Is Christchurch a doughnut or a fruitcake?
Concern that Christchurch is becoming a doughnut city - growth ringing an empty centre - misses the point.
At present, Christchurch resembles more of an experimental fruitcake mix, with some good ingredients, but lumpy and uneven. Critics point out there are a few nuts in it and parts of the recipe, like plans for a covered sports stadium in place of more basic ingredients, appear half-baked.
Instead of concentrating on one recipe, we should be thinking how to create a healthy balanced diet: something for everybody.
Christchurch's recovery depends on far more than rebuilding the former CBD. We also need bolder, more visionary plans for areas outside a narrowly defined centre. That includes established suburbs, abandoned red-zone land, and the outer fringe.
Development is happening, although agonisingly slowly. The big question is: will it be enough to create a successful 21st-century city?
Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee was clearly delighted to announce last week that 1100 staff from government departments and agencies will move into the central city. Along with other private sector development, they will stimulate growth.
Brownlee says: "I have every confidence the vision of a compact, cohesive and busy Christchurch CBD will soon come to fruition."
Forecasts by Colliers Property predict there will be 15,000 workers within 300 metres of the Central Retail Precinct within four years.
Urban planning critic Hugh Pavletich dismisses those figures as paltry. Before February 22, 2011, he says, there were about 50,000 workers in the CBD. He is scathing of what he calls "the massive failures of the elitist Central Blueprint - widely known as The Suburban Rapid Growth Plan."
If the suburbs grow, does that matter? Perhaps not. The new city centre will be more compact. Fewer people will work there. It won't be solely a business district. (The term CBD is boring and outmoded. It needs a new name.) It is likely to become more of a residential zone, with new apartment buildings offering a different lifestyle to that on offer in the suburbs. Easy access to shops, restaurants, cafes, and entertainment will appeal to many.
New office, retail, or residential development in the centre is expensive and challenging for developers. That is something of which Brownlee, Cera, CCDU, and the city council are surely acutely aware.
Meanwhile, growth is happening in other parts of the city regardless of the blueprint. It should be encouraged; decentralisation makes Christchurch more resilient.
Lincoln Rd, Victoria St, and Sydenham are thriving. Is that a bad thing? The public doesn't seem to think so.
Suburban retail hubs and malls, although much maligned, are undeniably popular. Less appealing are soulless massive concrete walls and the dominance of car parking.
There is also a role for small, suburban shops. Far from disappearing, they are enjoying a resurgence. People still love visiting local neighbourhood centres.
The city's future also depends on business, manufacturing, and research and development. Factories and office buildings in Birmingham Drive, in Addington, are an example of intelligent planning. Leafy surroundings and thoughtful design proves that not all industrial buildings need look like ugly, slab-like monstrosities.
More business parks and offices are already sprouting up outside the centre. Mixed-use development, allowing business and residential in some areas, creates diversity.
All developments require careful consideration and planning by the council to ensure they enhance the city and region. The key to making suburban centres more attractive is better architecture and landscaping as part of a new master plan. Access is also crucial; they cannot be considered in isolation.
One of the boldest plans outside the centre was announced last week: a $107 million sports hub in Christchurch's southwest. Nga Puna Wai reserve, next to the Canterbury Agricultural Park, would house new facilities for athletics, hockey, and tennis.
The Christchurch City Council said although other sites had been considered, Nga Puna Wai provided more than 30 hectares of useable space within 6km of the central city and was already owned by the council.
The Canterbury A&P Association is reported to be opposed to the development. I think it looks like a terrific idea. Perhaps they can work out an agreement.
Cricket in Hagley Park, a saltwater pool for New Brighton, and an Estuary to Sumner walkway are other plans that in my view would be assets for Christchurch - not just for tourists, but for those who live here.
Turning former red-zone land into a park is another mega project.
Two huge challenges remain: affordable housing, whether in the city or suburbs, and a better transportation system.
We would all love to live in safe, attractive, vibrant communities, work in stimulating well-designed buildings and make the most of cultural and recreational activities.
Let's enjoy our neighbourhoods but focus on the big picture, too.