What do you want in a community?
Where ideally would you like to live? If not where you live now, then where? All of us have probably pondered those questions from time to time, especially in Christchurch after the earthquakes.
Would you want to live in central Christchurch as it redevelops? What features, facilities and services would make you want to live there? Those were the questions Opus International principal urban scientist Dr Vivienne Ivory and team set out to explore in a detailed study.
During 2013, Opus researchers asked participants to identify services and facilities that they felt would enhance their quality of life and entice them to live in the city. They had to identify what would be important to them during three stages of the rebuild: early, mid, and fully rebuilt.
The study utilised "sophisticated multimedia computer assisted personal interviewing methods".
I tried out the full survey recently. I think it's brilliant. Unfortunately it is not available online or to the general public. It would be great to see online surveys used more widely. In the internet era, they would be an excellent way for council planners to assess what people really want in a city and design accordingly - rather than the current ad hoc, developer-driven approach.
They would engage the public and meet the market: democracy in action.
Good living environments don't happen accidentally; we need planners. And governments and local authorities need to listen to people to create a thriving city.
The survey made me think about what makes a successful community - not just in the central city but anywhere.
I decided that I could live happily in many places, in New Zealand or overseas. I also realised how much I appreciate my present neighbourhood (near the base of the Port Hills).
What matters for me is green space in the form of parks, and somewhere pleasant to walk and enjoy the scenery.
I appreciate the natural and the built environments, architecture and the landscape.
I value a safe neighbourhood. I like a place that is reasonably peaceful and quiet, but where I can chat with good neighbours who look out for one another.
Local shops and specialty shops are important, but a big supermarket and big-box retailers may not be; I can buy everything from groceries to clothes online.
A medical centre nearby is an asset. So is a recreation centre (somewhere like Pioneer Leisure Centre, where I do pilates). Add a public gathering place.
Concerts, art exhibitions, and sports events would be fun, and I would be prepared to travel out of the neighbourhood to see them, but if they are handy, that's a bonus.
Going out and meeting people at a cafe or restaurant is nice, but we can't eat out all the time. It's too expensive in this country.
I don't want to spend ages commuting. Technology has also profoundly changed the way we work. I can go into the office but can easily work from home.
That would not be the case if I worked in a factory, hospital, or school, of course.
For me, the best community is one where all the things I appreciate are within easy reach, preferably by walking or cycling or taking public transport.
Of course, your views may differ.
WHAT MATTERS TO YOU?
Now it's your turn. Imagine you are going to move to the central city. Or imagine your ideal neighbourhood. What matters to you?
Think about where you travel to as part of your daily life: work, study, grocery shops, public parks or playgrounds, cafes, restaurants, physical activities, cultural or spiritual activities, extended family and friends, schools or pre-schools.
How far should they be and how would you prefer to get there?
Next comes a trickier question: What kind of building would you like to live in and how much would you pay? Communities have to be affordable to live and work in.
In the survey I opted for what I thought would be a reasonably modest budget of $450,000. (Remember, this is hypothetical.)
The survey let me choose different options. I chose a two-bedroom townhouse with top quality materials, a shared garden, and off-street parking. I chose a "value for money" neighbourhood, figuring if it had everything I needed it would soon become "desirable".
According to Ivory: "A key feature that distinguishes quality central city living from a suburban lifestyle is that many activities can be undertaken locally, including employment.
"In addition, infrastructure, amenities, housing, and smart environmental design all play key roles in successfully overcoming the negative limitations of compact urban living, such as noise and a reduced sense of community."
To me, those features help define any successful community: a vibrant, safe, attractive neighbourhood that enlivens and enriches us.
- The Press