Taking Pride in your neighbourhood

February 17, 2017

Design for Auckland, Events

This year’s Auckland Pride Festival kicked off with a bang last Friday and there have been many loud, proud events happening all over the city.

Now in its fifth year, the festival ends on 26th February, culminating with one of the annual highlights, the Pride Parade down Ponsonby Road.

We spoke with Julian Cook, AK Pride Festival Director, Michael Richardson, CEO of the K Road Business Association, and Ivan Santamarina, Urban Design Specialist in the Auckland Design Office and K Road resident, about the uniqueness of K Road & Ponsonby and what needs to be done to preserve these communities in the face of gentrification and redevelopment.

The Pride Festival has its home on K Road and Ponsonby Road – would anywhere else in Auckland make such an event its own in the way this neighbourhood has?

Julian: The 2017 Auckland Pride Festival has events spread out across Auckland – from Piha and Henderson, to Devonport, to Otara and Mangere – but statistically, you are quite correct. Over 60 percent of the events in this year’s Festival take place within a golden triangle – from the Arts Precinct to Karangahape Road (K Road) to Ponsonby Road – which has long been the geographical focus of LGBTIQ+ culture in Auckland.

In the mid-1970s, Auckland’s gay nightlife centred on an illegal nightclub off Greys Avenue known as Backstage, which was located close to the present-day Q and Basement theatres. Even earlier, New Zealand’s first ever lesbian club, the KG Club – the Karangahape Road Girl’s Club or the Kamp Girls Club – was operating on the corner of K Road and Hereford Street.

By the mid-1990s, nightclubs like Staircase, Don’t Tell Mama and Legend were opening on K Road, and Auckland’s red light strip became the heart of Auckland’s queer nightlife, where crossing the road meant changing your LGBTIQ+ entertainment and experience.

At the same time, Ponsonby was beginning its gentrification. From a Polynesian and student housing dominated area in the 1970s, Ponsonby began to attract young urban professionals as residents. By the 1990s, bars like Surrender Dorothy and restaurants like SPQR had opened to serve a growing cosmopolitan LGBTIQ+ market. Ponsonby Road became a vibrant evening and dining destination, with a distinct gay and lesbian edge.

Since the mid-1990s, Ponsonby Road has also been the venue for the Hero and Auckland Pride Parades, cementing this association.

There is no other comparable Auckland area. There is nowhere else that LGBTIQ+ people and their friends feel the same sense of historical freedom. The street design, which has largely preserved the original architecture, gives the area a human scale – and the ambience is one of tolerance and acceptance.

Michael:  K Road is known for its diversity of populations, architecture and activities and has been one of the hubs of Auckland’s LGBTIQ+ community since the late 70s early 80′s. The people of K Road and their friends embrace this and therefore welcome all LGBTIQ+ and their friends. So in short, K Road and Ponsonby love to have PRIDE in their community.

People enjoy K Road during Open Streets

People enjoying K Road during Open Streets


K Road and Ponsonby are home to such an eclectic mix of people – why do you think this is?

Julian: In some ways, this is due to the fact that the area does not present a monoculture. Spatially, turn a street corner and there will still remain an undeveloped pocket of history where a former stables or an artisan studio flakes away in benign neglect. Times overlap.

The area’s history of tolerance and acceptance is also attractive to residents who perceive that they might live more freely here. There are few Auckland areas where people can enjoy a few drinks and a meal with friends and walk home afterwards.

There is also a sense of the picturesque, where eccentricity and idiosyncrasy are seen as valuable features. The past and unconventionality are valued in both human and monetary terms. 

Michael: K Road has a history of embracing difference; it’s a place where people can be themselves and not feel judged. It’s also a very eclectic place and people from all walks of life love this! LGBTIQ+ have proliferated here since the late 1970′s and that’s been embraced by all the local communities. The LGBTIQ+ communities have always been on the forefront of change so it’s natural for people to want to come here and eat, drink, party and live.

Ivan: The reality is that both places have the “mana” when it comes to social life. Both are unique in essence with a strong sense of community and continuity with the past. This strong sense of character is perceived because of a particular architecture, using the same range of materials, colours and decorative elements in a clear and consistent manner. Both K Road and Ponsonby are neighbourhoods close to the CBD which tend to be populated with people choosing to live an alternative lifestyle, which does not have to be identified as a gay lifestyle per se.

A flower shop on Ponsonby Road

Flowers being sold on Ponsonby Road


With both areas undergoing intensive redevelopment, what needs to be done to protect the integrity of K Road and Ponsonby going forward?

Julian: In a physical sense, preserving the past is essential. Ponsonby and K Road need their history, their surviving buildings, structural heights, flaking paint, mortar and brickwork. The area’s present is built on its past.

It is essential that we retain the historic integrity of both Ponsonby and K Road. At a time when civic space is at a premium, and housing demands are vociferous, both K Road and Ponsonby need attentive protection. 

Michael: The business owners of K Road are striving to hold on to the precinct’s reputation for being a place where owner-operators are the norm, service is personalised and the shopping and dining experience is unique. Steps the K Road Business Association have taken to protect this identity include lobbying for heritage protection of the precinct’s character buildings and providing support for the precinct’s small business operators. This support takes the form of offering workshops intended to help retailers up-skill to meet the needs of a changing retail model, putting on events, marketing the centre through social and traditional media and representing small business operators at local body level when change threatens their viability. 

The integrity of K Road is valued by people from all over New Zealand so the K Road Business Association encourage people to make submissions regarding change, lobby for preservation of heritage, arts and culture precincts and most of all choose to come to K Road and enjoy what this iconic part of Auckland has to offer.

Ivan: What makes K Road unique is the general character of its traditional neighbourhood centre linked to the city’s original street, Queen Street. Ponsonby maintains examples of a mixture of early cottages, early villas, late-Victorian villas (1890-1905), Edwardian and transitional villas (1905-1920) and a mixture of English cottages, Californian Bungalows and modern and Spanish mission styles. K Road keeps the young entrepreneur flair and is the preferred place for designers, chefs and artist to start their businesses. 

I would suggest the following:

  • Provide quality public spaces and urban environments which can replace a lack of outdoor space for those residents living in apartments;
  • Prioritise pedestrians over vehicles (I would personally suggest making K Road a pedestrian-only route from Grafton Bridge to Ponsonby Road with limited vehicular access for service purposes or existing resident garages and no public car parking; recover landmarks such as Beresford Square; promote the link between St. Kevin’s Arcade, Myers Park & Aotea Square);
  • Promote and encourage cultural events, hospitality outlets and retail on the street; 
  • Promote the use of bicycles;
  • Promote safe streets for kids to play;
  • Promote fair rent prices for residential units and local business; and
  • Promote local rehabilitation subsidized programmes for heritage buildings.

St Kevins Arcade, which provides a link from K Road to Aotea Square via Myers Park


Lastly, what do you think the highlights will be for the Auckland Pride Festival this year?

Julian: Auckland Pride’s final weekend is going to be HUGE! New Zealand’s largest and loudest carnival of change and diversity, the 2017 Auckland Pride Parade will rock and roll along picturesque Ponsonby Road on Saturday 25 February from 7.30pm. With over 50 fabulous float entries, the Parade will commence at the north end of Ponsonby Road near Tole Street, progressing along Ponsonby Road, to finish just past Western Park.

Following the Auckland Pride Parade, revellers will continue around the bend to K Road – the heart of Auckland’s queer nightlife – for PROUD 2017, the biggest LGBTIQ+ party of the year, incorporating all levels of the historic Studio nightclub, plus an outdoor Galatos Street party. 

Michael: The Proud Party in Galatos St, which will see the street closed off for the evening is a definite highlight for K Road precinct.   It will incorporate all levels of Studio nightclub and include an outdoor party in Galatos St. Other not to be missed K Road events are our shop window art exhibition The Windows are Alive and our Street Scaffolding Decoration Project being installed on the Methodist Church buildings just east of Pitt St.

The Pride Parade makes its way down Ponsonby Road (image courtesy of AKL Pride Festival)


Thanks to Julian, Michael and Ivan for taking the time to speak with us – make sure you check out the festival calendar and get yourself down to one of the many exciting events still to come!

Enjoyed the read? Why not check out the ADM’s Activate Auckland hub, including a case study on Open Streets 2016.

Next week, we’ll be looking at the emerging concept of a ‘20-Minute Neighbourhood’ and finding out just how walkable Auckland really is…

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