Last week in The Press, local historian Geoffrey Rice wrote an interesting opinion piece opposing the reopening of Victoria Square to vehicular traffic once the Crown Plaza Hotel has been demolished. I found this particularly interesting as I have not heard much about that particular concept (perhaps I just don’t pay enough attention to the papers) but I do think that maybe the idea of not rebuilding on the Crown Plaza site has become confused with the idea of returning the square to its road like state. In a previous post I stated that I felt the impending demolition of the Crown Plaza was a great opportunity to link Victoria Square, and thus Colombo St and Cathedral Square, more directly with the Victoria Street precinct. However, in no way do I think that Victoria Square should be opened to cars again, the space that has been created there is without doubt one of the greatest urban spaces you will find in New Zealand, and I have plenty of memories of lazing about the square in the hot summer sun.
Something else could be built in the Crown Plaza’s place, as someone commented on the last post the hotel building does shield the Square from traffic noise on Victoria/Durham. However, whatever is built there needs to blend in better with the overwhelming pedestrian use of the area and allow people an easy and inviting route between Colombo and Victoria Streets. As it is now (or rather, as it was) you either had to deviate past the court buildings or through the gap between the hotel and Town Hall which also served as a busy entrance/exit for the carpark under the hotel (where you would often almost get run over). Getting across to Victoria Street wasn’t exactly easy as it usually required waiting through several traffic light phases. Should the one-way system be ditched in favour of re-routing through traffic to the four-avenues (an idea I think has much merit) I think getting rid of the Crown Plaza and either building nothing, or something much less substantial, would work well as the entire area would be much more pedestrian friendly.
Ultimately, I hope that whatever takes its place is iconic, and aids the functionality of the square and central city. Now that it is condemned, there is plenty of opportunity to improve and to make something great. The dead-end that it was always struck me as leaving the square slightly unfinished, and that end of the square, which had the Floral Clock and Ferrier Fountain, never seemed as inviting as it should.