Since the earthquake on the 4th of September, I have become increasingly concerned that we are about to lose great swathes of the cities heritage – without really having much of a say in the matter. We are now presented with the greatest opportunity to rebuild and reshape a city that we will have for a generation – possibly more. We can make Christchurch a modern, 21st century city. If we take the cheap option, or the laissez-faire option, or the fastest option, we may stick the final nail in the central city of Christchurch’s coffin. I don’t want to see that happen.
I do not object to modern architecture. When you look at a building like the Public Art Gallery, you can see that a well-designed building can make a real difference to a city; it has revitalised an area of town, it’s survived a massive quake better than I think most people would have thought a building made of glass would have, and it has rapidly, seamlessly turned into the civil defence head quarters for a city in crisis. What I do object to are hastily assembled buildings that are erected without consultation with the community. We may not own a building, or have anything to do with what goes on inside it. But if it goes up on our street, then it becomes part of our lives.
We can preserve our heritage buildings. Not all of them. Maybe not even half of them. But a number of them. When you do the sums, it may make far more sense to knock down a building and start again. I am not going to argue with the building owners about this. I’m sure it is more affordable to just knock something down and start again. To save these buildings, we need to have council and central government putting up money to make it happen – because building owners around the city will be just looking at the bottom line. This is capitalism, and capitalism isn’t very good at factoring emotions and memories into the bottom line. But if we can put some money up to save some of our best buildings, then their value will be doubled in our new Christchurch, and while that may not have immediate monetary value, it will in time bring small but measurable revenue in by increasing tourism to our city, and quality of life for the people who live here.
I believe that we want to create a city that is ready to adapt to the challenges of the 21st century, not react to the problems of the 20th. We need design a city that is no longer dependent on fossil fuel, for heat, for personal transport, for the transport of the necessities of life. We need to think about our warming climate, and what that will mean for the buildings we are to live in. We need to have a discussion about population growth, and density. How many people do we want to live in this city, on this island, in this country? We need to think about how we can reconnect people and families to each other, to create a society again – not just networks of strangers who interact via the internet. We need to accept that “sustainability” and “growth” are not concepts that are mutually compatible with each other – and decide which one we want. I personally side with sustainability, and if that means that we live in a society where we have fewer things and consume less, but have more time to spend growing our own food and being around family and friends, then that’s a choice I am comfortable to make.