Around the World: Auckland hires Jan Gehl and brings colour and life to spaces

It all started when the Auckland Council invited Copenhagen’s urban design guru, Jan Gehl, to help transform Auckland into the World’s most liveable city. After many years of consultation and planning his suggestions were taken onboard and the city got down to business.

The idea is to transform city streets into shared spaces i.e. streets where pedestrians and cyclists have right of way. One typical element of the design is the removal of kerbs and the installation of a single level of paving across the full width of the street. Removing the traditional distinction between the footpath and road provides more room for people, outdoor dining, street furniture, trees, street activities and events. When a city creates shared spaces, parking spaces are removed and/or kept to a minimum. This encourages people to use public transport and the results are phenomenal – public transport patronage in Auckland has increased by 8.5% (rail usage increased by 24.6%). Pedestrian activity along Queen Street has increased by 33%.

The idea behind all the changes is to slowly but surely push cars out and this is done by reclaiming parking spaces bit by bit as they have done at Te Wero Island. The entire area was one huge car park but now they have reclaimed some of the space by installing street furniture, trees and clearly marking the paving with brightly coloured strips which also acts as markers for pedestrians to follow. What was once a grey and uninteresting area has been transformed into a vibrant city space for cyclists and pedestrians.

A total of 8 downtown streets are currently being converted into shared spaces and will be ready for the RWC 2011. Trams have been re-introduced at Auckland’s new waterfront and the idea is to remove more parking spaces in the city by converting Auckland’s main high street – Queen Street – into a pedestrian only space. The tram will run across Te Wero Island (removing all the car park spaces) and up Queen Street. I believe that this is how most cities will look and operate in the future.

I have witnessed the changes first hand and it is great to see more people cycling, walking and hanging around areas that were not very accessible. The colours are also a welcome addition and attracts people to public spaces just as a bee is attracted to a bright flower. Auckland has a vision and the future looks great.

– Sydney, Auckland Resident