Monday, 30 July 2012

Christchurch city ~ plans for the new CBD are announced

This evening the blueprint for the re-building of the centre of Christchurch was announced.  The plan is at the concept stage and costings and forecasts are yet to be arrived at.  Earthquake damage to the area was severe: with seventy percent of buildings already gone or scheduled to be demolished there is a great deal of scope for a whole different layout and style of city.

For the benefit of those who missed the news or live in other parts of the world I've gathered together a selection of articles which represent coverage:
  • Christchurch CBD blueprint questioned - TV One's Close Up presenter, Mark Sainsbury, speaks with Mike Coleman of the Wider Earthquake Communities Action Network, and Hugh Pavletich, Performance Urban Planner, speak about the urgency of addressing residents basic housing needs, in light of the thousands of residents who continue to live in badly damaged houses with resolution expected to be years away.  He also speaks with Paul Lonsdale of the Central City Business Association.  This is an interesting representation of views.
I'm definitely with home owners on this one: those in badly damaged homes with uncertain futures need solutions now.  Yes, the situation in Christchurch is complex with most homes throughout the city suffering some form of damage, but those with badly damaged homes need priority - full stop.  Decent, weatherproof and properly heatable living conditions are a fundamental human need.

A covered sports stadium seating 35,000 is part of the plan.  I do hope that Christchurch decision-makers learn from Dunedin's experience in the building of the Forsyth Barr stadium:

Dunedin's new Forsyth Barr stadium seats 30,000, cost over $200 million to build and in the first six months of this year lost $1.9 million.  It is forecast to loose more millions in the three years ahead.  The cost to the city is 23 years worth of a very hefty mortgage.  A large proportion of the city's residents, including myself, vehemently opposed it on the basis of its vast cost and the expectation of additional cost over-runs, but officials went ahead regardless.  The interest on the loan taken out to finance it accrued $18 million during the construction period alone.
Extensive parks and 'green' areas are incorporated into the Christchurch CBD blueprint, which I imagine will be pleasing to those who signed the Avon River Petition:
The blueprint provides an outline of the shape of things to come.  It's an unusual opportunity for the redesign and revitalisation of the city.  I hope designers, developers and planners are able to grasp this opportunity with both hands and rise suitably to the occasion!

4th August - Further links and comments:
  • Christchurch Central Development Unit:
    • Home page
    • The Plan
    • PDF download with details of the plan  This is a large file and takes quite some time to load up onto the screen.  Then when it does display on the screen the format of the pages is so oddly proportioned that it is impossible to see one page at a time and still read the text making it necessary to enlarge the ratio and scroll across the pages - a design fault.  Why PDFs are used for this type of thing I can't imagine.  
    • If you're looking for city maps to get a clearer idea of where everything will be - and what it likely to have to be pulled down to make way for it, the maps are there: on pages 8 and 22, if you're looking at the page numbers at the top of the PDF, or if you're looking for them in the text of the document at the bottom right hand corner of each page they are on pages 6 and 34.  
    • Land acquisition page  I find this aspect of the powers of the authorities most alarming: basically property owners and occupiers are required to sell out and move out on demand.  If anyone else has a more hopeful interpretation of this point I'd be glad to hear it!
My response to all these hurrahs is tepid: many of them seemed to be self-congratulatory on the part of those who have hatched them, were associated with those people, or are most likely to benefit from them commercially.  It's good to be enthusiastic and to have brave and bold visions, but what I'm hearing is in part the high that comes from working intensely on a big project for a relatively short stretch of time.  It is also surely a reflection of the sense of power that must have been part of it.  That's all fine but it is only part of the whole equation.

While there is a lot of public enthusiasm to see that new plans are getting under way there will be many whose businesses lie within the area who may not be at all happy about the prospect of being forced to leave.  The engineering firm, Kirk Roberts Consulting Engineers, is likely to be one of them: they have been in their brand new building only since April.  I imagine that such an unforeseen change of fortunes could be heartbreaking:
A couple of days ago I saw a television interview with a man who I think may be a property developer: he was asked how he felt about the buildings that he had already had approved and which are under construction but which will have to be pulled down to make way for the new developments.  What he said was philosophical but he looked close to tears.  How unbelievably frustrating!  What I have read about the building consent process is that it has been a very arduous and costly undertaking; add to that the rigours and hopefulness of getting construction under way... 

Supporters of the Centennial Pool are also upset that the pool is situated in an area designated for a playground.  Surely there is room for both!
I think it's good that a vision for the city centre is emerging, but I see no reason for there to be a big hurry to put the plan into action, or for it be steam-rollered into existence by the sheer force of authority.  We do live in a democracy, or at least we used to.  These days democracy in Christchurch seems to be remarkably close to being snuffed out completely.

Christchurch businesses as a whole have continued to hold their own, and in my view the best solutions arise in a more evolutionary manner, as priorities are established and problems worked through part by part.  I don't see that simply pushing everything over and starting with the famous 'clean slate' is necessarily the best approach at all.

Have a vision, certainly, but remember that it is only a plan, and that plans can, and indeed should, evolve as life happens and time passes.  This can mean that where we end up may be substantially different from where we thought we were heading originally.  If good processes are carried out with inclusive integrity and patience this is likely to result in better, happier and more robust outcomes.

I grew up in Christchurch and am well aware of the capacity of residents to hotly debate civic issues, perhaps to a greater degree than in any other part of New Zealand.  Perhaps it is a measure of their earthquake-induced fatigue and distress that they seem to be taking these proclamations with such a marked degree of docility.

Note: I have duplicated and expanded this additional content of this article in a further article which you can find via the link below:
A complete list of my earthquake articles can be found on the following page:

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