Arty types have always enjoyed discovering ‘new’ areas, which have often been sitting right under everyone’s noses. With a lick of fresh paint, some new amenities, maybe a new transport link, these unloved old buildings are suddenly in demand and trendy young things flock to the cafes and restaurants springing up around them.
There are international examples of these trendy spots: Hoxton in London’s East End, the Meatpacking District in New York and Montmartre in Paris. In Auckland, Britomart in downtown Auckland and the inner-city suburb of Grey Lynn are the current happening places.
The question is, how much of the success of such areas is due to clever marketing, or to the actual attractions of the places themselves? What triggers the transformation and will it last?
A man who knows how to make the most of a real estate trend, Michael Boulgaris, says it comes down to vibrant communities. In Ponsonby it was the gay/lesbian community that gave the cafe scene the boost it needed, he says.
What people can afford is also a telling factor. Grey Lynn has done well because it was a more affordable neighbour to Ponsonby. “It is definitely the next trendy place,” he says.
“Keep an eye on the arty, creative types in the cities. These are the opinion formers. Ad agency people, art directors, copywriters, photographers and PR people make brand popular for a living. It’s their business to mould people’s opinions and make products desirable. They can’t help doing the same with their neighbourhoods.” He adds: “Neighbourhoods are brands; buy a brand that feels like you.”
You can’t get much more central than downtown Auckland, and two large property projects are currently revitalising once unattractive locations. A combination of well-aimed marketing and the design of the developments will either make or break them.
“From a marketing point of view, we were trying to tell a story, not just about the apartments but about Britomart. You don’t expect to come and live in apartments in isolation. There is a really strong community of people from before living here, the people that play and work here. Generally someone that comes and lives down here will expect to become part of that community.”
Further along in the Quay Park precinct, Coltrane Trust’s QuBA (Quadrant Below Anzac) development
has been built from scratch. The project, near Vector Arena, comprises 14 commercial units and over 100 apartments in four individual buildings set around outdoor streetscapes and a central courtyard called QuBA Square.
Voice brand strategist Jonathan Sagar — the man who helped Vodafone with its branding against Telecom eight years ago — conceived the QuBA concept. He hoped that branding would attract -interesting, creative people that could compare it with fashionable inner-city New York suburbs Tribeca and SoHo.
Rather than reinventing something, he says he had the bigger challenge of manufacturing a new area
completely. One of the crucial things to decide was what to do with the spaces surrounding the developments, he says. The developer, Coltrane Trust, wanted narrow Vulcan Lane-type spaces where the trendy, designer clientele could have coffee meetings. As for the apartments, there has been good buyer interest thanks to the double height and airy spaces, built around a huge glass atrium.
“I think trying to create something that does not exist, you are trying to sell a branding promise,” says Sagar. “There are lots of apartments. We tried to make a brand that tips the scale — all things being equal.”
And the brand strategist has put his money where his mouth is, buying office space at QuBA.
Auckland City Council’s Ludo Campbell-Reid is watching the two projects with interest. The message from this former London-based design guru to -marketeers is to make sure their developments are built to last. If it is not created in a classic style, the real estate hotspot will quickly become dated and then everybody moves on. If it is not quality, marketeers will be called on to sell the idea of the place again and again, he warns.
Successful trendy areas worldwide have some common elements. Common elements of Spitalfields and Hoxton in London or Montmartre in Paris are their historic, timeless fabric: narrow streets, and buildings with wonderful frames, large open-plan floor plates and high ceilings.
“It’s very difficult to create it from scratch … If it is new stuff they don’t have the wonderful traditional heritage,” Campbell-Reid says.
He likes the way Britomart is emerging slowly. “The ones that have been most successful have been incremental but the growth has been quite strong. It has been a movement rather than a sudden announcement.
“Marketeers have an important role to play; with strategies, programmes for space, they are very clever and creative,” he says. “You are trying to create a place and a city, not objects.”
But the right product will speak for itself.