“Crazy!” says Peter Kageyama gazing over Tauranga’s waterfront carpark. “Crazy, just crazy.”
Perhaps the most valuable piece of land in Tauranga’s entire CBD and it’s given over to cars for parking.
“That’s almost unconscionable,” says Peter, author of ‘Love Where You Live’ and ‘For the Love of Cities’ – the latter being recognised internationally as a top 10 book in urban planning, design and development.
Kageyama’s books explain why we connect emotionally with some places and not others and why that matters. Right now Peter Kageyama, the man who loves big cities, small cities, villages and even hamlets, is standing on The Strand and he’s connecting emotionally - he’s shrugging and despairing.
“It just seems ridiculous that cars get the best view of Tauranga Harbour during the day.” And trains – container and logging trains sashaying up and down the waterfront day and night – like so many other cities that industrialised their waterfronts last century. And are regretting it now.
But Kageyama sees an opportunity for Tauranga. “If you can figure out how to get passenger traffic back on that railway line you are going to love the fact it runs right into the heart of your downtown. That’s going to be an awesome thing. And I am sure there are people working on that.”
Peter Kageyama featured in last week’s Weekend Sun. He’s an American community and economic expert, a lover of cities. He offers fresh perspectives on how councils and citizens can better engage and create “loveable places” to live, work and play.
And Tauranga, it seems, is eminently loveable, despite locals who bemoan growth pains. “Right sort of size,” says Kageyama. “I love big cities of course, big cities have a vitality and an energy, but there is something about that mid-sized city that feels more to human scale, it feels more manageable.”
And one of the city’s biggest assets is water. “The relationship your city, and especially your downtown area, has with the water on both sides is very unique. It’s very walkable and a little hillier than I thought.
“But it has this charm and character of being the right sort of proportion.”
And Kageyama has a simple vision for the waterfront. “More green space. I get that maybe you don’t want to sell it for commercial use. Great! Turn it into an even more beautiful waterfront park that goes from one end of the CBD to the other. That would be a showcase kind of piece.”
The cars could find a new home. “How many are there? Maybe a couple of hundred. I am sure there’s capacity in existing carparks.”
And there’s another on its way, a transport hub in Harington Street, another 550 carparks. People, says Kageyama, will complain about parking no matter what. “So let’s just accept that.”
Create a vital, interesting destination downtown and Kageyama says people will figure a way to get there and won't even complain about paying. “As long as the payoff at the end of the journey is worth it.
“It's all good.”
The payoff being the social spaces he talks of – places you can fossick and buy – individual home-grown shops – places you can eat, drink, stop and reflect and be entertained. “People will care so much less about whatever challenge they might have with parking because once they get here they go: ‘this place is so freaking cool’.”
On Durham Street Peter Kageyama scans the futuristic façade of the new University of Waikato building.
“That’s an international building, a global building.”
And the millennials studying inside are a resource and the conversation around talent attraction shouldn’t wait until they are newly minted grads. “Hey, once you get that cool degree, you should be thinking of staying here and deploying those talents in Tauranga rather than going off to Auckland or leaving the country.”
But right now 2000 students will be bringing their own economy to downtown Tauranga – restaurants and coffee shops and other stuff that will pop up to cater to that youth dollar.
“They may not have too many discretionary dollars but enough to create an effect. And, besides there’s the student enthusiasm and energy which will colour up the CBD which traditionally has been a shopping haven for Tauranga’s ageing demographic.
Kageyama says the university and students are indicative of the changes we are seeing in our city.
“Some would say we're getting rid of the old. Well no! We are updating things. There is absolutely room for historical buildings - historical buildings tell a certain type of story and tell it really, really well. Better than a photograph ever would.”
But, at the same time, he says buildings get tired. “They feel dated and don't feel in character with who we are and who we are becoming. And that's the time for them to maybe come down.”
And a good example of that is the Farmers department store which was probably fit for purpose once upon a time.