Joined at the hip: transport and the urban form

Building new public transit networks brings into focus the link between transport and urban form. WSP Head of Urban Design & Landscape Architecture Alan Whiteley and Principal Urban Designer Haley Hooper look at how Auckland's ambitious transport plans are set to create greener, better-connected, more liveable city spaces and precincts.

Credit: Hamilton City Council Library

A spider’s web of transport links now connects the city – accommodating a population of 1.7 million Kiwis and counting. With multi-billion-dollar investments in rapid transit heading Auckland’s way, the stage is now set for the next chapter in the city’s urban future.

Catalyst for change

The additional Waitemata Harbour Connection and Light Rail from city centre to airport will be about much more than an A to B transport spine. They’ll be the foundation of Auckland’s vision for an integrated public transit system that will unlock urban communities around the four points of the compass.

Central to how we see this happening is a ‘hub and spoke’ model, where development clusters around stations - leading to more connected city-wide travel and featuring community facilities, new homes, green spaces, shops, restaurants and offices.

Rethinking precincts

Urban precincts that spring up around stations feature greater housing density and beautifully designed public spaces that foster interaction and promote health, happiness and wellbeing. More active modes of travel are a priority in this kind of city-making. The role of the car is de-emphasised.

WSP and partners have teamed up on many city-making infrastructure projects that connect the transit and urban development dots. We’ve seen first-hand from overseas experience how they can catalyse city-wide and neighbourhood-level benefits and unlock urban potential.

Sydney’s Metro project, Melbourne’s Southern Program Alliance and Newcastle Light Rail, for example, are tremendous feats of engineering that are reinvigorating the urban environment. Surrounding areas are being revitalised with mixed housing, commercial buildings and pedestrian connections. Shared-use spaces are popping up everywhere - connecting residents and helping boost local economies.


These kinds of transit-oriented communities are the result of symbiotic relationships between dense, compact urban form and public transport use. Combining the best in urban strategy and planning with technical engineering excellence will positively define Auckland’s urban trajectory for the next 100+ years.

Showing people what good looks like

Auckland is a city with an established history of vehicle-based transport. Its residents still default to journeying by car. Vehicle kilometres travelled remain stubbornly high. Turning this around will require a behavioural shift and showing people the social and environmental benefits of living in connected urban communities.

There is significant opportunity in Auckland’s upcoming transit projects for urban design experts to work with transport planners to develop liveable communities connected by Light Rail – where all the things that contribute to living a good life are a short walk, cycle or quick public transport trip away.

Locating more affordable and diverse housing with convenient access to services, amenities, recreation and nature will be a win for the environment, city congestion, health, wellbeing and transport equity.

Shared green area in urban centre 

We’re confident that once people see the benefits of this kind of urban living, they’ll be more likely to question the utility (and sustainability) of the quarter-acre dream and an urban sprawl that is now starting to encroach into some of the most fertile soils north and south of the city.

Community engagement

He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata! He tangata! He tangata!
What is the most important thing in this world? It is people, it is people, it is people

In showing people there’s a better urban alternative, bringing them on the journey is key. That’s where community engagement comes into its own.

Locals must be involved – early and often – and engagement with mana whenua is a priority. As experienced place makers, we understand that the community is the expert, and that early engagement and co-design creates the environment for meaning and belonging in our places.

From residents and businesses to corner store retailers and all the agents of city-making that will be affected by new transport and urban infrastructure, involving the entire community means they gain a sense of collective ownership around how projects are developed. And once the ribbon is cut on projects, they will feel a greater sense of belonging.

Bringing together investment in rapid transit with urban development initiatives that are good for people and planet represent a once-in-a-generation city-shaping opportunity. It says a lot about the maturity of Auckland that creating vibrant, safe urban spaces will be a key outcome in their transport plans.

Our hope is that the transport projects soon to be undertaken in Auckland will inspire others around the country to also look to the future in designing more accessible, inclusive, community-oriented cities.

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Alan Whiteley
Head of Urban Design and Landscape Architecture, New Zealand
New Zealand
Haley Hooper
Principal Urban Designer
New Zealand