Editorial: Christchurch's 'villages' coming into their own since the earthquakes
Those who used to look enviously at Dunedin and Wellington as blessedly free of the huge, characterless shopping malls that have sprouted around Christchurch will be cheering on post-earthquake efforts to bring back a measure of village life here.
The proliferation of villages and village plans around Christchurch in the past few years is well worth celebrating. As those plans become reality, and what were small suburban shopping areas set along a main road take on a village atmosphere, the entire city will find itself strengthened by these dynamic community hubs.
Few could argue that Woolston village, historically a working-class and industrial suburb, has enjoyed the same kind of high-profile as places like Sumner, Merivale or even Papanui. Its location along busy Ferry Rd has meant it tends to be just a few blocks that people drive through on their way somewhere else, rather than a stopping-off point.
In an effort to encourage people to apply the brakes and take time to check Woolston out properly, the Christchurch City Council has released a plan to make it more friendly for pedestrians and cyclists.
The proposal bolsters the village concept by suggesting a 30kmh speed limit along Ferry Rd, extra pedestrian crossings and a paved median strip. More trees will be planted and new seats, bike stands and lighting installed. The work comes with a $1.6 million price tag, depending on the public's thoughts.
For some, unfortunately, the proposal will fall flat because of the perennial argument about too few on-street car-parking spaces. Room for the new features has to be created somewhere and those improvements will come at the expense of parking.
If the plan goes ahead as proposed, the number of Ferry Rd car parks will drop from 77 to 21 - admittedly a big difference - and motorists will instead be encouraged to park on side streets.
The owner of the Twisted Hop pub, Stephen Hardman, supports moves to increase foot traffic and the long-term gains it will bring. Ironically, Around Again Cycles shopowner Leroy Kremers likes the idea of improved cycleways but is unhappy about losing the parking spaces, saying people might choose to go the malls instead if they have to walk from their vehicles.
It would be a sad reflection of our priorities today if concerns about the number of on-street car parks scotches such a good plan and holds Woolston back from achieving its full potential. There will also be those who gripe about any attempt to lower the speed limit and those complaints should be ignored too.
If there is scepticism about the benefits of such a gentrification plan, or if further inspiration is needed, those people need not look far for it. The Tannery, with its cafes, shops and boutiques just around the road, has been an incredible success and has become one of the most visited attractions since the quakes.
Traditionally, villages have flourished where the physical landscape, such as hills or enclosed bays, has allowed them to develop their own unique character. The Woolston plan shows that, with some innovative thinking, a village atmosphere can be fostered and nurtured even in a suburb on flat land strung out along a main road to somewhere else.