Urban planner Rachel de Lambert is shaping the city she lives in
Through projects like the Cornwall Park master plan, the Wynyard Quarter redevelopment and the Auckland Urban Design Panel, landscape architect and urban planner Rachel de Lambert brings a people-focussed sensibility to Auckland's most significant infrastructure projects. She says that designing a city with its people in mind is something that's been missing.
"To some extent, city planners have disappeared," de Lambert says. "Most large European and American cities were, at some point in their history, planned out. But as a young country, our cities in New Zealand have grown in a much more ad hoc way."
Christchurch follows a fairly traditional layout of a central city square, with smaller squares surrounding it and a parklands area in the city centre. On the other hand, Auckland with its distinctive topography of volcanic cones and coastlines on either side, "has always resisted urban planning" says de Lambert. "But we need to do it now. We need to think about the urban form of our city."
As a director at Boffa Miskell, the native Cantabrian is intimately involved in shaping the future of the city she now lives in.
"Rachel was assigned to the first Mayoral Task Force on Urban Design in 2005 – which was charged with helping local government understand why Auckland had delivered such poor urban design, and how to go about changing the city to a place that truly worked for the people that live here," says Ludo Campbell-Reid, the Urban Design Champion at Auckland Council.
The restoration of St Patrick's Cathedral and Square was one of the earliest initiatives to come out of the project.Upgrading the square with high-quality paving, a stepped water feature, several grassed areas and two artworks created a much-lauded "urban oasis" away from the hustle and bustle of city life and the project won two landscape awards after its completion in late 2009.De Lambert considers that project to be a benchmark of successful urban planning.
"My office is quite close to St Patrick's Square, and I looked out the other day and I saw a couple of guys who'd brought their lawn chairs out onto the grass, and they were relaxing and treating the space as if it was their own backyard – and that sort of ownership has been the goal all along.
"Good urban planning needs involve people, and it needs to empower people and influence the way they live in their city. So it's not just something that's happening to them, or around them - people need to see themselves in the design."
That philosophy applies to Auckland 's visitors, too. De Lambert is involved with the New Zealand International Convention Centre project, and she says that a priority of the design is to encourage conference attendees to engage with the city.
"Usually these facilities have an attractive front facade, but then around the sides and back, there's nothing inviting. The people who go there to attend an event aren't encouraged to go beyond the walls of the facility – and at the same time, the residents of the city are completely removed from any interaction with the visitors."
She says the NZICC project, which brings together architects Warren and Mahoney, convention centre design experts Woods Bagot and architecture adviser Craig Moller along with Boffa Miskell as the urban designers, is a big step in revitalising an area of Auckland that "has been let down by poor planning."
"Everyone on the project is committed to ensuring that the public realm is prioritised. The pedestrian lane is an essential part of the design. It will give the people who live and work in that area someplace to go – there will be cafes and hospitality and retail options. And where the locals go, the conventioneers will follow – and then they'll feel motivated to move further out into the city and really experience the city.
Campbell-Reid says this people-centred view towards urban planning is something that's been missing in the field.
"As a landscape architect and urban planner, Rachel is brilliant at what she does; and she's working a space that's historically been very much driven by men. So when people see Rachel in the boardroom, or on the job site, or in an urban park that she quite literally made - there's absolutely an extra impact."
But remodelling a city – like renovating an older house – is not without inconvenience, stress, expense and delays.
De Lambert acknowledges that reshaping the urban landscape through large-scale infrastructure projects will always involve costs and benefits. "As an urban planner, the best way to an advocate for the benefits of good design is by being involved with good designs. One of the things I love about what I do is that although my client is the developer or the local council, there's always another client – the community."
Campbell-Reid says that as she helps refashion the city, de Lambert sits on both sides of the process.
"For more than a decade, Rachel has been very influential in the direction of Auckland council's policies on urban design and development. Those policies influence the shape of our city – and, as an Auckland resident, the city then influences the way Rachel lives. So she's immersed in the process. For her, city-making truly comes full-circle – and there aren't many people in that position."
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