Archives for posts with tag: Barnaby Bennett

The landfill out in Burwood, where much of the demolition waste from the CBD has ended up, looks like it will continue to accept more rubble from the city for a while to come:

The slower than expected pace of demolition and increase in volume of material meant Christchurch’s Burwood Resource Recovery Park was likely to operate longer than its planned September 2017 closure date, Transwaste Canterbury chairman Gill Cox said.

“We’re not talking years and years of extensions. The demolition will stop at some stage. It will come to an end,” Cox said.

That end is not yet in sight. The first building built in the CBD after the quakes is set for demolition soon:

The original building on the corner of Manchester and Worcester streets partially collapsed in the September 2010 earthquake. It was one of the first city centre buildings to be rebuilt after the February earthquakes, reopening three years ago at a cost of cost $3.3 million. Demolition of the new building will start in the next two weeks to make way for a government plan to widen Manchester St by 9 metres.

The Mayor has questioned why the building was allowed to be built, given that it was now set for demolition. She also called the demolition “a terrible waste“. It does seem certifiably potty that in 2015 we are knocking down a perfectly functional building to widen a road. However, noted architectural historian and design aficionado Mike Yardley doesn’t think there is an issue, as the building doesn’t meet his high aesthetic standards. While you might have thought that he wrote the phrase “by-passed of personality, let alone any semblance of imagination” about himself, he did in fact direct it at the Westende Building. Yardley much prefers the work of the visionary Gough the Elder, and his accomplice, Gough the Younger.

While the Westende Building may not have the details to impress our most learned commentators, its value is more symbolic than aesthetic. Here we have the first building in the city post-quake being erased from the map for the sin of having the temerity to exist before the map itself did. This building is impeding progress – and progress is expanding Manchester St to become 6 lanes wide. And into the grander scheme of the East Frame fall the fates of a number of other buildings – including the old IRD building. Though currently slated for demolition, Barnaby Bennett argues convincingly in this opinion piece that it should be saved, and used as a facility to house artists, studios, NGOs and other groups that are desirable to the make up of a vibrant city. It’s similar to an argument I made last year around saving the buildings we had that were still standing. If there is a way to re-use these buildings – and one that makes economic sense – then we should be doing whatever we can to ensure it comes to fruition. As the Mayor said during the recent Town Hall debate, “the greenest building is the one still standing.”


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.

11. Library

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

The Cathedral.

The battle for the Cathedral marches on. It struck me late last year how incredibly sad it will be if the current cathedral is destroyed because the idea of an empty flat site right in the heart of the city fills me with dread. So my preferences for the Cathedral are:

1. I love public debate, but any sane city would have never seriously considered knocking a central icon and landmark such as this down. The church should never have given it up so quickly, and the government should never have given it ‘demolish it or we will orders’. In any normal city it would have been utilized by the church and the state as a symbol of strength, resistance and renewal.

2. If substantial parts of it are to be demolished, then I think there is a reasonable argument that these can be reinvented. If this is so, then there should be a public discussion around this, and a large international competition to find the best designers and the best ideas. The process where Warren and Mahoney designers flew around the world with some church people to look at great cathedrals, and then draw a new design to entirely rebuild the church, is about as offensive as the designs they came up with.

3. My personal favourite of new ideas is the one developed by Sir Miles Warren (independently of his old firm) to construct Gilbert Scott’s original timber design on the site, using parts of existing building and contemporary timber technology. This idea seamlessly combines:

  • a: The history of the site. It was originally a timber design but this wasn’t considered formal enough for a cathedral at the time.
  • b: Demands contemporary innovation, and timber technology is what we are getting good at.
  • c: Allows the Church to resolve some of the problems the old church had
  • d: it would utilise the very real skill of one of the few great NZ Architects.

4 – 98. Anything else.

99. The current option to get Warren and Mahoney to do the new church with no competition is about the worst move the church could have made, and hopefully they show some sense to move on from this.

The recent announcement by the historic places trust (HPT) is interesting and clever. Like many other organisations post-quake the HPT have, I think, found themselves overwhelmed and without enough resources or heroes at central government to help them do their jobs properly (it would be nice if the Minister for Heritage showed some interest into the biggest lost of building fabric and heritage buildings in NZ history). So the HPT is trying to make up for lost ground with this, and good on them for showing some political guile by offering to broker talks between the Great Christchurch Building Trust and the Anglicans.

The GCBT has struggled to make it publicly known that they have offered to pay immediately for the make safe works on the cathedral and to take all responsibility for fundraising if the church chooses a restoration project. This is an extraordinary offer which should remove most of the fair concerns the church might have about financial doom (I struggle to understand the position of the church. If they really don’t care about buildings or status then they should use all the insurance money to build a series of small community support, health, and spiritual centres around the city to directly support parishes, and sell the land back to the crown. Now that would be brave. But don’t claim community and then spend the money on a new expensive centre for worship.)

What I find funny about this recent initiative and the Mayor’s quick support for it is I think it has gained momentum because the Bishop is currently out of the country and not able to comment. So while the cat is away the mice will play and hopefully some quite real political momentum has developed towards a form of beneficial compromise (I still hold out hope for options 2 or 3 at least).

Those are my thoughts on the river and the cathedral. They are both amazing forms that hold their own place in the city, and yet point to other larger entities – the church towards the sky, the heavens, and Rangi, while the river runs out to the ocean and Moana. It will be interesting to see how these two projects unfold this year.

The River and the Cathedral.

In the first two parts of this series I argued that the government made a mistake by keeping CERA so close to cabinet and central government, and thus lost the ability to change and adapt in the face of uncertainty. I also contended that since CERA was established in 2011, the wrong structure has been used and the wrong people have been employed. In this third part I will look in depth at one of the government-led projects to illustrate the larger points. Tomorrow, in the second half of this part (part 3.5), I’ll touch on the Cathedral and the recent risk that peace might actually break out on this troubled project.

The Avon River Precinct and the Cathedral are perhaps the two most emblematic projects in the city. They adorn the city logo, and they have since the quake both been badly mismanaged and, sadly, come to represent the worst of the post-quake response -rather than the best that we have seen in other parts of the city.

The River

In the first instance, it annoys me that this project is called a precinct. A river isn’t a precinct; a precinct is an area in a city with walls or a defined edge. A river is a boundary (with many varied edges at different points) not something with arbitrary edges 30 metres from its banks. This isn’t really important, but the plan might be taken more serious if it didn’t abuse language so carelessly.

After the quakes in 2011 the Christchurch City Council was tasked with developing the city plan. They started the Share an Idea campaign, got lots of public (but not much stakeholder) input, and then made their plans. These plans were then rejected by the government, who then developed their own 100-day plan.

As part of this Council staff developed an idea to substantially reconsider and redevelop the Avon River within the 4 avenues. This would change the relationship of the city to the river, and to substantially upgrade its ecological and cultural value as a river. A brilliant idea, and one that CERA to their credit have always strongly supported. They have supported it to the extend that central government is funding the $100 million dollar project, almost as a gift to the city. This is great, and really quite exciting.

CERA included this in the 100-day plan, writing a brief and putting it out for tender. This is where I’d argue that things started to go wrong. Their first mistake was that the brief was never developed with the people that use the river. This is a $100 million dollar urban space project, one of the biggest public space projects in New Zealand history. It is one that will probably define the future feeling of the city – and CERA in all their strange silo’d wisdom decided there was no need for public consultation at all.

In the first part of this series I went into why public consultation is important politically. But it is important to point out on a design level that public input is not just a political imperative, it is how designers really understand what they are supposed to do with a project. No commercial or corporate designers would ever do something this big for their users without working with them first to develop the ideas behind it. It has any number of guises: brief development, user testing, participatory design, collaborative design, public engagement, prototyping, and many others. There are a hundred different ways that the public could have been involved and ideas could have been tested – many of which don’t take much time or money. Instead, we heard from CERA that “they don’t have time to talk to everyone in the city about the River”. Hands are placed firmly on foreheads and the project goes out for tender.

This is a big project, and so all the best people in NZ submitted for the job – as did many world leading architecture and landscape architecture firms. Just before Christmas 2012 the winners were announced with much fanfare. To no one’s surprise Opus were picked as the consultants for the engineering, but to everyone’s surprise a medium sized and not very well-known British firm BDP were announced as the designers. You can look at their work here.

I’ve heard from 8 sources that they were chosen almost entirely because they put the lowest fee bid in, and one person said this wasn’t the case. Both stories are depressing. In the first some of the top designers in the world and New Zealand were denied a role in a project because someone else said they charge lower fees. When dealing with housing or commercial projects fees are important, as the margins are so tight that the amount the designers charge can be the survival of the project. Not so on big projects like this; the difference in fees between firms will be marginal, but the difference in design quality can be huge. Why not spend an extra million on a project to make sure that the other 99 million is going to be well spent?

This sort of decision making goes back to the point I made in the 2nd article in this series, that the people in charge of the CCDU and CERA don’t understand design and urbanism, and so end up penny pinching at exactly the wrong points. It’s odd because this is the logic that gives people like Marryatt and Sutton such big salaries, and yet for some reason it doesn’t apply to designers. If this wasn’t the lowest fee bid for the project, then god only knows why they’d picked them to lead it over some other project designers. Option A is misplaced values and Option B is incompetence. Take your pick.

As the year goes on a number of developments start to unfold. It is announced that an Art Trail will be built along the river, and SCAPE is given the job of working with the artists on this.

The CCDU announces that a small part of the river park will be build first, this uninspiring part of the river is now finished and is called watermark. CCDU’s blurb says:

“Stemming from over 100,000 community suggestions via the ‘Share an Idea’ campaign, ‘Watermark’ aims to deliver on aspirations for a ‘Green City’ and align with the broad design principles of Te Papa Ōtākaro:

  • promoting a healthy river
  • a fully accessible environment
  • an integrated cultural narrative
  • good economic potential.”

I’ve been in the education system for almost 25 years now and don’t have a clue what the last two points are supposed to mean – must be a project manager thing.
Around October 2013 rustles of discontent start to be heard. 9 months of preliminary design work has been submitted to CERA, and they aren’t happy. It turns out not doing public consultation, under cooking the brief, and giving the project to an overseas firm with little cultural knowledge of Christchurch wasn’t the best idea. At this point alarm bells seemed to have started ringing. The Council staff are brought back into the fold, new designers are engaged to work ‘with’ the British firm, and there is belated effort to consult a slightly broader stake-holder group. There was even a temporary attempt to get some public feedback via the CCDU website.
I was invited to one of these meeting, and I was astounded by the ratio of people that seemed to have been working on the project versus the quality of what was being presented. I was seated at table with a variety of stake-holders and a senior designer from BDP. When I tried to politely point out that the new Margaret Mahy park not only goes over the centennial pool, but also completely erases the Elsie Locke park next to this, and that this was a strange form of cultural erasure (weird because Elsie and Margaret were good friends) the senior designer said he’d only learnt of this 2 days ago. That’s over 9 months into the project. I can only speculate what other cultural assets of the city are being erased through bad management and poor briefing. Luckily the media got wind of this and CERA promptly jumped to attention – as they do when things become about publicity rather than participation.
Originally the entire Avon-Ōtākaro River Area between the 4 avenues, and the entire east frame, was part of this job. I remember thinking at the time this is a huge risk giving that massive job to one firm, especially one from overseas. Now it seems the project is being split up into smaller areas along the river with slightly different groups developing each area, which is much more sensible.

So what can we learn from this project? It confirms my suspicions from the first two parts of this series; that CERA and CCDU are not putting the right people in the right jobs and that stupid (and really expensive) decisions are being made as a result. The saving grace of this is that there is thankfully at least some quality control going on, so this project has been radically overhauled before it was too late. The sad thing is that it was so predictable and in the process the public has been denied a role in what could have been an incredibly meaningful and important part of the healing of the city. This was a chance for the people to collectively develop a new identity for Christchurch, rather than having it done on our behalf as it is presently.

In the first part of this series I argued that the National Government has party-politicised the process of the rebuild by keeping the authority and decision-making to the responsibility of one Minister and Cabinet. This has not only led to an ongoing series of bad planning and management decisions (lack of heritage plan, endless delays to transport plan, overlapping governance structures with council), it has also put the government in the vulnerable position of not being able to change course as the situation has evolved. This reveals firstly a naïve political decision, and secondly creates a very dangerous situation for the city as post-disaster situations are defined by their uncertainty, and the idea that mistakes can’t be honestly admitted and acknowledged is problematic.

In this second part, I will look at how this poorly planned structure has in turn led to the appointed of the wrong type of people, and the wrong individuals in key positions.

From all reports CERA was full of amazing people doing amazing things for the first year after the quake. The immediate need to hire the best people, and the good will of the population to drop their normal jobs and commit to Christchurch assured an influx of talented people who – at the beginning – had the freedom to do their jobs well. I would put appointments like Roger Sutton into this category.

While it can only be expected that the nature of the jobs would change over the first few years after a disaster, what we see is a change from the appointment of the best possible people for the job to the appointment of managers that will follow orders and keep ‘things on track’. While competent management and project management skills are essential, they are not the only skills needed. The best example of this misguided approach to appointment is putting Warwick Isaacs in charge of the Christchurch City Development Unit (CCDU).

Warwick Isaac’s previous experience is 14 years at local government at the Timaru District Council and the Buller District Councils. When CERA announced his decision they said “Warwick will now use all of the experience and knowledge he has gleaned during his challenging year as CERA’s operations leader, to forge a new future for Christchurch.” So the experience Isaacs has gained from leading the demolition of around 1200 buildings is considered adequate to lead the most complex urban project in NZ History? Really?  CERA has failed in its appointment here, and the mismanagement of the past 18 months is evidence of this. The government should have appointed a designer or project leader with design knowledge, who also had extensive experience in governance and senior management. These people exist and they are highly skilled – and it is Christchurch’s loss that Isaacs has instead been leading the CCDU. This isn’t meant as a personal slight on Isaacs; it is a bit like employing a commercial fisherman to run the America’s Cup campaign. I’m sure Isaacs did a great job during the difficult Civil Defence and demolition stages, but leading an urban design authority is a highly complex task that requires experience and knowledge of how urban environments are constructed.

The lack of dynamic thinking, imagination, and adaptability within the CCDU is becoming increasingly evident. I think part of this is because of the stagnant mono-directional nature of how the government is running the process and the exclusion of the public and all our ideas.

I need to briefly address an issue of the public here before continuing to critique the nature of the appointments. Many of us have been criticising the lack of real public engagement in the planning processes. Minister Brownlee has directly responded to this criticism on a number of occasions, and in his defence, he does seem genuinely miffed by it. He asserts that the plan is based on the “Share an Idea” campaign and was honestly and genuinely based on this process. There are two big faults with this, and again it points to the fact that Gerry is a minister in a National Government – not someone with any serious experience with urban development or post-disaster planning.

The first is that engagement, like design, is about it iterations. It involves a movement of information back and forth between parties, and the information is steadily transformed and improved in this process. There are hundreds of ways of doing these processes. The Share an Idea campaign was one of them. One of the things that makes me most angry is when people assume that there are only two choices in these situations: dictatorship or consensus. This is bullshit and reveals a remarkable lack of imagination. We only need to look around our own lives with our family, loved ones, pets, gardens, and crafts to know that the world unfolds through careful negotiations, sacrifices and small moments of trust.  The consensus or dictatorship threat is created by those in power as a way to keep power.  An authority can consult and it not be binding – we do this all the time with parliament and it works very well. We can delegate small amounts of power to local boards and people and still keep control of the main infrastructure, as with happens with councils all the time.  We can work with community experts and stake holders – this is normal (and to CERA’s defence they do operate like this in some occasions).

The second fault with the thought that the Share an Idea campaign is enough is because they didn’t even look at the ideas that came out of that process. I OIA’d CERA and asked what was the methodology they used to interpret the data gathered from citizens during this process (the 100,000 ideas). Roger Sutton replied and said the CCDU Plan is based on the Council’s interpretation, and that they took this at face value. Yet they rejected this plan, took out key elements of it, and added a number of projects not mentioned in the Council scheme. So to summarise, CERA’s notion of community engagement is:

1. Get another organisation to gather information from citizens.

2. Never look at that data themselves.

3. Reject the plan they come up with that is based on that data.

4. Keep some suggestions, throw some out, and introduce some new ones without ever explaining the criteria for all this.

5. Don’t check the new plan with the citizens.

6. Don’t check the new plan with international experts.

7. Claim this is meaningful consultation.

Minister Brownlee – this is why we argue that you’ve never consulted with us about the plans for a new city, and why we get so frustrated when you claim you have.

But back to the lack of innovation in the plan. This is, I think, a direct result of the inclination to rely on project managers to run the rebuild process. Project management is a strange beast. At its best it provides people with great skills to achieve complex projects on time, within budget, and everyone is happy. At its worst it puts people who don’t understand the real values and priorities of projects, and who continually put things into boxes and gantt charts in an attempt to control the complexity of the world, and in doing so ruins all the subtlety involved in such a project.

Most project managers are taught and practice a thing called PMBOK, which is the Project Management Body of Knowledge. (You can pick when you are around project managers by the two things; 1. Dress shirts with vertical stripes, and 2. The ugly use of endless acronyms which they seem to use in an attempt turn project management into some time of medieval guild.)

PMBOK is a series of tools for delivering projects around the world. Given that the world revolves around project managers and their projects it obviously does its job pretty well and allows large and expensive projects to be delivered. However, there are a number of important criticisms of PMBOK, one being that it was designed during the Cold War. The world was a different place during the Cold War, and the project management system developed during this time was based on assumptions and values not always applicable now. PMBOK works in stable environments with a clear goal, a known budget and a desired time frame – and it works very well in these situations. This is why it is useful to pulling of projects like stadiums, corporate buildings, and Olympics. But it is not designed to function in an unstable environment where the stakeholders and users are not known, where budgets change, where the environment is dynamic, and where the goal is not always known. Basically, it is not particularly suited for post-disaster or complex urban environments.

By using project managers to lead the rebuild we are risking the future quality of this city and so many opportunities are being passed up because of the current desire to stick to plans that are already out of date. This isn’t meant as a criticism of the obviously hard working and talented project managers in Christchurch, but simply they are the wrong discipline to be leading this process. We need high level designers with experience in this type of thing to be leading with support from politicians who have the skill and public support to pull of brave and interesting decisions.

I’ve been consistently and almost obsessively attending public discussions, exhibitions, events, and activities on architecture and urbanism since arriving at the beginning of 2012, and I think it is telling that on not one single occasion have I seen either the head of the main urban design authority or its main designer at any of these events. There is a movement in this city that is gaining an international reputation for its creativity and innovation, and yet it is being almost totally ignored by those in charge of the rebuild.

The first is the first of four guest posts from my friend Barnaby Bennett, PhD candidate, chief egg at Freerange Press and editor of the magnificent book “Christchurch: The Transitional City Part IV“.

No government was ever going to be able to seamlessly respond to a crazy series of events like the earthquakes that hit Christchurch between September 2010 and the end of 2011.  It was an insanely complex and difficult event and the tangled nature of all the little parts mean the development of new ideas and plans and the construction of these is no easy task. Yet, this shouldn’t mean a pass card for our representatives. In this article I’ll argue, and explain, why I think the removal of the public from most of the rebuild process is a critical mistake both politically for the government and for the citizens of Christchurch.

It’s common to view debate and argument as evidence of processes gone wrong or the result of someone’s bad idea. It might be hard to work out who’s to blame or what has gone wrong, but surely a functioning democracy with strong leadership shouldn’t have so much public argument and debate?  Then there is another view that sees public discourse and discussion as a necessary and important part of democracy, as the critical part of politics where many and varied publics get to partake in a conversation.  I favour the second view, and thus believe public argument and discussion is especially critical in post-disaster situations where the amount of problems, issues and difficulties are amplified.

The reality is that any government or group of politicians was going to be inadequate. The public forms in response to this inadequacy. The problem is not whether we have arguments and debates, but whether we are having them intelligently and openly.

The fallacy of the way CERA has operated itself starts to be revealed when we consider its organization from the perspective of public debate.  With a local council struggling to deal with an enormous disaster, and the people of the city reeling from the physical and emotional damage, the extra horse-power of the central government should be there to promote better forms of democracy and better ways of arguing and disagreeing with each other. Instead, it has taken over power, denied the public access to its decision-making and treated the CCC as a rogue organization, when it is supposed to be there to support the cities elected representatives. A clear example of this is that CERA has still not given substantial information about major anchor projects such as the Convention Centre to the elected council – yet expects the council to be able to make sensible decisions about what facilities an arts precinct should have.  This is idiotic planning.

CERA has set itself up in what appears to be a strangely naïve manner, and this I suggest is a direct result of the political leadership from the office of the Prime Minister at the beginning. The CERA legislation (which was criticised by legal experts at the time it passed through parliament) put all the power at the cabinet table.  On one hand this makes sense – the Prime Minister and other senior ministers want direct supervision and control over this huge and economically vital process. But by doing so they become directly responsible for the results.  If it fails, there is no one else to blame.  This single political factor is what, I think, has led to the ongoing denial of the involvement of Christchurch people in the rebuild of the city, and also why there has been no public recognition of the many failures that have occurred so far. I also think that some failure is ok. This is an immensely difficult situation; no one was ever going to get it all right.  But the way to fix failure is not to keep it secret and deny it is happening. This just leads to the erosion of trust that we are seeing in the city at the moment, and explains why CERA and the minister are so deeply disliked.  Basically we are sick of being lied to and not engaged with. I don’t think the minister or the Prime Minister do this because they like it; they do it because to admit problems would be admit that their entire process back to the weeks after the quake is flawed.

The politically smart thing to do would have been to create an entity like the CCDU at arms length that had very strict areas of responsibility, that was created to work with the cabinet and the CCC (not over the top of them). By keeping them at arms length the government would then able to publicly intervene (on behalf of the public and tax-payers) when bad decisions are being made. This would keep the process in check, and it would politically protect the government as they would be fixing things up rather than admitting failure as happens now.

Instead the presence of the cabinet and the office of the Prime Minister runs deep into the blueprint process. What hasn’t been discussed in public is that the plan A of the blue print which involved attracting billions of dollars of investment into the city has been almost complete failure. What we are seeing now is a desperate attempt to develop a plan B.

The CCDU scheme was almost entirely based on a logic of attracting international investors. Just watch the video to see that camera flying in from over the Southern Alps to understand that the logic of this plan was never based on the needs of the citizens of Christchurch. The narration for the video that was released on the day of the launch of the 100-day plan was written by the Prime Minister’s office, and it reveals how the plan is focused almost entirely on gaining foreign investment into the city. These investors haven’t turned up (why would you invest in the middle of a swampy earthquake-prone city with no particular economic plan?) and in the process they’ve ridden rough–shod over the local landowners who want to reinvest because it is their home. The only progress in the central city has been on the massive state-led projects (and that has been very slow). This leads to the government press releases that cite progress of money spent and resources used and a circular logic of “we’ve done some stuff – and this is evidence of stuff happening.”

Apparently the brief for the main CCDU plan was developed by the Prime Minister’s office (a group of around 50 people at core of government).  We can speculate that the main anchor projects that the designers and planners located in the city were developed from here.  The anchor projects can be split into two groups. The first are projects that the council had planned to do such as a new convention centre, stadium, and things like the library. These were all substantially increased in size, scope and expense. The other group of projects were formed after the council’s plan: the justice precinct, the arts precinct, massive upgrade of the Avon and the frame. The innovation precinct that sits uncomfortably in the plan because it was introduced around day 92 by Stephen Joyce.

Understanding that the one hundred day plan was driven from the very top politically explains how CERA has become such a political entity. Recently getting in trouble for frequent re-tweeting and re-posting of National Party announcements. It seems it’s no coincidence that the naming of the blueprint and associated branding is similar to National party colours.

There is a sense amongst some commentators that the rebuild should not be politicized. I think this is naïve for two reasons. The first is that planning and urban design are intensely political activities that are based on often conflicting and contradictory visions of the future. Planning is almost the essence of politics. The second is that the current approach being led by this government is intensely party political – and to suggest that everyone else should just roll over and ‘trust the experts’ can only be described as naïve. The ‘let’s not politicise this’ comment in the context of Christchurch amounts to ‘shut up and let us get on with our plans for things’. It’s a good rule to never trust anyone who says they don’t want something to become political.

Around two thirds of the new central city are government- or council-led projects. This is political. The forced purchase of massive parts of the city to make way for high-end apartments (this is what is now happening to the green-frame) is political. The government not opening up the redzone in the city and keeping Cathedral square closed (allegedly because they didn’t want people protesting in the square) is political. CERA re-tweeting the announcements of the National Party is political. I’ve been told by a senior member of the CCDU that the decisions being made at both CERA and CCDU are more about pleasing the minister than making the right decisions for Christchurch. This is political.

The key point that I’m trying to make here is that controversy and argument is often a productive thing, and politics is part of this process. We need more of it here in Christchurch – not less. I’m constantly staggered there is not more outrage around things in this city: the forced closing of legitimate businesses to make way for economically questionable projects, the recent declaration that the residential red-zoning was unlawful, that the green frame is now turning into high-end accommodation, that three years after the quake there still hasn’t been any substantial consultation with the community about the blueprint or any of the major projects, that half the top heritage listed buildings in the city have been demolished and there is still no heritage plan in place, and that the transport plan was stupidly unlocked from the planning decisions and has been stalled in the ministers office for around 6 months now etc.  We are a city with too many problems and a stretched and exhausted public. But that public is re-energised by engagement not by exclusion.

Planning problems are about making complex trade-offs and negotiations between many different types of actors; between different public groups, different organisms and ecological populations, different government departments, different communities, different competing visions of the future and of cultural identity. I for one don’t trust any elected politician or expert to be able to quantify all this complexity and make a decision on behalf of all these groups.  I have much more faith in the rich intelligence of the people that live in this place, and the thousands of years of lived experience in this city needs to be the thing that drives the rebuild. We just need to keep working out ways to make these processes as intelligent and productive as possible. Handing it completely over to the experts is a naïve option. I’ve trained for almost a decade in this stuff and worked in various post-disaster and development situations in Sri Lanka, Canada, South Africa, Australia and here. Trust me when I say that the experts don’t have all the answers to the problems (it’s the same fallacy that sees traffic engineers making critical transport, urban design, and planning decisions through out the country).

So far the plan has been based on a possibly good-willed but politically dangerous approach shown by this government. Their need to control the process and the narrative (especially now we are moving into election year) around the rebuild is strangling this city and the current process needs to change. I am not saying all this to be anti-National or anti-government; I am saying this as someone that is pro-Christchurch and wants to see the best possible city emerge from this crazy past few years. But to do this we need the public spotlight to enter into the debates around this city again. This isn’t because democracy and public participation are nice to have or because some people seem left out. But because when there is no external examination of an organization intellectual laziness creeps in and people often fall back to their default ideological positions (in this case it is a strange mix of pro-business with support from big government.) This in turn leads to a siege mentality and a belief that no-one else understands the issues, and as a result we get an organization with its head in the sand; blind and deaf. Over a year ago I asked a CERA representative if there was any plans to have either public feedback on the plan or any sort of international peer-review and the answer was negative in both cases. This goes against all best practice and sensible urban development. It is quite simply a disgrace and we deserve better from our political representatives.

In part two of this series I will look at some of the key appointments that have been made and see how these have affected the development of the new Christchurch.