Does Christchurch need an 'anti-ugly day'
Flashing past the train in Germany the advertising sign caught my eye. "Mach was gegen Hsslich!" "Do something about ugliness." It showed brightly painted steps surrounded by grey concrete.
What a great idea, I thought. What a difference flowers, colour, and beauty can make, especially to an urban landscape that could otherwise become dreary and depressing. Wouldn't it be fantastic for Christchurch.
Later I discovered the phrase is part of a campaign.
"If you are surrounded by only ugly things, sooner or later you yourself will become ugly. Let's seize the opportunity to do something about it now, together. No matter whether you are just painting your old garden fence or beautifying the whole neighbourhood, get started and do something about ugliness."
The campaign is the idea of building product and garden store chain Hornbach, which has branches throughout Germany and eight other European countries. Of course, it makes commercial sense, but it also helps improve the environment, with the whole community getting involved. It is about people doing it for themselves - with a helping hand from suppliers and local authorities.
May 18 was national "Anti-Ugly Day". Projects included beautifying a playground, a skate park, and an underpass. The company's website features inspirational videos showing how it was done.
Creating an attractive environment has huge benefits, socially, ecologically and economically. You feel better. You feel like people care about you. You are more productive. Studies have shown that attractive surroundings help cut crime. It's about respect, for one another and for the world around us.
Christchurch has a huge need to fight ugliness that was evident even before the earthquakes. Stark, ugly concrete warehouses, derelict yards, weed-strewn neglected sites, and graffiti-covered surfaces tarnish the garden city's image. They make us all feel bad.
Even new buildings often sprout up with little thought to their impact on the environment. It has always amazed me that New Zealand boasts some of the world's finest scenery, yet the built environment often fails to respect it.
Since the earthquakes, it has got worse. It is a disgrace that more than three years later, sites have been abandoned and left to fester. Empty buildings still await decisions or demolition. It is not just up to Cera, the council, or insurance companies - buildings owners, too, should take responsibility.
One of the worst is the former Addington sale yards, but there are plenty of others.
Public and private gardens remain some of Christchurch's redeeming features. Landscaping transforms our surroundings for the better, and many people have been committed to making a positive difference.
The Christchurch Beautifying Association, founded in 1897, holds garden competitions and also supports beautification projects around the city. These have included planting bulbs and building the Avon River waterwheel.
Since the quakes, groups such as Greening the Rubble have been doing their best to spruce up the city by transforming empty sites.
Artworks on vacant walls and street furniture create colour and character. Christchurch City Council planner Clare Piper, who works in the Urban Design and Regeneration Unit, has backed many of the projects to lift spirits and help regenerate the core.
It's a tough, some would say nigh-on impossible task, but Piper remains super-enthusiastic.
If you have a bright idea to jazz up part of the city, the Urban Design and Regeneration Unit are the people to talk to.
Alhambra Gardens, on the corner of New Regent St and Armagh Street, is a project developed by Canterbury Horticultural Society, Life in Vacant Spaces Trust, and landscape architect Robert Watson, with support from the Christchurch City Council, Auricle, Allwood Trees, and Parkside Limestone Quarry.
Trees including phoenix palms, raised flower beds, seating, artwork, some discreet neon signage, and the old signwriting for Petersens Jewellers enliven the compact space.
Beautifying your surroundings doesn't have to be expensive. Details, like better-looking signwriting help, for example. Why can't we have attractive writing instead of block-like garish signs - the visual form of those loud, ghastly TV commercials where they crank the volume up and shout at you?
Individuals can make a difference.
In Aranui, Tim Baker got so fed up with an ugly vacant lot he decided to take matters into his own hands and organised a clear-up.
Beautification should not be restricted to the centre. We could do more by working together.
Let's have an Anti-Ugly Day for Christchurch. We have the skills and expert advice is available.
How would it work?
- The council and Cera co-ordinate it
- Suppliers and sponsors get behind it
- Groups and individuals identify ugly areas, large and small, public or private, in need of a makeover. (Schools can also get involved)
- They work together with designers on a plan
- A day of action is held.
The results would be instant, effective and rewarding. A beautiful environment enriches all of us.
Like it? Would you take part? What ugly areas can you identify? Please let us know.