Archives for posts with tag: central city

They’re one of our societies most maligned groups, never asking for anything, never getting the breathless media coverage they so clearly think they deserve. But the property developers of Central Christchurch are going to the public this winter, to ask for your money to help them to realise their dreams of seeing their egos manifest in glass and concrete. Yes, that’s right – if you’re a taxpayer or a ratepayer, or even better, both! – these old, white, rich men want your money to help fund their vanity projects. That’s right, for a just the price of a cup of coffee, you could be helping one of Christchurch’s monied elite to construct the convention centre you didn’t ask for, or the retail centre you’ll never be able to afford to visit. Don’t delay, donate now!

Yesterday, as the council debated the budget, and headed towards an asset sell-off we’ve been told is a the only way to balance the books, they also found time to relieve property developers of the contributions they provide to council. This move was led – of course – by Cr Gough, the nephew of one of the main benefactors of this change, Anthony Gough:

Cr Jamie Gough, who led the push to scrap the development contributions, said effectively the council was making the central city a “DC-free zone”.

It was signalling it would “never be cheaper than it is today” to build in central Christchurch.

I’m sure Jamie knows this, so it doesn’t really need repeating, but the main reason why it is prohibitively expensive to build in central Christchurch is that the cost of land is so high, because the government used the Blueprint to buy up land and artificially limit land supply. This was what the developers wanted – but now they are complaining that the costs are too high. The Blueprint was a document that gave a small group of influential developers what they wanted (government intervention to prevent the collapse of central city land values, and thus the collapse of their property portfolios), and now they have successfully lobbied for a broke council to scrap one of their much-needed income sources.

But wait! There’s more!

Clearly feeling emboldened by the Council rolling over and letting them scratch their bellies, these brave developers are now demanding money from the Crown for delays to the Convention Centre:

City Owners Rebuild Entity (Core) spokesman Ernest Duval said the more the project was delayed, the more money would be needed. There was a natural increase in construction costs of about 8 per cent a year, he said, “It will cost more simply to build the exact same thing that was planned in 2013 because of rising construction costs.”

The government is already pouring at least $284m into something that no-one asked for and many have questioned whether we need. While there have been delays, we still haven’t seen a business case for the project. We don’t know how it’s going to operate. Instead of ploughing good money into a giant hole the size of two city blocks, it makes sense to wait. But these asshole developers know a sweet deal when they see one, and feel like they might as well try their luck at the Taxpayer ATM. For a bunch of people convinced that the free market will fix the central city, they aren’t too proud to repeatedly milk the public teat for money. These winklepickered parasites need to jump in their Maseratis and take a long drive on a long road out of this town. We will survive without them. There are plenty of good people who can rebuild this city without repeatedly blackmailing the place they’re claiming to save.

Advertisements

Property developers seem to be the most important people in the eyes of the government. The blueprint put them front and centre, limiting land supply to ensure that those within the frame didn’t lose value on their portfolios. The blueprint also strongly favours big developments, which has resulted in big name, big money developers taking on whole city blocks at a time. Some of these developers are relentlessly positive, such as Shaun Stockman:

His advice to people considering living in the central city is simple – “do it”.

“Enjoy the buzz of living centrally. It’s a perfect place to be for people who want an easy care lifestyle and there is something for everyone. The new city is a playground – just get stuck in!”

Something for everyone! The new city is a playground! Just get stuck in! The other developer who can usually be called upon for boosterism has a slightly different message:

High-profile property developer Antony Gough hopes offering pre-earthquake rents will lure tenants to his stalled central Christchurch precinct.

Gough, whose prime hospitality space, The Strip, was demolished after the quakes, said he would charge about $700 a square metre for hospitality space at The Terrace – “a third of what shopping malls are charging”. Hospitality NZ said Gough’s offer was generous but some developers thought it would still be too expensive for tenants.

A “few” tenants had already signed up but he would not say how many.

Demand has clearly not matched the optimistic expectations of those developing in the Cashel Mall area – this isn’t the first time that Gough’s development has stalled. While you have to admire him for pushing on regardless, the underlying economics of the situation should have alarm bells ringing at CERA HQ. As should this story from the Press:

Cristo Ltd has abandoned plans to develop the site of BNZ House in Cathedral Square, which it says is the subject of a dispute with the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera), and is looking for a buyer.

The building has become an eyesore, sitting half-demolished on the southern edge of the square for more than two years while developers and businesses head west to the banks of the Avon River.

Cristo director Stephen Bell said tenants were not interested in the site, stalling development plans for a multi-storey office building. “The high-end tenants you need to make a building like that, a fairly expensive building, pay, seem to have settled elsewhere and are not really interested in coming right back into the CBD. The possibility of building offices in the centre of the city now seems quite remote.”

Most of the development happening in the CBD is being led by families with a strong connection to Christchurch. The lack of outside investment in the city has always been a problem – but now that these developer families are pulling their money out, where does that leave the wasteland of a CBD? This situation – a CBD rebuild led by a handful of prominent developers – is exactly what the government wanted when they released the blueprint. People have been arguing since 2012 that this is what would happen if they went down this track. They’ve rejected such claims. This is their mess.

Rentals for more than $400s a square metre, which Bell said were needed to make a high-rise development on the BNZ site viable, were unsustainable, [Richard] Peebles said, especially when tenants wanted to be on the west bank of the Avon River and could do so for much less.

Knight Frank director of valuation Will Blake said existing developments had largely catered for office space demand, meaning the old CBD – Cathedral Square and surrounds – “could be in for quite a long period of not much activity”.

“It certainly does look like the central city has shifted to the west and become a bit more elongated rather than just clustered around the square.”

That the city has “shifted to the west” and that people want to be on the west bank of the Avon is telling – this means the developments on Cambridge Terrace and Victoria St. These developments have flourished precisely because they are outside of the area controlled by the blueprint. There is a diminishing business case, to put it in developer-speak, for returning to the CBD. I doubt this is what CERA wanted when they released the blueprint.

One of the things that struck me about the CERA response to the criticism of their Live Central campaign was how straight up wrong they were. Warwick Isaacs wrote a letter to the Press, which echoed the sentiments of Cr Jamie Gough, who said that there were no brown people in the campaign because no brown people lived in the central city (I’m paraphrasing, but only slightly). The thing is, that isn’t true. There are lots of brown people who live in the central city – they just don’t live in houses.*

Every Friday dozens of people head down to Latimer Square to get a hot meal from volunteers. These are many of the vulnerably housed people who call the streets of the CBD home. Many of them will stay in some of the shelters and church-led accommodation to the east of Madras St. Pre-quake, there were lots of properties that catered for these people. I remember that the front porch of the Grumpy Mole was often a prime spot for rough sleepers. Post-quake, it’s not so easy.

Following the cold snap of the last few days, the City Mission has put a call out for blankets because their night shelters are full to capacity. If you can help them out with a spare blanket or some cash, please do. And if you’re in a position of power, please stop pretending these people don’t exist in our city. They do. Any discussion about the residential future of the central city which fails to acknowledge the existence of people in poverty or people without a regular abode will only serve to reinforce these problems.

* I’m not for a minute saying that only brown people are vulnerably housed. There are all sorts of races down at the food van when I go by it on Friday evening, but I don’t stop to take pictures or count ethnicities.

Pps you can visit the Help The Homeless Chch page here

I was on the plane to Auckland on Saturday, and instead of reading more of my boring book I flicked back through a series of older newspaper articles that I’ve meant to read for a while. One was this piece from the head of Warren and Mahoney, Peter Marshall. He is talking about housing in the eastern frame, and is pretty boosterish about it. He says that we should be building affordable housing – great!

Christchurch has apartments now on the west side between the central city and Hagley Park but they are fairly high end.

“What was missing was an affordable townhouse which is where that is going to be pitched.”

What is affordable?

“$500,000, $600,000, there might even be some less.”

THIS GUY THINKS THAT $600,000 IS AN AFFORDABLE HOUSE. JUST THINK ABOUT THAT FOR A BIT.

Ok.

Are you still digesting that – I’ll give you another moment.

Right.

To put that in context, here are some other numbers:

Whereas the average house price before the quakes had been around $310,000, an average new home including land would now cost between $450,000 and $550,000.

Those figures – from the Salvation Army – come with this additional, understated comment:

“This difference is likely to be the continuing source of housing stress for many households for many years to come.”

If you take the mid-point of that latter bracket – $500,000 – then the average house price has gone up $190,000 in 5 years. That is pretty much 10% a year, each year since the quakes. If people’s wages had been going up 10% a year, I think we’d know about it. They haven’t. Saying that things aren’t as bad as they are in the Auckland housing market is irrelevant; here we had a major disaster, and the government has a duty of care to ensure that the people of Christchurch suffer as little as possible.

Despite repeated warnings of a housing crisis, National refuses to accept that there is anything wrong. And why would they? They are the party of property prices; they returned a stunning result in Christchurch at the last election, and I reckon that is in large part due to many, many people feeling very good about the increasing value of their property portfolio. That this dude can say that $600,000 – twice what the average house cost just five years ago – is an “affordable” home with a straight face shows how totally broken the market is.

No-one is going to provide affordable housing that is actually affordable for the people who need it. In the short term, this will serve the government and it’s allies; the head of the CCDU Warwick Isaacs is about to leave so he can join Stonewood Homes, a builder of cookie-cutter landfill subdivisions in which half the houses failed their inspections. In the long term, Christchurch will become a city that is only affordable for the homogenous, white middle-class that CERA depicts in their advertising, whilst the poor, the working class, the migrants, the students and the people who generally make cities interesting places to live give up on the White Man’s Dream and head for greener pastures.

And here’s a contrast with the previous post – a story from the Washington Post about the success of parklets – when carparks are converted to mini-parks, touched up with a bit of greenery or some furniture.

Remove parking, the argument goes, and business will wither. The reality, though, is more complicated …

For the last few years, Philadelphia has converted a handful of parking spots in front of neighborhood businesses into temporary “parklets” no bigger than the spac e that might fit one or two cars (these tiny interventions are now popular in a lot of cities). Records from adjacent businesses show sales went up about 20 percent immediately after the parks were installed, relative to right beforehand.

Christchurch is in a slightly different situation; instead of converting parking spots to little parks, we should be having a debate about the number of carparks – on street and off street – we should be embedding in our city plans. But we’re not. Instead, we have business “leaders” insisting that carparks are essential to the rebuild; the only dissent is around how many carparks we are talking about, and who should pay for them.

If you go back to the Share an Idea consultation, one of the ideas that came out of this was that the central city had become too “car-centric”. You don’t need to take my word for it – here’s Bob Parker:

“We recognise that the car-centric city we had become needed some change.”

Big issues around the world, such as climate change, brought additional pressure to the plan, and the city needed to become a leader in sustainability. The plan proposes changing all the inner-city one-way streets into two-way routes. [Parker] outlined some of the key ideas that came from the public during that process, including the need for more green spaces and the desire to become a “more iconic place” and create “a more human-scale environment.”

In 2011, the people who live in Christchurch chose a “City in a Garden”; in 2015, the handful of people who run this town have replaced that with a “City in a Carpark”.

As a white middle class dude who likes to spend too much on clothes, I’m often shopping at Ballantynes. I probably pop in every week or two, just to keep an eye on what’s new, what’s good and most importantly, what’s on sale*. I wander in on my way home, or bike over on a Saturday morning. So I was pretty surprised when their new head said the idea that people would bike to his store – as I do – was “crackers”. Talking about the central city and the insatiable desire for car parking, new Chairman Bill Luff said:

The idea that people are going to use public transport and bikes is crackers.

Ballantynes wanted to appoint a visionary new chair, but instead they plumped for a guy who thinks the idea that people would walk, bike, or use public transport to visit his store is crazy. The store is literally across the road from the current bus exchange, and will be diagonally opposite the new bus exchange. Thousands of people go through there every day – maybe they could try and do something to attract some of that custom, rather than whinging and hoping the council stumps up for millions of dollars of infrastructure for their benefit. They have a privileged position in a pedestrian mall, which thousands of people walk through each and every day. Luff then pretty much issues threats to the council:

I come back to my old hobbyhorse. I’m not going to risk another cent of shareholders’ money unless we have some confidence that we have that infrastructure in place and that comes back to visitor car parking.

I’ll definitely be thinking twice before spending any money with a company who thinks so little of people who don’t drive an environmentally destructive Merivale tractor to get to their store.

* I haven’t bought much from Ballys for a while. The last thing I got was some Yeastie Boys beer that was stupid cheap because it was close to its us-by date. Their range has definitely suffered post-quake, and while I try and support them, it’s harder and harder when there is little that I like.

Last week, I looked up the Live Central Christchurch website, after a giant billboard for it went up opposite the Commons. It is a remarkable piece of propaganda from the CCDU, and the homogeneity of it has caused a few, much deserved, heckles.

A reader who contacted The Press called it “outrageous”.

“Look at how white and middle-class they seem to think the people who will be living in the future Christchurch are. It’s really quite offensive how narrow this demographic is,” he said.

This was followed by some sensible comments from Cr Johanson, and some idiot utterances from Cr Gough:

Cr Jamie Gough, who lived in the central city until recently, took the reader’s point but said the promotion deserved credit for avoiding “social engineering”. It did not offend him.

“This is just real-life people enjoying living in the central city. Sometimes, real isn’t always the most politically correct,” Gough said.

Gough said some even stupider things on his Facebook, which Moata has rightly skewered, and you should all read along. What Gough fails to understand, whilst he bandies about comically-meaningless terms like “PC gone mad” and “social engineering”, is that Live Central’s vision, and his support for it is social engineering. This is someone with a history of bigotry, who famously slagged off a large proportion of the city’s population as bogans just because they went to the beach at the same time as him. Asking him for a nuanced take on socio-political issues is like milking a cow and expecting to get eggs. The people in the picture might be real people who really live in the CBD, and he may not see a problem with that.

He should.

That the people selected for the campaign are uniformly white, middle-class and largely in the same age bracket is the problem. We know that New Zealand has a very diverse – and diversifying – population. We know that there are significant numbers of people with disabilities. We know that we have an ageing population. So to have a subset of people – even if they do really live in the CBD – which doesn’t acknowledge any of these things is ‘social engineering’ in itself.

I disagree with Moata on some things though; I don’t think this is a good campaign. Aside from presenting a white-washed view of living in the CBD, it white-washes the reality of central city living. I’ve lived in the CBD since December 2013, and I’ve got to say, it’s pretty weird. I’m not the only one who thinks that. While you would expect a promotional website to be bullish, some of the claims are closer to bullshit. The purpose of the site is to attract people to live in the CBD; to encourage that, they have listed a bunch of residential developments. None of these projects seem to be at the “affordable” end of the scale, which makes you wonder whether there are enough upper middle-class people who wanted to live in the CBD for them to be able to reach their 20,000 person target.

As a central city resident, I’d love to see more people live here. It would improve my quality of life markedly; more people would mean more shops and cafes. It’d mean that we’d be more likely to be listened to about issues that directly effect us. But this half-hearted, homogenous campaign looks to be a reflection of the CCDU’s commitment to making this happen; a poorly thought-out attempt at making something happen through marketing. If CERA genuinely wanted more people to live in the central city, they could address the main factor preventing this happening – the cost of land. Maybe then we can see a campaign in another 5 or 10 years that more accurately reflects the diversity that makes up 21st century New Zealand.

4 years on from the biggest quake, and most of the discussion about the rebuild still focuses on the central city. Despite the fact that hardly anyone lives here, and not that many people even work here, the city is still the symbol. I realise it’s a narrow focus, and that me and people like me, who have done things like writing a book about it, have contributed to this obsession. Greg Jackson summed it up well at Public Address:

Along with most of Christchuch the preening, keening, posturing and wrath of the inner city dramas is totally peripheral to our lives. Christchurch devolved to residents living in their villages post-quakes and in many ways it has stayed that way, even with a unifying City Council in place.

While I’d like to spend more time talking about the suburbs, I’m once again going to touch on the centre. Without boring you too much with the back story, I’ve lived in the central city for most of the last decade. I moved back in to the CBD after the quake in December of 2013. Back then, 15 months ago, it felt like the city was making progress. Cafes such as C1 were buzzing, and lots of people – not just from out of town, but from the suburbs of the city – were visiting. But now, it feels like the city is going backwards. Shops are closing, or looking like they’re about to close. Outside of the main tourist area, Re:Start mall, the city feels dead. It’s not just me who’s observed this:

On weekends I drift from street to street in search of company, but all I see are empty car parks, dusty building sites and quiet streets. The few people who do venture into town cluster in a few select spots – New Regent St, the Re:Start and Victoria St at night.

A lot of visitors to the city can’t believe how slow things appear to be going. Sure, there are a lot of flash buildings going up down Victoria St and Cambridge Terrace – but if you look a bit closer, you’ll see that many of them are untenanted, and have been for more than six months now. Beyond the office blocks and monolithic government projects, there is little to see, four years on. The minister insists that housing is something that is best left to the free market, but with almost no residential development being consented within the CBD four years on, it’s clear that the market has made up it’s mind; Central Christchurch is no place to live.

When the council and the CCDU suggested that they would like to see 20,000 or 30,000 people living within the four avenues, I argued that they weren’t being ambitious enough. Now, with fewer than 5,000 people living here, and most of them living on the northern and eastern fringes of the aves, it is clear that 20,000 or 30,000 was far too ambitious a total. Without some significant change in either local or national government’s attitude to proactively intervening in the central city housing market, we have to accept that the utility of the central city will be limited. The area will continue to hollow out, like it was pre-quake, with shoppers increasingly voting with their cars and heading to the malignant suburban malls. Small sections will come alive at night, as younger people coming to drink and vomit at whichever bars are currently on-trend. The retailers in the city will try and compete with the malls by becoming more and more like them.

None of the positive connotations we associate with a metropolis – vibrancy, change, bustle, convenience, choice, innovation – can be found here at the moment. While in the time after the quakes, cities such as Melbourne were frequently mentioned as to what Christchurch could be; those sort of calls aren’t heard any more. Sadly, future Christchurch is more likely to look like a Turbo Timaru or a Hefty Hamilton – a rural service town on steroids. It’s not what the people asked for in Share an Idea, but it’s what we’re getting. While the central city is bogged down with grand government visions (and their nonsensical attempt to prop-up property prices), the suburbs haven’t looked backwards.

A couple of months after the big quake, there was a daft “Love Christchurch” advertising campaign. Four years on and sadly, there is no city to love. Christchurch is a collection of a mega malls and their feeder suburbs, with a better-than-average rugby team. There is no better symbol for the neglect the government has paid to the central city than their treatment of the Cathedral and the Town Hall – buildings of religious and civic togetherness respectively, which the authorities would happily see wiped off the street maps of any future city. I’d love to see a vibrant, bustling, liveable central city – but after 4 years, it has become clear that that won’t be happening in this city under this government.

Here’s the Sleater-Kinney song from which this post takes it’s name:

The tensions between the government and the council have flared up again, for the first time under the new council. This time it stems from the obsession with a few developers for the provision of car parking, and the council’s resistance to bankroll them. Yesterday, Georgina Stylianou revealed that the earthquake recovery minister Gerry Brownlee had used his “special powers” to fast-track a car parking building for Phillip Carter, the brother of the Speaker of the House, National MP David Carter. This was followed by a chorus of down-on-their-luck property developers piping in that they too needed more car parks, and that could the government please build some for them.

The sad, bizarre situation in Christchurch right now is that there are more people lobbying for the rights of cars to sit motionless than there are trying to house human beings. I don’t believe that this is what the city asked for, through Share an Idea, but it’s what we’re going to get when the people with all the power are ageing white men for whom the keys to a luxury European car is the most important symbol of status. Even the Press is buying into their narrative, with Stylianou, one of their best reporters, jumping across into an opinion piece that could have been ghost written by the Carter Group. Never mind that here’s a story from less than a month ago about a 400-car park in the central city that sits virtually empty every day. No, the demand for carparks is so obvious and necessary that the developers and their man in charge are going to war with the council, again, to ensure that the ratepayer stumps up for the facilities that they’re too cheap to build. For the citizens of the city, they get hit twice; not only will we be lumped with these dead zones of urbanism, best suited to the 1950’s, but we’re going to pay for it too.

As happens on too many occasion’s under National’s supposedly free-market management of the economy, the risk of development in the Central City is being socialised, whilst the profit is being privatised. This understated quote from the CCC CEO describes it perfectly:

Decisions made by developers, including notably the justice precinct development by the Crown, not to provide car parking on site is creating additional pressure.

These developers are building their buildings, not factoring in enough car parking for their tenants, then going cap in hand to the council and asking them to stump up. When the council tells them to get stuffed, they turn around to their mate Gerry, who overrules the council and the developers get their way. Once again, it’s the taxpayer and the ratepayer who are left to pick up the tab.

I’ve just been down at the launch of Labour’s housing policy for Christchurch, which is one of the key parts of our Kick-starting the Recovery package. Part of it will see 10,000 Kiwibuild homes built in Christchurch over the first 4 years of a Labour-led government. Further to that, 3,000 of them would be earmarked as affordable rental housing, as a way of immediately making rents more affordable. The venue for the launch was the Oxford Terrace Baptist church, up on the corner of the Chester St and Madras.

Phil Twyford, looking in his bag for some housing policy

As our housing spokesperson Phil Twyford announced the policy, he had to speak up to be heard over the sound of Centennial Pool being destroyed. But the main reason for having the launch where we did is that we want to use this policy to bring people back into the centre city. Between a third and a half of the 10,000 homes will be medium density builds within the centre city, including some in the land designated for the frame. This is an example of how we believe that the Government should be more involved in the urban design of the city:

Labour will kickstart the redevelopment of the city centre, working with the Council, the community and developers to bring people back into the heart of the city. We will create a vibrant urban community with affordable medium-density housing. We will take the same approach to the revitalisation of New Brighton, and other suburban and town centres such as Addington, Riccarton, Spreydon, Kaiapoi, Rangiora and Rolleston. We will build mixed income communities where people can live, work and play, with high urban design standards, green space, and decent infrastructure.

The current government’s “hands-off” approach to urban design has clearly failed, but it’s not too late for us to turn this around. We can still create a city that builds back communities, then works with them to create a liveable, workable city.