Christchurch designers got an early Christmas present on Monday with the announcement that the Blueprint for Christchurch Central Recovery Plan had won the 2014 World Architecture News (WAN) Urban Design Award for Future Projects.
The Blueprint Consortium won out over more than 50 entries from around the world in a "hard fought" competition.
It is a significant award that once again will put Christchurch on the world map and attract attention from the international design community. For the city, that has got to be good news.
Yet questions over the speed of the implementation of the blueprint as well as other pressing urban issues remain.
Commissioned by CCDU (Christchurch Central Development Unit) on behalf of Cera (Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority), the blueprint was famously drawn up in just 100 days in 2012, by a team comprising architects, urban planners, and project managers - Warren and Mahoney, Boffa Miskell, Woods Bagot, RCP, and Sheppard & Rout Architects.
Deliberating over the award entries was a bunch of architects, engineers, and planning experts with offices and projects on the go around the globe.
The judges had some formidable projects to choose from. Two entries won awards in the Completed Projects sub-category: The Kalvebod Waves in Copenhagen, by Urban-Agency, revitalises the Danish city's harbour as a recreational space; Savannah College of Art and Design for SCADpad in Atlanta, Georgia, is a prototype of three 135- square foot (12.5 square-metre) micro-residences installed in an underutilised Atlanta parking structure.
Other shortlist finalists were a redeveloped boilerhouse in a university area of Sydney; plans to transform a river estuary in Toronto; eco-friendly luxury living in Singapore; a vision for the regeneration of a university district in Mexico; the revitalisation of one of Britain's "most deprived housing estates"; restoration plans for a London borough revolving around a historic brewery; renovation of a historic factory complex in Wuxi, China; Xixian Great City Master Plan, also in China; and a new centre for a satellite town of Florence.
Christchurch still stood out.
"All the judges were blown away with the scale of the proposed framework for central Christchurch, as it faced a major rebuild of its infrastructure and amenities following a series of devastating earthquakes to the area," the WAN Awards announcement noted.
Judges liked the proposed frame, the strong focus on the Avon River, and the element of community participation.
Architect Peter Marshall, of Warren and Mahoney, says the WAN Awards are highly regarded internationally.
"What this does, is we are now going to get a lot of international reviews looking at what we have done in Christchurch."
Architect David Sheppard says "to have that international recognition by a prestigious group" will make a difference.
As locals, we love to criticise what is happening (or not happening) in Christchurch; we live here, after all.
However, our proximity to the action can sometimes make it harder to see the big picture. When some of the world's design experts lavish praise on Christchurch's plans for the future, we should perk up. Perhaps our city is on the right track after all. Is it? Or do aspects of the plans still need revising or tweaking?
No doubt mayor Lianne Dalziel and the Christchurch City Council face a daunting task to co-finance the rebuild, but it is not insurmountable.
A balanced approach - and yes, that does involve a sell-down of some assets - is pragmatic and sensible. Partnering with private enterprise may also be an option.
The big question is whether trying to pack big-ticket projects into a compact space is still the right move. Both Marshall and Sheppard are convinced the blueprint will work and say it is exciting to see progress happening.
Sure, some projects will take time, says Marshall, like the sports stadium (probably not until 2025).
I doubt most people will fret too much. It needs to be well thought through. The shape of the arts precinct is still uncertain. Other projects, like the justice and hospital precincts are steaming ahead.
The new city library design is under way. It involved a lot of community say and should be a fascinating crowd pleaser. The Avon River precinct should unify the central city.
A decision on who gets the big contract for housing in the east frame is still under deliberation. I have detected a swing in favour of city apartments and townhouses.
I have always been skeptical about the convention centre - mostly because I am unconvinced how much it will benefit local people. We need to know more.
Other big issues facing Christchurch include how to redevelop suburban centres and connect them with better transportation; and how to create more affordable housing.
Too much of the city is a shambles. Once more building begins, we shall feel more optimistic.
- The Press