My last post on rebuilding Christchurch produced some interesting feedback. Most were excited, the odd one horrified and a few came through with some alternative thoughts and modern examples. The videos I put up were meant to provoke people into thinking and questioning: what is a city, what do we need from it and how can we make it work for each other? I wanted people to release themselves from previously held beliefs and challenge them, test them out: does it really make sense, does that really work, does it enable, does it support?
It’s one thing to have fantastic futuristic designs but are they practicable? maybe, maybe not. They are certainly buildable. We should not forget that we are moving into a resource challenged time. By 2050 we could have 9 billion people living on this planet. So we do need to build smart, we do need to think about the nature of the built environment as well as the type of city people want Christchurch to be. We have a wonderful brand being well known as the Garden City, as well as being a city with a strong record in technology, manufacturing and the arts. It has a strong farming hinterland and wonderful natural assets reaching from the sea to the snow.
It can easily build on all of those strengths. Here’s a recent example of a city flattened by an earthquake.
On January 17th 1995, Kobe, a city slightly larger in population to Auckland, was hit by a massive 6.8 earthquake, which shattered the city and killed nearly 6,500 people. The total cost was $102 billion. The rebuild process was difficult but according to this 2005 report, the economy eventually recovered to about 75-90% but with the loss of much of its port business. The government was the major funder of the rebuild and tried to focus on specific industries such as biotechnology. Whilst it’s not particularly known as an eco-city or rebuilt along sustainable principles, Kobe was ranked no 9 in the list of world eco cities in a 2010 Mercer report (Wellington was no 5). The lesson Kobe offers are that rebuilding takes time, the economic impact is major and recovery is a long term process.
But Christchurch is very different to Kobe. It is really a very low rise city and should no doubt remain that way. We don’t need some gargantuan high rise marquee building though there is certainly room for some interesting design structures. The human-building interface is very important to the people of Christchurch and that is probably were the focus should be. I agree to some extent with Gerry Brownlee, the Earthquake Minister, that we should only keep the very best of our heritage buildings (The Cathedral, the Arts Centre, the Provincial Buildings and other key sites) and build around them. How we define the best of them and which ones to invest in will no doubt be a heated topic. It’s important to keep the fabric of the city in place whilst recognising that a new layer will emerge.
How we execute this is the tricky bit. There needs to be representation and there needs to be leadership. We will need input from outside especially from people with expertise in sustainable design, both buildings and urban planning. The demolition bit is easy. As Gerry says
“As I’ve said repeatedly, heritage is both forward and back and from this point on, we decide what the heritage of this city will be“.
That’s a good start as long as we know who the “we” will be. Perhaps a good place to start is to set out a wish list and work from that. So here’s some of my wishes for how we approach this:
- People first: This must be a people centered process both in design, form and function. We want a living, breathing, vibrant and safe place to live and work with buildings and green spaces that sing to us.
- The Garden City: This is a wonderful brand but needs updating. We can incorporate ideas related to the Garden: permaculture, hydroponics, leisure, tranquility, beauty, shelter.
- Zero waste: We can make Christchurch the greenest city in the world. Recycling is great but true efficiency is in designing wasteless products and systems.
- Ecological clustering: We can create business clusters where organisations can leverage off each other. We can focus on our core strengths and build around that expertise as well as minimising waste streams
- Hagley Park: This could become our Central Park. Surrounded East, North, West and South by business and residential areas. This could help the CBD spread but keep itself anchored at the same time.
- Trains: This is a bit of a long shot. But we have train tracks going through key areas in the city and a train station in a potentially key area. With the current rebuilding we could look at a city loop to connect into the north south line from the central station. If there was ever a time to look at light passenger rail then this is it. We could also fit cycling into this work as well.
- Energy: All new buildings to be fully fitted for solar and small scale wind and then be connected to an integrated grid for feed in tariffs.
As people start to put their wish list together, we will start to see common themes appearing. That may be the best way to get a bottom up blueprint for rebuilding and redevelopment. So I invite readers to list their 5 top wishes below.
Then we can bring in the experts to make it all happen