Laneways inject liveability back into New Zealand cities

Pedestrianised routes are making commercial areas more accessible. Catherine Harris reports.

The $4.4m upgrade of Auckland's O'Connell St adds to the city's connectivity.
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The $4.4m upgrade of Auckland's O'Connell St adds to the city's connectivity.

Across the country, laneways are springing up with the aim of breathing new life into our cities.

Laneways are pedestrianised routes through commercial areas and the trend is for new commercial and mixed-use developments to incorporate them at the design stage, to mimic any existing historic networks through shops and offices.

Laneways are appearing not just downtown Auckland but in Wellington, Christchurch and even Queenstown. Recently the Queenstown council shut off streets to test what it would be like to pedestrianise some of the area.

Elliott St has become more liveable thanks to Auckland Council's laneways programme.
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Elliott St has become more liveable thanks to Auckland Council's laneways programme.

Chris Wilkinson of retail consultancy First Retail Group says it had an immediate impact on the feel of the town.

"One of the secrets of success in retail is slowing pedestrians down  and letting them reconnect with their environment." 

In Melbourne, the most chic of Australian cities, it's estimated that improved walkability would be worth an additional $2 billion to the city's economy, and Auckland Council is keen to harness similar benefits.

Wellington's Eva St, one of a growing number of colourful laneways popping up in the Capital.
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Wellington's Eva St, one of a growing number of colourful laneways popping up in the Capital.

The council has a $20 million targeted rate fund which levies CBD building owners to fund inner-city projects, and many of those projects are now being poured into shared spaces and laneways.

Auckland Council's design champion Ludo Campbell-Reid says laneways add to the "theatre of life".

"People like tight, intimate street grids – and that's what is behind much of the inner city transformative work that has been happening in the last decade," he told Bayleys' Total Property magazine recently.

"Where the street grid or mesh is small, people are connected. Where the mesh is large – such as needing to walk along a narrow footpath past towering building structures that take up entire blocks – the disconnect with the city happens."

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He pointed to Vulcan Lane, Fort Lane, O'Connell Street, Elliott Street and the SKYCITY section of Federal Street as some of the "sleeping giants of the city". 

Bayleys' national director of commercial real estate, John Church, said the transformation of what had previously been back-door service lanes had been beneficial for many building owners.

"Leasing data shows that when laneway premises are rejuvenated, there is a substantial increase in foot traffic and a corresponding rise in per square metre rents."

For tenants in older-style buildings adjoining laneways, the design and character of laneways often mirrored the interior décor of their premises.

"Laneways and their adjacent premises are now coveted spaces where businesses and customers want to be. Shared laneway spaces remove the distinction between footpaths and roadways."

Church said the lack of vehicular traffic in laneways slowed down the pace at which people passed through the zones – thereby increasing "eyeball time" on retail outlets.

Currently Auckland Council is working towards creating a city centre laneway circuit, a walking route with a sequence of public squares and gathering spaces from Aotea Square to the waterfront.

Newer examples of the use of laneways include Wynyard Central, the residential part of the Wynyard Quarter, and the Britomart precinct.

In the revamped Fort Street area, an area which cost $23 million to upgrade, parking space is now much reduced. A recent survey shows retail hospitality spending is up 429 percent and 91 percent of users endorsed the changes.

In Fort Lane, Phillimore Properties Ltd has restored the Edwardian-era Imperial Buildings to a mixed use environment of office/retail and hospitality, and ''punched" through the building to enable people to walk from Queen Street through to Fort Lane.

Retail stalwart Smith & Caughey has its back entrance on Elliott Street, one of the city's first redeveloped shared laneway spaces.

Smith & Caughey chief financial officer Jason Copus told Bayleys the reworked street with its paving, established trees, seating and lack of kerbs had been incredibly positive for the department store.

"Prior to the upgrade and usage change, Elliott Street was pretty horrible to be frank. There was a lot of traffic – often travelling fast and creating hazards. Now it's a more relaxed, interesting space." 

SKYCITY Auckland general manager John Mortensen says the Federal Street precinct, completed in August 2013, has gone from being a busy thoroughfare to a landscaped, pedestrian-friendly zone, and a top dining precinct.

The precinct's transformation involved levelling the pavement, full reconfiguration of below-ground services, landscaping, adding outdoor seating and installing a living green wall. 

"The streetscape couldn't be more different today and there's a noticeable increase in pedestrian flow," he said.

In Wellington, already a walking city, there are now more than 70 lanes and arcades.

Wellington City Council urban design and heritage manager Trudy Whitlow said murals and colour were becoming a big feature of these shared spaces.

"They're the areas that people like because they have an intimate scale, are often sheltered from the wind, accommodate interesting and innovative businesses such as tech' start ups and artisan producers, and usually are the shortcuts to get from one place to another.

"When we upgrade lanes we work closely with commercial and residential property owners in the area. As a result, many owners have made changes to their tenancies or further developed their properties in conjunction with the work we do," Whitlow said.

"This means that there are more boutique spaces available to lease or rent and there is often an increased uptake of the premises."

The council was working with police to keep the lanes safe at night, but greater use also created passive security, she said.

 - Stuff

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