Just five kilometres over the harbour bridge from Auckland’s city centre is a dormant suburb in the process of reawakening. Through a design-led approach to community regeneration, a collective vision for a denser, more connected Northcote is emerging.
Traditionally, the suburbs are where we seek sanctuary for our families. However, for decades many of Auckland’s suburbs have been forgotten, and they are today a far cry from the utopian social ideals upon which they were designed and built. As Auckland’s housing crisis bites, the time has come to reimagine these underperforming neighbourhoods.
Northcote is currently one of Auckland’s most important regeneration projects. Over the next five years 364 Housing New Zealand properties from the 1950s and 60s will be replaced by up to 1,200 modern homes. approximately 400 of those new homes will be retained by Housing New Zealand for families in need; the rest will be offered to first time buyers and to the general market with a focus on affordability. This represents a significant investment in housing, which, as the community grows, will be supported by an equally significant investment in the social infrastructure.
Isthmus is engaged in multiple work-streams across several agencies to deliver a cohesive plan to transform the housing, the streets and reserves and the town centre. The Isthmus approach builds on Northcote’s characteristics and strengths, and looks to develop a New Zealand specific form of dense suburban regeneration.
A number of challenges exist within large-scale suburban regeneration like this. The existing community networks are well established and strong. Adding significantly more people through increased housing density (by 2030, it’s envisioned that the suburb will have 7,700-plus people – up from 3,000 today) will affect the social connectedness and cohesion of the existing communities, as well as their character and identity, if not carefully managed.
Isthmus’ work at Northcote is built around a number of principles, such as understanding and accentuating ‘neighbourliness’, that is, developing positive street environments that encourage conversation and recreation both on the street and in playgrounds. This involves providing networking opportunities through community events and information. Long term, as seen at Hobsonville Point, empowering the community to do this for themselves is the most beneficial and sustainable approach.
Place-making and activation techniques will help bridge the gap between temporary disruption and long-term neighbourhoods as the suburb grows. Another priority at Northcote is to make good on a promise to the community – to deliver a neighbourhood greenway, a “shared backyard”. This new urban park will form a link between Lake Road and the town centre, offering residents an alternative way to get around the neighbourhood on foot or by bike.
Other key ideas are to reinvest in the community through existing social networks, build strong links between schools and environment, through play and learning landscapes, all tied together with curriculum-based activities. There will of course be many more homes, including Everyday Homes, in a range of sizes and types, at an affordable value on land owned by HNZ. The number of homes will increase by a factor of approximately three in and around a reimagined Northcote town centre. And, at the town centre, reimagined for the future, there will be improved retail amenity that will accommodate a wider demographic, so the town centre caters to many, while holding onto identity and food culture as a way of bringing people together.