Editorial: Uni in city no answer

Last updated 07:37 29/11/2012

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OPINION: The decision to move Canterbury University from its site now occupied by the Arts Centre to its present site at Ilam was not a universally popular one at the time it was made.

It has remained a cause for regret ever since, at least to some who pine for the days when the campus was an integral part of the inner city and students thronged cafes and bars more easily than they do now.

The Mayor, Bob Parker, has long had a hankering for making Christchurch much more a university town.

The idea was part of the motivation for the ill-fated proposal to establish a university school of music conservatorium at the Arts Centre.

The mayor revived it this week with a plea for the idea of moving the university back within the four avenues to be considered in plans for the rebuilding of the central city.

The mayor said his concern was that the present proposals for the rebuild represented a wasted opportunity in failing to provide sufficient incentive for young people to stay here, for which one possible solution would be relocating the university.

It was an unfortunate example for the mayor to give. Whatever the benefits of such a move may be in making Christchurch more of a university town, the idea is hopelessly impracticable and simply will not happen.

The move out of town was made more than 40 years ago because the city site had become impossibly crowded and there was no room to expand.

At Ilam, the university has grown and flourished and it has no desire to move. Most importantly, hundreds of millions, if not billions, have been invested in the site. Even if university administrators did take it into their heads to shift back to the city, the Government would quite rightly not permit it. The hundreds of purpose-built structures on the site would have no other use and the investment could never be recovered.

The mayor's concerns came in the context of the ageing of Christchurch's population. At present rates of growth, half of Christchurch's people will be over 65 in 25 years time. According to the mayor, without something to encourage young people to visit or stay here the city is in danger of becoming New Zealand's biggest retirement village.

The ageing of the population is not unique to Christchurch. Without immigration, every country in the western world and many elsewhere, such as China, face the same problem. It is undeniable, however, that the problem is aggravated here, at least at present, by the fact that part of the population is moving away, willingly or otherwise.

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As the mayor says, anecdotal accounts suggest this is particularly the case with young people choosing to study or seek work elsewhere.

It is obviously desirable that a vibrant, dynamic, attractive central city should be a principal aim of the rebuild. Clearly providing entertainment venues, services and amenities that appeal to the young will be important, although catering for a population diverse in age and many other respects should be uppermost.

Planning for this is tricky. Parker has called for a forum next year to discuss how to prevent Christchurch from becoming a "sleepy hollow". But the city council's role is obvious - it should be to allow its rules to be as flexible as possible so imaginative new ideas prosper.

They are just as likely to arise spontaneously - as the mayor himself noted of the young "creative energy" that has emerged around re-opened businesses in High and St Asaph streets.

- The Press

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