I’ve just spent a wonderful 3 weeks in New Zealand. It’s a great country – a little bit Britain, a little bit California and, yes, a little bit British Columbia. For the urbanists in the audience here a few brief observations:
Auckland Public Transit: Auckland’s privatized, balkanized public transit system was strange to use.
- Tickets purchased on one line often couldn’t be transferred to another connection – requiring the purchase of a second ticket. I understand the system is going to be amalgamated once again soon.
- Staffing levels was also unusual. There was the driver, who you would sometimes buy a ticket from. Sometimes you would buy your ticket from a transit official at the stop. There was another staffer at stops keeping an eye on things and taking stats. And there there was a staffer who, as far as I could see, was there to keep the ticket seller company. For a private system this seemed odd.
- Buses didn’t operate to a schedule – they left when they were full (at least on the lines I went on). It was impossible to connect with the trains, which did operate to a schedule.
- You would receive a ticket, which was punched with an old-fashioned ticket puncher. If you were transferring (from train to bus or vice versa) you’d receive a second transfer ticket. You could have a pocket full of little stubs quite quickly.
Pedestrians: Unlike in Vancouver pedestrians do not have the right of way at street corners. The only place they do have the right of way is at zebra-stripe crosswalks which are few and far between. Unless you are at these crosswalks cars will not stop for you. It’s dangerous to be a pedestrian in New Zealand.
Pedestrian-only streets: That said, both Auckland and Wellington each have very nice new pedestrian-only streets to stroll, shop and eat.
Shopping Streets: Auckland is older than Vancouver by decades and retains the local “village” shopping street of days past (in Vancouver think Kerrisdale). They’re quite charming and walkable and something which Vancouver is now trying desperately to recreate. Small towns too still have their “downtown” shopping streets – which you could not say of many small towns in B.C. Ironically I was told these streets are suffering due to new North American style autocentric malls and big-box stores.
Architecture: I find many buildings of recent construction in Vancouver to be extremely bland architecturally and in terms of materials and finish they often look like they were done on the cheap (which they, you know, were). Perhaps I’m just looking at someone else’s bad architecture with new eyes but I found new buildings in Auckland and Wellington to be more daring, better made, and much more varied in look and feel. It’s almost as if the Kiwi architects weren’t using a cookie-cutter!
Heritage: Auckland has done a much better job at preserving and refurbishing it’s heritage buildings than Vancouver. But then…most cities have.
Policing: There are no local police forces in New Zealand – everything is handled by the national New Zealand Police. I don’t know if this is good or bad but it comes in the shadow of recent local discussion on amalgamating the local Metro Vancouver police departments and ditching the RCMP and setting up a B.C. provincial police.
Highway Viaducts: According to the Auckland Transport Blog, Auckland like Vancouver is also considering ditching one of it’s viaducts. Neener neener.
The Globe has a long article in the weekend edition about Western Canada’s woeful lack of preparations for a large-scale earthquake. And I am reminded of local right-wing commentator Alex Tsakumis’s recent reaction – which was not just dismissal, but extreme anger, over the City of Vancouver sending personnel to New Zealand to study the Christchurch earthquake. His followers and/or the usual suspects took to the comment boards of France Bula’s blog to express their horror over the “taxpayer-funded vacation”. Which just goes to show when hate is your guiding principle, there is no issue that won’t be exploited for selfish purposes.