Christchurch Convention Centre location a 'mistake'

Canadian urban experimentalist Charles Montgomery says cities where people can walk and cycle help foster happiness.
Kirk Hargreaves

Canadian urban experimentalist Charles Montgomery says cities where people can walk and cycle help foster happiness.

Putting a convention centre in the middle of Christchurch's city centre is a mistake, Canadian urban experimentalist Charles Montgomery says.

"If your interest is in creating rich, social, connected enviroments in your core you should be very wary of plans to drop mega structures into that fabric. Convention centres are notorious, because of their architectural requirements, for killing street life around their edges," Montgomery said.

"We need to be very wary of renderings of mega structures like convention centres that are filled with cartoon people because frequently those cartoon people don't actually appear after the structures are built."

Montgomery has written an award-winning book called Happy City, which examines the intersection between urban design and the emerging science of happiness. He is in Christchurch to meet with city officials and to give a public talk on how the design of a city can effect people's happiness and wellbeing.

Christchurch Central Development Unit acting director Baden Ewart said the risks Montgomery had identified in putting a convention centre in the centre of the city was one of the reasons why a precinct was being developed rather than just a convention centre.

"The precinct is expected to feature a vibrant mix of uses including hotels, hospitality, food and beverage outlets, and residential space that will ensure there is constant buzz of activity aside from that generated by the convention centre," Ewart said. 

The placement of the convention centre precinct, as part of the city blueprint, was decided with expert advice and the blueprint as a whole has been recognised with an international urban design award, Ewart pointed out.

Montgomery said Christchurch should be encouraging higher density housing and aiming to have far more than 20,000 people living in the central city because that would increase opportunities for people to connect socially, which was the most important ingredient for human happiness.

Within the central city core and the eastern frame, there were tremendous opportunities to create the kind of density people loved, he said. 

"Young people want more freedom. They don't want to spend their lives mowing a lawn. They want more freedom to spend time with their friends and families, to go out, to access the riches of the city. How do you get that? By moving a little closer together."

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Higher density housing made sense from a social wellbeing perspective and an economic perspective as it cost around 50 per cent less to provide and maintain infrastructure in dense, mix-use neighbourhoods as it did on the urban fringes, Montgomery said.

"If your ratepayers here care about keeping taxes low in the long run they will be pushing not just for intensification in the core but they will be pushing for a more robust urban growth boundary and they will also be pushing for new suburban villages connected by a robust frequent transit network."

Getting people out of cars and on to bikes or their feet was one of the keys to creating a happy city: "People report experiencing more rudeness and incivility while driving than any other way of moving through a city. A happy city is a walkable city," he said.

 - Stuff

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