Grey Street: a Utopia of different styles

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In Thomas More’s Utopia ‘…their houses are three storeys high (p7) … every house has both a door to the street and a back door to the garden’ (p69).

Grey Street is a genuine mixed-use street that works well. This street should be zoned as an suburban centre that allows residential intensification along its length. The objective is to allow a range of businesses and housing types to coexist, where produce stalls, dairies and offices are permitted (DP 4.3 Activity status table) and single dwellings, duplex dwellings, and ground floor apartments are permitted (DP 6.3 Activity status table). Because that is what Grey Street and boulevards in other countries actually have!

To avoid vacant ground floors, allow above average ceiling heights, reasonable depth, avoid unattended lobbies, and check that setback/parking rules do not encourage unattractive expanses of asphalt for parking, which are not likely to reflect well on nearby properties or make a positive contribution to the urban streetscape. Most important is not to have fixed ideas on outcome by using the district plan rules. A report on ‘vacant ground floors in new mixed-use development’ from the Greater London Authority shows that developers build to meet planning requirements: ‘Circumstances where developers had not included the commercial uses into the financial modelling, but simply seen it as a development cost. Where residential developers profit is driven by the residential component, they do not care about selling or renting the ground floors, even if it sits empty for ages’ (p13). Economic cycles can be short and lead to fluctuations in the demand for different uses in less than the 10-20 year cycle of the district plan update.

Care is needed with the depth of building set-backs. An urban space that is not defined by facades can look like urban sprawl, were advertising signage designed for passing cars replaces facades. The beauty of Grey Street is the mix of old and new trends in setbacks, floor heights and roof styles from well over a century of change.

Jane Jacobs writes, “Among the most admirable and enjoyable sights to be found along the sidewalks of big cities are the ingenious adaptations of old quarters to new uses; a town-house parlour that becomes a craftsman’s showroom, the stable that becomes a house … the beauty parlour that becomes the ground floor of a duplex … the butcher shop that becomes a restaurant: these are the kinds of minor changes forever occurring where city districts have vitality and are responsive to human needs” (p207).

The Death and Life of Great American Cities, by Jane Jacobs.

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