This is a heart-felt, heart-breaking piece of writing from Isabel Hitchings, who lives in the “Flockton Cluster”. I can’t do much more than strongly recommend that you read it. The situation over the last few days has shown that complex the post-quake recovery in the suburbs is – and that we are still failing too many people as a nation.
One of the anchor projects in the CCDU blueprint was building a new Bus Interchange. This is part of the transport plan, and is set down for the block between Tuam and Lichfield St. This is where the old Council / Millers Building is / was.
This is the old Millers building. It was built in 1931, and was the first building in the country to have an escalator. I’ve always liked the building, and would have liked to have seen the building be converted into a transport exchange. Instead, this is the design that CERA has released for the Bus Interchange today:
While the people of the city were trying to deal with a 1 in a 100 year weather event, they may have missed another rare occurrence: an apology from Gerry Brownlee. After he launched a bombastic attack on the Christchurch Labour MPs, labeling them “despicable” for a photo that was taken with leader David Cunliffe and Aranui resident Dot, he was forced to back down. Labour’s Earthquake Recvoery spokesperson Ruth Dyson put it well when she said this:
He should have checked his facts before he came out swinging. It is astonishing that only now he has stumbled upon a further 85 cases of elderly and vulnerable Cantabrians in rebuild limbo. Three years on he has yet to grasp the magnitude of the number of people who are still stranded in wrecked homes and want to move on.
Brownlee’s behavior in the last couple of weeks has been even more aggressive than usual. On Saturday, he launched an extraordinary attack at the council with an opinion piece in the paper. Just this morning, he was at his belligerent best, talking over quake and flood victims on Nine to Noon. After three years of nature doing it’s worst to the people of this city, they need their political representatives to treat them with respect, not contempt. If Brownlee can’t see that the people of this city are at their wits end, and that shouting isn’t going to help anything, then maybe he should think about passing the portfolio on to someone who still shows some empathy to the poor, patronized people of Christchurch.
As most of you will probably know, Christchurch has been battered by an horrific storm for more than 24 hours now. It went from being a “once in 50 year” event to a “once in a 100 year” event. While the rains are starting to ease now, the clean up is yet to start – especially for those in the hardest hit areas of St Albans, Richmond, Shirley and Mairehau. It’s an unfortunate, unnecessary reminder that as we head into our fourth year after the quakes, there are still people who are living in cold, damp, crowded conditions whilst they wait for a resolution. Surely after 3 years, even having one person in this situation is one person too many. But far from actively working to resolve the issues, EQC seem to be deliberately obfuscating:
As Christchurch endures flooded streets, NBR is still awaiting a response to questions about long-awaited flood plain modelling and flood remediation in Christchurch sent to EQC a week before today’s devastating flooding. EQC spin doctors are hampering the process, attempting to stonewall NBR’s reporter with a complaint over “aggressive questioning”, according to EQC stakeholder communications manager Iain Butler.
Perhaps even more worrying than the delay itself is the attitude of the EQC and their communications manager:
“We are working away on what I consider a comprehensive response to Chris’s questions but I would like some assurance that the final product of this exchange will be fair, balanced and accurate – in other words, some intervention from head office may be required before the final article goes to print.”
Some intervention from head office. This sounds to me as though the EQC want to have editorial control over what a newspaper writes about them. This is a frankly Orwellian response to what were valid questions asked by a journalist simply doing their job. Instead of trying to constantly stifle and suppress information, EQC needs to be far more open and up front. I have friends who live in a TC3 area around Avonside, whose claim has been further held up waiting for the flood plain modelling. They, and others like them, have a right to know what is happening to their house, and soon – before there is another natural disaster, be that flood, snowstorm or earthquake. EQC – and the Minister responsible, Gerry Brownlee – need to remember that they serve us, not the other way around.
In what will likely be quite a controversial move for car-dependent Christchurch, the council are proposing that new residential development be required to provide fewer carparks:
In an attempt to make it easier for landowners to redevelop post-earthquake the council is tossing up whether it should reduce the parking requirements in the District Plan for residential units.
Currently, every residential unit is supposed to provide two car parks but Christchurch City Council staff think by reducing that requirement they could cut development costs.
They have also suggested reducing the number of car parks that new commercial and retail developments need to provide as a way of encouraging people to walk or cycle.
I live in a central city apartment with no car parking. This is fine, as neither me nor my partner owns a car. We both walk to work, the shops, art galleries, cafes and the like. I use one of my bikes if I have to get somewhere further afield. But I realize that some people will need to have a car. Fortunately, there are plenty of places in the CBD at the moment where one can rent a carpark. If we want to make the central city a more attractive place to live – and the results of Share an Idea would suggest we do – then reducing the amount of space dedicated to carparks is a great place to start.
An opinion piece in this morning’s Press advocates for retention of the Christ Church Cathedral. It comes from British writer and heritage adviser Richard Terry, and again highlights the folly of the position taken by the Bishop and others;
Christ Church Cathedral speaks directly to us with an irreplaceable authority. It gives a voice to the remarkable historical and cultural movements that gave birth to its city and to Canterbury province. To lose this unique and singular voice would be a great loss, felt ever more acutely in the long term, which would prove detrimental to Christchurch. It should be spared from total demolition.
My personal preference would be to see the Cathedral rebuilt on the current site, using the wooden frame that was initially proposed by George Gilbert Scott, then revived by Sir Miles Warren. This ticks all the boxes – sympathetic to the heritage of the building, a very reasonable cost, and seismic stability. The Cathedral is the symbol of Christchurch, and if we don’t rebuild it, I think that says something very symbolic – and very sad – about the recovery as a whole.
The Press reports that one of the Government’s key anchor projects, the convention centre, may be downsized:
The Government’s key anchor project – a Christchurch convention centre – could be downsized after “market sounding” suggested a 2000-seat venue was too ambitious.
This is promising news, as it shows that the government’s planned centre is too big for a city this size. It would also have a flow-on effect, if it results in a smaller convention centre being built. The current Blueprint calls for a new library, on a site a block away from the existing library.
As I’ve written about previously, the existing library could be repaired for a fraction of what building a new one would cost. The main reason for building the new library is that the land will be required for the convention centre – however, if a smaller centre was to be built, it could be designed to accommodate the repaired library. This would save the council tens of millions of dollars. With the state that the CCC’s books are currently in, I think that is an option that should be seriously considered.
I am pleased to announce that I’ll be seeking the nomination to be Labour candidate for Christchurch Central. It is my belief that Central is the most important electorate in the country at the moment; it is a symbol of the destruction wrought by the quakes which has been beamed around the country and the world – but it is also a symbol of the failure and broken promises from the National-led government. Brownlee and his accomplices have presided over a man-made disaster, far worse that the one caused by mother nature, and I believe that I am the best person to lead Labour and Christchurch Central towards a resolution.
The rebuild should have been an opportunity to show how we, as a nation, can create a new vision for a fairer, more equal, more sustainable way of living in the 21st century, and yet this chance has been squandered. The hope and optimism that emerged in the immediate aftermath of the terror has now dissipated, almost completely, under the weight of disappointment with a lack of progress, frustration and obfuscation from EQC and insurance companies. Thanks to the resounding success of the People’s Choice team at last year’s local body elections, we now have a council that are ready to address the realities which the city faces. Despite being thrown a hospital pass by the previous administration, Lianne Dalziel and her council are trying to approach the significant issues the council faces with a maturity and responsibility not seen often in this city, post-quakes. Their approaches have fallen on deaf ears. I believe that the parliamentary opposition can no longer afford to stay silent on these issues: we need to provide more support for the council, who are of course representing the people of this city.
Further to this, Labour needs to start outlining what it will do differently if and when it forms a government after the next election. Would we continue with CERA in it’s existing format? How would we improve EQC, or work with insurance companies to ensure a better outcome for all parties involved? What is our position on the suburban expansion into the fertile farmland around the city, and the impacts it will have on our transport infrastructure? Would Labour support the anchor projects as they stand currently on the Blueprint, and if not, what would we do differently? After asking myself these questions for many months, I decided that the best way to have them answered was to put my name forward and ask the party as a whole.
I grew up in the south-west of the city, in an idyllic semi-rural setting. After my schooling at Hoon Hay Primary, Manning Intermediate – a victim of Parata’s needless restructuring – and Cashmere High School, I went on to Otago University. Here I studied for a BSc in Biochemistry, as well as a BA in Classics. I then returned to Christchurch, where I completed a Masters in Cellular and Molecular Biology. It was during this time that I first got involved with Labour in the Port Hills electorate. I’ve been helping Ruth Dyson and her team since before the 2008 election, and have been Chairperson of the Port Hills LEC since 2010. Working with Ruth, Martin and others has taught me invaluable experience on not just how to run a campaign, but how to run a winning campaign. But now, it’s the time for me to come back to Christchurch Central.
I’ve lived in Central for much of the last decade. I would have been a voter here at the last election, were it not for the quake destroying my flat on Lichfield St. It also took out the place I lived before that, in Cashel St, and the one before that, in Poplar Lane. But now, my partner and I are back living in town. We both walk to work – which is equal parts depressing and exciting. Every day, buildings are coming down, and the plants are getting slightly taller. As the plants grow, so does the anger – anger at the lack of progress, anger at the government prioritising pet projects over people, anger as we come to realise that dreams we had of rebuilding a better Christchurch are fast slipping from our grasp.
I want to run a campaign that puts the rebuild back into the political discussion. Now is the time for the opposition to offer a real alternative, to step up and let people know that there is a point of difference between us and the failed policies of Brownlee and Key. On February 23rd, 2011, John Key said this:
On behalf of the Government, let me be clear that no one will be left to walk this journey alone. New Zealand will walk this journey with you. We will be there every step of the way. Christchurch; this is not your test, this is New Zealand’s test. I promise we will meet this test.
More than 3 years on, with thousands still struggling with EQC and their insurance companies, our most vulnerable people being told that the “free market” will sort out their housing issues, and with a central city that looks more like a war zone than a rebuild zone, I think we can say that this is a test which Key has failed. It’s time for a change, and I believe I’m the right man to usher that change in.
If you’re a Labour Party member in Christchurch Central, please consider supporting me – and if you aren’t, please consider joining up.
If you want to follow the campaign on Facebook, click here
If you want to follow on twitter, click here
Part Four: “Is this what you meant?”
If I was to sum up my critique of CERA in the shortest way possible it would with this one sentence: ‘Is that what you meant?’ This sentence is a critical part of any complex process. A person asks their opinion on something, they formulate that opinion into another form – a document, a design, a proposal, a sketch – and then go back to them and say ‘This is what I have done, is that what you meant?’ What normally then follows is a complex, intriguing, and difficult conversation where the questioner explains all the reasons that it is turning out this way, and the questionee reflects on what are the more or less important parts of the original answer. There is iteration, compromise and new ideas are formed.
This is precisely the process that has been missing in the redesign and rebuild of the central city. The people had a say during the “Share an Idea” process. For the government this is the end of it. They seem to have taken to heart the joke that ‘Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.’ (H. L Mencken). I don’t particularly believe that people, as a whole, know what they want, but I also don’t think the government or any of the shipped in advisors know either. However, it would be nice if we (and others like the representatives of those that can’t speak) were included in the conversation. That would be the first step.
Over the past three articles I’ve tried to articulate that not including the public is dumb politics that leads to dumb design, but I’d also suggest that it is dumb economics. The financial meltdown that rocked the world in 2007-08 hinged on a number of Wall Street firms developing stock options so complex that it was impossible for investors to have any understanding of what was in them. The heavy reliance on these options that turned out to be dodgy compositions of bad loans was what brought the banks down so quickly. This could not have happened if the market could see what they were investing in. It would seem that both democracy and the economy rely on transparency to function.
And if so, is the complete failure of the government to attract international investment into their rebuild project partly to blame on the opaque government structure that is developing the new city? We have stadiums, conventions centres, justice precincts, and many other government-led projects emerging with no publicly available business cases behind them. Should we be surprised that this isn’t creating investor confidence? If CERA won’t even release their organizational structure, how are we are supposed to trust them with rebuilding a city?
Over the holidays it struck me that Minister Brownlee’s unfortunate health problems have inadvertently removed the most effective metaphor to describe the performance of post-quake CERA; being an overweight, top-heavy and opaque bureaucracy that develops its own internal inertia which logic and common-sense can’t budge. I’ve repeated this idea enough times now, and figure its probably getting pretty boring. So to finish this short series of 4 posts I’m going to briefly comment on each of the so called anchor projects.
In our upcoming book (released October this year) we will have a much closer look at the logic that is guiding the focus on anchor projects (anchornomics) but for now I’d like to do a David Killick-inspired update of the good and bad of the projects as they are at the moment. Killick has a regular feature article in the Press called Design Matters which presents an extraordinary opportunity to communicate the depth and beauty of matters of design, yet Killick has developed a design-lite approach to writing that raises important issues in poetic lists without any sort of explanation or context. One friend said if you read it out loud it sounds like Ralph Wiggum from the Simpsons.
So here goes:
1. Avon River
I covered this in the last part of this series here. Great idea, poor process. Will probably come out ok, but well short of the extraordinary potential this project offered.
2. Hospital and health precinct
I don’t know the details of this, but there is significant funding in place and they have hired some of the most competent and experienced designers in Australasia for this project, so looking promising.
3. Justice Precinct
The building isn’t going to change the world, but the project is based on a really sound idea that emerged from the post quake experience – to keep ministries and departments close to each other. So this building will have emergency, courts, corrections and other departments all in one area. Reports are that it is going well and looks promising on both an urban and organizational levels.
4. The stadium
Too big and too expensive. Do we really need to spend another $50 – $100 million on a stadium just for a couple of Lions Tours? Crazy stuff. A small and well-designed stadium might work this close to the city if carefully arranged, but anything as big as proposed should stay where it is.
5. Convention Centre
This is the most dangerous project for the city. It occupies two large blocks in the heart of the city. I don’t know of any other city that thinks it’s a great idea to stick a monolithic project with an internal focus at the centre, its normally much smarter to put it on the edge so it can do its own thing, but close enough that the business of hotels and restaurants and cafes feeds into the heart. The original proposal that was given to the designers was for a convention centre 4 times the size of the previous one (this is apparently now being reconsidered.) The key with this project is to keep the edges alive so that no part of the city is destroyed by parking, entrances, storage and the sides of large internal spaces; it is hard to see how this can be done on four edges, so will inevitably kill at least one street in the city. This is a really big project and there has been no information released on it yet.
6. East and South Frames
Like the convention centre and the Avon this is big stuff. Do this badly and the whole inner city rebuild will be compromised, do it well and Christchurch could easily become the best city in the country. What was originally conceived of as a land bank and edge condition to the city, got sold to the public as a park, and it now being conceived as the only real opportunity to get twenty thousand people into the city. This is potentially game changing. We could see the design and construction of the first 21st century housing in NZ. Meaning proper density, sophisticated design, integrated transport and ecology, and at affordable prices. Instead it sounds like treasury is leaning on CERA to get some money back from the expensive land purchases, so are pushing for the land to be sold of to the highest bidder. This’ll inevitably be the groups that can make the most money out of the projects, and sadly this isn’t like to lead to the best outcomes. Government needs to lead these projects so it caters for a diversity of residents (this is what makes cities work) and to use the scale of the construction to develop new safer cheaper offsite manufacturing. So again, there is hope, but I can’t see why this government would see the light on this issue when they haven’t so far.
7. Innovation Precinct
This project is a joke. It was introduced by Minister Joyce at day 93 in the 100 day plan. It’s been under-developed and under-supported. It represents the worst of government interference. Leaving people to just get on with their own buildings would have been many times more effective. Who knows how this will develop from here, but the horse has already bolted. Key players may now be the centre of an exciting development elsewhere on the edge of the city.
8. Children’s Playground
Nice idea, but again caught up in the rubbish from the British designers. I can’t for the life of me work out why the playground can’t be constructed around the centennial pool and Elsie Locke Park instead of necessitating their demolition. I’d ask CERA and the CCDU, but that’s right, they don’t talk to the public.
9. Performing Arts Precinct
This one is a doozy that has been drawn into the controversy of the Town Hall. Now that it looks like the Town Hall is staying (thankfully) the rest of the arts precinct can start to be conceived. There is around $40 million and a large piece of prime central city land to do this. At the moment this will cater for CSO (who were going to get a new building pre-quake), School of Music (who are bringing in their own money) and Court theatre (who get another new theatre). I have followed this project closely and can’t for the life of me work out why there hasn’t been a proper consultation process to work out what goes in this area. What about youth spaces? What about community access? What about a BATS-sized theatre space? The Court Theatre is obviously important, but I can’t understand why they get some $20 million of rate payer money without a public conversation.
There is heaps of land here that the government is gifting to this project my two cents would be to encourage more groups to come in and make this a dense and amazing collaboration of spaces and groups. Other thoughts are that the James Hay should be substantially reconsidered so that it becomes a loved part of the city. There should be a small but beautiful bridge built from Victoria Square to the southern entrance of the Town Hall, and finally that the whole Arts Precinct should go on the site next to the river between Colombo and Manchester.
10. Metro Sports
I don’t really know much about this project. It’s another big one. Sounds like some of the master planning is quite exciting.
This is an interesting one. The old library would apparently only take $8 million to fix and instead a new $90 million library is being built one block closer to the square. The idea of having a contemporary and great library on the square is a strong one. Or they could spend $30 million the old library to fix and it and built a new contemporary area. However CERA (as with the centennial pool) won’t let this happen because the old library is on the site of the new GIANT convention centre, so MUST be demolished. I’m in two minds about this as it would be amazing if a really good design is built right on the square. How about an international design competition?
12. Residential demonstration
Another good idea, great to see CCDU and CCC working so close together. This project illustrated the importance of public competitions with a fantastic array of entries from around the world. The 4 short listed entries were actually quite exciting. The project has however now become mired in economic issues as the government is allegedly trying to get ‘market’ value for the land and thus making the whole project unfeasible. I’m not sure how a ‘market’ value is reached in the middle of a city so dominated by a government landlord. This is supposed to be a demonstration project, be good if it was demonstrating amazing and affordable design rather than demonstration why we can’t ever build anything decent in this country.
13. Retail precinct
While the Re:Start mall has been a great success and illustrated the importance of quick and experimental thinking, the retail precinct has illustrated the opposite. A similar story to the innovation precinct but on a bigger scale. Nothing has happened here in the 18 months since the 100-day plans were launched. Dozens of designs have been proposed, millions will have been wasted of fees, lawyers, accountants, QS’s, and other professionals. The project does at least illustrate how we aren’t being victims to disaster capitalism, but rather the much more mundane reality of incompetence and bureaucratic obstinacy. Now, belatedly the government has thrown up its hands and done what they should have in the first place and said to the land owners ‘fine do what you want then but here is a master plan you need to fit within’. Apparently some pretty good architects have now being brought into the camp to do this master planning.
14. Te Puna Ahurea Cultural Precinct
This is a bit of a phantom project. Rumours are that it just isn’t going to happen. The piece of land that it was designated for was a bit strange in the plans, so I reckon it’d be better put someone more centre, either on the current site of the commons (where the pallet pavilion is) so it really feels like the entry to the city, and over the river from market square/Victoria Square, or next to the Avon where the new arts precinct was originally going to go, or if the old library was kept this building could be put on the square as a sister building to the cathedral. I’m not sure what it is supposed to be, but it feels to me that Ngai Tahu should be more present in the centre of Christchurch.
What this list clearly illustrates is repeated point about involving the public. All the projects that don’t have the public as the main user group have done well. The Health Precinct and the Justice and Emergency Precinct both have strong clients who can formulate their needs and work with the designers to achieve them.The River, the east and south frames, the arts precinct, Cathedral Square, the innovation precinct are all going awfully because the main user group has been ignored, or has had no proper representation.
Looking outside of the Anchor projects to what is actually happening in the city I predict another long, blur of a confusing year. There’s going to be some BIG political battles this year around the election and locally with the cost-sharing agreement. The city itself is going to suffer from a lack of intermediate initiatives. It’s looking like both the pallet pavilion and Re:Start will be gone by April* without anything in the pipeline to replace them. This should be the moment when projects such as the Arts Circus should be in full swing. People need to realize that the big projects are still years away. A few great things like the Isaac Theatre and parts of the Arts Centre will begin to come online, but really the big projects haven’t even finished master planning, lets alone proper design, let along construction and opening. We are in this for the long haul.
* editor’s note: Re:Start will be staying in a different configuration
CTV will always be in the news around February 22nd, and appropriately so. However, their new current affairs show, which aired for the first time last night, might be making the news, rather than reporting it. The name of the show is “Lynched”, which is a play on the name of the host, Chris Lynch. I get that – but I’m not sure that “Lynched” is an appropriate name – especially given some of the opinions that Lynch has been known to spout. I’d call them “classic talk-back” opinions. I recall having an interaction with him on twitter a while ago, after he said “good riddance” to a homeless man who died in a house-fire. Should a talkback host with views like this have a show called Lynched? Really?
I thought all of this before I had actually watched the show. I still haven’t – I only got as far as the opening titles. I’ve screen capped them here so you don’t have to give it the pleasure of a view. Wow. Just wow.
I know that CTV is not a big network, and that probably, the credits were done by a student at broadcasting school who was happy for the experience. But did no-one in management at the station watch this and think “um, this crosses a line”? I don’t have any problem with a talkback host expressing opinions, but I think they could do so without such an offensive name and opening sequence. Before I get accused of being “PC gone mad”, here’s a story from today’s paper about mental health issues in Canterbury after the quakes. This is not a joke.
Psychiatric presentations to the CDHB were at an all-time high, with emergency services fielding a 35 per cent increase of new patients over the past two years. Each month, more than 400 people access the psychiatric emergency service suffering from acute mental distress, delusions, hallucinations or self-harm.
Update: thanks to Mike, who took this screenshot from Lynch’s twitter, where he refers to his listeners as “the Lynch Mob”