Editorial: What kind of city do we want?
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OPINION: A question I have been asked often over the past year is: What is the greatest challenge facing the city?
There have been a great many and some of the worst of these remain as we prepare to enter the fourth year post- February 22.
Thousands of residents remain stressed in broken homes as the insurance industry struggles to deal adequately with outstanding cases. The city's finances are in a potentially precarious state, with debt at levels vulnerable to adverse insurance payouts; the shortage of affordable housing remains acute; and a risk that labour supply will not match demand remains a serious concern.
But these are relatively short-term challenges. The greatest risk of all is that we raise a city that is built for all but appeals to no-one. A Christchurch of the lowest common denominator.
Are we replacing the city we have lost with a motley collection of modest ambitions? It is now time to think more clearly about what this means for the people of Christchurch and Canterbury.
It is increasingly clear that within the next 12 months, the shackles must start to loosen and the people of the city must be given the opportunity to grow the city we want.
Can we form a vision shared by the people of the city? And can that vision form a city identity? "Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody," wrote celebrated urbanist Jane Jacobs, author of The Death and Life of Great American Cities.
She and others who have pondered those ephemeral qualities that define great urban centres argue that cities must be shaped by those who inhabit them.
Snappy slogans that attempt to define ourselves with a single phrase cost a lot and achieve little. There has been many a city slogan devised by marketing experts that limit rather than expand a city's ambitions - think "Auckland, City of Sails" and "Ashburton, Whatever It Takes".
But, equally, an identity can encourage a happy, healthy community, and attract new residents, investment and productivity.
Many are dipping their toe into this water, suggesting city brands and slogans. Gerry Brownlee has called for a Sporting City, new mayor Lianne Dalziel argues for Resilient City, the Government and city council's transport plan included the ambition of an Accessible City. Futurist Roger Dennis has a vision for a Sensing City - a city so connected via sensors that policy can be made based on real-time data.
All of these are worthy aims but, in isolation, may be too exclusive or lack the broad appeal to form a real city identity likely to be embraced with any enthusiasm.
Instead, we need to combine these ambitions and aim for a new small-city cool that makes the most of what we have in our stunning South Island location.
Our brand of cool can place innovation, wellbeing, community, recreation and the resultant productivity above all else.
In short, a Lifestyle City.
Our Lifestyle City with its unique brand of Canterbury cool can be a city that:
- Makes the most of the South Island adventure playground and the people this attracts.
- Is easy to get around quickly and prioritises cycling and walking and easy public transport.
- Encourages innovation through top-quality tertiary education and hi-tech infrastructure.
- Prioritises sustainability within business and community, encourages green buildings, mixed-use urban planning and real interaction between people to create communities.
- Makes it easy for visitors and new migrants to come here and stay.
- Looks after its most vulnerable and ensures housing, recreational facilities and public spaces are accessible to all.
- Has high-quality sporting and cultural facilities and events.
- Is connected to the hinterland and values the contribution of a sustainable rural sector to the economic and cultural fabric of the region.
Auckland is taking a purposeful step towards claiming some of this territory. The ambitious Auckland Plan boldly states: "Auckland's time has come. We have a widely shared vision to be the world's most liveable city. And for the first time in our history, we have a single, comprehensive plan to deliver this vision for all of Auckland and all its people."
Christchurch, however, should not be dissuaded from pursuing an equally bold and shared vision.
The nearly blank slate and an enviable physical connection to both mountains and sea mean the building blocks are there. So too are the people, the local iwi and migrants both old and new who have made connections to our region that post-quake population shifts show cannot be broken. Christchurch should pursue an equally bold and shared vision. Though the quakes have lifted our people up and thrown them around, the recent census revealed most stayed within the region.
An adventurous and pioneering style has long characterised the people of Canterbury, many of whom choose to live on this island a long way from the rest of the world because the living is so good.
Christchurch is already a Lifestyle City. Let's grow the confidence to etch this into our identity and build a city worthy of the title. That would be a fitting brand of Canterbury cool.
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