harvey.

Creating an environment that will not only lure tourists, but also businesses, investors and residents alike, could well bring Mayor Len Brown’s ambitious vision to turn Auckland into “the world’s most liveable city”, into a reality.

“It has the potential to be a game changer for the country,” says Dalzell.