Posts Tagged ‘sustainability’

May 31st, 2011


TEDxEQChCh: Christchurch- the City of Innovation

It’s been 10 days now since the amazing day that saw 700 people pack into the Aurora center to be inspired around the rebuilding of Christchurch. As one of the organisers it was a relief to see the event run smoothly and generate the kind of excitement and energy we had alway hoped for. This couldn’t have happened without a huge amount of support from a huge army of volunteers and of course a bunch of committed organisers. The photo stream is now up and shortly the videos will be going up. I can’t wait to see them and write about them individually though some have already here, here and here. For me, some strong themes emerged from the day which I think are worth mentioning.

– Cities are about people. That should be our first and foremost consideration.

– Community participation and engagement are key. Listen to the people and you will find out what they want.

– Sustainability. We need a city that is built to last. That means thinking ahead to what the future will bring.

– Innovation. This is a time to embed innovation into the new city. With so much creation ahead, it’s time to really bring this to the fore.

– Branding. It’s time to look beyond the Garden City. Let’s be known for something different, something new. Anything.

I’m going to start with Christchurch: the City of Innovation. That’s what we do. We are a city of ideas, inspiration and invention. We attract the best and smartest to live in our amazing city. We are a talent utopia.

What’s your branding for the new Christchurch?

March 17th, 2011


New Zealand 2025: Envisaging the Future

Before the earthquake of February 22nd I had been working on an outline for where I saw NZ today and where I believed it could be in 2025. It’s very much a hi level view but it’s a starting point. Though things have changed since the big shake my vision hasn’t. If anything it has simply reinforced my thoughts. Over time I will flesh out the different ideas and hopefully make it more accessible to all. In the meantime feel free to think about where you believe we can be in 2025.

As Yogi Berra said, “if you don’t know where you are going, any road will lead you there”.

March 5th, 2011


A Green Dream: Executing a Vision for Christchurch.

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 :-)

March 1st, 2011


A Green Dream: Rebuilding Christchurch as a Sustainable City

170 years ago Christchurch was just a dream, a utopian vision of a green and pleasant land, planned out in England and transported by boat,

the London-based Canterbury Association envisioned Christchurch as an English utopia in the South Pacific. They planned an orderly, tiered society (the first settlers had to brandish a reference from an English vicar attesting to their ‘sobriety and respectability’), with an aristocracy and the Church of England as its head and an underclass of artisans and minions to serve them. They named their fledgling city after an Oxford college (Christ Church) and laid it out like an English city, complete with a Cathedral, University and a boy’s school, Christ’s College, modelled on Eton”.

170 years later it’s been challenged by natural forces and has come off second best: down but not quite out. The CBD has seen between 25-30% of buildings completely destroyed and another 25-30% seriously damaged. The Eastern districts, long known to be built on land of dubious quality, are in serious distress. How does a city recover from this type of disaster?

Well the first thing to remember is that cities have been completely leveled before and have been rebuilt. Lisbon is a fine example of this. On November 1st  1755 an earthquake and tsunami pretty much flattened the city killing tens of thousands and causing damage that reverberated Europe wide. The people of Lisbon responded in an incredible fashion. Wasting no time

On December 4, 1755, little more than a month after the earthquake, Manuel da Maia, chief engineer to the realm, presented his plans for the re-building of Lisbon. Maia presented five options from abandoning Lisbon to building a completely new city. The first plan was to rebuild the old city using re-cycled materials; this was the cheapest option. The second and third plans proposed widening certain streets. The fourth option boldly proposed razing the entire Baixa quarter and “laying out new streets without restraint”. This last option was chosen by the king and his minister.[13]

I would like to consider option 4: razing the entire city and starting again.

Why don’t we demolish the whole CBD and start again, create another utopian vision, this time for a sustainable city: a living breathing system with an integrated energy grid, hi technology buildings in an urban landscape designed for people, creativity and innovation. Of course, we could and should repair and keep our finest historical buildings: the Arts Centre, the Cathedral, the Museum, Christ’s College and any others of a similar standing. There may be some key sites we will have to rebuild but let’s get real: many buildings in Christchurch are/were a complete eyesore; many streets are not that exciting to walk down (for example Colombo Street); many tired shops with very average retail offerings. Many will not be missed and as the most over shopped city in the universe, we can surely survive the loss of many of these. The key challenge will be in how we managed our old heritage with our future one.

So let’s dream a little, not so much as think big but dream big. This is a chance for a new beginning just as it was 170 years ago. We have the opportunity to shape a new future, to create a world leading city and environment, to lead the way and to create new jobs in a hi technology based ecosystem. Our CBD could be smaller and nestled into and around Hagley Park. We simply need better, smarter and healthier buildings, not bigger ones.

I’m going to share some design thoughts just to give people a taste of what dreams can generate, what imagination can create. We want to create something amazing out of this…to somehow make those we have lost proud of what we chose to attempt, to make good out of bad.

Start dreaming now. Lisbon managed it in 1755. I’m sure we can.

February 24th, 2008

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The Water Conundrum

It’s good that the water debate is starting to take more shape. In the main we have struggled with the idea that we should pay for it and how to construct proper markets around it. Some places meter water and some don’t but as we know it’s hard to manage a resource if you can’t measure it use.

So it’s refreshing to see a piece in The Press  on the need for a water market to be constructed to provide an efficient allocation of this precious resource. As I’ve discussed many times, a resource with no price will be treated as if it is free. For many people water is free and always has been but now there are competing claims on water. In New Zealand this is primarily from agriculture with huge demands for irrigation from the dairy industry, which converts water into milk on an enormous scale.

Initial objections are alway around the issue that water is a necessity for life and should therefore be free.  Well so is food and shelter and they aren’t. We have lived with the false notion that water will always be plentiful and is a constant renewable resource. Tell that to Australian farmers who have suffered a 5 year drought in many areas. Water availability is subject to climatic variation and to overuse. Just look at the state of NZ rivers and lakes which are well known to have experienced a serious decline in quality over the last 20 years of intensive farming.

It’s fairly simple to make sure people are allocated a fair supply of free water to assuage those who believe they shouldn’t pay for it but anything above a basic amount should be paid for just like our energy.

It’s only through the pain of payment that we really focus our efforts on conservation, efficiency and alternatives.

It’s time we got on with this whilst we still have water to charge for.

February 10th, 2008

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NZ: State of Environment Report

I wasn’t going to bother with this really. Who needs another dose of reality? But there is an interesting story here.

The Greens have come out with a story about a buried chapter in this report. They claim that Chapter 13 was pulled due to a very negative slant on the dairy industry. It pointed to dairy as the “largest cause of environmental decline” in New Zealand. Anyone who likes to swim in their local stream, river or lake could attest to that.

The dairy industry is also one of the biggest earners for the country. There you have it. New Zealand is no more immune to political lobbying than any other country except its pretty transparent. It’s hard to keep anything a secret here.

The Greens propose that this report come under the auspices of the Parliamentary Commissioner of the Environment rather than the government.

Yes to that!  The government simply cannot be trusted to be objective. Yes it’s a sad statement to make but that’s the way it is until we get a more distributed form of democracy and power.

If you can’t sleep then here is the link to the various reports.


"I’m a Londoner who moved to Christchurch, New Zealand in 2002. After studying economics and finance at Manchester University and a couple of years of backpacking, I ended up working in the financial markets in London. I traded the global financial markets on behalf of investment banks for 11 years. Since moving to NZ, I have been an angel investor, budget advisor, director, trustee, mentor and business consultant. I'm currently a Councillor at Christchurch City Council and a Trustee of the Volunteer Army Foundation and the Christchurch Arts Festival Trust. I write about the intersection of economic, social and environmental issues."

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