Monday, March 06, 2006

Dick Hubbard: Be inventive with waterfront design

Aucklanders have a love affair with the sea. It is deeply ingrained in our psyche. It is our much-loved treasure.

Linking the sea with our city is our waterfront, undoubtedly one of our greatest assets. And now we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to unlock the potential this spectacular area holds.

Around the world, cities are looking to their waterfronts. In London, Sydney, Cape Town, Barcelona and Vancouver these developments have breathed new life into their cities.

Now it is our turn. The area we are looking at first is an area Aucklanders affectionately know as Tank Farm. I know there has been a move to reclaim its official name - the Western Reclamation or Wynyard Wharf - but I like its nickname.

That its real use as a tank farm will end in the next 10-15 years is irrelevant. The world's major cities have many examples of areas called "fisherman's wharf" where fishing no longer occurs. And in London no ships dock at the Docklands.

In the past year, you have heard me talk a lot about heritage. But heritage protection is not just about buildings. It is also about historic areas of activity, and the Tank Farm is an indelible example of our heritage. We should forget about a competition for a new name for this area.

So what is my vision for the Tank Farm?

I want a place where Aucklanders can get up close and touch the water, where they can walk from the sea to the city freely, where they can enjoy the sea breeze while having a lunchtime sandwich.

I also want a place where visitors can say "Wow! This is breathtaking!"

I want a walkable waterfront. That means the new development must have restricted vehicle access while allowing for some commercial traffic to service the fishing and marine industry activities.

Accessibility is paramount. This could be assisted by a tram-type public transport system that travels frequently along the east-west axis from the Ferry Building to the western end of the wharf.

We need a spectacular bridge from Te Wero Island to Jellicoe St that links the Viaduct Basin to the Tank Farm. It would be an ideal opportunity for an architectural competition to ensure we get a bridge that is distinctly Auckland.

The bridge will bring pedestrians into the heart of a bustling marine area by the water's edge - a perfect venue for our city's waterfront events.

I am also in favour of Wynyard Wharf becoming another wharf for overseas cruise ships.

Cruise ships add excitement, activity and a sense of occasion to an area. At the same time, we would need to keep wharfside support buildings to a minimum so we do not block the area to the public.

The tip of the wharf is the jewel in our crown and must be designed with great care to encourage and entice people to this special place.

The Tank Farm cannot simply be the most desirable piece of real estate in town - that would be a sell-out to the greater interest of Aucklanders. Even worse, the open space at the end of the wharf area must not end up as an exclusive area for wharf residents.

I want to see a big, open public space, parks and esplanade reserves, and a large sound shell or theatre at the end of the wharf that could be used for open-air concerts. We'll need retail facilities, too.

Last week I visited the new Victoria and Albert waterfront area in Cape Town, South Africa. With clever architecture and good urban design, this area buzzes day and night and is a major attraction for locals and visitors.

We are a maritime city, so the concept of canals in this area is a great one.

I am not proposing a replica of Venice, but some strategically located canals would create interest and become a vital link between our city and the sea.

The harsh reality is that funds may limit us.

But I look around the city and marvel at the foresight of some of our great Aucklanders - Sir John Logan Campbell and his gift of Cornwall Park, and Mayor Gunson with the building of the Auckland War Memorial Museum.

Think of the Auckland War Memorial Museum and ask yourself - what would have happened if Gunson and his Auckland City Council in 1922 had settled for something less?

On the redevelopment of the Tank Farm we must set our sights high. We must not settle for anything mediocre.

We must ask ourselves whether we are better to have ratepayers' money invested in Auckland Airport shares, as it is at present, or in our waterfront.

In my opinion, I believe we should exchange this piece of family silver for a piece of gold.

A chance such as this will not come our way again. Now is not the time for the faint-hearted or the short-sighted.

In true Auckland style, we need to be bold, brave and imaginative. Let this be the gift of our generation to the Auckland of the future.* Dick Hubbard is the Mayor of Auckland City.

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