Auckland – it ain’t no Tokyo, Paris or London

Auckland – it ain’t no Tokyo, Paris or London

At the latest Auckland Museum Late Innovate  event, a panel comprised of Finlay Macdonald, columnist Rod Oram, architect Pete Bossley and urban historian Chris Harris, debated the role innovative design and planning will play in Auckland’s transformation to a Supercity.  

Punters witnessed Miho Wada’s experimental J-Punk flute flutterings flood the atrium before being ushered up elevators to listen to the panel. And there, a rather ‘patron of the arts’ type crowd — sadly bereft of the creative youth and vibrantly multicultural population Auckland rightly boasts — pricked its ears. 

Despite Finlay MacDonald’s determination to let optimism forge the way ahead, talk festered around Auckland’s lack of a planning gene, and harked to a past in which the city hasn’t looked after itself or concerned itself with nostalgia. It’s a city that sees its own development as an obstacle to state highways, said Chris Harris, but one that must gather a “critical mass of urban skills beyond road building”. 

The panel expressed concern that the first period of the city’s planning might end up focusing on broad and generic brush strokes, which rely on the mythology of the ‘all-encompassing city’. The temptation to expand the urban limits must be resisted. Rather, focus needs to remain on density, which will bring a network of energy that can unite the region. 

Pete Bossley pointed out that Auckland is not topographically or demographically super and that building a future with pretensions of being like Tokyo, Paris or London would be at the expense of success. The CBD’s will look after themselves. The dense sprawl is where the shoots start because that’s where the people live. We all have our personal cities there, where we relate to each other practically, not aesthetically.     

Auckland’s residential architecture was picked out as a highlight. The garden sprawl is not bad, but “let down by a terribly served geographical inheritance”, said Bossley. Canned Circle Rails in the 20s and 30s that would have freed commuters from their cars and subsequently relieved topographical bottlenecks, along with cancelled centre-to-centre inter-rails and a skimped on Harbour Bridge budget all highlight the unique weakness of local government in New Zealand — one that‘s already begun to hamper infrastructure plans for the future.   

To wrap up, the panel was asked to explain their one wish for the Supercity. Pete Bossley summed up with “unpredictability” and an open, constantly changing city while Chris Harris hoped Aucklanders would become more engaged and that local politics would tone down. Rod Oram’s focus was on the Matariki festival. Oram described the festival as an event the world would be talking about and coming specifically to Auckland to celebrate, rather than using Auckland as a gateway to other more exciting destinations. 

The witty Drab Doo-Riffs entertained in the after-show while a twitter wall displayed decidedly less-witty comments from attendees that were probably already on their way home. That was Late Innovate: City.

Radio New Zealand will be broadcasting the full discussion at 4pm on Sunday October 3rd.

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