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Eight things that make Cambridge a great place to live.

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Given this edition’s focus on Cambridge, where I happen to live, I decided to briefly discuss some things about the built environment (mostly), that make Cambridge a great place to live and work.

In no particular order:

Geography constrains the town centre.

Te Awa o Waikato (the Waikato river) curves to the south of the original town centre, its steep banks providing a natural limit to expansion.  To the east an escarpment drops away first to ‘Carter’s Flat’ and beyond this the Karapiro stream.  To the north-east is Lake Te Ko Utu.  And at the north-west ‘Victoria Square’ provides an anchor for the CBD and a buffer for the residential area to the west and north.

These natural limits to the commercial centre of town have kept it quite compact and created a more vibrant atmosphere than might be the case otherwise.  As single storey buildings are redeveloped to create more office and living space, the town centre will only get better.

Great civic space in the centre of town

The historic town hall and piazza, war memorial cenotaph, clock tower, and tree-lined Victoria Square combine to make an attractive open space right in the centre of town.  Serving as the hosting space for many events, including the weekly farmer’s market, and cricket matches still played in the village square, these spaces are well used and contribute much to the ‘village’ feel that locals value.

It is worth remembering the value of quality civic space as we consider the location of future facilities such as a potential new Cambridge library.

The grid street layout

Within the green belt, streets are laid out in a grid pattern; while grids have pros and cons, here are some of the things I like about it in Cambridge.

Long straight streets provide excellent vistas;  just the other morning I was enjoying the view of the sunrise over the hills along the east-west streets as I walked to the bus.   The same views make it easy to identify landmarks to assist with wayfinding, and the grid pattern itself means it’s hard to get ‘lost in suburbia’.

Most of the area inside the green belt is within a 15 minute walk from town.  The grid pattern is inherently pedestrian friendly with multiple route options and regular intersections, which go some way to slowing traffic.

The green belt

The green belt parks and walking tracks provide easy access to recreation opportunities for anyone living within or near the green belt.  If the current green belt is connected to walking tracks and green spaces in new growth areas, the amenity will be even further improved.  Some have even recently suggested the creation of a new green belt along the edge of the new residential growth areas.

Green infrastructure

Building on the value of the green belt, Cambridge is also fortunate to have parks and walking paths around Lake Te Ko Utu and along both sides of the river.  Along with Victoria Square, Leamington Domain and several smaller parks we’re spoilt for green space.  Not to mention the many trees that Cambridge is well known for.  In addition to the recreational benefits, this ‘green infrastructure’ helps to cool the town environment, soak up and filter stormwater, and has been linked to improved mental health.

Social infrastructure

While straying somewhat from the built environment remit, the strong social infrastructure in Cambridge is critical to the town’s success.  Groups like the Lions and Rotary clubs contribute more than many grasp.  The Cambridge Tree Trust has been responsible for the creation of many of the walking tracks and planting many of the trees that now are a key part of Cambridge.  Organisations like the Cambridge Business Chamber help to nurture the vibrant business and retail environment, while Waipā council and councillors have generally done a good job of responding to the needs and expectations of the community.  There are too many more to name, but it is these social institutions that build a great town.

Retention and restoration of character buildings

Mostly I am referencing the town centre, though some good examples of character exist in residential areas too.  For a relatively small town centre, Cambridge has a good base of quality buildings from the earlier years of the town.

These have in many cases been well looked after or more recently restored, with the likes of the Masonic Hotel soon due for a refresh.  They also generally have a good scale, with second storeys now repurposed for office space above ground floor retail.  The scale helps to frame the main retail streets, along with street trees and landscaping, providing attractive spaces and atmosphere.

Set backs in residential areas

While there are some nicely restored villas and bungalows, one of the things I enjoy about the residential areas of Cambridge is that houses are mostly set back somewhat from the street with space for gardens and trees at the front.

This might seem an odd thing to get excited about, but, along with lower fences, it means the houses address the street in a more open and inviting fashion.  Houses are close enough to be present and imply a level of passive surveillance, yet residents retain a degree of privacy by virtue of being set back.

There are many more things to love about Cambridge, but these are just a few things about the built environment, that are worth thinking about as we collectively come to grips with the growth of not just Cambridge, but all of the Waikato.

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About Author

Phil MacKay

Phil Mackay is Business Devolpment Manger at Hamilton-based PAUA, Procuta Associates Urban + Architecture