The Eye of the Fish

November 3, 2012


Submissions are due to the WCC on Monday 5 November 2012, regarding proposals for the Design Brief for North Kumutoto (sites 8, 9, 10). Please DO make a submission – otherwise the NIMBYs may stall further work on these sites.

Regarding this, I’m going to write a quick post on public space. It starts here in Wellington:

The area we are talking about, obviously, is Wellington’s fabulous Waterfront. Let’s zoom in, to see what they are talking about:

There you go: sites 8, 9, and 10. Previous proposals had looked at buildings on all three of these sites, and recently Waterfront Watch stopped development on Site 10 dead in its tracks by taking it to the Environment Court. The latest North Kumutoto Design Brief adheres very strongly to the resulting defacto Design recommendations issued (somewhat unusually) by the Environment Court. That should mean, therefore, that this new Design Brief will be very uncontroversial. Shouldn’t it? A new public square? Who wouldn’t want that?

Let’s look at this in a little more detail. Here’s the area concerned in photos taken from the Eye of the Fish’s aerial combat wing (specially trained flying fish on loan to Larry and Serge), with all of these images reproduced here at the same scale:

And more to the point, here is an edited version of that aerial mapping, with the relevant areas coloured up:

The two proposed building sites are coloured in Blue, with the new “open space” in Red, and it looks pretty damn small really, doesn’t it? Although of course all the area in Orange is also Open Space – so perhaps a more truthful version of what we could get would look more like this (I’ve left two small areas of vehicular route in orange – I’d like to see all the rest devoted to those of us on foot or fin):

There – that’s more like it. I’m reasonably happy with that as a new public space – in its enlarged form shown in red directly above, rather than the piddly little sample shown earlier.

Of course, there are those amongst us who will be advocating for nothing but Open Space, covered in grass if they could have their way. If they were to do this, then Wellington would end up with a green promenade shaped like this:

I don’t think that is the right idea. Not only is it an awkward shape of park, unsuitable for doing anything like kicking a ball around (into the traffic) or throwing a frisbee (into the sea) or swimming in the harbour (too cold and frankly a little bit suspect on the pollution), it would be an odd sort of park, nestled between the sea and a hard place (the urban motorway).

I’m of the old fashioned persuasion, in that I like to have something to do while I’m relaxing. When I’m in the Coromandel, then yes, like we all do, there is nothing better than throwing off all your fancy frilly bits and slothing out by the seaside edge: sea, sand and sangria, away from cars, cafes and cappuccino. But when in the capital, going for an afternoon stroll, I’m going to want two things: shelter when needed (from sun sometimes, but mainly from the storm); and a place to refuel. Possibly even a destination station in itself. Buildings to house those functions are, of course, necessary. We are not a rural idyl, nor a suburban mall. We are a city, and a damn fine one at that too.

There is absolutely no doubt that one of the areas that has got this bang on in the details is the area around the Meridian building. Yes, they have the advantage of the beautifully intricate brickwork of the old sheds 11 and 13, as well as the stunning modern architecture of Meridian and the quirkiness of both the Steamship Wharf building and its accompanying lobster loos, but there is far more to it than just that. The public spaces are comfortably designed, well proportioned, and offer great nooks and crannies out of the wind and yet into the sun. Any new space down by the waterfront needs to get just that degree of “rightness” to its planning as well as its detailing.

So: first step is Size. Have they got the size right? What I thought would be interesting (for me, for you, for anyone that may be interested), is to compare the size of the proposed open space with other public squares in Wellington – and indeed around the world.

Let’s start local, again with an identically scaled pic of Midland Park:

If we pluck out just the Park alone, Midland looks like this – pretty small on its own, but psychologically it feels bigger, with the eye drawing boundaries into the surrounding cityscape:

On a similar tack, let’s look at Frank Kitts Park:

Here the park is really large – an extensive, expansive sweep of waterfront land (that we are still waiting for work to be done to). It is a bit of a windswept wasteland most of the time, and so the odd sort of castle wall provides nooks and crannies for people to huddle up against:

Or even Civic Square, which is always moderately popular:

In comparison, we can look at Waitangi Park – I’ve deleted the roads and buildings – where there is also a decent swath of greenery:

What about further afield? With the same scale in force, here is Washington Square in the south end of Manhatten – it’s larger than can fit in the crop box, and so it shows just how large it is. I’ve left the google scale bar in the bottom left so you can compare – although, of course, google’s scale bar is a pretty haphazard thing to rely on:

And of course we can’t really go anywhere without Times Square, which has taken a bit of a battering over the last week… it’s actually in two parts, as it is long and thin – and is officially two “squares”, with the northern one being Duffy Square, and just the southern one being Times Square – you’ll have to figure out what is solid and what is ground yourself on this one:

Where to next? Well, England could be an obvious case, but I’ll tell you something interesting – while NZ and the US click to the same Google scale as each other, in the UK the googlemap clicks to a scale all of its own, so I might avoid that for now. Why don’t I just finish up now somewhere warm and exotic? How about one of the world’s oldest and most active squares, in the heart of Morrocco? Yes indeed, the Jemaa el-Fnaa in Marrakesh will finish this post up for the night. Too warm and dry for a Fish, but a fantastic urban landscape nonetheless. Mind you, they have performing monkeys and snakes, which adds a certain frisson of excitement to any evening out…

Mr Fishface
5 - 11 - 12

Useful insights, thank you Max. Are you going to put in a submission Max?

5 - 11 - 12

Well, I might, although I’m not sure that WCC / WWL will accept missives from Fish resident in anonymous websites….

Pauline Swann
6 - 11 - 12

Can you only see Blue,green and red…..happy to provide you with colourful photos of people gathering at the many happy occasions on Frank Kitts Park and Waitangi and even under the sails on Queens Wharf……Summer City, Teddy Bears Picnic, Chinese New Year, Dragon Boat Races, Volvo round the world, Festival of the Arts, Cancer Society Relay for Life, Paddle boats in the lagoon, Sunday markets,could go on but of course you wear blinkers! or perhaps haunt Courtenay Place. A contemporary maritime and nautical theme park on North Queens wharf would draw more people than an office block…..with the cruise ship season upon us this could be the beginning of a waterfront experience…

7 - 11 - 12

Pauline, nice to see you here. No, i don’t haunt Courtenay, but am frequently to be seen on the waterfront, including all of those you name (except Teddy Bear’s picnic), but also including the amenities in buildings along the way, including Freyberg Pool, Tugboat cafe, the old Boatsheds, the ship-chandlery in the OPT before that was knocked down, the markets in the old Herd St building, (not the fish and chip shop outside that though, it’s too expensive), Te Papa and Circa on rare occasions, Macs BrewBar and St John’s bar on more frequent occasions, the Wharewaka’s cafe when the sun and tide is right and to meet my elderly aunt who likes it very much, not the Star boating club as it is a closed shop and very snooty and exclusive, the Gelato shop for fine italian icecream, nothing much in Frank Kitts park as there are no amenities there for me as it is all just boring grass and rutting teenagers, shed 6 and the TSB Arena at times of the year when there are things on like WoW, i avoid the Chicago bar as it is awful, but note that lots of others like it… Dockside, Shed 5 (if someone else is shouting), Foxglove regularly, big Red Dog for a pizza, the best little Mojo in town, the National Portrait Gallery, the little mexican man in the base of the Meridian building, the people in Meridian as well, Portofino for a great seafood / pasta evening, Wagamama for great noodles I’ve loved since London, and then it all peters out.

As you can see, I make good use of Wellington’s waterfront, primarily because it has buildings in which are functions and amenities. I never go to any of the places in Lambton Quay, or Willis St, or Featherston St etc – if I go out, I head for the water’s edge (which is only understandable given my Fishy background). I think we have the world’s greatest waterfront (and I’ve seen a fair few over the years, so i do know what I’m talking about) for a city of our size, and I know that this ONLY comes about because we don’t have long stretches of boring nothinglessness.

Pauline Swann
7 - 11 - 12

You left out Museum of City and Sea, Academy of Fine Arts, but agree re Chicago! However, have just come past Frank Kitts Park and lots of activities in the lunch hour and understand there is a regular exercise group every Wednesday and of course children on the bouncy castle…..

and continuing on down past Johnston Street wonderful maritime views of cranes, Blue Bridge ferry etc….after all it is still a port not the CBD!

I enjoy the ice creams too…

2 - 12 - 12

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