Hard News by Russell Brown


Auckland City Nights

The editorial column of the New Zealand Herald has generally looked fondly on roads and private cars, sometimes -- as in the notorious editorial in the 90s that characterised public transport as a "scourge" -- beyond the point of reason.

So it's remarkable to read this morning's editorial calling for the closure of waterfront carparks, urging the spread of "shared space" streets, hailing redesigned bus routes and declaring "Public transport makes any city more accessible for visitors."

As the column notes:

The cup was not the inspiration for all the civic improvements we have featured in our pages today but it was the incentive to get them done. It provided a deadline without which, sometimes, nothing gets done.

The fact of the various improvements all coming at once has also allowed us not only to see them working, but to see them working together. We can see the gaps too -- does there really still need to be a road at the top of Wynyard Quarter?

To continue:

With better designed inner-city bus loops and a new bicycle hire service, Auckland's central attractions should be within reach. Karangahape Rd has been smartened up a little and Ponsonby Rd has more "pop up" bars. Discounted wireless internet will reach those ridges and lower Parnell, and extend to the vicinity of Eden Park. A "fan trail" for the energetic to walk from the city to the stadium has even cleaned up the footpaths of Arch Hill.

I think they have the wi-fi news wrong: it's not "discounted", it's free for eight weeks, thanks to the sponsorship of Localist and the network of Tomizone. (NB: See Glenn Barnes' observations on the system in the comments below.) And only one Arch Hill footpath has been "cleaned up" -- the path on the north side of Great North Road to Bond Street was re-sealed. But that's okay.

What's not okay is the way K Road has been "smartened up" -- with an ill-advised revamp of its overbridge, which shuts the street off from its environment. I appreciate the intent, but the new screens partially obscure the views that were the best thing about the scummy old shelter. Ironically, given the advocacy of the K Road Business Association in getting the project going, they'll also make it hard to see the new work by Askew One and friends, on the wall of the Rising Sun, made available by the KBA to make up for the Poynton Terrace debacle. (See here for the happy news on that.)


My unhappy impression of the overbridge was formed on Saturday, when I was in the area for B Street, 95bFM's free show across five K Road venues. Entry was solely with a current b-Card -- and they sold a lot of b-Cards; so many that we were worried that it would be a repeat of the Britomart B Street, which became a debacle thanks to the queues at the venues.

But that didn't happen. And a horde of young (and not so young) hipsters, most thoroughly off their chops but offering no peril to the wider populace, were generally able to move easily from room to room.

And, importantly, the music was good. I missed Bernie Griffin and the Grifters, who I gather owned the show at the Wine Cellar, but I did enjoy The Cavemen -- a group of tiny 16 year-olds from Western Springs College, playing mad psychobilly at 4:20 -- and the Transistors (proto-Clash?) and Street Chant (with new songs from the album they're making at Roundhead) in the same room later on. Special points for the crowd-surfers at Street Chant.

I got to hear The Checks play their new album from beginning to end at Galatos -- it's all languid Exile on Mainstreet grooves polished up with dance music inflections, and I liked it a lot -- and F In Math's kooky one-man electronica at the Rising Sun.

But what really blew me away was Zowie. She's a pop artist signed to Sony worldwide and on the face of it not a perfect fit for an indie fiesta, but she brought a ton of energy to her show. It's one thing saying you're going to do a glam-rock electro-pop dance pastiche -- quite another to realise that concept as well as Zowie and her band do. I was very impressed. I totally get the hype now.

But most of all, I'm happy for bFM. The b-Card became an object of desire -- if you didn't have one, you weren't getting in -- and that's where b wants to be. And to judge by Charlotte Red's Sunday morning tweet ...

why is there an empty wine glass in my bag and where is my phone #bstreet

... it sounds like the bFM folk had just as good a time as everyone else.


I've changed my mind about The Cloud. I had a beautiful ride from the Chev to La Cigale on Saturday, coming back via the CBD waterfront and past Queen's Wharf. The original designs made it look like an awning, but it is an actual building. I think it will be an excellent venue for the very good Queen's Wharf entertainent lineup. (And until such time as someone publishes the full schedule properly, I've uploaded it here as a PDF.)


And finally, Damian was going to write this, but hasn't found the time: on the evidence, I don't think the North Wharf strip at Wynyard Quarter is going to cope with RWC crowds. Our friends at the Down Low Concept took us out for a few drinks at Marvel Grill a couple of weeks ago, to mark the end of Public Address Radio, and it was a shambles. Food went ordered but undelivered (when we finally enquired, we were told they'd had "400 people through for lunch" and had run out of various dishes -- it wasn't clear when they planned on telling us). Drinks were slow to come and when we went to pay up, the bar had overcharged us $140 for things we'd never ordered.

I gather this isn't an isolated problem on that strip. Clearly, the pool of experienced hospitality staff is not all that deep. And even during the days, there have been half-hour queues for coffee (tip: there's a coffee cart down at the far western end of the quarter). On the night we were there, people were walking up and down looking for somewhere to buy cigarettes, which there wasn't. There's no after-dark retail at all.

"It kinda needs a StarMart," observed Nigel from The Down Low.

It's a shocking thing to say, but … yeah, it kinda does.

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