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A cultural lifeline: the City Rail Link

underground rail

Auckland’s City Rail Link (CRL) is often discussed in productivity terms.

In a nutshell

  1. Auckland has cultural enclaves, but they are isolated. 
  2. To grow, connect and contribute to Auckland’s sense of culture, these enclaves need to be part of a connected city. 
  3. The City Rail Link offers the opportunity to enable a flow of people, culture and ideas around the city. 

While this is undoubtedly important for an international city, potentially the most transformative benefits of the CRL could prove to be cultural.

Auckland is regularly critiqued for lacking in culture. But with its diverse communities and unique geography, Auckland has as much potential for a unique and compelling cultural offering as anywhere in the world. The seeds of this are spread across Auckland – from the vibrant markets of Avondale and Otara, to the art scenes in communities as diverse as Glen Innes and Titirangi. However, they are isolated. To grow, connect and contribute to Auckland’s sense of culture they need to be part of a connected city. It is in fact infrastructure, rather than an inherent lack of culture, that is holding us back.

Making the connection

Auckland’s leaders have contemplated the CRL since the 1920’s. Meanwhile, the world’s great cities like New York and London spent the 20th Century defining themselves as cultural meccas, thanks to their hyper-connected underground systems.

When you visit these cities it becomes evident that their advanced transport systems enable movement and connection between people, culture and ideas. Indeed, culture follows connection – without it we are isolated and the potential for people to bring vibrancy and life to a place is never realised.

In New York, the circulation of ideas between the artistic borough enclaves like Brooklyn and the metropolis that is Manhattan has always been facilitated by the subway. American painter Jean-Michel Basquiat was one artist who moved between these locales knowing he needed to connect his art with a wider community.

Auckland’s artists are using our city’s improving transport system to foster a sense of culture. The build of Britomart Station – the central node of the transport system – was developed as a partnership between art and architecture. Artist Michael Parekowhai was part of the creative team that bought the station’s concept to life: New Zealand’s largest wharenui featuring Parekowhai’s Forest Rangers and The Irish Guards.

Within the greater Britomart precinct sits Chris Bailey’s Seven Pou. For Bailey, a regular visitor to Britomart as he travels from Waiheke via the ferry and onward by train to his family in West Auckland, the pou symbolise Britomart the precinct as a place of converging cultures and ethnicities – where a new city culture for Auckland is being formed.

Gary Silipa, a Glen Innes-based visual artist and gallery director, believes the CRL can be an enabler. Easy transit can create synergies between central cultural hubs like Britomart and cultural scenes emerging further out of the city. Through his gallery The Good, The Bad and and in collaboration with Te Oro (Glenn Innes’ impressive arts centre), Silipa is helping to foster a vibrant neighbourhood arts scene in Glen Innes, through initiatives such as his Bradley Lane project which involved the live painting of 15 outdoor murals around the Glen Innes town centre.

He wants to encourage more people to travel from the city centre and experience the emerging scene in Glen Innes: “People don’t realise how easy it is to get here already. It is only three stops from Britomart”. Silipa actively promotes how easy it is to get to Glen Innes on The Good, The Bad’s website. It is currently a 12-minute ride each way. With the completion of the CRL, 9 minutes will be shaved off the round journey, a 37.5% time-saving.

Towards a more cultural future

The opportunity presented by the CRL goes beyond speed to destination only. We have the potential to design new stations as public spaces to exhibit Auckland’s cultural scene (to promote it and inspire people to visit it via the network), while also leaving space for spontaneous culture to emerge (by legitimising buskers, street poets and street artists).

It’s not fanciful to think that in a few years’ time, a community like Glen Innes that is connected with much speedier travel times could become a cultural destination for Auckland. In Oakland, California, an event known as First Fridays began with a couple of galleries putting their work out for passers-by to view on a Friday evening. The event grew with the addition of local food, music, and art walks. Today the event attracts thousands from across the Bay Area, all travelling to Oakland via the BART rail system (ridership increases by 5,000 at the local station on the night of event).

First Fridays have become the symbol of Oakland’s economic and cultural revival. In a connected Auckland, the development of vibrant cultural centres across our transport network, enabled by the CRL and activated through concepts like First Fridays, can catalyse Auckland’s cultural realisation.

Tim Gregory
Strategist at TRA

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