Opoia waterfront options

This post examines some real-world examples of what the 240m-long Opoia River esplanade could look like.
The 2008 ‘Hamilton City Heart Revitalisation Project’ recommended four key responses for Opoia:
(1) Reduce section sizes from 350m2 to 200m2; (2) Allow parking requirements to be the same as in the city centre; (3) Allow an increase in building heights to 5-7 storeys; and (4) create an esplanade reserve.
This could look like the post-WWII Cologne waterfront. The section shown in the photograph below is 170m long and it is within 500 metres of the city centre,

The photo below provides a closer look; as you can see, private investors appear to be free to build in any style. Walking along here (in 2015) at ground floor level, the atmosphere did not feel manipulated and ground floor designs and uses were ‘flexible and adaptable and … will remain useful over the long term’ as stated in ‘New Zealand Urban Design Protocol’. For example, there is no vertical zoning, as in District Plan 7.3 Rules ee) and ff) ‘Apartment at ground floor’: Non-complying Activity (NC) and Restricted Discretionary Activity (RD), respectively.

The Hamilton City Centre Local Area Plan: Oct 2012 – (p34) 6.2.2 Desired Future Character – Opoia Precinct will ‘Encourage medium to high density buildings, such as apartments/terraced housing/town-housing with 25% permeable surface requirement, 50% maximum building coverage, maximum 25m height for all buildings and 3m building setbacks from front boundaries’. If you scroll down a few pages in the 2012 Local Area Plan you can see what the Beca team thought HCC leadership wanted to see in the section titled ‘Develop design guidelines’, which show wider buildings than you would see in the Cologne example. Here the outcome could look more like this 140m Koblenz waterfront, which is about 500 to 600 metres from the city centre.

From a distance this looks attractive.

Closer in, you can see the risk of building wider, single use buildings. The Cologne waterfront does have examples of this building type, but because the building widths are narrower, a single out-of-place ground floor frontage has no effect on the atmosphere. It actually adds character and amplifies the good design of other buildings.

The 2015 Hamilton Central City Transformation Plan does not include reference to Opoia, but says ‘Small and fragmented property ownership’ is a challenge, and supported a ‘review the role of the Urban Design Panel to enable a more active role in urban design and quality built form outcomes’. We also have the proposed Waikato Regional Theatre becoming more likely. As a benchmark, Venlo (in the Netherlands) has completed a large-scale apartment development (170m-long commercial ground floor with apartments above) along its river-front promenade, alongside an 800 seat modernised (2013) Theatre.

No doubt the architects and urban planners followed the latest urban principles in the design of this waterfront development and it would have been sold to the council as a utopia of its time. But it does now show the difficulty of applying the concepts of modern art to the harsh realities of urban planning.

The day I visited this waterfront promenade (in 2018) it had a feeling of oversized emptiness, while behind these waterfront buildings, in the old streets and laissez-faire mixing of building styles, the area was alive with people.

The Opoia waterfront, at 240m, is long compared to the above examples. The size and style of new buildings will be based on what the funder believes the customer will pay for. The council’s role is to allow investment and fund the River Plan Project to ‘Create a wide and appealing promenade style river walkway … Provide an improved connection to Claudelands Bridge, to complete a river’s edge walking and cycleway circuit’.

Category: News

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *