The Wrong Side of my Car

A blog about Auckland City, its streets, and culture shock

25 Sep 2015

Who gives a damn at the Hobson ridge?

So. I showed you around on Hobson and Nelson Street a while ago. Suppose you’re thinking of buying an apartment in that corner of the CBD. Maybe on SugarTree, which stares you in the face every time you drive through the CBD? Or the Fiore, which is currently overgrowing that old building on the corner across the police station?

Building hug!

Then I’ve got good news and bad news for you. Which one do you want to hear first? The good news?

Here’s the good news: nobody gives a damn.

The bad news? Nobody gives a damn.

Let me explain the good news first.

This map shows the zones in the Auckland Unitary Plan. It basically tells you how much people care about what gets built in their hood (and also a little bit of how the council is planning to shape Auckland).

Unitary Plan zones

See this reddish pink colour in the centre? That’s the area where nobody cares. Build your merry 18-storey apartment tower. Go ahead. We’re all good. And so it happened. Plenty of developers took the opportunity. This area went from empty—literally—to one of the most densely populated area in New Zealand.

Compare that with the rest of the map. You’ll probably recognise the purple areas as industrial areas.

The flashy pink and pale purple areas are other areas where there’s a lot of freedom. Those are town centres and mixed use. They are coloured black in the version below.

The beige and orange tints are the residential areas, and they make up the bulk of the space. They follow, let’s call it an interesting pattern. There’s 4 shades corresponding to different zones. In the version below they are yellow, orange, orange-red and dark red. Roughly speaking every shade represents higher allowed density than the previous one. So guess, which one is high density?

Unitary Plan—with brightly coloured residential zones

At first sight you may think yellow is more concentrated around the city centre, so it must be the high density. Wrong. People familiar with Auckland of course recognise those areas as having low density. Wait, what?

Let’s read the official rulebook. It introduces this zone as:

Purpose: manage the height of buildings to maintain the low density suburban residential character of the zone (one to two storeys).

Oh, the character. Popular argument, that one. But face it, in most cities areas so close to a city centre tend to have a bit of a higher density. The rule book goes on, mandating single houses on plots of at least 600m², with setbacks and maximum height, etcetera.

I like complot theories, so here’s one. You’re probably aware that those areas, like Ponsonby, Remuera and Devonport, are home to rich people. Because they’re rich, they have influence. And they care a lot about what gets build in their neighbourhood. For two reasons. One, of course it’s nicer living there if the density remains low. And two, low density means scarcity, which keeps the prices up. That’s good for the capital gains on their homes. And it has the added benefit of keeping the plebs out of their neighbourhood.

Yellow means a lot of people care a lot. Now as an exercise, see if you can recognise the Golden Mile just north of Takapuna, it stands out quite a bit between the centres of Milford and Takapuna.

Here in the CBD however, the map is coloured nobody-cares-pink. According to tradition the city centre was until quite recently a bit of a wasteland, almost uninhabited, left behind like that after it was encircled with motorways. So no people to complain about all those apartment towers rising up. And without the artificial scarcity you have in the suburbs prices can come down a bit.

Now, on to the bad news.

Nobody gives a damn.

Starting with the council and the government. First thing you’ll notice when you move here from the ‘burbs? The traffic noise. You’d think our rulers would be so nice as to ask those truckers not to use their engine brakes? Like in every other town centre of any significance in New Zealand?

You know the sings.

And I don’t want to hear any whining from truckies about this one. Tauranga, the city home to the biggest port in New Zealand has those. But not Auckland. Maybe they would be at least so kind as to ask them during the night? Of course not.

Would they ask the cops to keep their sirens silent at night? Nop, not even if it is not urgent at all. How do they ask their colleague inside the garage building to open the gate? They could use the radio, but it’s much more badass to sound the siren. It’s after all not their problem if they wake someone up.

So what if you want to walk somewhere? Walking happens on the wrong side of your car, so you’ll get punished. The classic punishment comes straight from parenting 101: the  time-out.

Traffic light stupidity

See that red pedestrian light? During the next minute the cars will have green light, and for pedestrians it will remain red. Even though probably nobody will turn left (and thus cross the pedestrian path). As a punishment, you’re still going to wait for the next cycle.

Especially annoying in combination with this situation:

“Pedestrians please use other side”

A missing pedestrian leg. With a sign to clarify it really is missing. So you can’t just cross to the corner on our right; you’d have to cross the other three legs to get there. That’s at least 1½ cycle of waiting. And for a fair amount of people living here this missing crossing happens to be the most direct route to Meyers Park, the nearest green space where you can let your kids out.

You could jaywalk of course. But then it’s your own fault if you get bowled over.

The thing is, there’s a lot of cars driving to the spaghetti junction a bit further down the street, so we have to adapt the street a little bit:

Hobson Street motorway

Despite having all those people living here, there’s not much ambition to actually make it a nice place to live for those people.

Good and bad news. You can’t have everything in life.

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