Why are our ‘high streets’ in decline? Cars are neither the problem nor the answer!
10 August 2021,
by Dean Croucher
What’s wrong with our high streets? Everywhere you look, our traditional ‘high streets’ are in decline – from Queen Street to our local suburban centres and even across parts of provincial New Zealand.
Many are old and tired and often defined by failed ‘mom and dad’ retail ventures, derelict buildings, unloved public spaces and an increasing homeless population – all despite local government spending a fortune on street beautification and renewal projects over the past 10 years in numerous communities.
So what’s the problem? Covid-19 and the transformation of retailing is partly to blame. Traditional high street retailers are getting slammed by online shopping, regional malls (that are only getting bigger) and recently, C-19.
But many think our transportation planning is the main issue. Too many cars and carparks (if you are Wellington City) or not enough cars and carparks if you are the Save Queen Street Society (SQSS). So what’s the right answer? Many traditional retailers still want customers to be able to easily drive and park close to their store. While in principle I support WCC’s decision to pedestrianise the Golden Mile in Wellington (maybe not across the full length as mooted), too many cars are not the problem or the answer for that matter.
If you’ve walked down Queen Street recently, there’s no denying it’s pretty bleak – vacant retail shops, temporary site works/pedestrianisation initiatives and an increasing sense of unease for personal safety the further you go up Queen Street from the waterfront. I certainly caution my kids living in Auckland about avoiding it after dark.
Many of the leading building owners and retailers in the Auckland CBD believe the problem lies with Auckland Council and Auckland Transport, who’ve spent years trailing new initiatives, resulting in fewer cars and carparks for visitors to the CBD.
Some feel so strongly they’ve formed the Save Queen Street Society and are taking legal action against the Council who argue that a full redevelopment of the area is underway that’s in line with their CDB masterplan – similar to what’s happening along Quay Street.
The Auckland frustration no doubt comes on the back of over five years of total chaos around the lower CBD with the City Rail Link project closing off several roads and businesses and major projects like Commercial Bay and Quay Street often bringing the roads around this part of the city to a standstill.
The real issue
While Council needs to get on with the renewal works, I don’t think cars and parking is the problem or the answer. And many parties are missing the point.
A common theme across the CBD and many other urban centres is the lack of people actively living, working, learning and ‘playing’. No manner of landscaping or streetscape enhancement will replace the energy that people bring to these places.
If you look at Queen Street, it lacks three fundamental elements to attract people:
The office buildings are old and obsolete having been replaced by low-rise campus style buildings along the waterfront (Britomart, Viaduct, Wynyard) or by premium international-class office complexes like Commercial Bay. Heritage/boutique office space has its place, but there are very few contemporary office options along Queen Street that will attract large corporate or government occupiers who have large workforces to accommodate, even post the C-19 WFM adjustment
There are few modern purpose-built apartment or townhouse complexes that appeal to middle to high-income city dwellers. Again there are heritage and budget-driven conversations, including hotel accommodation, but nothing that would compete with the options in and around the Viaduct or Wynyard for outlook, views, amenity and living experience (noting some newer options are emerging nearby like in Albert Street which will help gentrify the CBD – which, in this context, is a good thing in my view)
The public spaces are not curated or maintained with any care. It is pointless investing in streetscape initiatives when they’re not maintained and curated on a daily basis to create a community feel. Britomart works so well because the owner/manager has set strong design and aesthetic guidelines and meticulously manages, maintains and curates the spaces on a daily basis to create attractive and welcoming areas for the office occupiers, nearby residents and retail customers to use
Part of the solution
The answer is people – the presence of people who activate, curate and breathe new life back into these spaces. But for that to happen, they need a reason for being there.
This requires (among other things):
Smaller sites/landholdings to be aggregated, with smaller owners clubbing together in consortia type arrangements to create larger development opportunities
Demolition of older properties to create a mixed use precinct, retaining genuine heritage amenity
Coordinated streetscaping, transport planning and private development to create boundless urban areas that blend between the private and public domain, as has successfully occurred in Britomart, Wynyard and other precincts
Breaking up Queen Street into sub-precincts with their own nuance, rather than creating a single street view
Deliberate curation of the public space, increased security built in to the design of buildings and places, and meticulous maintenance of private and public spaces to create an inviting place
A first-mover investor/developer to take a leap of faith and develop an anchor offering, to attract new investment and interest
Maybe it just a timing thing – but why have other precincts around the city undergone transformation and Queen Street continues to wain? It’s not about cars, carparks or pop-up installations. It’s about creating spaces where people want to live, work and play. Until this happens, many of the efforts are wasted.
About the author
Loves anything blue. Avoids routine and making plans. Dreams of playing golf on the senior tour. Should have been a chef or writer. Fond of chardonnay and food (any kind).
Dean is one of NZ's leading property advisers with 30 years of consulting experience acting for major tenants and owner-occupiers. He specialises in property strategy, tenant representation, project leadership and major transactions. He also continues to provide peer review advice across all major projects.
Last month, we undertook market research to gauge the state of organisations’ thinking on their office requirements and workspace post-COVID-19 to give us a better understanding of how businesses are reacting to the crisis from...
As businesses put emergency measures in place to cope with the rapid economic impact COVID-19 is having on all sectors, one of the areas of focus will be reviewing large fixed overhead costs such as...
Commercial property expert Dean Croucher shares his insights on the buoyant Wellington CBD office market and the best ways for tenants to tackle their next property move using “strategic sourcing principles” rather than being...
Recent research by Colliers highlights increasing risk that Auckland CBD office tenants will have fewer options to choose from in the future as vacancy levels sit at the lowest level seen (since records began in the mid-1990s).
As part of our ongoing partnership with NZ Police, TwentyTwo (Dean Croucher and Rob Campbell) were engaged by Annabel Bayes (Strategic Property Adviser with NZ Police) to the lead the procurement of a new workplace for Auckland Police in Auckland City to replace the current Auckland Central Police Station at Cook Street/Vincent Street.
I recently saw an article online (from a friend of mine (Glenn Blumenfeld) who runs a similar independent property advisory practice in Philadelphia) talking about the impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI) on the property markets – pointing out that the uptake of AI will replace many of the traditional processing/research roles in professional services firms (legal/accounting) – who have been the largest occupiers of CBD office space in the past.
With 2017 coming to a close, here’s my take on some key markets, our diversifying client base, the corporatisation of the co-working space, the shift in corporate capital away from bricks and mortar and our...
Marketing Communications Coordinator (Part Time/Wellington or Auckland based). TwentyTwo is a leading professional services practice providing strategic property advice to government and corporate clients, from offices in Auckland and Wellington.
TwentyTwo has recently been appointed to the Government Property Panel, an appointment that recognises our deep understanding and experience of working for the main Crown/Government agencies over the last 27 years.
At the recent Property Institute Government Property event in Wellington, TwentyTwo’s Dean Croucher joined David White from Government Property Group, Peter Dow (deputising for an unwell Maurice Clark) and Steve Maitland from Colliers to discuss...
Team TwentyTwo celebrated the end of another fantastic year last weekend by heading up to Auckland to see Coldplay live at Mt Smart Stadium! The previous night, our team got together for a few quiet red...
We're passionate about the success of Wellington and its contribution to the economy. Our business contributes to that success by helping organisations make better property decisions that help them unleash their potential.
In Part 3 of a series of blogs on the New Zealand Green Building Council, we review the future of NZGBC and what it offers organisations, particularly tenants and owner-occupiers…The NZGBC is 10 years...
Following Part 1 published last week where we introduced the NZGBC and outlined our early involvement and renewed commitment to the Council, Part 2 gives a brief history, along with our experience of tenant/end...
TwentyTwo has recently renewed its commitment as a member of the New Zealand Green Building Council (NZGBC).And since World Green Building Week is all set for 21-27 September, we’re marking the occasion with a series of three blogs over three weeks to highlight NZGBC’s role in working to improve the quality and sustainability of NZ properties, as well as our involvement over the years.
Great to see some real progress on site last week with two of our projects…
On Monday morning, I attended the ‘ground breaking’ ceremony for Cuba Central – the new Creative Technologies and Arts Centre being developed by Willis Bond for WelTec and Whitireia.
On 24 September a number of clients joined us to celebrate the start of our sponsorship for the 2014/2015 season with Andrew Durante, Captain of the world famous Wellington Phoenix!
Andrew was a real hit and...
A robust, well-researched white paper released by Gail Corder Fischer of US tenant representation business Fischer explains how corporate tenants might be “leaving more money than they realise on the table when they place their property portfolios in the hands of large real estate brokerages that serve multiple stakeholders”.