Te Aro Superblocks

A sustainable Spatial Plan for Te Aro

The ‘Te Aro Superblocks’ spatial plan, was presented in a hybrid international webinar event by Salvador Rueda in a lecture theatre followed by an online audience in May 2021.

He discussed the Barcelona Urban Mobility Plan and how Barcelona was preparing to adapt to and mitigate climate change.

Attendees had the opportunity to ask questions and learn about ‘eco-systemic urbanism’ – a regenerative and sustainable urban model – and its role in the portrait of Barcelona as a world-leading city in tackling climate change.

Current urban mobility and land use issues were discussed alongside available tools for Wellington to meet the emissions reduction targets included in the 2021 IPCC report.

We discussed the adoption of a comprehensive land use and transport spatial plan based on a sustainable urban model. Termed by Salvador as Superillas (aka Superblocks), these are compact in urban form, complex in their organization, metabolically efficient, and socially cohesive.

Our role – We were involved in producing the ‘Te Aro Superblocks’ plan, adapting it to the local context with local knowledge, researching examples, producing all the content, and planning and organising the event.

The most enjoyable part was discussing the proposal with Salvador Rueda and our colleagues at Urbanhub Barcelona.

We engaged sponsors, participated in the live presentation, and followed up with the relevant stakeholders and authorities after the event.

For context, 542,000 people in Greater Wellington region live in four cities or districts. Almost 40% live in Wellington city.

Greater Wellington current Urban Mobility Model.
Source: Urbanhub Aotearoa

In the figure above, the black lines show the motorised transport routes used by commuters.

The current urban mobility model shows two motorways that end up in Central Wellington in a Y shape.

A radial system is fed by the different urbanized areas through a main central artery. It is like the different tributaries of a river that, when converging, the flow increases, until it gets to the centre.

The paradox is that at this point, the flow is so big that the centre is burdened with too many motorists causing awful traffic congestion events.

Surface parking and green open space in Te Aro.
Source: Urbanhub Aotearoa

The above figure shows available private land in Te Aro, which is currently used for surface car parking (in blue) versus green open space (in green).

Te Aro and Central City superblocks. Source: Urbanhub Aotearoa

The perimeter thoroughfares, marked out in red in the above figure, will be devoted to traffic circulation at 30 km/h.

We understand some of the perimeter roads shown are not consolidated yet, although they would need to be in the future for the model to be effective. Superblocks are always included inside perimeter thoroughfares.

In regard to the above figure, the Te Aro superblocks are currently incomplete. They lack the whole perimeter supporting infrastructure.

It is important to design a connected and uniform perimeter grid that does not create bottleneck scenarios.

Inside the superblocks, the public space will be treated as a shared space where private motorists negotiate the space with other (active and alternative) modes of transport.

The maximum speed inside the superblocks is limited to 10 km/h.

The freed-up space can be used as urban green space with rain gardens, and attract services and businesses at walking distance for superblock residents and visitors.

Benefits of a Green Network. Source: ISGlobal

This sustainable urban model would grant universal access and increase well-being for workers, visitors, and residents in a comfortable, greener, water-sensitive, and hyper-connected network of public spaces.

WCC Planning for Growth in Te Aro and Central City.
Source: Urbanhub Aotearoa

The above figure shows the maximum height control changes envisaged in the Planning for Growth public consultation. It allows for higher buildings than the Operative District Plan in the blue and green areas. This city-wide Spatial Plan seeks to increase density in the city centre and regenerate the existing urban fabric that is currently used as parking for commuters, weekend shoppers, and a few residents.

For our proposal, residential land use and density are two essential interconnected components alongside tree planting and the naturalisation of the public space. The latter will be paramount, not only for stormwater drainage but to deal with the island heat effect.

Urban Heat Island in European Cities. Source: ISGlobal

It is necessary to attract activities and services into Superblocks that are diverse in nature and essential to the well-being of residents. This is why the Spatial Plan should introduce exclusively mixed-use perimeter blocks as the rule to succeed.

Te Aro superblocks.
Source: Jan Gehl public space and public life study 2021

Te Aro Superblocks’ have since our public presentation, been included as part of the ‘Wellington 2021 Public Space and Public Study Report’ with Jan Gehl endorsing our work and recommending it as the best practice for a paradigm shift towards a people-centric city.

If the relevant territorial authorities invested in tactical urbanism interventions, trialled the model and recorded how people use the shared spaces over the next 4 years, it will give decision-makers a strong case for change and infrastructure investment.

This sustainable model, will turn Wellington into a people-friendly, compact, safe, and accessible eco-capital and contribute to the vision of an innovative, inclusive and creative city. It will also support Wellington’s economy in a dynamic and sustainable way.

By implementing the superblock model, the city will be freeing up one square kilometre of central city space and creating public space for people without tearing down a single building.

A great thing is that it does not need a big investment. Let’s Get Wellington Moving (LGWM) could carry out a regional-scale Urban Mobility Plan which could be implemented first by using tactical urbanism interventions and ultimately investing in infrastructure (underground services).

Over 4 years we could reduce greenhouse emissions by 33%.

Sustainable urban developments were discussed by the UN in their 2020 Global Forum of Migration and Development (GFMD) Summit celebrated in Quito with the overarching title of ‘The Future of Human Mobility: Innovative Partnerships for Sustainable Development’.

This has been a pro-bono project designed to advocate for and widely promote the systems and benefits of the superblock model.

If you would like to contact us to further discuss the above please use the contact form on our website.

This plan has seen the endorsement of two eminent figures of sustainable urban design and spatial planning – Salvador Rueda and Jan Gehl.