Ten priorities for Christchurch

DAVID KILLICK
Last updated 07:59 30/01/2013

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OPINION: As the rebuild grinds on, there is much to be optimistic about.

According to Chinese astrology, 2013 is the Year of the Snake, which denotes "steady progress and detail".

"Steady progress" would be great for the thousands of Christchurch people waiting to hear something, anything, about when the Earthquake Commission or insurance companies will fix their houses. Some are still in limbo, with munted land and dwellings, and zero progress nearly two years after the February 22, 2011, quake.

Hundreds of buildings are still to be demolished. Some roads are still a mess.

Out-of-towners are surprised. "Haven't you rebuilt Christchurch yet?" they say.

As people come back to work after a welcome break, no-one wants more of the same, although there is a sense of realism, that disruption is unavoidable.

We need to ask whether the current approach is working, whether we could rebuild better.

Here are 10 priorities and a few reasons why we can still be optimistic:

1. Rethink: Once an enormous building is there, it will probably take more than another quake to get rid of it. Do we really need a billion-dollar convention centre or a covered sports stadium?

Nobody clamoured for these glitzy anchor projects in the Share an Idea campaign. Let's have the courage to change the plans.

2. Demand the best: OK, so the authorities probably will try to steamroll through the changes they decide on. Consultation went out the window in 2012 - witness the schools debacle.

We can still say what we think about proposed designs - hideous, bearable, boring or imaginative and exciting? There is no reason we can't have good designs.

Let's have more architectural competitions and engage with the best from around the world and not ignore them, like the Christchurch City Council did with Danish architect Jan Gehl and other experts. A design panel would be a good idea.

3. Be eco-friendly: Energy supply and impact on the natural environment are huge issues facing the planet.

Energy-efficient buildings harnessing the latest technologies should be a no-brainer for Christchurch.

Why not catch up with other towns and cities in Europe and become a leader in eco-building?

4. Rebuild the Anglican cathedral: Let's finally decide what's happening to it. An exciting new building could retain elements of the old.

5. Save heritage: The best bits, such as the Arts Centre and the Provincial Council Buildings.

6. Fix the worst houses: It would be intolerable for people to be forced to go through another winter in damaged, damp, unhealthy homes. Such places are shameful in a developed country.

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We should also build social housing for the most economically disadvantaged, even if the idea is unfashionable.

7. Build alternative housing: The 1950s suburban subdivision model, sprawling ever out over the Canterbury Plains, is not the only solution. Cluster housing and co-housing, with shared amenities and landscaping, are alternatives.

A couple of projects are planned for the central city. We need more.

New housing also needs to be affordable. Much of it isn't. The current approach is unsustainable.

We need to design better and think differently.

8. Build stronger communities: One of the positive trends to have emerged in the past two years is the realisation that no matter how luxurious your house, no-one lives in isolation and communities do matter. That means not focusing just on the central business district, but encouraging local growth. It's not new. Villages have thrived for centuries.

Another positive trend is entrepreneurs setting up cafes, restaurants and entertainment spots despite bureaucratic hurdles. These are bright spots throughout the city and should be encouraged. Consent processes should be streamlined.

9. Better transport: We need simpler, more frequent bus services, better roads with more right-turning arrows, and off-road cycle tracks.

Whatever happened to the yellow electric buses? (Oh, and the tram isn't public transport. It's for tourists only and is not a priority.)

10. Better leadership: Who's in charge? The Government and government agencies have taken precedence over the council.

Some politicians from both sides have performed well, but others have been woeful and have shown a complete lack of empathy.

We will have to wait a while to kick out the politicians, but council elections will take place in October. Now is the time for aspiring leaders to start developing strategies.

Over the next few weeks, I shall discuss these issues in more depth. It should be an eventful year.

David Killick writes a weekly column on design, architecture and planning as our city rebuilds.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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