Archives for posts with tag: The Frame

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.

 

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Some of you that still have a subscription to Dead Tree will have seen a story about me in the Press this morning. It’s about a campaign I’m starting that I’m calling “Those Left Standing”. The aim is to lobby for some of the remaining buildings that exist in the CBD – especially those within the frame – to be saved, renovated, and incorporated into the frame, rather than needlessly demolished. Here is the Those Left Standing manifesto:

Safety

In the immediate aftermath of the quakes, and then the June aftershocks, a number of buildings needed to be cordoned off because they were hazardous to people nearby. Now, more than 3 years later, and with the cordon fences largely down, it is clear that these buildings don’t pose an immediate danger to human life. That means that any argument to demolish them is likely to be economic, rather than safety.

History

There are a number of buildings in the frame area that are heritage. The Majestic Church / Theatre is one of them. But there are other buildings here which has little or no interest from a “heritage” point of view – but are still critical to the history of the city. I want to work with the strong heritage advocacy groups, but also want to work to preserve buildings which don’t qualify due to their age, or lack of architectural pedigree.

Waste

One of the unspoken atrocities of the earthquake / rebuild has been the horrific amount of waste created by demolitions. Some of it has been poured into the harbor (illegally) at Lyttelton, most of the rest is now in a massive mound at the Burwood landfill. I believe that the true environmental cost of demolition is not being paid by the companies removing the rubble from the CBD – and that if this cost was presented to these organizations, then a much greater effort would have been made to retain a number of buildings. RE:Kindle, and it’s spin-off, the Whole House Re-Use, have raised important questions about our attitude to waste.

Speed

I don’t know if you’ve wandered around the CBD lately, but there isn’t a hell of a lot of building going on. Wouldn’t it be quicker for us to try and refurbish an existing building, which might take 3 or 6 months, than the government acquiring it, bowling it, flogging it off to a developer and then waiting for something to happen? This is the case with the Oak’s SmartStay, on the corner of Liverpool and Cashel Sts. This isn’t much of a building – and I say that from experience, having lived directly opposite it, I got to look out at it every morning. However, it is a building less than 10 years old that could be renovated and made safe – and that would bring 100’s of apartment rooms onto the market. This could help ease the housing crisis, by providing rooms for many of the workers who are coming in to help on the rebuild. It would also bring more people back into the centre of town, making it a safer, more vibrant place to live. Instead, the government are acquiring the building, demolishing it, then selling the land off to a developer so they can build … apartments. Madness.

Permanence

A lot of the discussion about the Blueprint and the buildings in it forgets that no building is permanent. The Oaks SmartStay may not be the nicest building, and may not fit the vision that the government has outlined. But if we did choose to save it, to reuse it, there is nothing to say that this is a permanent decision. It could be a short-to-medium term solution, for 10 years, to house people to work on the city until there are other places for them. By then, Gerry’s beloved market may be functioning better than it is now, and a developer may decide that they can think of something better to do with the site.

Vision

What ties this altogether is a vision for the city. Gerry has one vision – he wants to create a clean slate, to pull down all the “dungers” so he can stamp his own vision on the city. He wants to purify the frame, removing businesses he doesn’t like (strip clubs), even though they are perfectly legal. 18 months after the Blueprint came out, the only things happening in this city are outside of Gerry’s area of control. We, as a city and a country, don’t have enough money to build the city of Gerry’s dreams. We need to be more realistic. Why demolish a repairable swimming pool to build a children’s playground, when you could integrate the playground around the pool? Why not try and integrate the existing buildings into the vision of the frame? Not only would it save money – money that we don’t have – but it would say so much about who we are, and what we’ve been through. Instead of wiping all these buildings and all of their history off the map, let’s preserve some of them.

I’ve got some of my architect friends working on designs for what these buildings could look like. I’m keen to have people get involved, so if you have any ideas, drop me a line in the comments or via twitter. In the mean time, here are some brilliant photos of the Bicycle Thief by Doug Richardson, one of the buildings in the frame that I believe could have been saved, and would have been an asset to the area.

UPDATE: here is me talking about the campaign with Lucas on bFM:

Puddleglum has a very good post about the green-washing of the Frame.

In earlier posts I’d expressed scepticism about just how green the Frame would be (see this post) but I can understand why that scepticism wasn’t widespread at the time. In general, most people no longer have the time or inclination to scour these political processes in detail. They tend to trust the general impression that circulates in the popular ether.

Essentially, we should have never got our hopes up about the green-ness that was so prominent in the flyovers of the blueprint. However, there are still some questions outstanding for me – if we aren’t getting the wide green swathe, and perhaps we never were – then why are the CCDU being so forceful about buying up people’s land, including land with functioning buildings on it? The reasons given for acquiring say Calendar Girls, or the Bicycle Thief, is that they were businesses that did not fit with the intention of the Eastern Frame. It was vaguely arguable that these businesses could be acquired and bowled over so the government or council could increase the recreational amenity value of the area. I don’t think the argument that they should be compulsorily acquired and knocked over so the government can then flog them off to developers who can do what they like is a particularly good one. In fact, I’d be interested to know how it sits within the part of the CERA legislation that allows for compulsory acquisition of properties, which I believe was based on the Public Works Act. The CCDU used the green washing aspect as a touch-feely comfort blanket to mask their true intentions for the area – intentions that they knew would have been unpopular and heavily criticized.

I don’t want to get too excited, but there seems to be some real change in the air in this city. Gerry is having to defend EQC – and this time, doesn’t seem to be as keen to stand by Ian Simpson as he was in the past. Labour’s announcements on insurance and housing have put the government on the back foot, especially in the east. And this morning, Radio NZ reports that some in the business community – as well as the new councillor Raf Manji – are asking the CCDU to reconsider the “Green Frame” that was a key part of the blueprint. I’ve blogged about why I think the frame is a bad idea here a number of times – so I’m happy to see that these criticisms are now reaching the political discourse. The Frame was one of the biggest selling points of the whole blueprint, so if it is to be re-considered, that will ask some bigger questions about the plan as a whole – which, in my opinion, can only be a good thing.

So in the wake of the Canterbury earthquakes, the government gave itself extraordinary powers, and the rest of the parliament fell in behind. Today, Gerry Brownlee invoked those powers. Given what has happened down here, you would think there were a number of valid reasons for him to do so. Is he going to use his powers to rapidly build homes, to house the people of Christchurch who are in dire need of quality accommodation? Is he going to step in to speed up the EQC process, or to tell the insurance companies that he means business? No, of course not.

He is using his unprecedented powers so he can buy up the buildings in the east frame which refuse to sell to the Crown, so he can knock down those buildings to widen a road. Yes, that’s right. Extraordinary powers being invoked. To knock down buildings. So he can widen a road. Got a problem with that?

Owners who feel they have suffered a loss have the right to appear before Brownlee and appeal for further compensation.

So if you’ve exhausted every other avenue, you can go before the Minister, the wonderful, enlightened Minister, who is so convinced about this that he has invoked his powers so he can do so, and plead your case personally. I know we joke about Lord Brownlee, but this is beyond a joke. Send help. Send help now.

This is a really instructive feature from the weekend’s Press, on the continuing damage that the CCDU buyout is doing to the central city.

Harwood says rubbing salt into the wound, the CCDU is offering to pay only about a fifth of what he reckons the land is worth. It may be a “try on”, an opening low-ball bid. But Harwood says the power to negotiate is all in the CCDU’s hands. “The Green Frame has put a slight on our land because there’s now only one buyer, and the buyer sets the price and the conditions of sale.”

The building that features prominently in the story is Harwood’s, on the corner of Manchester St and Bedford Row. We used to look out on that building from our kitchen window in Cashel St. It was broken down and decrepit then, little more than a temporary home for wayward pigeons. But we could tell it had been a lovely building, and could be a lovely building again. It would be a shame to lose these buildings, especially for the spurious reason of “widening Manchester St so we can put a bus lane in”. Um, hello? Did I miss the part in the “City in a Garden” vision where we are widening streets in the central city for increased traffic volumes?

This story seems to reflect the a change in messaging around the Eastern Frame, which is summed up in this story in the Press:

The eastern frame may have been promoted as Christchurch’s Central Park, but instead looks set to boast “very dense” residential development.

We could argue about the Frame all day, however it’s stated objectives were very clear. Just over a year on, they seem to be changing, and as one of the developers in the story points out, CERA could be sleepwalking into a big legal issue:

Gordon Chamberlain, who owns a Gloucester St site, said the Government on-selling land for development “doesn’t fall within the true meaning of the Public Works Act, which the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act is based on”.

I don’t have a problem with inner city housing – I’ve advocated for it a number of times. However, I can’t support the compulsory acquisition of land from unwilling sellers under the auspices of “creating a green space” only to then see it sold on to developers who want to build executive apartments. This is made all the more perverse when you consider that people like Denis Harwood, mentioned at the top of the first story, are trying to create exactly that, using heritage buildings, and are being prevented from doing so. This is the Kafka-esque situation that we find ourselves in in Christchurch, almost every single day.

This is a comprehensive, scathing post from Puddleglum that anyone who gives half a fuck about Christchurch should read. It is the third part of a series of long posts on Christchurch, which looks at the frame. As I’ve argued, it documents how the Frame and the associated land deals in the CBD are nothing more than a concentration of wealth into the hands of the developers who already hold most of the cards. There are many eminently quotable quotes:

Even the “most popular projects” only barely have support from half the residents, which itself is quite remarkable.

As has been made abundantly clear, however, the ‘anchor projects’ – especially the Frame and the Stadium – were not proposed primarily for their supposed amenity benefits. Their main raison d’être has always been as land soaks: the need to take central city land out of circulation.

And some conclusions that I whole-heatedly endorse:

In simple economic terms, the government has engineered greater wealth concentration in Christchurch. Fewer hands now control more of the economic levers in the city and region. And – as a horse goes with a carriage and love supposedly goes with marriage – along with greater economic power goes greater political control over Christchurch’s destiny.

As I mentioned, it’s a very long post, but that’s because it is comprehensively researched. I really can’t recommend it enough.