Ditch the concrete, embrace the view
From the sixth floor of Press House in Gloucester St, there is a brilliant view of our evolving city.
As buildings have come down, you can now gaze westwards towards the long line of the snow-capped Southern Alps glistening on the far horizon, peaks towering above the rubble. On a late winter's afternoon, the sky is lit up orange and red in spectacular fashion.
Look eastwards towards the river and a few remaining gracious buildings like McLean's Mansion and the church on Manchester St now appear in solitary seclusion amid leafy green trees and newly grassed sites.
I am only at The Press part-time. I also work from home, in Spreydon. I am lucky - from the top storey, I can still glimpse the mountains over the rooftops, while to the south I have a wonderful view down the lane of the ancient shield volcano that is the Port Hills. When a big southerly blows in, I can watch as clouds surge towards us.
What is the view like from your place? How could it be improved? As it rebuilds, Christchurch has a unique opportunity to create appealing, harmonious streetscapes - places that reflect our natural environment.
Yet there is a real danger that opportunity will be squandered and we will end up with hideous buildings that blight the landscape.
Too many buildings are plonked down with absolutely no thought to their surroundings. They could have been designed anywhere.
This happened even before the earthquakes, despite planning rules supposedly intended to encourage the opposite.
PRIME REAL ESTATE
Ferrymead, for example: Here is an ecologically significant estuary, home to unique wildlife, fringed by the Port Hills, close to the ocean with views of the city and mountains. Prime real estate, one would think. Instead, the main waterfront buildings are a petrol station and a massive hardware store. Concrete warehouses line the main street.
Similar block-like concrete rectangles appear throughout the city. Yes, aesthetics is highly subjective, but these places have no artistic merit.
Sure, they can be useful - everyone needs petrol or hardware and building supplies - but why do they have to look so ghastly?
Malls are just as bad. A few weeks ago our prime minister visited Barrington shopping centre. It's a modern, clean, inoffensive place, but it could be anywhere, any city, in any country. Vehicle access off Barrington St is tricky, to say the least, and for pedestrians it's diabolical. Empty shops, part of the original mall, still remain, neglected and forgotten years after the mall was refurbished. What a waste. So how could they have designed these places better? Well, in the case of Barrington, why didn't they perhaps include a family restaurant or beer garden with a frontage onto the park and not the carpark? Why not have a second storey, or a rooftop restaurant with a view of the Port Hills?
As for block-like barns, why not have different roof shapes, perhaps cover them with photovoltaic panels to generate electricity (like so many commercial buildings in Germany), put in trees and plants, make the walls more interesting, have green walls, instead of covering them with giant screaming signwriting visible from space?
Actually, "barn-like" is not fair; barns can look quite appealing and have a certain rustic charm. It is possible to design attractive warehouses and factories.
Of course, not everywhere has a view. In that case, the solution is easy - make one. Add landscaping. Without big trees and fine private gardens, Christchurch would look boring indeed. Fine architecture does not always need to be surrounded by plants - look at Italian cities, for example - but it can help.
We now have the Urban Design Panel, made up of architects, landscape architects, planning experts and a valuer. Developers can get free advice from experts. They should take it.
HIGHLIGHT NATURAL ENVIRONMENT
You can enhance the view. The best way is for neighbourhoods to be designed as a whole, rather than in an ad hoc piecemeal way. That is not often possible, but central Christchurch is an exception.
Let's have vistas, streetscapes that surprise and delight - a glimpse of the riverbank, a park or the mountains or hills, perhaps. Cities do not always look their best from on high but at street level, where people cluster or stroll.
I like walking, in the city, suburbs or on the hills. I am sensitive to the weather. My favourite days are clear blue skies and a light southerly.
Why don't developers consider the natural environment more? Is it because we all spend too much time in air-conditioned homes, cars and offices and simply ignore the world around us?
Watch people walking along with their face buried in their smartphones, oblivious of everything around them. Perhaps we all just need to get out more.