A change of tack for a while: especially with this nasty weather around that we’ve been having.

But one in which I can find little historical information on. For a while back there in the 70s and the 80s, it seemed that the way ahead for Wellington was in only one direction: Underground. Furious digging below the streets at the major corner of Willis and Lambton gave us what is now still (just) known as the BNZ Centre, although with the BNZ offices gone from up above, and the underground level being populated with food stalls, I’m picking a major re-branding soon.

The traffic along Willis Street was seen as being so intense that there was no time left to stop the flow and let the pedestrians cross the street: or was it that the weather was seen as being so bad that people would prefer to loiter underground? There are a number of cities in the world where the outside temperatures are so extreme that the people really can’t wander happily outside – many of them too hot (like Dubai – I mean, really, who would build a city in a fireball of a desert) – many too cold (I’m guessing Anchorage gets a little frisky come December), but I’m guessing that the reason Wellington started to make like a mole was that our wind was considered just too darn strong.

There are other precedents for underground cities – from the ancient (such as Urgup and Goreme in Cappadocia), through to Montreal in Canada – both of which are considerably more extensive than Wellington’s meagre mining. Montreal notes that their:

Underground City has brought into reality a popular science fiction scenario. This network of tunnels under the streets of Montreal houses one of the most unusual shopping areas in the world. Still growing over 40 years later, it provides a haven for tourists and locals against the weather extremes common to Montreal, while giving them a shopping heaven. The first link came into being when the Place Ville-Marie, a Bauhaus skyscraper in downtown Montreal, incorporated an underground shopping mall. Built in 1962 to cover railway tracks near Central Station, it linked the train to the Queen Elizabeth Hotel. With the opening of the Montreal Metro (the city’s subway system) in 1966, the web of passages began to blossom. Today, with over 30 kilometers (18 miles) of tunnels, the world’s largest underground network provides shopping for half a million visitors every day. There are over 1,600 boutiques and an equal number of apartments.

Somehow though, we’ve stopped.

The Council doesn’t seem to be pushing this at all as a solution to crossing the road any more – and neither are they suggesting we go overhead either, as the dis-used bridges overhead by the Duxton show: the people in this town seem to be far happier to just cross at street level, and risk dancing with the traffic. I’m intrigued however – are we going in the right direction? Our BNZ branded underground mall certainly seems to be on a road to nowhere – going from high quality branded goods, down to an LV Martin store, sinking further downhill to a cheap asian foodcourt, and now a bargain basement JB HiFi box-shifting electronics store – it can’t be too long before the basement of the BNZ is simply filled with a large $2 Shop (at least the prospect of really cheap tat would pull in the punters). If there was any sort of official buy-in to the idea of underground crossings, then the new Telecom building just down the road in Willis St would also be having an accessible basement to cross the road from. The lack of this requirement speaks (underground) volumes.

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