MP Chlöe Swarbrick wants to pedestrianise Queen Street (Photo: Benjamin Brooking)
MP Chlöe Swarbrick wants to pedestrianise Queen Street (Photo: Benjamin Brooking)

The BulletinJune 15, 2022

Down on Main Street

MP Chlöe Swarbrick wants to pedestrianise Queen Street (Photo: Benjamin Brooking)
MP Chlöe Swarbrick wants to pedestrianise Queen Street (Photo: Benjamin Brooking)

Around the country, residents and officials are grappling with who and what central city areas are for, writes Anna Rawhiti-Connell in The Bulletin.


The death of the high street

This so-called death has been a big topic of conversation in the UK over the last few years. Retailers were already struggling before the pandemic and lockdowns exacerbated the trend. The Centre for Cities is a think tank dedicated to improving the economies of large cities and towns in the UK. In a series of blogs, two years on from the start of the pandemic in March, the Centre for Cities has said it believes a recovery is underway but it’s heavily caveated by a question about what recovery means when the baseline for many cities was low before the pandemic started. They pitch making cities more attractive as a place to do business and attracting investments for high-skilled, high-paid jobs as the solution to attracting people back. Demand for retail will follow, they say.

The death of Queen Street

 In New Zealand, we have also been existentially wrestling with what and who central city areas are for since before the pandemic. It’s hit a kind of fever pitch in Auckland of late as we try to race past the lingering effects of the last two years and into an uncertain future. The NZ Herald has been running a series on rebirthing the central city (some articles are paywalled). There’s been a particular focus on the state of the city’s main drag, Queen Street, which has been pronounced dead, apocalyptic and a slum. In a guest post on Greater Auckland, Nancy Mitchelson catalogues the cyclical history of the street and writes, “this is not the first time that Queen Street has become a touchstone for wider anxieties about the state of our city and the social fabric that binds us, and it is unlikely to be the last.” 

Taking back the streets

 MP for Auckland central Chlöe Swarbrick launched a petition to pedestrianise Queen Street yesterday. Swarbrick says it will “transform the area into a cultural hub and living space for our 40,000 residents and hundreds of thousands of visitors, instead of a thoroughfare that pushes people to the sidelines.” Swarbrick cited Sydney’s George Street as an example of success. There was a mixed bag of responses to the idea from Auckland’s mayoral candidates. Craig Lord really put it on the line by saying “one day Queen Street could be pedestrianised.” Ted Johnston was succinct and said “I am not in agreement.” Both Viv Beck and Wayne Brown said “not right now”. Leo Malloy thinks it’s lunacy and Efeso Collins said “more pedestrian-friendly areas in downtown Auckland is a good idea.”

Everywhere is grappling, battling and reimagining

 Iwi-owned Tainui Group Holdings (TGH) has put a plan on the table in Hamilton to reimagine Centre Place, the inner city mall. I used to hang out there a lot as a teenager when it was cool and new. TGH says it’s drawing inspiration from Auckland’s Britomart so I guess that means Auckland isn’t a complete bust. In Dunedin, big upgrades are planned for its main street, George Street. In Tauranga, by-election candidates are divided about a $300m plan to redesign and redevelop the city centre. While Aucklanders are worried about the apocalypse on Queen Street, Wellingtonians are concerned about a loss of mojo. A recent council report found the sense of community and pride in the city has diminished sharply over the past four years.

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Mad Chapman, Editor
Aotearoa continues to adapt to a new reality and The Spinoff is right there, sorting fact from fiction to bring you the latest updates and biggest stories. Help us continue this coverage, and so much more, by supporting The Spinoff Members.Madeleine Chapman, EditorJoin Members

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