Reimagining the Central City

Artist's impression of greening Taranaki Street

They are ideas for a dynamic central city—one that’s built for people.  A city that’s attractive and green, with high quality buildings, parks and squares. It encourages people to walk and spend time outdoors.  It offers places to sit and relax, hang out with friends, go to entertainment or sports events, shop, eat and drink, work, and – increasingly – live. It is a friendly place, a place of creativity and imagination.

Wellington’s central city is all of these things. But it can be made even better.

A prosperous centre

In future, businesses based on knowledge, creativity and technical know-how are likely to lead global economic growth. Wellingtonians’ future jobs and prosperity will depend on our ability to foster this type of business.

The central city should provide a focal point for creative and knowledge industries. Education and research institutions should be supported, and high-tech or creative start-up companies could be encouraged to cluster in certain areas of the city – perhaps in areas of renewal.

The benefits of ICT, such as high-speed broadband and other ‘smart’ communications platforms, could be maximised by stimulating investment in the central area, to spur new innovation by savvy businesses and individuals.  For example, a number of cities in the world are making public data freely available via the web to encourage developers to create new open source applications.

Green streets

The city’s streets can be made greener and more attractive, both for people who are walking and those who are driving, cycling or skating through.

Major routes – such as Taranaki Street and Kent/Cambridge Terrace – can be converted to tree-lined boulevards. Streets and lanes can be beautified with trees and gardens/planters. In some areas, these can provide ‘green corridors’ linking areas of Town Belt and reserve land.

Inner city parks and squares can be expanded and enhanced to provide more places to sit and relax. New inner city residential buildings could include small parks, atriums or squares.

Stream streets and urban wetlands

Inner city streets that run along the paths of old streams could be planted and landscaped.  This will provide natural filtration for stormwater before it runs into the harbour, as well as beautifying the city and acknowledging a key aspect of its environmental past.  Natural wetlands should also be developed around the harbour.

Building for the landscape

Wellington is dominated by its natural landscape—its harbour and hills—in a way that very few other cities are.  The landscape provides drama and interest. It makes the city attractive. And it shapes the city’s growth.

The city’s buildings can be designed in ways that are more sensitive to this landscape – for example, by ensuring that building height and form are sensitive to ridgelines and other natural features, and by protecting and enhancing view shafts.

New developments should also be sensitive to the surrounding built environment so that pockets of the central city have a distinctive yet coherent character.

New residential developments could provide a mixture of high quality places to live, ground floor shops, and attractive, well-lit spaces between buildings so residents can get around easily on foot.

The inner eco-city

A reimagined inner city should support sustainable transport choices, by encouraging people to walk, bike, skate, blade or take the bus or train.

Its buildings should also reflect our goal to be an eco-city, meeting strong environmental standards and providing high levels of comfort for building users while minimising use of energy and water.

Innovations such as solar energy, rainwater harvesting and green walls and roofs should become commonplace. Some areas of the city could be designated for leading-edge green development.

Making connections

No matter how you travel, it should be easy to orient yourself in the city and find your way around.  Wellington’s streets, buildings and public spaces can be improved to support easier ‘wayfinding’ and to encourage a stronger sense of connection between different parts of the city.

Visual and physical connections between many parts of the city and the waterfront can be improved. So can connections between the city centre and the Town Belt, and visual connections between related buildings, such as the public institutions clustered around Parliament.

Creating neighbourhoods

Though Wellington’s central city is compact, it is also made up of a series of distinct precincts or neighborhoods, each with its own character – from the retail-dominated Golden Mile to the entertainment district around Courtenay Place to the creativity of Cuba Street to office parks and inner city residential areas.

Some of these neighbourhoods are relatively underdeveloped and have the potential to be transformed into healthy inner city communities to accommodate much of the region’s future population growth. 

Telling our stories

A dynamic inner city is one which clearly expresses its own past and the identities of its people.  Wellington’s capital city status should be reflected in its urban design.  It should celebrate its mana whenua and the diversity of its population in the design of its buildings, parks and squares, signs and public artworks.

The city should also reflect the changes in its natural environment, for example through the stream streets referred to above.  As we walk around the city, we should be aware of the history beneath our feet.

Growth and change

While the future is unfolding it remains uncertain, so streets, buildings and public spaces should be designed to ensure they can be adapted to changes in use.  As one example, apartment buildings should be designed so that ground floors can be easily converted to shops or cafes to meet demand in future.

What is certain is that the city will grow, and that growth will be concentrated in the central city and along a ‘growth spine’.  With more inner city residents and businesses, the city must be designed to accommodate that growth.

Being a dynamic central city means bringing together these concepts into a set of ideas to show how the central city’s physical form could be enhanced. 

Related links

  1. Laneways
  2. Cross-valley Links
  3. Capital precincts: Parliament and Memorial Park
  4. Victoria Street Precinct
  5. Triangular Spaces
  6. Green infrastructure
  7. Boulevards
  8. Better connected waterfront
  9. Quality built form