It’s been a year since since Darby street officially opened as Auckland’s very first shared street. Since then Elliot, Lorne and Fort street have also been transformed to shared spaces and work is ongoing with further stages soon to be completed.
Auckland has a bad reputation as one of the most pedestrian unfriendly, car-centric cities in the world. The introduction of shared spaces marks a major shift for the city to a more inclusive and human-centric approach to urban planning.
Putting humans back into space
Shared space is an urban design concept that aims for an integrated, people-oriented understanding of public space. It reduced the dominance of vehicles over a space by creating streets that are shared equally between all users. Kerbs are removed and signage and rules kept to a minimum encouraging the interaction and mixing of pedestrians, cyclist and cars. This may seem counterintuitive at first but works surprisingly well.
The simple act of increasing interaction and re-balancing the power dynamics between all users allows a natural order to emerge. A few simple rules gives rise to complex behaviour that is inherently safe and to an extent self regulating. The removal of signage and apparent lack of road rules in the traditional sense does not however make this is a lawless place. Establishing a couple of key rules such as pedestrian right of way and no parking are important to soften the dominance of cars – especially in cities such as Auckland where the car is still king.
Photos by Sydney Struwig
Back to basics
Shared space as a design concept is certainly not new but has merely been formalised into a modern context. The core principle is as ancient as streets which traditionally where shared by everyone. Be it pedestrian, donkey, child, cyclist, carts, chickens or horse. Only with the rapid domination of the motorcar did we start seeing the segregation of pedestrians to a pavement. Understandably this was done for safety but mainly for the convenience of drivers. It makes sense on large, high speed thoroughfares where moving vehicle traffic is the main objective. But less so in built-up, people-dense spaces like a city street.
Not surprisingly there have been a few challenges in the process of introducing the concept. Cries of motorists predicting carnage and pedestrians roadkill never eventuated but an endemic problem of cars using the the new streets as parking lots still plagues the spaces. But the concept is fairly new and most drivers, used to being at the top of the food chain should learn the rules with time (and parking tickets). Ironically shop owners, the ones most to benefit had been some of the most vocal opponents. But a significant increase of pedestrian numbers has quickly changed minds and reiterate that cars don’t spend money but people do.
Despite all the growing pains the changes have had a massive impact on the quality of the streets. People linger, meet, sit and generally enjoy the vibrancy and buzz brought about by the change. Shops and eateries are spilling out into the streets further adding to the street-scape. The design concept is simple but the results are far richer and exciting than could have been achieved otherwise. It may even provide the first step towards full pedestrian zones.
Let’s hope it is only the first of many more to come.