Leading international Urban Designer for Alexandra Park

Alexandra Park has announced the appointment of Vancouver urban design guru Joe Hruda to oversee its transformational urban village development dubbed ‘223 Green Lane West’.

Joe Hruda is the founder and president of Civitas Urban Design and Planning and principal of Civitas Architecture. He has over 25 years of internationally recognised and acclaimed design achievement in large-scale, urban, mixed-use projects.

Hruda serves on the City of Vancouver Urban Design Panel, including a year as chairman.

As well as his extensive work in Canada, the US, China and Abu Dhabi, he was also responsible for the urban design of the Rouse Hill Town Centre Master Plan – a major transit-oriented mixed-use town centre in Sydney. 

Alexandra Park CEO Dominique Dowding is thrilled to confirm the appointment. “Joe Hruda’s appointment and ongoing role completely reinforces Alexandra Park’s commitment to building a world-class 21st century urban village, exuding internationally best practice urban-design, great walkability, amenities, public spaces, and good public transport links,”
says Ms Dowding. 

Mr Hruda has been at the forefront of Vancouver as it has been increasingly recognised as one the world’s most liveable cities – and a role model for Auckland Council. Using his experience, the Canadian urban designer is committed to ensuring 223 Green Lane West will showcase all that be achieved with great urban design and planning. 

“Alexandra Park will deliver a new public destination with a sense of urbanity, blended and integrated with high quality landscape and with street life offering shops and cafes, offices and residences - and new amenities to complement Cornwall Park and the Epsom community,” he says. 

He was taken aback by Alexandra Park’s potential when he visited Auckland recently. “I was struck by the beauty of the natural surroundings - the green parks and neighbourhoods, the surrounding volcanic cones particularly the views of One Tree Hill and its monument and the silence and natural beauty of the site within an urban context,” says Mr Hruda. The mixed use development will include 231 apartments and high-end boutique retail and hospitality. 

A display apartment will open onsite this month. Those wanting to know more can register their interest via www.apliving.co.nz or by phoning 0800-275-484 to obtain further information. 

Pete Evans, national director of residential project marketing at Colliers International, says people are loving the big emphasis on quality urban design for 223 Green Lane West. 

“Feedback from the marketplace has been overwhelming. Potential buyers are very excited about the ability to live in a
well-planned village, offering them lifestyle and convenience on the doorstep. It adds something special to the day to day living. It’s so much more than just an apartment building, it’s a community,” says Mr Evans. 

Vancouver-based Civitas is an urban design firm committed to the development of ecologically sensitive communities, sustainable city shaping and authentic place making. To find out more about Civitas and Joe Hruda please visit www.civitasdesign.com

Questions & Answers with Joe Hruda
What has changed with people’s expectations in the last 20 years when buying into these kinds of ‘urban village’ developments, like Alexandra Park’s? 

There are new universal forces in the changing demographic and psychographic factors affecting cities. These shifts in values and lifestyle preferences are and will continue to affect how our communities are designed. Two major groups which are today drawing attention of those in development / investment industry are the growing proportions in our demographics of millennials (25-35 year olds) and retirees or empty nesters (55 plus) who demand and seek out vibrant active neighbourhoods where even people watching is an activity designed for and welcomed, where there is a corner cafe always open early and late and where urban meeting places and services such as a local grocer become community hubs.
Interestingly these groups share many common interests - most have pets and need places to walk their dogs, they eat out more often and like to be near casual dining options, they have interest in artisanal, organic and healthy foods and more interesting, smaller grocery/deli like stores, seek more healthy life styles such as walking, jogging and bike riding and appreciate how socially diverse neighbourhoods can enrich street life. 
This kind of urban village model will be characterized by more diverse housing options and increased density characteristics of safe communities. A clustering of activities and uses will also over time attract more small business opportunities to the village. And opportunities for a kind of 'green urbanism' with community gardens, roof top garden courtyards and a dedicated safe bikeway leading to transit stations. These are all characteristics of a more sustainable 21st century urban village no longer totally dependent on use of a private car to satisfy daily needs which traditionally has dominated our way of thinking about moving around the city.

Auckland Council looks to Vancouver’s new “Gentle Density’ policies as a model to create higher residential density and improve housing affordability without changing the character of existing heritage suburbs, what can Auckland learn from Vancouver as it moves towards greater density?

The resultant 'gentle density' is concerned with shaping buildings so sunlight is not lost on streets and parks, where views to surrounding parkland and open spaces is preserved and where pedestrian friendly streets have buildings with front stoops and multiple entries and courtyards oriented to the street. Safer street and gathering places are a natural outcome of increased public surveillance – of having more "eyes on the street" – a term which Jane Jacobs, a pioneer Canadian urbanist, invented. More density is one key component for delivering all of those urban village characteristics. And when it's done in a considerate and gentle way it becomes more sustainable socially, environmentally and economically. It can have a transformative effect on the experience of urban living. Not everyone wants or prefers this way of living but more are demanding and seeking out these kinds of neighbourhood options in our cities.

Should Aucklanders be concerned about residential intensification if it is done well? 

Density need not be feared as it brings with it greater diversity in housing choices, quality public gathering spaces and services such as a grocer, cafes and shops - all characteristics of a true urban village.
Alexandra Park will deliver a new public destination with a sense of urbanity, blended and integrated with high quality landscape and with street life offering shops and cafes, offices and residences - and new amenities to complement Cornwall Park and the Epsom community. 

Vancouver is ranked as one the world’s most liveable cities, what role has urban design and good planning played in achieving that? 

Vancouver has become a model for this kind of diverse urban village living while preserving its existing neighbourhoods by increasing densities in compact clustered urban villages near excellent public transit and amenities. By creating compact denser village centres nearby, existing neighbourhoods can remain untouched and respected.

You serve on the City of Vancouver Urban Design Panel – Auckland Council has one to which oversees large residential and commercial developments - How has the Vancouver Urban Design Panel worked?   

Vancouver's Council appointed Urban Design Panel, meets bi-weekly year round to review new project development applications, big and small, and is comprised not only of design professionals but other specialists including development industry and citizen representation. Reviews by the panel most often result in recommendations for refinement and improvements which require rounds of further review and design revisions by the architects and continuing evaluation.
The panel activities have been credited with much of the city's reputation for liveability and urban design excellence - along with a willing council and engaged citizens who demand better solutions and choices to city living. It’s about designing buildings which are informed by their context and appropriate architectural response that has meaning and regard for existing community context. 

What does sustainability or environmental measures mean?

In terms of today's sustainability challenges in urban living, a significant way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to design communities where the car is not the only choice for satisfying daily needs but to mix uses so a ‘complete' neighbourhood is created. A place to live, to work and to play - with a new model for an urban grocer/provedore, a nearby school and community centre, recreation amenities, movie theatres, entertainment and dining out options, community services such as doctors and dentists and daily shopping along with other more aspirational shops and a local pub - all within walking distance of home, focused around sunny green parks, urban plazas and a great street - places to 'hang out and meet friends’. 

What is your role at Alexandra Park?

Civitas, a specialized urban design studio practice from Vancouver, were appointed by the Auckland Trotting Club to create a Vision for the future urban development for their Alexandra Park site. This vision study ensures that a progressive development of the site or parts of it will take place in a coordinated and compatible way consistent with race course activities and community needs.
The ATC site includes lands which are currently car parking areas some of which are available for immediate development.  Civitas' role includes more detailed urban design and planning for the buildings, streets and public spaces of the early development stages on portions of the site fronting onto Greenlane West within the context of the broader long term Vision for the site.

What attracted you to the Alexandra Park site in Auckland? What are its stand out attractions?

Although I have been a frequent visitor to Auckland in the past, when recently I arrived on the site at dawn shortly after arriving in Auckland, I was struck by the beauty of the natural surroundings - the green parks and neighbourhoods, the surrounding volcanic cones particularly the views of One Tree Hill and its monument and the silence and natural beauty of the site within an urban context. This sense of 'spirit of the place’ has remained with me and influenced our thinking on its future uses, form and character.
During this first site visit and my familiarization with its larger context within the City, it became evident that its location at the geographic centre of Epsom, its connections with major access routes into the City, it's significant size and its racing legacy were aspects that would inform what could and should happen on the site in terms of urban growth. 
This transit accessibility provides opportunity for intensification of development for more housing and more diverse choices in types of housing  - all within a five minute walk for those living on the site - a true walkable neighbourhood - a new metric in today’s healthy communities movement of which Alexandra Park is envisaged to be a model.

Why is good urban design important for buyers and investors, large sites like Alexandra Park and what can it achieve? 

Urban greenfield and brownfield sites with the significant attributes which Alexandra Park enjoys, offer truly unique community building and city shaping opportunities which demand great urban design responses. Urban design is a kind of 'bridge' between traditional planning and architecture. It deals with understanding and shaping the spaces between buildings, how people live and interact within those places and new streets and the factors that make those spaces comfortable, safe and hopefully memorable. Understanding the importance of linkages and connections of these places with those in surrounding communities is central to the way of thinking about importance of local context.

Your website says “Civitas is a Vancouver-based urban design firm committed to the development of ecologically sensitive communities, sustainable city shaping and authentic place making. We are proponents of new urbanism - emphasizing walkability, accessible transit, higher densities, diverse housing types, active mix of uses and the creation of memorable places”. What does “new urbanism” mean for Alexandra Park with its 223 Green Lane West development?

Since the Alexandra Park site sits geographically at the epicentre of the Epsom community and its surrounding natural environment, its 'urban design' needs to be informed by these contextual aspects. The site’s history and racing legacy, the needs and values of residents of existing surrounding neighbourhoods, the economic factors which will shape what is possible in terms of future uses, the natural environment which is so powerful here -  these are all part of a story that needs to be expressed physically and felt emotionally. 
It is those very attributes which make the Alexandra Park site so attractive as a place to live that lead to the potential for building not only a new living neighbourhood but a new heart reaching out to the surrounding residents of Epsom - providing amenities and services and new meeting places - a kind of new urban village for current Epsom residents and future residents who will live, work and play on this site. 

The Alexandra Park site is serviced by good and improving public transport links, how important is that to the design of the residential/retail development? 

Its strategic location within the city’s transport network provides both a challenge and opportunity in terms of determining an appropriate and comfortable urban form and density - in a gentle rather than overwhelming way. Auckland City is proposing major improvements to this part of the city for transit including a bus rapid transit service which will make downtown Auckland more accessible and convenient for current users and future new residents at Alexandra Park. 


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