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What’s next for Auckland’s City Centre: a Q&A with design champion Ludo-Campbell Reid

Auckland Council recently released a video detailing how far it’s come with the urban design of the City Centre over the last 10 to 15 years, as well as its vision for the years to come. We had a chat with Ludo Campbell-Reid about the pace at which his vision is coming to fruition, the most impactful changes already made to the City Centre and what’s his big, hairy audacious goals for the future.

The video, which was an effort to better communicate the key changes that have been made to the City Centre to the public, shows Auckland City's emergence as a well-laid out urban environment alongside well-integrated public transport.

It also debunks some key myths like what people’s tax is going towards in the City Centre, as well as answering frequently asked questions by the public, like why urban design is important to public transport.

See our Q&A with Auckland's design champion below.

Idealog: The video is a great explainer for what’s already been achieved, design-wise, in the CBD in such a short amount of time. How many years’ progress did it cover?

Campbell-Reid: The video was a great team effort from across the Auckland Council family that looked at progress and change across the City Centre over the last ten to fifteen years, delivered by both the public and private sector. It is important to also acknowledge that we now describe the area we are talking about as the City Centre, not just a “Central Business District” as we did in the past. The City Centre is fast becoming a more residential city. Not simply a place of business.

After decades of a focus on road building and motorways that began with the ripping up of the tramways in 1956, Auckland’s City Centre has really got its mojo back.

The last decade has been a great time for Auckland. The speed of the change we’ve seen particularly over the last six years since amalgamation and our City Centre Masterplan in 2012 has been nothing short of a paradigm shift.

Looking back ten years ago, Auckland was a different place. Just as a starter there was no Wynyard Quarter or Queens Wharf, no O’Connell St or Fort Lane, no City Works Depot or Britomart redevelopment.

We’ve also seen separated cycleways, the hot pink Lightpath, new double decker buses and electric trains start to transform how we get around the city. In fact last month public transport reached the highest patronage levels in fifty years. We have a long way to go but we are heading in the right direction at pace.

There are so many things today that just didn’t exist ten years ago. Within the foreseeable future we will have the completion of the City Rail Link (which will double the efficiency of the entire regional network) and by both APEC and the America’s Cup in 2021, there’s a real chance light rail could be delivered from the waterfront, up Queen Street and to K Road.

Furthermore our new government with its renewed focus on Auckland could be a game changer for this city over the next decade. Auckland is at an important cross-road in its urban development history.

It’s certainly an exciting time to be working in city-shaping and for placemakers and urbanists like me and my Auckland Design Office team at Auckland Council, it’s looking like we are entering a period of significant physical change. I’d call it an urban renaissance.


LightPath

Is this change moving quickly when compared to the urban development of other large cities?

In some ways. Many cities across the world have been leading the way in putting people first when considering city design – especially so when you consider the shift away from a car or transport-led approach. Paris, Barcelona, Helsinki, Stockholm, Copenhagen, New York and Melbourne have all led the way.

Our traditionally auto-dependent, sprawling suburbs have led to Auckland being dubbed by many global city commentators such as Professor Peter Newman and Jan Gehl as the ‘city of cars’ (see the film by Michael Tritt called “Auckland, The City of Cars”). We have at one point had one of the highest car ownership levels per head of capita in the world.

But as a council family, we are learning and looking outwards for things that have worked elsewhere so we can transform our previous approach here. Melbourne, Barcelona, New York, Copenhagen and Medellin have been an inspiration.

Sometimes it’s not efficient to be the cutting edge, it takes a lot of resource, but we can learn from the big cities of the world and adapt what they have done to suit our unique city environment and our context.

Nevertheless, our Single Unitary Authority Governance Framework and our urban design vision for Auckland are considered leading edge. Our bus network design, waterfront, shared space and strategic planning are at the forefront of international best practice.


The design set out for Skypath, a pedestrian and cyclist path that will run alongside the Harbour Bridge

Looking forward, what is left to be done and what is your wider vision for Auckland’s CBD? Any big, hairy audacious goals you’d like to share?

 There is much to be done and we will never be finished!

Some of the things we were predicting to happen in twenty years’ time have already occurred – our downtown population is already 50,000, fifteen years ahead of when we expected to hit this milestone and this in itself shows the inherent difficulties of using modelling and projections.

Funding is always going to be tight and a lot of the change we have seen has been funded by city centre businesses through an innovative target rate that levies around $20 million per year. But it’s not enough for the big transformational projects that will really have an impact on the Auckland region.

There’s so much I can see in my wider vision for Auckland’s City Centre.

Just for starters, I’d love to see a 30km/h restriction cross the city centre and regional centres, a car-free Queen Street valley, light rail up Queen Street, Hobson Street converted into a “great western park”, the current Auckland Port land redevelopment into a new liveable city precinct with homes (affordable and for sale), parkland, public spaces and new commercial premises and precincts

Imagine also light rail along the waterfront to Mission Bay past a new Waterfront Stadium, NZ cruise ship terminus, ferries to the Eastern Bays and a diving board off the end of Queens Wharf…just because we can.


Freyburg Place

One of the questions most commonly thrown at you on social media seem to revolve around cars – “Why are cars still allowed in the CBD? Why aren’t we working towards a vehicle-free city?” What’s your take on this? Is your vision to see Auckland City eventually become car free, or is it an unrealistic goal?

It’s an interesting question. What I commonly say is we are pro-pedestrians, not anti-car but many like to polarise the issue because it makes a good story. At the end of the day, pedestrians are the economic powerhouses of the city, not private motorcars. But this is a journey.

Cars are still allowed into the city centre because they are currently a vital part of the transport network, the economy and the life of our city. Until there are convenient, cost-effective, comfortable options available, it’s a transition.

But reducing discretionary and through traffic trips is the goal, which will free up space for those necessary car trips.

It’s not a matter of whether we like having car trips passing through the city or not, there just isn’t the space for them as the city grows. Discretionary trips congest the roads and take up space needed for people walking, living and doing business in the city.

“Virtually car free” is probably a longer term goal but there is certainly a lot of capacity we can reduce right now and still have  a well-connected and freer flowing network.


O'Connell St's transformation after removing cars

What is the biggest challenge yourself and the design arm of the Council is facing when trying to implement these changes, such as converting roads into shared spaces? E.g. pushback from the public/having to change people’s behaviour. How do you work around or solve this?

Turning a big ship takes a lot of work and there is a network of practitioners, processes and professional beliefs that we must shift when we look at how to implement changes.

There is a new wave of innovative and contemporary thinkers at Auckland Transport who are leading the way and working with international best practice but achieving true change is much more than just what Auckland Council and Auckland Transport can do alone. It needs an army.

We have to look at the way the public have historically viewed the city and a lot of these opinions are entrenched. We think things are normal until we see a new way of operating and start to wonder if we could operate like that to.

There is a lot of robust, really constructive debate out there in public arena and “next generation” transport thinking is being championed publicly across a range of forums by advocates. This has been a powerful story as we fight to reclaim the city for the people.

As a community we need to really take a hard look at the reality of our housing and transport issues and how these impact things like inequality and mental health. A wide discussion and strong political, professional and community leadership is how we can move forward.


A visualisation of Auckland's trams

What are the top three most impactful design changes made to Auckland City Centre in the last 10 years?

  1. The start of City Rail Link construction
  2. Wynyard Quarter
  3. The start of our connection to the waterfront and the start of how we dignify our streets for the people for walking and cycling.

 What are the top three most impactful design changes that will be made to Auckland City Centre in the next 10?

  1. Fully connecting our city centre core to the waterfront as this will shift how we see our own city and how the world sees us. This will keep the world’s talent wanting to come here and more importantly, our children wanting to stay here.
     
  2. Completion of the City Rail Link and on-going implementation of public transport infrastructure because spatially-efficient transportation will increase the space for people. Getting around by foot is by far the most popular way to get around the city centre, estimated at around half a million trips every day. Walking is unique as at the same time its transport but it also encourages the sorts of social and economic exchanges that grow a city. Put simply, being able to walk easily around a city is the foundation of its social life.
     
  3. The transformation and expansion of the city centre beyond a single, rural main street concept to a globally competitive international city by developing a network of great tree-lined streets I’m thinking of Albert Street, the Victoria Street Linear Park and Quay St. Our planning will start to include the possibility of this shifting to the east of the city too, bringing the area around the Universities truly into the heart of the city (the physical joining of the town and the gown) and releasing unproductive land around the eastern side of the city, like Grafton Gulley. 

    The proposed Victoria St Linear Park