Baldwin St threatened: a steep price to pay?

A three-bedroom house is hauled up Baldwin St in 1993; in 1988 Iain Clark became the first person...
A three-bedroom house is hauled up Baldwin St in 1993; in 1988 Iain Clark became the first person to roller-skate up the street; The Guinness Book of Records co-founder Norris McWhirter inspects the steepness in 1993; after giving up smoking, Dunedin man Dave Kernaghan began running up and skipping down the street 30 times a day; Jaffas roll during the 2009 Jaffa race; (centre) Ross Home resident Rod McLay climbed the 35% gradient 549 times before becoming a tourist attraction in his own right.
Next week the unthinkable could happen. For more than 30 years Dunedin has basked in the glory of being home to the world’s steepest street. It has beaten numerous challenges and accusations of incorrect measurements, but a serious challenge from the Welsh town of Harlech for its street Ffordd Pen Llech has put that title in jeopardy. An announcement from the chronicler of human achievements, Guinness World Records, is expected next week. Tim Miller investigates how the street came to be officially recognised as the steepest, and what might happen if loses the top spot.

It was a quiet day in the Dunedin newsroom when broadcaster and journalist Jim Mora asked the city council what was the steepest street in the city.

"I think I asked around and people mostly said View St and I thought `yeah, that's quite steep but some of the ones up North East Valley must be steeper'."

After Baldwin St was confirmed as the city's steepest with a gradient of 35%, he then set about getting the street officially recognised.

"I wrote to the Guinness Book of Records and started a correspondence because the two steepest streets in the world then were both in San Francisco, but Baldwin was quite clearly steeper."

On April 9, 1985 a story ran on the South Tonight proclaiming Baldwin to be both Dunedin's and the world's steepest residential street.

By 1987 the street was officially recognised in the records books, and the rest is history.

Jim Mora
Jim Mora
If the Welsh were to wrest the title away, Mr Mora says he will be slightly miffed but still "sporting".

"I'm secretly pleased and it's always been nice that it's survived against all comers, and it would be a pity after all this time."

"Because they may have a castle that's got antiquity but this tradition in Dunedin has a bit of antiquity now, and it would be a shame to have it overthrown after all these years."

A few years after the story first aired, longtime residents Sam and Coleen Williamson moved into their new home at the bottom of the street.

"It had not long been done when we moved in here, but nobody really took any notice of it then."

Baldwin St is now one of the "must see" attractions in Dunedin, but the growing number of tourists has not always mixed well with the residential nature of the street.

The Williamsons have had their fair share of campervans parked over their driveway or tourists walking over their flowerbeds, and more than once have had to repair their brick fence after someone has accidentally backed into it while performing a U-turn.

There will not be too many tears shed if the title shifts to the northern hemisphere, Mr Williamson said.

"It will be nice to be a bit quieter out the front there - it might help stop the obstruction of people parking over our driveway and that sort of stuff."

Even in the middle of the tourism off-season, Baldwin St was full of selfie-taking tourists and tour groups taking up the whole width of the street when the Otago Daily Times visited on Thursday.

Only a handful of tourists knew about the impending decision, but most said it would still have been on their list of sights to see in Dunedin.

Australian tourists Chris and Stephanie Lindores said their friends had told them about the street so they wanted to see it up close for themselves.

They were confident Dunedin's reputation would not be too badly damaged if Ffordd Pen Llech was officially named as the steepest.

"We were coming anyway but it was one of the things I wanted to do, definitely ... It's a pretty cool town anyway and it will still be the steepest street in the southern hemisphere," Mr Lindores said.

On the popular website TripAdvisor, Baldwin St ranks number 21 out 94 "things to do in Dunedin", and is almost always included on a list of "must sees" for anyone visiting the city.

Associate Prof Andrea Insch of the University of Otago's marketing department agrees, and said Dunedin's image would not be likely to suffer too much if Baldwin St lost its crown.

When people were deciding where to live or work, what world records the city held was probably not at the top of their list, Prof Insch said.

"I think it's a bit lower down in the hierarchy of what Dunedin really means and what Dunedin stands for - it's certainly a tourist drawcard, but once people are here."

It was important for cities to differentiate themselves so they stood out, she said, but this had to be put it into perspective.

"It certainly enriches the experience once people are here, and it gives people in Dunedin something to be proud of.

"But I'm not sure how much value you could put on that compared to some of the other assets the city has."

When asked for comment, a Dunedin City Council spokeswoman said there was nothing the council could add at this stage.

Comments

I would bet most of the Baldwin St residents can't wait to loose, it will stop the utter madness.

Who cares. It's just a wish list to tick. I'd rather visitors met local people instead of rushing around taking pics of themselves in the foreground. It is utter madness and mass tourism adds nothing the local environment- we pay for the infrastructure while the tourist industry gets richer.

It's called a tourist destination, and like most of them around the world, it can be extremely popular.
If residents don't like it, then they can sell up and let someone else move in.

It's literally like this around the world, so thinking it is unique to Dunedin tells me that some people haven't travelled much. If you think Baldwin St is busy, try spending time in Times Square. You can barely see the footpath sometimes, day or night, because of so many people. We loved it there and kept going back day after day.

Personally i like Baldwin St being so popular as it brings people to the city, and makes people (the tourists usually) happy.

 

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