Archives for posts with tag: rebuild

Yesterday morning, I had coffee with an economist who is writing a chapter for us for our book on the rebuild. We talked about a range of things, but what struck me was his analysis that without Christchurch, the economy would be growing at somewhere between 0 and 2%. Less than a day later, and Clint Smith tweeted this image:

NZ gdpIt’s a pretty simple image: Auckland has been about treading water, every where else is starting to go backwards, and the only thing that is giving the economy an illusion of growth is the money going into the rebuild in Christchurch. There are few things to comment on about that. Firstly, imagine how much better the Canterbury figure – and thus, the economic fortunes of the whole country – would be if the rebuild was being managed even half competently. The Government’s blueprint is a failure, with the only development in the city happening outside of the areas that are in control of CERA. The play which the government made for foreign investment has returned almost nothing, leaving development up to a handful of almost comically rich Cantabrians. It’s no wonder that investors are looking elsewhere, when the cost per metre for office space is more expensive in a city which looks like Post-Tito Yugoslavia than in the centre of Auckland.

Secondly, if New Zealand’s economy is a “rock star”, it is one that has drunk the contents of the minibar, soiled the bed, and thrown the TV through the ranch slider and into the pool. Now the hotel is getting new sheets and some double-glazed windows on insurance, but that isn’t the structural change that it needs. With the National Party’s self-proclaimed economic expertise – hand-outs to multinational companies with billion dollar balance sheets, a sad interdependence, both economically and politically, on the dairy industry, flogging off state owned assets to paper over the cracks in the budget – their economy is effectively based on fixing some broken windows in a city destroyed by a natural disaster. If they’re a “safe pair of hands” for the Treasury benches, then I’m a heritage building crying out for demolition.

A Stuff Nation assignment asks people to imagine their heart of the city. This particular vision tickled my fancy:

Hazel Oldham said she would like Christchurch to be a clean city without ”shabby shops”. ”I’d like to see some tough rules which require shops to sweep streets and keep exteriors painted and spotlessly clean,” Oldham said. ”There should be no junk drifting along streets and people should be paid to keep streets clean.”

Now, I’m not advocating for an intentionally dirty city, but this person seems to have no idea what makes a city tick. If you want spotless exteriors you could go and visit a mall – we have plenty of them. The only thing that makes central Christchurch interesting right now is the various states of decay that it’s in – new buildings popping up next to sites covered in rubble and wild flowers. The rebuild is going to take some time, so if you want a sterile city, I’d suggest you look somewhere else.

So the most powerful man in Christchurch – at least according to the Press – has taken to twitter to recycle this gem:

He asked people to retweet if they agreed – and while he got around 30, it’s hard to tell how many of them are genuine. Considering he has 83,000 followers, it’s not exactly a high percentage. Key was in the city today, visiting rebuild sites, and announcing the winner of a design competition for a playground. Across on the other side of town, the Phillipstown community was protesting the government’s decision to merge them with Woolston school. There were a number of politicians there – including Port Hills MP Ruth Dyson (Woolston school is in Port Hills), Lianne Dalziel, councillors Yani Johanson and Glenn Livingstone, as well as political studies lecturer Bronwyn Hayward. Notable by her absence was the MP who actually represents the area, Nicky Wagner. She was with the PM, tagging along as though she was John Key’s mullet – slightly behind, decades out of date, completely useless.

It’s this sort of uncaring negligence that is getting on Cantabrian’s nerves. While Key and his entourage go around cutting ribbons on hotel rooms and announcing playground competitions at private primary schools (does it really take the PM, at least two MPs and the mayor to make such a vital decision?), the people his government have left behind are out on the streets, working to save their communities from ideological indifference to their suffering.

You wanna roll out the big R word again? This shows how little you care about our plight. Cheryl Bernstein blogged about how we were sick of hearing that word IN AUGUST 2011. That’s practically 2 years ago. 2 years of empty promises, or patronising platitudes, of 100 day plans for the CBD and endless delays for residents. Compassionate, practical and resilient could describe our people in the immediate aftermath of the quakes, banding together, helping each other out. But if the PM had any idea what it was like to live down here, he would know that being practical doesn’t help when EQC won’t give you information about your own house, being compassionate isn’t easy when your insurer blames EQC, who blames the insurer, and being resilient isn’t much help when your fourth project manager rings to tell you that they need to come and do a 12th assessment of your house.

Resilience has two definitions. The first being the ability to recover readily from illness, depression, adversity, or the like. I’m sure that’s what everyone who overuses it means. The second, though, is slightly different. “The power or ability to return to the original form, position, etc., after being bent, compressed, or stretched.” Christchurch is so far away from being returned to the original form, or even something that looks different but at least functions like it did before. Opening a hotel, a playground design cometition and a hollow tweet show that this government has run out of ideas on how to fix it.

 

Very interesting piece from Christchurch architect John Chaplin on the uncertainties of the residential rebuild program. He warns that we may not have learnt anything from the leaky building saga.

There are two interesting stories in the Press this morning that show the complete shambles that the rebuild of Christchurch has become. The first is about the escalating costs of construction. Worryingly, it suggests that due to rising costs, developers are eschewing fancy designs and pumping for plain old tip slab instead. Central city developers are having to compete with buildings in Addington, Victoria St and out at the airport, where the land is cheaper, and foundations are cheaper to put in. For the developers in the central city, this means that to build a premium office space, they are having to pay more than anywhere else in the country.

Think about that for a moment. Yes, we need to ensure that the buildings here are safe for future seismic events. But the buildings going up in Addington and Victoria St aren’t the most expensive in the country; this is a clear by-product of the CCDU blueprint, which deliberately restricted land supply for a select few developers. So while the plan was to artificially maintain the property prices for the lucky few, if they can’t afford to build on this land, it will soon lose it’s value again. Who is going to want to move their law firm into the most expensive office building in the country, when it is in the centre of a grey, broken wasteland, pockmarked by the occasional tilt-slab barn? The government should never have tried to prop up the property prices of their favourite developers; they should have let their beloved market determine what land was worth in the centre of a devastated city. That said, very little is happening in the middle of town, it wouldn’t be too late to just scrap the plan and start again.

Worryingly, the cost of building is expected to go up when they actually get around to starting it. 

David Wallace, who represents developer Devonia Holdings, expected costs would “ramp up further” once the city’s anchor projects began.

Ah yes, those “anchor projects”, like the stadium. The damned stadium. But wait, the stadium could *make* money, according to a new plan. Geoff Saunders, a lawyer who seems to have the ear of Brownlee, has pitched the idea of building office blocks into the stadium. Ok. He reckons they would make $11 million a year. Ok. This raises more questions than answers for me. First, who is building these office blocks? This relates to the question who is building this stadium, and who is funding it? This is a question that people have been asking ever since the blueprint came out. It seems that the government is going to force the council to build it, and force the ratepayer to pay for it. If that’s the case, and this is the design, then will the ratepayer then be expected to build office blocks too? 

You would have to assume that they were going to be built by the council, as otherwise, the purported $11 million would not be returned to the people. If they were built by another operator, and their value was contingent on their proximity to a publicly-funded asset, then why would we let them take the money?

But probably the biggest question I have on this is contingent on it’s success: if you can generate $11 million a year from 4 office blocks on this site, then how much could you generate if you just built offices, not a stadium? The jury is still out on whether Lancester Park can be salvaged, and no-one has produced a costed economic plan for the stadium. Looking at the picture that accompanies the story, I reckon you could fit 15 of these office blocks on the site; using the same maths as Saunders, this would pull in around $40 million a year. Also, you wouldn’t have to needlessly destroy heritage buildings like the NG Gallery one. You could even include some social housing in there, and bring some people back into the central city.

I realise that this is never going to happen; however, I think it’s important to bring the keep highlighting the idiocy that is the CCDU blueprint and all it’s unintended, yet highly predictable, consequences.

 

Gerry Brownlee has just released a statement on the legistlation that the government will pass to help with the recovery and rebuild.

Urgent legislation to help Canterbury recovery

The government will introduce legislation tomorrow to facilitate recovery work in Canterbury, says Gerry Brownlee, the Minister responsible for coordinating the Government’s recovery response to the Canterbury earthquake.

“Canterbury has been under a state of emergency for nine days following the earthquake. When the state of emergency is lifted, normal legislative requirements come back into force,” Mr Brownlee said.

“The building, local government and resource management acts are not designed for the special circumstances Canterbury faces. We don’t want recovery work being slowed or stopped by filling out paper work. That is why the government is introducing the Canterbury Earthquake Response and Recovery Bill, to allow a seamless transition from the state of emergency.

“This temporary legislation will exempt or relax legislation as it applies to the emergency and recovery response. For example, sewage pipes that are cracked may be able to be diverted to ensure water supply remains safe and local councils aren’t liable for prosecution. If a heritage building needs strengthening urgently rather than waiting for resource consents and approvals the work could start immediately and consents would be granted retrospectively.”

The legislation will expire no later than 1 April 2012 and enables the government to use orders in council to ensure recovery operations can occur efficiently and without delay. It also creates a commission that includes the mayors of the three worst-hit districts – Christchurch, Waimakariri and Selwyn. The Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Commission will link decision makers on the ground in Canterbury directly with government Ministers.

“The state of emergency has allowed authorities in Canterbury to make decisions and act quickly in response to the calamity they faced.

“They have done well and the emergency state is passing. Special legislation is needed to ensure recovery work continues at pace,” Mr Brownlee said.

Over the last few days, the earthquake has slipped a little in media standing. It’s still top of the program, but we might get a couple of stories. By next weekend, it probably wont register at all. Almost conversely, with every day the problems for central Christchurch seem to get greater, not lesser. The cordon may have been lifted, but a huge number of streets, or parts of streets, are still closed. Many of them will be for weeks and months. I talked to a landlord a few days ago, who said it was going to take 3 months just to replace the windows on one, 6-storey office block. That’s just the windows. I am still not able to stay in my house, though the building itself is fine. We still don’t have power, 8 days later. It seems to be because of the number of buildings close by that will be knocked down – I guess it’s just easier to keep us out until that is done. Despite all the nice statements that the council and mayor make, inner city living is not very high on local government’s agenda.

Last week was largely a write-off for many people, no school for the kids, only essential hospital services, tradespeople trying their hardest to get everything up and ready. Monday the 13th will be different. People are trying to start the new week, to return to normality. Many people are going to realise just how long it will be before things return to anything like normal. Many businesses are trying to find office space that they can relocate to in the short term – although the worry may be that some central city businesses will never come back. The Alliance Francais, which teaches French to children and adults, as well as organising cultural and social events for Francophones in Christchurch, has it’s premises on Hereford St, not far from the Manchester Courts building. It is unable to open for teaching whilst the Manchester Courts building remains unresolved, so they are having to look for somewhere else to teach classes. They don’t know how long they will be unable to go back to their building.

There are up to 80 other businesses that are in the same situation, just because they are close to Manchester Courts. It is a terrible situation, as there is so much uncertainty. On the one hand, we need these businesses to be able to get back and open again, as soon as possible, with as little disruption as possible. On the other, I want to think that whatever can be done to try and save the Manchester Courts building is being looked into. I want all options to be exhausted: demolition should be an absolute last resort. I think that in the scheme of things, the Alliance Francais and other local businesses having to move for a couple of weeks is relatively minor.

However, as this sort of situation is likely to be being played out all over the city right now, I wonder whether there is a role for the government to play. No-one wants decisions to be rushed through, but there is understandable pressure from business owners to have those decisions made as quickly as possible. The government (and I think it has to be government – council simply doesn’t have the money) should step in and reassure small businesses that they will be covered, so that they don’t feel they have to rush back to work at a speed which jeopardises the future of our city. The Ministry of Social Development’s wage assistance scheme goes some way to easing the strain, but won’t be enough to stop small business owners worrying about loss of earnings, rent, replacing stock, loss of custom, all sorts of things.

While the rebuild and recovery of Christchurch needs to proceed quickly, that doesn’t mean that we should be rushing into bad decisions – as we may be living with these bad decisions for the rest of our lives.

Some links to stories, some links to useful pages you may or may not have seen.

Geonet is the sight to go to when you need to settle bets about the size of the last aftershock

this is an open source google map on which people have added useful information about Christchurch

the Christchurch Quake Map has proven to be one of the clearest ways to visualise the quake.

an unashamedly left-wing take on the economic stimulus that the earthquake may or may not lead to

The Herald wraps up some bits from various blogs (including this one)

Earthquakes are not good for the economy” (Stuff)

State houses may need to be demolished (Stuff)

I’ve just got back from a drink with a few friends. I think we’re a little odd, in that we either lived in the city or ran businesses there. I feel as though me and my circle of friends – most of whom have lost, at least temporarily – either their place of work or residence may be more affected than most people in the city. I don’t mean that we are martyrs or anything like that, just that there are probably a large number of people for whom this quake will have quite a small effect, comparatively. Some of the suburbs are untouched, whilst others, especially those on the northern and eastern fringes of the central city, are devastated. It’s hard to talk about anything else apart from the quake – where we were when it happened, what we did in the next day or two, experiences getting in and out of the cordon, whether things will be knocked down or whether they will get a reprieve.

It’s clear to me – at least from the people that I’ve been talking to – that the people who live and work in the city are really concerned about some of most precious buildings, as well as worrying about getting the city up and running again. One of my friends, who works at C1, says they will be opening in 2 weeks. The building is fine, but then, what is the point of opening up a cafe within a cordoned off area? As the scale of the clean up becomes clearer each day, I think those of us who live (or used to live) within the cordon can see it staying up for a much longer time than we had initially imagined.

I went out through Lyttelton, Sumner and Woolston today, and I hope to get some photos and thoughts up about that tomorrow. Let’s hope for a shake-free night.

On the morning of September the 4th, Christchurch was hit by a magnitude 7.1 earthquake. Fortunately, no-one died in the quake, but the city has sustained major damage.

Mexican restaurant Alvarados

Mexican restaurant Alvarados

In the days, weeks and months to come, people who work and live in the central city will be assessing their places or work and living. Many are already condemned or destroyed. A number of buildings that are still standing will turn out to be too damaged to occupy.

The damage to the city, and the rebuild that follows, are a once in a generation – or even two generation – chance to shape a city for the century ahead. This is an opportunity, not only for Canterbury, but for all of New Zealand, to consider how we want to live, how our society will be shaped, and what the influence on society of buildings can be. Christchurch has a proud architectural history, with beautiful Gothic buildings such as the Museum, Arts Centre and Cathedral – though we also have a great number of Brutalist, modern buildings, which are often overlooked. Though they polarise people, the town hall, the University of Campus at Ilam and the High Court are examples of this style of architecture, and provide a strong contrast with the older buildings.

What I would like to see is a city that is designed for central city living, with sustainable, environmental innovations wherever possible, which encourages communities to develop and flourish. In the wake of the earthquake, there will clearly be a focus on safe, strong buildings. While there will be money coming in from the government and from insurance companies, I worry that if the authorities maintain a laisez-faire, hands-off attitude to the rebuild, we will do serious damage to Christchurch – and possibly the final nail in the coffin for the central city. So here on this blog, I want to elucidate my ideas on what could happen to the central city, to bring together links to innovative, creative urban design ideas, and to try and influence the people who are going to lead this reconstruction effort.

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