We need residents in the central city

As the cordons come down and buildings go up, the corpse of the central city is slowly having life breathed back into it.

My concern is that with all the planned projects, inner-city residential developments are few and far between. If we miss the opportunity to repopulate the central city, our planners have failed.

Residents are essential for any neighbourhood and there's nobody quite like a resident to take ownership of their block. Without residents, the central city is just a collection of offices, cafes and car parks and the result can never be a culturally rich community.

We've seen high-profile competitions to design residential complexes in Peterborough St and Latimer Square and more of this should be encouraged. My worry is what is available right now.

While the suburbs on the edge of the city steam along with rebuilds, the city sits stagnant, awaiting residents. People have spent the last few years moving from damaged houses and communities and the central city has not been a consideration for most of them.

The council and the Christchurch Central Development Unit include housing as part of their plan throughout rebuilding documents. The planners who put these things together are smart and understand the value of residents in the city.

The reality, however, is that people are not lining up to buy or build residential dwellings in the central city. Why?

For developers it is much easier to develop residential dwellings on the edge of town. Building a house on a standard section is much easier and cheaper than building apartment blocks in the city.

For those with the budget to build in the city, more value can be realised by knocking up a concrete box with retail on the ground floor and office space above. Is this how we want the city to look?

Somebody at an institutional level needs to work out a way to incentivise residential development in the central city. A densely occupied central city is in everybody's interests as it means less traffic congestion and a healthier, more alive centre that everybody can enjoy.

Think of your favourite city in the world and I'll bet it isn't some vast sprawling conurbation of suburbs; I'll bet it's a bustling central city that's alive with people. Nobody tells you to go to Melbourne to see the suburbs.

I wonder if dropping development contributions on residential developments in the central city might be a good start. These levies contribute toward infrastructure which already exists - admittedly damaged - in the central city. Maybe a rates freeze is in order?

I know, central city living isn't for everybody. Most people enjoy suburbia and all it offers. The Kiwi dream of a quarter-acre section and a garage full of cars is hard to push as unsustainable. And the 'burbs are perfect to raise kids.

There are a lot of people who don't have kids and I think it is these people who should be populating the central city. So for people wanting to downsize, professional couples, empty-nesters, single people, retirees, gays, students and anyone willing to swap personal space for shared amenities, the central city is an exciting proposition.

The suburbs are perfect for 90 per cent of our population and if we can squeeze the other 10 per cent into the centre we would have an infinitely more exciting city. Having an affordable centre for people to live in is in the interests of the whole city. We need it to happen soon or the moment will be lost.

The Press