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…