Mt Albert is on the verge of a transformation. Josie Adams gives a roadmap for how to change Auckland’s second-oldest suburb without ruining it in the process.
Until now, Mt Albert’s drawcards have tended towards its outskirts. Hotspots like St Lukes and the Auckland Zoo all lie on the fringe of the township, teasing at a more exciting core. Soon though, the suburb’s centre has a chance to become a drawcard. Auckland Council’s City Rail Link (CRL) plans will open up Mt Albert to the supercity masses.
Mt Albert is already well-connected, but it hasn’t got the infrastructure to let people make the most of these connections. That’s about to change. Coming soon are major moves on housing, community spaces, and businesses; all thanks to the fast connections the CRL will create. Mt Albert is set to transform, but the question remains: how can it do so in a way that doesn’t lose what makes it special?
The Auckland City Rail Link (CRL) is the largest transport infrastructure project in New Zealand history. It will double Auckland’s rail capacity and extend its reach, making every part of the city more accessible and giving those living in the outer suburbs better access to jobs, education, and recreation. Mt Albert in particular is going to benefit. Commuting times from the area to the city centre are likely to drop to 10 to 15 minutes. New connections to Karangahape Rd, Albert St and Aotea Square will be available.
If the team masterminding Mt Albert’s future consider it with CRL in mind, upcoming developments could turn the suburb into a hive of activity. Foot traffic, restaurant culture and community programmes could soon abound. There are some clear options for business and community leaders looking to start Mt Albert’s redevelopment on the right track.
The Ray White space
Panuku, a branch of Auckland Council, is owns a piece of land adjacent to the Mt Albert train station. It’s being leased commercially to a real estate company, Ray White, but could potentially be used to transform the Mt Albert train station. The space is part of a larger section of properties currently being held for a proposed town square or park, either of which would improve Mt Albert’s atmosphere dramatically.
Mt Eden’s post-CRL plans include a swanky new station, bigger and better than anything before. Panuku might consider using the Ray White space to do something similar. In its current state, the Mt Albert train station could be described as “unnerving,” or “well-designed for dying in”. Huge walls form a visual barrier between train commuters and the outside world, the steep staircase is a hazard for anyone the minute it rains. Being smacked in the face with a real estate company as soon as you set foot in the suburb seems like overly aggressive advertising.
The space backs on to the train tracks, so the station’s looming, cloudy walls could be removed to allow a more well-lit, gradual flow from the platform up to the property. Incorporating a slightly larger station with the proposed park or town square could create the bustling, community-minded space needed to stop the odd bad egg from pulling a knife or hurling racial abuse.
Westfield St Lukes
Everyone loves a cheeky trip to St Lukes shopping centre, but no-one loves parking there. With high-density trains coming in, it’s likely Auckland Transport will need to consider improving bus services from the train station to St Lukes. With this route available, the shopping centre could have an even greater level of traffic.
St Lukes parent company, Scentre, is planning on redeveloping it over the next two years. A plan for redevelopment that embraces the changing nature of transport could bring the mall new visitors, some eco-friendly kudos, and — most importantly — decrease road-rage in the parking building.
Won’t somebody think of the children?
The Mt Albert area is positioned between several high schools, whose students will find the new ease of transport a great reason to stick around after school. Since getting home won’t be such a chore for those living out of the zone, Mt Albert may have to find a way to keep young people occupied in the afternoons.
Community youth hubs are popping up frequently in developing suburbs. Mt Albert already has a YMCA and its associated youth programme, but a more creative space akin to The 312 Hub could be closer to what young people actually want. A youth-run space with creative resources like paints, instruments, and even a couple of Photoshop-equipped computers could be set up using a small amount of the Panuku-leased space that runs from Ray White up to the corner of the Carrington Rd intersection.
This would keep those darn kids off your lawn during the long summer afternoons, before they start their record-short commutes home.
Lower Queen St’s post-CRL plans are looking very pedestrian (literally). Cobblestones and outdoor seating will turn a large part of Auckland’s CBD into a car-free shopping mecca. Mt Albert has already made its mountain vehicle free, and could conceivably do the same with its potential future train station-park-town square.
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The sites Panuku leases back onto the infamous Carrington Rd-New North Rd intersection, which can cause traffic back-ups for hundreds of metres during rush hour. During recent construction of a new red light system at the intersection, traffic through Mt Albert dropped off considerably and hasn’t yet recovered.
A large pedestrian area would attract public transport visitors to Mt Albert, which needs the economic boost more than most. Thanks to the intersection, most drivers find alternative routes around the suburb, leaving some businesses on New North Rd struggling. An attractive, pedestrian-friendly town centre will make car traffic less necessary.
The CRL is coming. Although the Albert St works are suffering some delays, suburbs connected to the rail system need to start preparing for change. With the likes of Panuku and Scentre planning well ahead, other suburbs may want to watch and learn from Mt Albert’s future. It’s looking bright.
In the first in a new event series looking at the future of Auckland, The Spinoff and Auckland Council hosted In My Backyard: The City of Mt Albert, examining the role of the suburb in the city’s development.