by John Subritzky
Whau Local Board missed the Waka Kotahi boat to trial leaping into the utopian future of car free streets, but maybe we should not feel bad about being left out. On offer were pilot projects to help envision things like streets becoming playgrounds, parklets, pavement art, pop-up cycleways and low traffic neighbourhoods.
$29M was used to 90% fund 60 projects nationwide of which Waka Kotahi spokeswoman Kathryn King said, “Our programme is designed to support partners to develop their capability in delivering tactical urbanism projects.”
Back in the day, tactical urbanism described a good thing where low-cost action was taken by citizens to rapidly improve their urban environment for positive outcomes. Central government could not resist adopting this languaging to disguise imposing massive changes on some communities, in the hope that resistance would be worn down and the locals would eventually accept changes becoming permanent.
The good people of Gore, who would not know a traffic jam if they were stuck in one, have also been subjected to the experiment in a $1M “Streets Alive” project. The main Street of Gore is wide enough to do a U turn in a container ship. The council ordered 440 concrete planter pots for its projects, which include 45 “courtesy crossings” and blocking off some streets. Some of the pots have been tipped over in protest.
In Onehunga there has been vocal pushback against the blocking of roads to create low traffic neighbourhoods. Some residents faced their commute time doubling as neighbouring arterial roads suddenly clogged with traffic. Locals there engaged in a bit of tactical urbanism themselves, removing the plywood box barriers each night until the Local Board stopped the trial, but not before the opponents’ efforts were labelled as vandalism and criminal. Of course, If you are going to effect change, you have to control the language.
The end of the trial must be a setback for Waka Kotahi, who mandated that projects “must also be able to demonstrate the value of using tactical urbanism to advance a future permanent change.”
There are many creative ways that our streets can be improved. Often better solutions come from the people directly affected on the ground rather than being imposed from above by Wellington. The innovating streets projects have divided opinion at a time when cohesive communities are needed more than ever.