Many a slip on way to inner-city bliss

People equal life, money and prosperity. So went the thinking yesterday, as the earthquake recovery minister confirmed government agencies would start piling into Christchurch's inner city.

The Crown's estimated spending on leased office space in the so-called "doughnut" zone around Cathedral Square was put at $170 million, including the cost of relocating offices from elsewhere.

Statistics flew yesterday, from the amount of square metres devoted to new office space, to the number of agencies and people who could be crammed - ever so nicely - into new surrounds.

The Government's vision-by-numbers sounded compelling. If there has to be a rider in the dream to fill in the dreaded doughnut, it would have to be: Think carefully about basic needs and a bit of logistics.

You couldn't blame any Cantabrian employee anxious about a return to work in the inner city, no matter how much time apparently heals. The intangibility of people's feelings about a move may turn out to be the most serious element in the mix. Just like the earthquakes, it's an influence on people and their future performance that can't be brushed off lightly.

The only certainty in the equation is that the city's working demographic is set to change again, led for now by property developers striking deals with the Crown.

If the inner city is repopulated as hoped, we only have to ask how to get people smoothly in and out of the beating heart without the traffic nightmares that have occurred in the suburbs lately.

There have been estimates, vouched for by government, that the inner city will have 15,000 more employees within 300 metres of its shopping heart in the next four years.

But there was no word yesterday of how these people would be efficiently moved in and out of that zone. Or how many could be expected to take up permanent residency within the Four Avenues. A cautious note from the worker repopulation plan is therefore nothing to do with the growth itself. It's the byproduct of how to move the surge around the city, be it by car, bus, train, bike or foot.

This promised influx of public servants will be a true test for city planners and the Accessible City transport plan, which is still only on paper. After all, it's Christchurch on the Canterbury Plains that's being rebuilt and not a cosy, ready-made Wellington.

The Press