Archives for posts with tag: christchurch

So it’s been a long time between posts. That’s a little to do with me having a proper job, and a little to do with post-election exhaustion. I’d like to think I will be writing a bit more regularly in the coming months, but I’m not going to promise anything. However, a few thoughts have been rattling around in my head, so I thought I’d put pen to paper, and words to blog.

The best of the rebuild 2014:

The deconstruction of the Pallet Pavilion

In the same way it went up, the Pallet Pavilion came down in an orderly fashion, with assistance of hundreds of volunteers. After hosting scores of events over two summers, Gap Filler knew that the pavilion had done it’s time, and as proactively as they put it up, they pulled it down again. The pallets, veggie bins, plants, and pretty much anything else was put back into use. Even in it’s deconstruction, the Pallet Pavilion set a great example for the projects going on around the city.

Food Trucks

One day, as I left my house for work, there was a taco truck across the road. Literally straight across the road, sitting along in the wasteland of rubble and weeds where McKenzie and Willis used to be. I know that food trucks are very “on trend” at the moment, but here in Christchurch, they are more than just an excuse to sell overpriced burritos to hipsters; they’re a necessary part of the hospitality ecosystem. When cheap rentals are hard to find, and you don’t know where the demand is going to be in a still sparsely populated CBD, a semi-movable truck is the perfect solution. This year saw the rise of the food truck in Christchurch, from Loco’s on St Asaph St, to the Food Collective at the Commons, to the launch of food truck Fridays in the Square, where at least a dozen trucks converge, and bring plenty of energy back to a dead space.

New bars and eateries

In addition to the food trucks, we’ve seen the addition of plenty of more permanent, more serious establishments. While many of the bars will rise and fall, hopefully the eateries will stay around for a bit longer. Johnny Moore’s BrickFarm and the St Asaph St Coriander’s are both excellent, and will surely see a good return on the risk they took to open in the centre of the city.

WORD festival

For a brief period in late August, the centre city was buzzing again. Authors, poets, cynics, journalists, musicians and hangers-on all descended on poor, broken Christchurch for a short period, and made it feel a live again. The programme was so well put together that picking out highlights is almost redundant. But even more important than the people who spoke was the – and I’d like to find a better word, but I can’t – vibe of the event. While it might have only been temporary, it was a reminder of what the city could be at it’s best – and why we should keep struggling on.

The demise of Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton was always the happy face of a bad organisation; now he’s the creepy face of a bad organisation. With him gone, we can stop pretending that CERA are our benevolent overlords, just doing what’s best for the city, and see them are the reactive, unimaginative, bureaucratic brakes on the recovery that they really are.

Free Theatre

The gymnasium at the Arts Centre opened up cautiously mid-year. Free Theatre have been experimenting with the space, with plays and other events. More importantly than that, it shows the success of the forward thinking repair model that the Arts Centre have put in to place. The site is a hive of activity, with dozens of tradespeople going about their business everyday. Parts of the centre will be opened in stages. It shows that heritage buildings can be repaired, and that it can work financially. Other organisations could learn much from this.

The Cricket Oval

Grassy banks, beautiful setting, done on the cheap and in record time. What’s not to like?

The worst of the rebuild in 2014

The Cricket Oval

I’ll probably write more about the rights and wrongs of the oval another time, so will limit myself to this: the fact that the government could utilise it’s emergency powers to get this built in such a short time, for a small amount of money, and using public land, shows just how little they care about those people in vulnerable housing situations since the quake for whom they have done less than nothing to alleviate their suffering. They jumped through legal hoops to get this built, whilst at the same time, forced the Quake Outcasts to take them through the court system just to try get a fair payout for the land which they compulsorily acquired. There is no better symbol for the inequity of the rebuild than the Hagley Cricket Oval.

Council Asset Sales

The City Council’s debt position is quite magical: somehow, it is both So Serious that we must consider selling off profitable assets, but yet Not Serious Enough that we should reconsider any of the monumental anchor projects which the government is forcing on the ratepayers. Whoever the government tasked with softening up the Mayor and the Press has done a great job, so this looks like a done deal now, despite any reasonable objections.

Victoria Square re-development

Nothing shows the ineptitude of the CCDU better than their proposed Victoria Square redevelopment. Take one of the few bits of the central city that isn’t broken, and then propose a way to fix it. I sit down at Vic Sq for lunch, and there are often dozens of others doing the same. Yup, some of the pavers look a bit dated. But when you consider that most of the rest of the city is either gravel or chain-link fences, it’s pretty good. That the idiots at the CCDU would not only consider doing this, but also spend $7m from what we are told is a very tight budget into it shows how totally out of touch they are. It’s a case of the egos at the CCDU wanting to exercise their power over the council – and we’re the ones who have to pay for it.

The Convention Centre

A completely unjustified waste of public money and public land. A massive public subsidy being given to a handful of cosy developers, who have been pushing for this since before the Blueprint even came out. If this gets anywhere near completion, it will just go to show how docile and complicit the shattered population of the city has become.

Needless demolitions

As we move into 2015, we are still watching as historic buildings are being pulled down across the city. One high profile example was the Majestic Theatre. It was demolished this year, to make for road widening. The block that it was on, bordered by Lichfield, Madras, Bedford Row and Manchester St, now has no buildings on it, and no plans for any buildings to go on it. That sums up the ambitions of the men behind the bulldozers; knock it down, don’t worry if there’s nothing planned to replace it.

Empty new builds

The rise and rise of the glass facades along the Victoria St / Durham St corridor is one of the brightest spots of development in the city. Each week it seems like the soil on a new site gets broken. But if you’re going down there to marvel at the new buildings, stop and take a look at how many of the completed sites are tenanted. You’ll notice that much of the space is yet to be leased. Whole floors, even whole buildings are sitting there, untenanted. The Potemkin Offices of Victoria St may look like progress, but this highly speculative development is yet to even peak.

The Middle Class Rebuild

In the last year, there have been a number of projects which have been celebrated as the “best thing to happen since the quakes”. The cricket oval and the Isaac Theatre Royal are two examples that spring to mind. These are good things, no doubt. But they also speak volumes about who the rebuild is serving. Cricket and opera are two of the most rich, white people pursuits on the face of the planet. Everyone living in Christchurch has had a rough time in the last few years, including the rich white people. If they feel like it’s time to put the rebuild behind them, to enjoy the cricket and the ballet, that’s great. But there’s a danger in forgetting that as the north and west of the city move into a post-rebuild phase, some parts of the city have barely been touched. If you go out to New Brighton, you’d be forgiven for thinking the quakes were 4 weeks ago, not 4 years ago. As we approach the anniversary, prepare for the government to tell us that we’re moving on, that the hard work has been done. Prepare for many, many people to agree with them. But also spare a thought for the people who rarely have a voice, the mute underclass of National’s burgeoning have-nots.

The red tide is sweeping Christchurch; barricades are going up in Hereford St, the hammer and sickle has been raised above the council chambers. Or has it? Without wanting to down-play the success of the left in the local body elections, I think it’s worth tempering the enthusiasm. Somewhat.

So what happened? Well, Lianne Dalziel won the mayoralty with a commanding majority and a good return. It is a strong mandate (I’m not going to say “awesome” as I think she’s said that enough already). There was a worry that the non-contest for the mayoralty would lead to a low turnout; I think it was important that Dalziel got a good number of votes, and she did. It was just a shame that she didn’t get to go up against Bob Parker – with the backlash against the Marryatt-team, he would have got his ass handed to him on a plate. While some will eulogise his two terms in charge, I would hope that history remembers him for more than just the Orange Parka. He showed media savvy and leadership for about 3 months in September 2010; the mood was already turning against him in early 2011 before the February quake. He led well in the wake of that disaster; there might have been 12-15 months of his two terms in which he performed competently, the remainder was pock-marked with poor decisions – the Henderson deal, the Ellerslie deal, the Marryatt saga and the building consents debacle, to mention but a few.

At the council level, there will be 9 new faces – six of them from the People’s Choice team. I don’t want to detract from the result, but need to put a few caveats on it. Firstly, the Banks Peninsula result is at this point to close to call – with Andrew Turner ahead by just 5 votes. Once special votes have come in, I’d expect it will still be close, and that it will proceed to a recount. So let’s say there are 5 PC councillors. It’s worth remembering that in 2010, we had 4 PC councillors – Yani Johanson, Glenn Livingstone, Jimmy Chen and Chrissie Williams, who resigned mid-term. Johanson, Livingstone and Chen have retained their seats, as well as Phil Clearwater in Spreydon-Heathcote and Pauline Cotter in Shirley-Papanui. Clearwater did well, but was helped by the two long-serving incumbents stepping down. Cotter was assisted by the voters of Shirley-Papanui punishing Ngaire Button and Aaron Keown for their abysmal record at council.

So while I’m not trying to detract from the result – which is fantastic – I think suggestions that Christchurch has “gone left” and is punishing the government are premature. This was an extraordinary election, in which the electorate has punished Parker’s so-called “A Team”; Keown, Button, Claudia Reid and Helen Broughton were thrown out at the ballot box, whilst Sue Wells and Barry Corbett had the political nous to see the writing was on the wall months ago, and chose not to stand. Jamie Gough is the only councillor to survive this ballot, which shows just how bleak the Fendalton-Waimairi ward is.

Possibly the biggest casualty has been the centre-right “independent” groupings. While People’s Choice is openly Labour, in Christchurch the “National-in-drag” grouping was Independent Citizens. That was then rebranded as “iCitz”. Then there was the split, with Ngaire Button leaving to form her own independent non-political political party City First with Aaron Keown. Gough was the only councillor to return on the iCitz tag; Claudia Reid and Helen Broughton both lost their seats, and as mentioned before, but I will gleefully mention it again, City First got precisely zero (0) councillors. I assume that the right will try and rebuild their presence at the local body level; they may want to look at what Labour has done with the People’s Choice.

That said, I’m not convinced that the People’s Choice did that well. In two wards where I thought they could or would pick up a second council seat (Burwood-Pegasus and Hagley-Ferrymead), they didn’t. In each of these wards, People’s Choice had a high-profile councillor seeking re-election (Livingstone and Johanson) along with a council vacancy (Peter Beck and Tim Carter). A strong Labour presence on the ground in these wards sadly didn’t translate to a win for either Robyn Nuthall or Tracey McLellan, who would have been bold, female voices on Council (only 3 of the 13 councillors are women; time to talk about man-ban again?) So while the People’s Choice team should be satisfied with the effort, they should be wary of getting too carried away with the results.

To build on them in 2016, it will be critical that our councillors perform well. Given their 5, maybe 6, seats, People’s Choice should be able to lay claim to the deputy mayoralty. While Johanson and Livingstone are the most senior of the team, I would suggest that maybe Clearwater is the best choice. Though he will be learning on the job about being a councillor, he has a long history of representation at the community board level. On top of this, he has been instrumental in leading the People’s Choice organisation for quite some time, alongside Community Board member Paul McMahon. They have been a superb job to keep the organisation running, rebuilding it from the ashes of the old Christchurch 2021 group – which almost fell apart on a couple of occasions. He knows how to manage people and egos, and would be a calm, sensible voice in what will be a very challenging transitional period.

The only other option I can see for deputy would be Vicki Buck, who won a council seat with the largest return of any candidate. However, there is some animosity between her and the People’s Choice camp, so while I’m sure she would bring a wealth of experience as a former mayor, it might be a bit “back to the future” for a supposedly forward-looking council. The Press’s favourite, Raf Manji took the second Fendalton-Waimairi seat, and will be interesting to see how he performs this term. I will be watching closely to see how Dalziel goes in working with the fresh faces like Manji, Ali Jones and Tim Scandrett. Given that the disunity of the last council was one of the nails in Bob’s coffin, how she pulls this team together will be one of her most important tests.

This was a remarkable election for Christchurch, and while I don’t want to detract from the individual campaigns of the various candidates – successful or otherwise – they need to realise that they are there mostly because of who they are not. Hopefully by 2016, we’ll be re-electing them because of who they are, and what they stand for.

Gerry Cyrus - Wrecking Ball

The new hit single from the Big Man who’s making a Big Hole in Christchurch buildings.

There’s been quite a bit of coverage of the Auckland unitary plan – and the way that certain elements of the media are covering it. Russell Brown at Public Address has done some great tear-downs of the nasty anti-plan campaign, both on twitter and in this blog. He has also got a guest blog on the site from Sudhvir Singh, which I enjoyed reading this morning. I think it’s great that a group like Generation Zero have waded into the debate, with opinions and passion. I haven’t read the Metro special on the plan, but I did read the article that went up online here. Someone could be writing a similar Dream for St Martins, with the same sort of vision.

It was also with some regret that I read this debate. While I think it’s terrible that the country’s so-called newspaper of record will wade in so one-sidedly against the plan, at least you get to have a debate on the plan. I was going to say I’m sorry for always bringing this back to Christchurch, but actually, I’m not sorry. What I wouldn’t give for a debate – however biased on one-sided it might be – about the future of our city.

Some of the arguments that Singh made – about density, about how to create neighbourhoods that young people want to live in, about reducing our reliance on cars – were ones that we should be having in Christchurch. Well, some are having those arguments. But we have no plan to feed into, no say in how our city will be shaped. A few things were handpicked from the more than 100,000 ideas that were submitted via Share an Idea. We can submit to the council about stadia, convention centres, cycle ways, ideas about housing and zoning – and the Minister can throw them in the bin to replace them with whatever evidence-free proposals he likes. The city council has effectively been neutered, and they know it. Candidates can run for October’s election, standing for whatever they like, knowing they have an almost zero chance of being able to implement any of it.

No matter, we can take the matter to our regional council, right? Oh, the one that had their councillors removed in 2010, that we won’t be able to vote for until 2016? Cos actually being able to have a regional council that represented our views on water management, as well as land zoning in the market gardens and farms around Christchurch that are being ripped up as fast as the bulldozers can go to put in endless subdivisions would be quite useful at this point. 

I’m sure you know all this. Well, I hope you do. I’m not knocking the people campaigning for and against the plan. I’m encouraging you. I’m envious, really. You get to have all the heated, spurious, fact-based, hate-filled arguments that shape cities. We don’t. While it might be hard, even infuriating at times, at least you get to have it. You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. While we may never have been paradise, that didn’t stop them covering the place with parking lots.

On Thursday, I’m participating in a panel discussion about Christchurch and things. It is for a program called “From The Streets”, which is being made by Gerard Smyth, director of “When A City Falls”. He described it to me as a Christchurch Backbenchers, except without politicians. A panel of three of us will be talking about issues in front of a live audience of whoever happens to be at Pomeroy’s pub on Thursday, from about 5:30. Spanky, formerly of RDU Breakfast fame, will be asking all the questions. I think we’ll be covering a range of topics, and it will go out on CTV, and maybe elsewhere. I don’t have all the answers, but it seems like a great idea and I’m keen to be a part of it. 

The panel for Thursday’s shoot is me, Leanne Curtis from CanCern, and Mark Quigley, celebrity seismologist. We’re going to be down at Pomeroy’s, on the corner of Kilmore and Fitzgerald. Pretty sure the pub is just operating as usual, and that if you’re interested you can come along and see what’s going on. I might even wear a nice shirt for it.

 

I haven’t written a blog for a while, mainly cause I’ve been too busy. Certainly not due to a lock of topics – if anything, there are probably too many. As I write, there is a geotech engineer outside my window, putting a big pole thing into the ground. He and a coworker have been digging holes in the concrete and the lawn all afternoon, hi-vis jackets protecting them from the rain. After what was the greatest summer I can recall, Christchurch has started to get cold, and fast. Many people still have drafty houses without chimneys. They’re less worried about finding money for shares in power companies, more worried about finding money for power bills. Judging by the letters to the paper, the comments on stuff articles, and the general bitching about how things going, the people are angry.

The big news was, of course, the EQC leaks. If it wasn’t for the GCSB fiasco, it would have been the biggest news in the country for the last wee while. First it was bad, then it got worse, then worser, and then someone decided to leak it. I don’t have a property to repair, so I don’t think I have any information in the spreadsheet, but I do think it’s hilarious what has happened. It simply would not have been this big a deal – and gathered enough public support for first Bryan Staples to go to the media, then secondly for EQC Truths to leak it – if the people of Christchurch were not just so damn sick of dealing with EQC. I linked to EQC Truths about two months ago. I’m not going to claim any role in the leak at all, but looking back at what I wrote about the site two months ago is kind of prescient; this simply wouldn’t have happened – it wouldn’t have needed to have happened – if it weren’t for the way that EQC are treating their “clients”. I don’t want to lay blame for the leak of the spreadsheet on the person who did; the blame lies with the organisation as a whole, from the Minister and the Chief Executive down. They should be explaining to the people of Christchurch, and of New Zealand, why we should put up with such a demonstrably inept organisation. Instead, Brownlee has skipped the country to pay homage at the funeral of his failed ideological master.

If you want an incredibly detailed, and depressing, recount of the ups and downs (and downs) of the Christchurch rebuild, then Eric Crampton has put together a great summary here. While I don’t agree with all of Crampton’s solutions to problems (he’s a low-tax, low-regulation economist by day, who described the ACT party as economically sensible) he’s done an admirable job of collecting the stories and the mood of the city over the last two years. I hope he keeps updating it.

Finally, Bryce Edwards included links to not one but two United Future bloggers in his round up today, with Pete George rambling on about something, and this piece by Andrew McMillan, Politician on the identity of the EQC Truths blogger. He seems to gone and done a forensic analysis of everything EQC Truths has ever written, to try and ruin any credibility he might have. Good to know that the United Future candidate for Timaru has so many things on his plate. The thing with EQC Truths is that people aren’t going to him because of what HE wrote, they’re going to him because he’s releasing what EQC wrote. McMillan can run his little crusade as much as he likes, but the horse has bolted.

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.

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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