Someone once told me, before my first-ever visit, that New Zealand is like Britain stuck in the Seventies. That wasn’t precisely how I found Auckland, but there was some subliminal truth in his analogy: the pace of life was slow, and so too it seemed was urban development.
Whenever I do return to my parents’ adopted home city once every couple of years, Auckland’s panoramas stay unchanged; yet, looking deeper into its skin cells, plumes of disused landscapes weren’t no longer as barren as I remembered them – but spruced up by a regeneration craze geysering in the city’s districts.
And it wasn’t just the sheer aspiration of creating aesthetic beauty that drenched me in awe, but also something of a relentlessness to reoccupy empty spaces with people – and with them communal animation.
From what I could see, it’s working like a charm.
The waterfronts used to house little more than the fish market that was worthy of visit. A much needed transformation later, much to my surprise, the silence was filled: glasses clinked and conversations clamoured along the North Wharf’s row of new restaurants; children squealed with laughter in the ball park, on pedal quad bikes in a makeshift course. Abandoned silos reincarnated into art galleries as hushed breaths echoed inside, and so did melodic metallic hammers whenever someone had a go on the communal piano.
Britomart, formerly just a transport hub, was dressed with extra dimensions in the form of a throughway lined with shops and eateries; punters gravitated towards the lawn before the Atrium and mingled on beanbags; on the Walkway, I spied curious peeks glancing down glass-panelled pits and onto the railway track underneath.
Good design is meant to appeal to the eye and inspire imagination; but great design has the power to draw people together and ignite the community spirit, like honeybees scurrying to the first spring blossoms.