Argos aims to circulate writing about topical matters of public and political import that is local, critical and accessible. We believe critical intellectual conversation should be heard here in Aotearoa-New Zealand, not simply published for credit in international fora for more limited and specialised audiences. Of particular interest to us is writing that grounds its concern with the public or political good of place-making in theory or philosophy.

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The Learning Quarter

Argos

The Learning Quarter is bound by the motorway on its eastern side, Wakefield Street to its west and the strip of hotels running beside Anzac Avenue to the north. The naming of this ‘quarter’ is derived, in its oldest sense, in reference to the four parts into which a slaughtered animal is cut, and one of the earliest references in English is to ‘parts of the body as dismembered during execution’ (c.1300). Over time, the reference to ‘four’ loosened and in the 1520s we see it attributed to a ‘portion of a town’ (identified by the class or race of people who live there). Auckland does not appear to have had ‘quarters’ until around 2009, when suddenly two appeared, dividing the city into spaces for leisure/culture by the Waterfront (Wynyard Quarter), and learning/business along the ridge above the Central Business District (the Learning Quarter).

Under Mayor John Banks, the Auckland City Council designed the Learning Quarter as the powerhouse for the city’s knowledge economy, ‘key to fuelling Auckland’s future success’. According to the council vision, this is a sector not of waters but high voltages, a hub of frenzied exchange, a hothouse of cognitive current. The spaces of learning are thus re-drawn, literally, as spaces of commerce: the universities’ responsibility to the CBD is derived directly from their geographic concurrence. A ‘quarter’ names a community, and as such the universities are ‘charged’ with welcoming their neighbouring corporates in. The Learning Quarter is, above all, ‘open for business’.

Mapping the Learning Quarter brings it into being. There are few clues as to what the development entails other than the drawing of lines. A map, or a set of instructions? Maps exist to lead us somewhere, and as such have always been tools of education (related to educere, ‘to lead forth’). Reorienting our worlds from above, they teach what can be seen, heard and done within them, and what cannot.