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10 ways to make the most of hosting the America’s Cup

It’s not just the sailing, or the tourism, or the technology. Major sports events give cities the best chance they ever get to transform themselves – so, asks Simon Wilson, will Auckland seize the day? And will the oil companies and other corporates currently sitting on the Tank Farm turn out to be good corporate citizens, or will they sabotage the city’s prospects? 

One of the most obvious things Auckland needs to get sorted, now the America’s Cup is heading back this way, is the Tank Farm in the Wynyard Quarter. It’s that peninsula beyond Silo Park, jutting into the Waitematā, the absolute jewel in the city’s waterfront crown. The long-term plan is for it to become a park with a large public building of some kind. Right now, though, it’s full of tanks, the soil is polluted, and the companies that hold the leases to the land – oil companies and others – don’t have to give them up for several years. In fact, there’s a clause in their leases that says if the council wants to push them out it will have to cough up $20 million in penalties.

Cough bloody cough. $20 million? This is where the spirit of what the America’s Cup truly means for New Zealand can start, right here. How about those companies act like good corporate citizens, relinquish the land and restore it to a useable environmental state? In return, we’ll honour their names in the history of this city, ensure their generosity is recorded at the site in perpetuity.

That could happen, right?

Let’s consider, for the moment, the situation in Paris. The first city of France wants the Olympics in 2024. Fortuitously, for those who feel fate should play a hand in these things, it will be exactly 100 years since Paris last had the Olympics. The only other city still bidding to host the Games that year is Los Angeles, which last had them much more recently, in 1984. Both bids are based on – wait for it – the environmental credentials of the cities. Both are presenting themselves as world leaders in sustainable urban planning and climate change activism. Both want to use the Games to enhance that status, to drive sustainability principles through every part of the planning and to fast-track big new transformational projects.

Sound familiar? Well, no, not really. (Thinking about you, Tank Farm oil companies.)

Because that’s not the kind of thinking that goes into a lot of the big event planning in this country. Even though it could be. Auckland’s got the America’s Cup to defend in a few years, and every few years after that for decades to come (hey, why not?). And right now the city is the principal host of the British and Irish Lions tour. These events are our Olympics: the events that draw the most tourists, turn into the biggest street parties, give us the best chance to transform the infrastructure and economy of the city for the better.

Last time round, for the Rugby World Cup in 2011, we upgraded the suburban rail system and opened up Queens Wharf. They weren’t very lofty goals, but they were progress. Before that, in 2000 and 2003 when New Zealand won and then defended the America’s Cup, we built the Viaduct – and that was progress too, the beginning of the transformation of the city, or at least its hospitality sector.

Those America’s Cup events are said to have pumped over $1 billion into the local economy. Are we harnessing that as well as we might? This is why cleaning out the Tank Farm and transforming that peninsula is important: it’s a totemic task for the whole Cup regime. If we think only of making money from the Cup we will have failed. We have to use it to build ourselves a better city. So what else could that involve?

The Paris Olympics proposal is instructive. Their target is to halve the carbon footprint of the London Olympics, which in 2012 terms was itself a low-carbon event. A mere 15 per cent of people will get to the Paris events by car – the rest will use public transport and active modes, which means walking and cycling. Venues will be linked by closed cycle routes.

Actually, there’s a problem with the cycling. Not people doing it, that’s all fine. It’s how and where they’re going to park thousands of bikes at the same venue at the same time. Dutch and Danish solutions, involving vertical bike parking, will be introduced.

The city needs to build 85,000 new homes a year, just to keep up, and a lot of them will be social housing. The Games gives impetus to mass-scale residential urban planning.

French president Emmanuel Macron plays tennis Paris during an event to promote the candidacy of Paris for the Olympics Games in 2024. Photo: Alain Jocard/AFP/Getty Images

Climate change is a serious and largely undisputed issue in Paris. They know they have to plan for extreme weather events – the heatwaves of May and June are expected to become blisteringly dangerous come August. So mitigation is top of mind.

That’s one reason the city plans to clean up the River Seine, which is polluted by residential and industrial runoff upriver and commercial use through the city centre. All the water will be cleaner, and along the way they will create 10 fully filtered public swimming pools. Perfect for cooling off when the heat gets too much – seriously, that’s what they’re thinking.

France (well, Switzerland originally) has a famous balloonist called Bertrand Piccard, whose place in the national psyche is a lot like Peter Blake’s, although Piccard was not tragically murdered by pirates in the Amazon. Piccard promotes a ‘1000 Ideas’ campaign, the essence of which is to encourage everybody to think creatively about ways to combat climate change, to make the city, the country and the planet a better place for everyone.

Paris is leaning on Piccard in its Olympics bid: it wants to use the event to foster a great spirit of innovative problem solving. Peter Blake would completely understand. Paris also plans to use sports stars to front hearts-and-minds campaigns about climate change – imagine that.

One other thing about the Paris bid, and it’s nothing to do with climate change or sustainability goals: they’ll stage the equestrian contest at Versailles and the beach volleyball on the Champs de Mars, the park right by the Eiffel Tower. Imagine that, too.

Can we, should we, take anything from that? Here’s my starting list of 10 ways to say yes.

10 big opportunities: an Auckland to-do list for the America’s Cup

1. Create that great new thing on the Tank Farm. Our own Eiffel Tower? Actually, that’s not what I was thinking. But definitely the parkland and what about a high-tech, immersive Museum of the Sea? The first waka, the first European exploration, coloinsation in its messy reality, all the life of the oceans, conservation, recreation, trade, the future: from Kupe to Burling and beyond.

The land should not be cleared and cleaned with public money. Let’s be really clear about this. We want the corporates to step up and do their civic duty. The leadership they provide in doing this could, should and surely will become the inspirational leadership the city needs to make the most of the transformational potential of the Cup.

The Tank Farm by Silo Park, Auckland. Photo: Kanwal Sandhu/Getty Images

2. Establish some other breathtakingly original venues. If they sail the cup in the Waitematā, turn the beaches and headlands into carnival towns – because it is the beaches and headlands, along with the volcanoes, that are our special venues.

3. Build bike paths to get people there. Including SkyPath on the harbour bridge, obviously. Link the bike paths in a big network reaching far into the suburbs and post really beautiful, easy-to-read maps all over the place.

4. Build a bike share scheme with a lot of e-bikes, as outlined here. Deadline America’s Cup: let’s make that (2020 or 2021?) the date when biking in Auckland reaches a tipping point and becomes common.

5. Rail to the airport. Rail to the airport. Rail to the airport! Read about it here. Embrace the notion that the best way to free up the roads is to take some of the cars off the roads, and fast track the Congestion Free Network. Light rail and rapid bus transit, as explained here.

6. Turn our sports stars into the heroes of the city of the future. Think Jerome Kaino and the buses, only even cooler.

7. Manage the build of the City Rail Link so that by the time of the America’s Cup the downtown area is free from disruption and made freshly vigorous in all sorts of commercial and entertainment ways.

8. Link the Arts Festival with the sports festival. It’s common for arts festivals to precede the Olympic Games, so why not do that here? Get all sports and arts fans to see the beauty in one another’s work and transform the city with some breathtakingly original creative events.

North Wharf in the Wynyard Quarter. Photo: Nazar Abbas/Getty Images

9. Open the downtown waterfront to the public, along the lines explained by Greater Auckland here. North Wharf – the whole Wynyard Quarter – is coming along so nicely. But now the downtown waterfront, from Princes Wharf east, needs to catch up. Fast-forward the plan to open up the finger wharves and make Quay St pedestrian friendly. Get those damn imported cars off the wharves – I’ve suggested a striking new car park building (yes it can be done). Move the cruise ships, eastwards to Bledisloe or westwards to the other side of the Tank Farm. Turn the U of Queens Wharf, Quay St and Captain Cook Wharf into an amphitheatre, with a barge moored in the water, for the best concerts and operas and fireworks and waterworks we’ve ever seen.

10. Start our own 1000 Ideas for Auckland campaign. Because there’s water and sewage to consider, and energy generation and consumption, and the future of the volcanic cones and the great imperative to build low-cost housing at scale. And let’s not forget this: an integration project for kids in schools, because wouldn’t it be cool if the America’s Cup created life-changing opportunities for children right throughout the city? This list barely scratches the surface. We’ve got work to do.

Oh, and our equivalent of beach volleyball beneath the Eiffel Tower? It’s possible one or two people might say I don’t know a lot about yachting, but seriously? Fleet racing. Sail those boats once around Rangitoto and finish under the harbour bridge. Which is closed to traffic and open to sightseers with deckchairs during each race. If there’s some nautical reason that’s not possible, come up with something better.

Simon Wilson visited Paris recently courtesy of the French government.


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