Now it's time to get cracking on rebuild

Last updated 08:21 15/01/2014
Christ Church Cathedral
Joseph Johnson/Fairfax NZ

LET IT GO: Prolonged court cases and bitterly divided opinions are just delaying the inevitable.

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OPINION: Still suspended in a state of summer torpor last week, Christchurch's "rebuild" appeared to have stalled.

It's time to get cracking. Here are some priorities for decision-makers:

Create a stronger economy. If New Zealand is a "rock star economy" does that mean it is a place where only rock stars can afford to live well? Wages and salaries have not gone up, while living costs (rates, insurance, food) have risen significantly. The rebuild must create more than temporary construction jobs. Shopping does not generate growth; dairying generates wealth for some; and tourism is limited. Innovation and industry are the only ways to create a sustainable economy.

Streamline bureaucracy. Too many organisations and too many rules and regulations impede progress. The clearest example of systemic failure was the Christchurch City Council's building consent crisis. Why didn't other councils have this problem? More unified regional government is essential. Concentrate on the big picture and slash the rulebook.

Fix broken houses. Why EQC should leave the worst-damaged houses till last is baffling. EQC and insurance companies need to communicate better. Tell people when their house will be fixed. Then do it.

Make housing affordable. Just as baffling is why some economists believe rising house prices are good news. Raising lending thresholds or interest rates won't help people afford a home. Nor, in my view, will a capital gains tax or preventing foreigners from buying property. Freeing up land - if done carefully - might. Land prices are crazy. Alternative financing models, including shared ownership, are worth exploring.

Create alternative housing. Sprawling 1950s-style subdivisions dominated by large single- storey houses waste land and encourage car use. The old- style nuclear family has changed. More elderly people, singles, couples without children, and mixed families are seeking accommodation. Apartments, cluster housing, or co-housing are options. They do not have to be in the city centre. But planning rules need to be changed.

Build houses for the long term. Accessible or universal design is not just for people with disabilities and the elderly. Flexible houses adapt to changing family circumstances as you grow older. Prefab construction makes it easier.

Stabilise or rebuild. Re-levelling buildings on land prone to liquefaction is widely practised in Japan. It makes a dramatic difference. Better- engineered buildings that withstand natural disaster are a good idea no matter where you live.

Decide about buildings. Dust swirls around empty building sites and piles of rubble. Some buildings look forlorn and forgotten. Their fate is still uncertain after three years. To owners, insurers, and councils: just decide. Land is expensive. Why waste it?

That includes Christ Church Cathedral. Prolonged court cases and bitterly divided opinion are just delaying the inevitable. Yes, the cathedral was special. But it is now time to let it go and look forward to a new, exciting, visually stimulating, and safe modern building. It would, however, be possible and desirable to include elements of the old.

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Embrace beauty in architecture. Why should buildings look boring, ugly, or utilitarian? It is not necessarily the fault of architects. Owners want to build the cheapest buildings they can, but good design can end up saving them money in the long term.

Encourage energy efficiency. Green buildings that make use of passive solar design, photovoltaics, and water recycling benefit occupants and the environment, but we are seeing few of them. It is a huge missed opportunity.

Build something special. Shigeru Ban's "cardboard cathedral" has generated widespread publicity for Christchurch overseas. Let's have another international competition for a unique new building.

Keep planting the Garden City. People still want a city in a garden. Trees and gardens make Christchurch special. Both New Zealand native and exotic plants thrive in harmony.

Do something with abandoned sections. What is happening to all those empty sections out east? Grass and gardens flourish while streets and footpaths crumble. Could anyone ever live there again? Should the area be one large park?

Build better roads. Our roads are designed for 1970s traffic patterns, not 2014. We need more turning lanes and signals for starters. The central city transport plan - restricting cars in the centre - is a good idea, but other neighbourhoods also need rethinking.

Build better bus networks. Buses can be comfortable and reliable and routes can be flexible. Bring in extra and more frequent services. Bring back the yellow hybrid diesel-electric shuttles. And build more bus shelters.

Go mainline. Using mainline rail lines for commuter travel would ease congestion and make it easier for more people to live in outlying areas such as Rangiora and Rolleston, or further afield. The facilities are there. All that is needed is political will.

On your bike. More people would bike if they felt it was safer. New cycle routes are a worthwhile investment. The sooner the better.

- The Press


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