So much has been said by politicians, opinion-writing journalists, and parties with vested interests about how to revitalise Auckland’s CBD, but it seems none of them have asked the general Aucklander as to what they believe the issues are. I have, and the responses haven’t shocked me, in fact, they are glaringly obvious.
We have to acknowledge that times have changed, we all get that, but more so for the CBD than anywhere else in the Super City - because Covid has shown us that it is no longer a Central Business District.
Covid is not the only reason behind this, technology has played a huge role in the new ways that we work, but when you combine the two, which of course was something nobody could have predicted, you have dramatically forced change.
Working from home, satellite offices, 4-day working weeks and zoom meetings, each of those items mean we need to completely rethink the CBD.
There was also something else that the CBD had: Queen Street and a few other directly connected lanes, it was specialist and exciting shopping. It used to be an epic trip, you’d head into the CBD to walk Queen Street and also the surrounding lanes, perusing the shops with glee. The Farmers store was a massive adventure in its own right, and alcoves like Queens Arcade with its specialist boutiques would entice you in. But now, wider Auckland is full of large shopping malls with supermarkets and big chain stores directly connected. The days of heading to Queen Street for a shopping adventure are well and truly over.
So this begs the question - is it really a Central Business District now?
For Auckland’s future, I think not.
I’ve asked many people why they don’t want to go into the CBD anymore, of course, you get the common response of crime, dirty, and difficulty navigating, but there’s more than just that, the other response is that there is no need. Even if the public transport system was actually efficient and able to take people in and out with zero fuss and bother, Aucklanders still do not want to go there. But more specifically, they just don’t need to.
So this puts a major problem in our laps. A CBD is meant to be the hub of any city, it’s meant to be the heart, where the majority of money is made, and where people will flock to just hang out. We can’t abandon it, and in reality, the only purpose of retail is to look after the direct residents and those who still work there.
You could wave the tourism flag, but let's be honest with ourselves, tourists don’t come to New Zealand to hang out in Auckland’s CBD. Yes, putting on a nice appearance for the cruise ships is important, but outside of that, well no.
So here’s my suggestion, let’s turn it into a Civic District. I mentioned this idea back in 2019, but to be fair, that was a completely different world and it was paid no mind. I also suggested it a couple of months back right here in the Herald, but again, it seems to have fallen on deaf ears. But I strongly believe we need to put this on the table. Auckland’s Civic District.
We know the restaurants and clubs are a special trip, and they can remain so, but they too are suffering the same fate as retail - because the hospitality sector is spreading its wings across the Super City and many see no reason to head into town anymore.
So what will the enticement be? How do we fill empty spaces of retail and business blocks? What do we use them for?
This is why it needs to be tabled, not just by the 20 Councillors and the Mayor, but by all of Auckland, and there’s no doubt that the opinions will be vast and strong.
I’m sure the majority will say “we don’t care” and they are justified in feeling this way because historically the CBD has been a focus of attention while the rest of Auckland has felt abandoned. Of course when you add in the money aspect, and fairness in regards to a return on rates, well the care factor from those outside the CBD drops even further - and the regions outside of the CBD cannot continue to be ignored.
You can’t force a CBD landlord to demolish or remodel their property to make way for civic activities, but if we come up with some great ideas then they may rethink their business plan.
A Civic District, a place to visit again as a special trip, an entertainment hub. What about a sports stadium at Victoria Park? The Viaduct, Silo Park and Wynyard Quarter are great starting points, but let’s table a whole lot more ideas, throw them all down and see what the people say.
My thoughts, ideas, visions and policies.