There’s something curious going on in Wellington at present, with a reduction in the number of gas stations going on. Perhaps it is not something to be too upset about, and maybe it is just the start of a well deserved end to an urban design form of none too exciting character, but there seems to be a distinct inclination to demolish old gas stations, and not commission new ones. Is this the start of a new urban phenomenom? Being an urban soul who doesn’t venture far into the horrors of the suburbs, I understand from far flung friends in fairer fields that gas stations line the routes home to suburbs like uh, north, and south. Who knows, perhaps even east and west have them too.But in the city, like corner dairies in the foothills of the Hutt Valley, gas stations are shutting up their central city doors and not coming back. Oh sure, its no big deal perhaps, and there are still 2 or 3 central city sites belonging to BP and Shell which obviously chew up a fair bit of the petrol being pumped out to Wellington’s commuters, but it seems that most of the sites are relocating out to the ‘burbs.
It is not something just confined to Wellingtonians either. Allegedly there are only 10 gas stations left in the whole of Manhattan, and queues get kinda ugly at times; or the bridge and tunnel folk get kinda edgy as they realise they won’t make it home on their remaining tank of gas. Same thing could happen here – except of course there is not quite so far to go.
I suspect that the issue is not just to do with the price of fuel. Indeed, with the price of a litre of unleaded now at around $2.10 you might think that it would be a profitable thing to get into – but apparently not – profit is a slim margin at the pump. Perhaps it is more to do with the price of land driving up temptation to sell out for yet another tower block of yuppy flats – or perhaps it is more to do with the modern car – they just don’t break down any more. The old scenario of a gas pump out the front, and a garage out the back is as far gone as the bobby on the beat.
Nowadays, when a gas station is serious, they link into another whole world of retail, of glass walls and plastic signage, and oh god, if you really want to punish yourself, a drive-through Mickie D as well. Gas is just a sideline, a ticket to entry to another whole world of retail involving family-sized bags of potato chips, a wall of high-fructose colas, and a plethora of ford vs holden related branded baseball caps and mirrored shades.
The architecture, such as it was, is fading away. At one stage the gas station had its own architecture, a visible brand that was as recognisable as the logo itself, as recognisable as McDonalds’ mighty golden arches (now just confined to a squiggle on a paper cup or tv ad). Challenge (once part of the once-mighty Fletcher empire) had a tensile roof structure supported off steel trees and branches. Caltex had a huge star motif, and gung-ho architecture to match. Mobil used to have two enormous glowing white discs suspended seemingly from mid-air (actually just stuck to the soffit), and British Petroleum had a very green theme going on. Did I mention the old Go Well Go Shell? with their solid theme of red and yellow. Well nowadays there is nothing but red and yellow.
But given a move by taxi companies and others to go green, when are we going to see an abandonment of traditional gas station architecture and a move towards a row of plug in sockets? Is it going to be that all we need is a large plane of solar cells on your own car roof? When are those last remaining station sites going to be redeveloped and arise again as a multi-storey building? Is that inevitable or is there going to be another way?