With the Unitary Plan finding overwhelming endorsement, the Property Council New Zealand took the opportunity to bring the conversation of Future Cities: Placemaking in Auckland to the forefront. On Thursday, the 29th of September, three speakers discussed the importance of creating public spaces that injected vitality and usability into the cityscape, providing not only the necessary accommodation but also avenues of recreation for those individuals that chose to make Auckland their home. Stephenson & Turner attended, eager to be part of the discourse that would shape Auckland with a “broad vision of the city”.

Campbell Tensen, from Air New Zealand, highlighted the need for ‘open-source and user driven place making’ when installing communal pieces. For him, the pertinent question that should precede the conception of any public spaces is “who, or what, makes a good place-making process?”. Tensen’s belief is that we, as Architects, Engineers and Planners, “cannot make places (but) instead need to set up areas where places can be made”. This proposition immediately calls for these sites to “rebel against aesthetics” and instead to be wholly “people-centric”, requiring them to be based not only on the intent of flexibility but more importantly “embrace the temporary”. Places which not only allow but actively encourage the assimilation of street art, individual or group expression and user driven formation is a must if Auckland is to take its place as an “internationally competitive city”.

As a panellist on the Auckland City plan, architect Christina Van Boheman’s search for “what makes a good city great?” led her discussion. Leaving the domain of space, we moved to the perception of constructs and the question of “what the impact of our buildings are?” and “are they providing a background to the way we engage?”. Creating “a city that invites… to linger (and) recreate” requires one that features “active edges” along every street and makes an effort to capitalise on “opening and engaging buildings” such as public libraries. She championed the ‘biking revolution’ within the inner city limits and the investment into “vibrant neighbourhoods in the city fringes”. For Van Boheman there was no doubt that “to invest in higher density living then well-designed recreational spaces must go hand-in-hand”.  

Responsible for already “shaping spaces for Aucklanders to love”, David Rankin from Panuku Development brought the conversation from the theoretical and future inclined to the present and already planned efforts. With the Wynyard Quarter success behind them, Panuku Developments has remained in close conference with Auckland City Council to prepare Auckland for the future with a strategy based on three categories: Transform, Unlock and Support. Zones due for Transformation include Manukau and Onehunga which will see “big commitments over a period of time to create change through regeneration”. Unlocking locales looks to open up “development potential for others” while Support aims to “make the most of what we’ve got”. At the heart of Panuku and the Auckland City Council approach is the acknowledgement that “each place is different, therefore tailored outcomes” are vital to its ultimate success.

S&T’s Rajan Hira found the event to be “a wonderful opportunity to hear from others involved in the future of the city. As an Architect and passionate Aucklander, it was wonderful to witness evidence that the conversation is shifting away from manufacturing environments for regimented / regulated activities towards specific designs with a focus on how the users – both passive and active – would be able to define and utilise places under their own steam. The public areas in the city are for the people so it should be the people who are empowered to shape it.”

The discourse hosted by Property Council New Zealand provided the stepping stones to our thinking of spaces and their place in the plan for Auckland City’s future. As Danish Architect and urban life innovator Jan Gehl articulated, the mission must be “First life, then spaces, then buildings – (because) the other way around never works”.