Stop the lollipop makeovers

Large chairs have appeared in Gloucester St as part of the street's makeover.
1 of 3DEAN KOZANIC/Fairfax NZ
Large chairs have appeared in Gloucester St as part of the street's makeover.
Temporary shrubs and paint on Colombo St.
2 of 3
Temporary shrubs and paint on Colombo St.
A daisy chain in Gloucester St leads pedestrians to and from New Regent St.
A daisy chain in Gloucester St leads pedestrians to and from New Regent St.

Despite all the effort that the Christchurch City Council has gone to in order to revitalise the newly opened streets of the CBD, the end result is charmless and an insult to anyone over 10 years old.

To celebrate the reopening of New Regent St, which has been lovingly restored and thank heavens not fiddled with, the connecting Gloucester St has had a revamp with a long strip of the road surface now covered in bright green AstroTurf, as are an oversized sofa and armchairs that have been plonked there. They are tawdry peripherals in a city that once prided itself on an aesthetic that was beautiful.

Ditto what council urban design and regeneration planner Carolyn Ingles describes as "the vibrant new streetscape" in Colombo St between Hereford and Tuam streets.

The road surfaces have been painted an assortment, as in licorice allsorts, of bright colours, as have planter boxes, which are not allowed to be just planter boxes but are jazzed up in garish orange, white and brown. Yuk.

Yes, I understand these artless, and I mean that in the truest sense of the word, gestures may be what Ingles calls "transitional" but at what enormous cost to the ratepayers? The Re:Start mall is already brightened by different coloured containers, so adding more splashes of paint to the surrounding landscape takes away from the stylish entrepreneurial initiative.

Ingles says these initiatives are similar to ones overseas, as if that makes the Disneyfication of Christchurch's streets acceptable. And I thought we had got over the cultural cringe.

Local government should curb its overwhelming urge to cheer people up and inflict on the city their infantile version of public art. They are not artists, they are bureaucrats trying to colour in the city like kids with boxes of crayons. It is so condescending to imagine that a bit of paint and plastic turf will distract us from the rubble and the devastation.

Artists should have been lined up and auditioned to make public art that is substantial, says something about the city and its people and what happened to us. At the risk of sounding like a grumpy conservative, dare I suggest bronze statues and tableaus of firefighters and the first responders to honour their heroic deeds.

I'm thinking of Henry Moore's Draped Seated Woman, or Old Flo as the East Enders called her, made in homage to them after what they went through in the Blitz in the Second World War.

Ah, but that would be too conservative, too deeply uncool when it is much more fun to fritter away money on bad taste roadside attractions put there to calm the traffic to 30kmh. Well there are others ways of doing that. I feel this way about many of the 'funky' Gap Filler initiatives, so many of them deserted, their uninviting cages of broken bricks un-peopled.

And I loathe those tractor tyres painted nipple pink with flowers thrown in them in a half-arsed attempt at botanic chic. Throw the wild flowers and poppies among the rubble, that's fine but don't try and frame it, put icing on a crumbled cake.

It is wonderful, it is a relief to have the cordons down and so many of the streets opened up now so we can get our heads around what has for so long been secret and kept hidden. We can handle the tragic grey and vast cleared spaces because it makes traumatic sense to us.

Trying to lollipop the city and make it a crude cartoon is shallow and disrespectful to the real drama that shattered lives. I say vive la rubble and stop the 60-minute makeovers, instead saving civic money for truly great public art.

The Press