Saturday, 4 August 2012

Christchurch's planned CBD ~ Rushleigh's response

Much news coverage of the plans for Christchurch's new CBD has been excited, almost to the point of flag-waving hurrahs.  A number of the news items linked to in my earlier article "Christchurch city ~ plans for the new CBD are announced" convey an elated mood

The article linked to below is similarly upbeat.  It relates how the team of planners was assembled, group dynamics, and some of the methods they used to work through ideas, all of which is interesting and positive:
However, my response to all these hurrahs is tepid: the tone seems to be almost self-congratulatory on the part of those who have hatched the plans, were associated with those people who did, 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 also surely reflects 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 now 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 post-earthquake building consent process is that it has been exceedingly arduous and costly; 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.

I think it's high time the National Government reined in its authoritarian approach and stopped managing New Zealand in general and Christchurch in particular as if it was all a large commercial corporation with Key and Brownlee calling the shots.  Political leadership of a democracy is quite a different matter - it's to do with governance, about ensuring that the constructive vision and sound values of the constituency are encouraged, reflected on and able to be achieved where ever possible; it's not about management.  Unfortunately not many people seem to know the difference, especially those in power at the moment.

Those readers who are interested in the subject of disaster / post-earthquake resilience may be interested to note that former Prime Minister, Helen Clark, has a speaking engagement in Christchurch on the 15th August:

Looking for those elusive maps of the planned CBD?  You'll find them via the links below:
  • Christchurch Central Development Unit: these are the people who've been developing the plans.
    • 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!
A complete list of my earthquake articles can be found on the following page:


LearnCanterbury said...

Helen's talk is available here: :)

Leigh Christina Russell said...

Hi LearnCanterbury, many thanks for that - I'll enjoy watching that later.

I was totally brassed off by the few lines about it which was published by the Press, which in my view didn't pass for journalistic coverage at all.

By the way the transcript option which is loaded with the video has some *very strange* approximations of the spoken word! :-)

LearnCanterbury said...

Yes, the 'auto-captioning' youtube does can be quite humorous. Didn't realise it was turned on automatically- it might be because interest in this talk has been oddly global (people at UNDP keeping track of the boss?!)
Most often anyone who struggles with English is NOT going to be helped by auto-captioning...

Leigh Christina Russell said...

Yes, most amusing. The auto-captioning didn't turn on automatically - I flicked it on to see what it did! I think the global extent of interest is to be expected as she makes excellent use of Facebook: I follow her page - along with nearly 20,000 others, so she has a high profile! It's a very worthwhile news source: