Johnny Moore: Christchurch risks becoming a 'beige dystopia'

Christchurch's city centre risks becoming a "beige dystopia", Johnny Moore writes.

Christchurch's city centre risks becoming a "beige dystopia", Johnny Moore writes.

OPINION: Are we rebuilding the city centre we dreamed of?

This is the question being asked by local website Christchurch Dilemmas.

Sadly it's a question I've stopped asking.

That's why I'm glad Gerard Smyth and the good folks at Christchurch Dilemmas exist. Because I worry that many of us who have been vocal about the city centre are running out of steam and once complacency takes over, the city runs the risk of becoming a beige dystopia created by bureaucratic automatons.

* Christchurch Dilemmas: How to rebuild the city's heart
Christchurch Dilemmas: What will happen to the residential red zone?
Christchurch Dilemmas: Christchurch's mental health crisis

Remember those heady days following the major earthquakes when we sat around and dreamed of a new city?

Green roofs, tens of thousands of residents, a compact city where the sun always shone and the Easterly never blew.

We were allowed to dream of a better city – a city that included us in its design – and at that point dreaming was enough.

Maybe the death and destruction that happened when a run-down old city collapsed wouldn't define us. Perhaps what we did afterward would.

Time passed and the dream was taken over by a bunch of suits who felt they needed to redesign our city in 100 days – quite why this was the necessary timeframe has yet to be explained to me.

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We were fed those buzzwords that have come to define the rebuild. White noise offered up to us each day by the army of public relations stooges who are controlling the tenor of the public debate. Words like "vibrant" and "resilient".

I'm aware that I've become embittered by the situation. It's just that you get a bad taste in your mouth when you're swimming laps in a pool full of sewage.

I'm bitter because what I have seen is a rebuild being driven by a government and a bunch of very rich men and what's been left behind are the smaller players – the ones that tend to add layers of complexity to a city that can't be created by salaried workers and PR hacks.

Philip Carter and his mob trying to block a competing development through the courts is just one example of how dirty this rebuild has become. The rich getting richer at the expense of the city.

It's starting to look like a bunch of rich men scrapping over who gets the largest slice of pie while Jo Public stands by wondering what-in-the-hell pie is.

Talk to anyone brave/silly enough to have attempted to build something in the city and they'll tell you that if you're not cashed/borrowed up to the eyeballs then it doesn't make sense.

What about residential? That was going to be such a big part of the rebuild. I see some really nice apartments starting to come onto the market. But have you seen the prices? It's like an exercise in social engineering. Knock over the houses the poor lived in, build a bunch of apartments for upper-middle-class people and damn the poor. They can go live in the east where people are so worn down by the rebuild that they've given up fighting.

So my answer is that we're not rebuilding the city I dreamed of. We're rebuilding the city a bunch of rich men dreamed up. Because the poor, the dispossessed, the outsiders and those who are not part of the institutions are not being included in the rebuild.

If nothing else, we have a voice and it's thanks to outfits like Christchurch Dilemmas that this voice gets heard. Maybe the fires in our bellies were down to a smolder and all it took was Gerard Smyth blowing on the ashes to set the flame burning again.

Just don't underestimate how much damage a bit of fire can do.

 - Stuff


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