The Press looks to the year 2031

Last updated 15:00 22/02/2014

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Christchurch Earthquake 2011

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Nobody can predict what Christchurch will be like on February 22, 2031 - 20 years after the worst earthquake and 17 years from today.

Will the anchor projects of the central city - invented and sited behind closed doors in just 100 days in 2012 - be built and tenanted, popular and prospering?

Will sporting and cultural events fill a 35,000-seat covered stadium? We can't know.

"I'm suspicious of people who claim to know what the future holds," professional futurist Stuart Candy once said.

Long-term predictions are almost always wrong because "mere extrapolation can't stand up to the complexity" of time, he told a TedX Christchurch audience last year.

The better alternative is to understand that the future is plural, Candy argued.

There are multiple futures open to Canterbury and we can make decisions today that will help make or prevent those futures.

But to understand future-Christchurch, you have to rely on sometimes scant information provided by the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority, Christchurch City Council and other public bodies.

So, with so much still unknown we decided to experiment.

What if The Press visited Christchurch on February 22, 2031, and reported back what we found? Obviously we can't time travel, but we can imagine futures and report them. So we did. What follows is entirely fictional.

The point is not mere entertainment, although there is that. The point, a la Stuart Candy, is that readers may find in our fiction possible futures they love or hate.

It may even spark an idea, stir some latent urge to get involved. If it does, we urge readers to do something about it. Rally, protest, cheer, plant . . . do something that changes the future.

And one further message for those who are challenged by the appearance of fiction in this well-read section of the newspaper, Mainlander.

Fiction in newspapers dates back centuries. Charles Dickens published some novels in serialised form.

It appeared regularly in the The Evening News, a daily evening paper that served London from 1881 to 1980. Authors included A A Milne, Arthur C Clarke and Ken Follett.

On these pages we challenged The Press reporters to write fictional non-fiction and the results, we think, are provocative.

Some of it's good news, some bad.

Come with us to 2031.

CLIMATE CHANGE - AFTER THE FLOOD

East Christchurch residents inundated with floodwaters last year are once again battling with insurers to replace belongings and repair their waterlogged homes.

Residents around the mouth of the Avon woke up the day after Boxing Day to find water rapidly encroaching on their homes. The king tide, which arrived at 7am on Friday, December 27, brought with it devastation to homes still clinging on to the banks of the Avon River.

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The December floods have renewed calls to remediate earthquake-damaged land and push ahead with raising floor levels in line with the Christchurch City Council's Flood Management Plan.

Land around the western edge of the estuary sank by about 10 centimetres after the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes. Much of the land around the area was deemed uninhabitable by the government and subsequently red-zoned. The sunken land makes the area more vulnerable to flooding, and with human-induced climate change raising the sea level, experts say events such as the December 27 king tide flood will become more frequent and intense.

Sea levels have risen by about 10 centimetres in the past two decades, with predictions that by the end of the century the total increase will be about one metre above 1990s levels. Climate scientists have warned that king tide floods are only the first sign of sea level rises, with more flooding of low-lying areas predicted.

- Sarah-Jane O'Connor with contribution from Dr Rob Bell, Niwa.

SPORT - CHANGING GUARD

The All Blacks have crashed out of the global world championships playoffs after a shock loss to Argentina at Ballantynes- Ngai Tahu Stadium in Christchurch.

The Pumas beat the five-time Rugby World Cup winners 31-29 in golden point extra-time for an historic first victory over New Zealand.

Argentina's ambassador to New Zealand - watching while sharing a steak dinner with Governor- General Gerry Brownlee - hailed the upset as his country's greatest sporting result of the 21st century.

Argentina scored five tries and three conversions to one try and eight penalties by the All Blacks, who abandoned their usual expansive game to play 10-man rugby.

The All Blacks needed to beat Argentina by a four-try bonus point margin and rely on the winless Wallabies to upset the ladder-leading Springboks, coached by Robbie Deans, 71, for the New Zealanders to win the southern hemisphere leg of the world championships league and qualify for the March 15 global grand final in Dubai against the winner of Europe's Six Nations championships.

Immediately after the final whistle, All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen - the first coach to win four World Cup gold medals - announced he was ending his 19-year reign to give the team nine months to prepare for the next World Cup tournament in India.

Hansen, 72 in May, said it was time he gave long-time assistant Ian Foster a crack at the top job "before he qualifies for his gold card".

"I'll miss the boys; they call me grandpa," Hansen said,a tear streaking his ruddy, chubby cheek.

Meanwhile, New Zealand Rugby Union chief executive Sir Richard McCaw said the 13,339-turnout in the 45,000-seat stadium was disappointing. "We had a full house, but most people left before kickoff after Sonny Bill Williams' pre-match boxing bout. But at least they saw old Sonny (aged 45) win the world heavyweight geriatric championship."

Sir Richard said the walk-up crowd were "probably saving their money" for tomorrow's first home game of the 2031 season by the Te Wai Pounamu Taniwha, the three- time National Rugby League champions. "And the Southern Mustangs play here in the A-League playoffs on Monday night; so 13,339 isn't a bad crowd really; it's not like rugby's our national sport."

- Tony Smith

TOWN HALL - STARS RETURN FOR GODOT

Veteran British theatre actors Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart have returned to Christchurch for another sold-out season of Waiting for Godot.

Interviewed before the opening night performance, McKellen, 91, said Christchurch audiences had embraced his interpretation of the Samuel Beckett play about waiting ages and ages for something to happen.

"There may be an element of nostalgia for the days before the earthquake in the overwhelming audience responses, but I think Cantabrians also get Beckett's message about futility," McKellen said.

"People come again and again, bringing all the family."

McKellen and Stewart, 90, had hoped to perform their fourth Christchurch season of Waiting for Godot at the Isaac Theatre Royal, but that theatre was already booked for next week's world premiere of the seventh film in Peter Jackson's Silmarillion franchise.

The theatre was also below the capacity required for audience demand, McKellen said.

"Ultimately, the Christchurch Town Hall was the only venue that really suited," he said.

"We needed all 2500 seats in the auditorium.

"I remember that there were suggestions that the Christchurch Town Hall be demolished after the 2011 earthquake.

"Thank goodness that didn't happen."

He said the prestigious International Modernist Masterpieces Award given to the Christchurch City Council in 2019 for its sensitive and thorough repair and renovation of the Town Hall, guided by original architect Sir Miles Warren, showed that it was on the right track.

"Can you believe that the government of the day wanted to bowl the Town Hall and steer the council towards paying for some sort of performing arts precinct instead?" McKellen said.

"Imagine if Christchurch had lost this incredible building. It really is the city's living room.

"We love Christchurch," McKellen added.

"Coming back to this incredible city is one of the things that keeps me and Patrick young."

- Philip Matthews

ARTS - SOUNDS OF SILENCE

Standing in the deserted Town Hall car park last night you could catch snatches of music drifting over from Addington when the wind shifted.

Ageing boy band One Direction was belting out the back catalogue to its middle-aged mum fans.

Those snatches aside, it was a lovely Christchurch night. And if you wanted peace and quiet, this was the place to be. You know the old joke - Christchurch CBD - Centre Bit of Doughnut. But is it right that we can happily meditate in the middle of the country's second-biggest city on a Saturday night?

Looking across the vast empty grassy lawns and gardens spreading out from the river and towards the cathedral, the lonely Theatre Royal sat pale in the moonlight. It was also deserted - another casualty of the big crowds that Specialised Cranes Addington Auditorium can pull.

Farther out again, well out of earshot and across town, the orchestra would be practising at the Woolston Brass Band centre. Swing 180 degrees and 12km away in Hornby, more musicians would be working hard at the Eezi-Air Soundproof Complex.

And the city's only professional theatre company, the Rangiora Players (oldies will remember it as the Court Theatre) would be of course gearing up for its controversial new play Where'd the Waimak River Go? in its new theatre-stage complex in Blackett St.

So things were humming in the city's arts and entertainment world . . . everywhere but right here among the grass and daisies.

OK, except in one thing. It wasn't a complete entertainment void. Distant Manchester St was glowing thanks to the headlights of dozens of cars moving slowly up and down.

But this big grassy park in the city centre, Baby Hagley I think the office workers call it, is what you get when a city spreads like an old egg in a cold frypan and the money runs out to scrape it back together.

Maybe once we've fixed the Town Hall foundations (yes I know, again, but properly this time) it might be useful for something? How about a big garden party? We can duck into the St James Theatre if it rains.

- Ewan Sargent

ECO - 'YOU SHOULD BE PROUD' - OBAMA

People power won Christchurch the United Nations 2031 Green City Award, former American first lady and United Nations Special Envoy for Urban Ecology Michelle Obama said this morning on her first visit to the city.

"When politicians wanted to sell the residential red zone to developers, the residents of Christchurch started to farm the land. They transplanted fruit and nut trees from their own backyards to this beautiful place. They came in their hundreds and then thousands to till the soil, to plant vegetable gardens on public land, to make the land into urban farms," Obama said in a speech attended by mayor Bailey Peryman and other worthies. "You should be proud."

"This crowd knows this story - you were among the diggers," Obama said. "My real audience is the global citizenry who want to emulate Christchurch's green mutiny - and the city planners and leaders who should be listening better to their own people."

Earlier, Peryman guided Obama though the Avon-Otakaro Park on the latest YikeBikes. Starting at the Estuary and ending two hours later in Cathedral Square, the mayor and envoy and a significant security detail (some on horses) stopped at the Sir Bob Parker Wetlands and the Flat Water Sports Facility. Obama cooked and ate her own whitebait fritter from the Otakaro River, using spelt flour and eggs harvested from Christchurch Urban Farm.

"Not one lot in the former residential red zone has been rebuilt upon," Peryman told Obama. "Every family and resident who lost a home to the earthquakes of 2010 and 2011 knows their land belongs to all of Christchurch and all of New Zealand."

Obama's job is not ceremonial. As a special envoy, she reports directly to the UN secretary- general on urban agriculture and ecological diversity. Her rockstar popularity has perhaps made her more effective than her husband Barack.

"Every single new building - and almost all the surviving pre- quake buildings - in the city core are heated and cooled with aquifer water and heat exchange systems," Peryman said. "Every building in the core must by law generate solar power and as a central business district we feed more power into the national grid than any comparable city. Fifty per cent of downtown buildings have a green roof. The City Mission, which cares for the homeless and destitute, harvests all its produce from our public and private roofs and employs over 50 people."

Obama also toured Big Breathe, the new residential development on former East Frame land which includes elevated housing and many large community gardens. "A decade ago, most would have said allowing residential development on green space - the Green Frame we called it once - was absurd. But it's amazing how families, retirees and the working young can activate and enliven space - provided they also make the land productive," the Green Party mayor said.

- Will Harvie

HOUSING: DOLLAR RESERVES FOR EMPTY BUILDINGS

Private property developers are giving up on the Christchurch CBD by offering architecturally designed multi-storey structures for dollar reserves on a popular online auction site.

"I'm sorry it has come to this," said one developer who spoke to The Press on the condition of anonymity. "There is nothing left to do."

The developer said the CBD was left to stagnate for too long in the aftermath of the earthquake. The first city Blueprint in 2012 was not enacted quickly enough to make the city attractive for investment, he said.

Meanwhile, the Government continued its desperate push to attract investors and tenants into the CBD by offering free rents for a year, fire-sale land prices and attractive tax rebates under the Charities Act 2005.

The situation is a far cry for those who can remember that first Blue Print. Six plans later, only 10 of the 14 anchor projects have come to fruition. While those projects employ about 1000 people with taxpayer funds, it is private investment that is missing from the city centre. Two-dollar shops, takeaway restaurants and the odd cafe occupy the ground floors of many buildings.

"We are lucky lawyers like their coffee," said one cafe owner next to the Justice Precinct. "Without them we would be broke."

But a short distance away, the city periphery is thriving. However, the continual development of big-box retailers has raised the eyebrows of some. One insurance company has set up permanent shop in a former supermarket to deal with outstanding earthquake claims.

While the Bus Interchange is close enough to bustling Moorhouse Ave to remain viable, the walk through to its retail hub is largely uneventful.

Closer to town, heritage groups are still fighting to retain McLeans Mansion on Manchester St but its fate is even more uncertain after three arson attempts in the past two years have caused thousands of dollars of extra damage.

Speaking from his Florida home, one former eastern frame business owner said he was saddened to hear about the state of his hometown but he took pride in his predictions being correct.

"They took a North Korean dictatorship approach back then when they took people's businesses away from them and now they want us back. It's quite funny, really."

- Charles Anderson

NGAI TAHU - RULING ON RED-ZONE CASE

The Supreme Court will next week hand down its decision in the long-running lawsuit between Ngai Tahu and Christchurch developer 1@4 Ltd over which of them can buy central city land acquired by the Crown in 2013 for the Blue Print and later found to be surplus.

The iwi won the initial High Court case with its claim that the Ngai Tahu Treaty Settlement Act gave it an absolute right of first refusal on any land dispositions by the Crown, while 1@4 won a reversal in the Court of Appeal, claiming it had a right to repurchase land that was compulsorily acquired from it under the Public Works Act.

Lawyers said only the Supreme Court could decide which apparently equal Act of Parliament was paramount. Over the years, and with some despair, judges have urged Ngai Tahu and 1@4 to settle out of court and twice the matter went through arbitration. A 2022 agreement to co-develop the land fell apart amid acrimony and a flurry of lawsuits.

Ngai Tahu's land deals with the Crown have been controversial, not least within the tribe itself. The tribe is still split between those who favoured buying former residential red zone land for an 800-section residential subdivision beside the Avon River and those who wanted the land to form part of the Avon-Otakaro Park.

A power struggle almost toppled the iwi's senior leadership, which favoured development, and some tribe members who had been residents and homeowners in Aranui and Wainoni at the time of the earthquakes. The leadership survived and remediation of the land began last year. Sections are being sold off the plan and house building is expected to start next year.

Meanwhile, lengthy negotiations are expected to begin next month over rent increases in the Justice Precinct.

Ngai Tahu bought the estate from the sixth Labour Government and the agreement gave the iwi a to-be-negotiated rent increase in 2033.

Earlier this year, the Land Minister said the rent increase should be peppercorn given market conditions. Ngai Tahu declined to comment.

- Will Harvie

- The Press

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