Panuku Development Auckland

24 April 2015

In a city centre transformation area like the Wynyard Quarter, we realise the place has to grow incrementally and strategically over time, evolving an industrial ‘brownfield’ condition to a memorable urban waterfront where Aucklanders live, work and play.

One of the unique challenges to any staged urban transformation is how to make key pieces of land engaging and meaningful for public use as an interim activity before final infrastructure is built.  

These uses are critical as they maintain the energy of a place in transition while often adding a quirky contrast. Temporary uses across the staged Wynyard Quarter transformation I like to refer to as “filling the missing teeth”.

We have examined how other cities have undertaken this effort to transform not only place, but more importantly, user attitudes and behaviours about a place.  Examples include New York City’s placement of hundreds of $10 deck chairs to transform Times Square in 2009, Melbourne’s ongoing laneways activation programme and the citywide efforts in Detroit, New Orleans and Christchurch responding to natural disaster or economic devastation. Each of these efforts utilised grass-roots networks of artists working with local council to achieve inspired urban change through interim site use activation programmes.

Temporary site use is not a new idea. Publications such as Klaus Overmeyer’s Urban Pioneers have critically explored temporary urbanism over the past decade in Europe and North America. While the movement’s roots are in a spontaneous and organic reaction to specific condition, the challenge is how it can be planned as an intentional- yet successful- response in both public realm and private development.

Interestingly, there was a time when these types of activities would have been seen by corporate entities as folly for left wing planners, implemented by activists.  Now we routinely see private development precincts fully embracing Pop-Up concepts.

We have been using this idea of “filling the missing teeth” to helping activate and transform behaviours across the waterfront:

    • Te Wero/Eastern Viaduct barcode supergraphic (carpark to pedestrian walk)

    • Small wharf park at the end of Hobson Wharf (carpark to boat watching)

    • Interventions on Queens Wharf: umbrellas, bbq’s and painted container Digi-Box (hard exposed wharf to lingering pedestrian amenity)

Sure, perhaps some of the jaded among us have grown a bit tired of the Pop-Up, bottom-up hype. I suspect the movement away from the organic grassroots guerrilla measures on vacant sites toward acceptance within the i establishment is seen as uncool. However, the challenge raises a series of questions that acknowledge the shift from an organic movement to organised intervention:

    • Can interim site uses be successfully planned?

    • Given the specific conditions and context of how interim uses have been applied, can these ideas be transplanted to other sites in a meaningful way?

    • What are the risks in establishing emotional attachments to a temporary site use- recognising it will change?

    • How can city planners and urban designers learn from interim uses and informal processes to inform their projects and practise?

I see the exercise of filling in the missing teeth as both a privilege and opportunity to test new ideas; a laboratory to engage the public about how they might a place through a new lens and how a small, short term transformation can begin to change our behaviours and expectations.

ALAN GRAY, Senior Urban Designer.
Alan's focus is the design and delivery of a wide range of public space projects. When he is not on site in high vis and hard hat, Alan can usually be found cycling in Westhaven, banjo picking at the public piano or walking the dachshund along North Wharf.

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McConnell Property is making excellent progress with civil earthworks, drainage and roads due for completion by May 2017.


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