Think bigger, clearer for Canterbury's future

Last updated 09:11 18/06/2012

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Christchurch's future is still far from certain. In the first of a five-part series, David Killick argues that we need a master plan, not just for the city but for the whole region.

Twenty months after the first big earthquake, there is still no overall plan for greater Christchurch including the suburbs and outlying districts - a grand design. Such a plan would make a difference by giving direction and confidence.

Yes, we have had proposals - although nothing definite - for the Christchurch city centre, but there has been nothing at all about how the Canterbury region as a whole should develop.

That was the basis for the submission that I made to Christchurch City Council last year, when everyone was able to have a say.

Councillors listened politely but Mayor Bob Parker seemed puzzled; he explained that we already have lots of organisations handling different tasks.

I believe that's part of the problem. We have too many authorities but no proper co- ordination. There are a slew of acronyms - CCC, CCDU, Ceds, Cera, Cerf, DBH, ECan, EQC, EQR, Scirt, and GCUDS (Greater Christchurch Urban Development Strategy). I bet most people have never heard of some of these. That last one sounds good in theory, but does it produce results?

Big hopes were held for Cera, the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority, and Roger Sutton, but the body's role seems to have been relegated to overseeing demolition work. The glossy leaflet that Cera produced last year was pure corporate waffle, with phrases such as "setting expectations", "establishing processes" and "ensuring tracking".

This month Cera has finally produced a Recovery Strategy for Greater Christchurch. Could this be what we need at last - a vision for the future and a road map on how to get there? Unfortunately, this 56-page glossy document isn't it. Nobody would dispute the need to "work together" and to "care about each other". "Well-designed, connected communities and buildings that are constructed to a high standard have benefits for health and wellbeing." Of course they do.

"Facilitating", "enabling and empowering", "co- ordinating" - what do these phrases actually mean?

Concerned about infrastructure? "A decision support tool to decide how the infrastructure rollout will be prioritised will be developed by SCIRT." Oh yay! There will be rejoicing in the streets.

The Cera document does list a host of other plans - more than 20 - into which this strategy is supposed to fit. It all looks like more waffle. I wonder how much this document cost to produce.

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We need an action plan that is clear, specific and straightforward, with a timeline.

Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee is supposedly in charge. Blunt as a bulldozer, pragmatic, and thick skinned as a rhinoceros, he might seem to be the ideal person to bang heads together. But is he too abrasive? Is he doing enough? Does local government need radical restructuring?

People have limited confidence in the city council. With councillor numbers halved after previous restructuring, is it too small? Would a bigger council in charge of a bigger area be the answer?

Some will shudder at the thought. There are dangers in a super-city. Parts of Auckland (Waitakere, which has promoted sustainability, and the North Shore, which has a proudly preserved colonial precinct in Devonport) loathe the Auckland super-city because they feel their communities have been ignored.

Senior citizens at a meeting in Christchurch said their expertise was being ignored and they had no confidence in "the present lot". Indeed, my parents' generation, who went through World War II, shared a very hands-on, no-nonsense, roll-up-your-shirt-sleeves, get-on-with-the-job attitude.

Organisations were often run with people who had a military background. Public service was a vocation. No matter how many chief executives there are now, or how much they are paid, there is no guarantee they will produce a good outcome.

Although we undoubtedly have some hard-working individuals who are dedicated to the future of Christchurch and Canterbury, and I have no wish to denigrate their work, it seems they are too often stymied. We are dominated by bureaucratic box tickers. Organisations are obsessed with systems, processes and procedures.

Instead, what Christchurch so desperately needs is a people-centred approach, design driven not process driven, where planners and architects with real expertise call the shots. (Whatever happened to Danish architect Jan Gehl's city plan - $300,000 of ratepayers' money?)

Christchurch city centre is only part of the mix. Despite population movement, Canterbury will continue to grow. There is so much more to consider such as where do people live? How can they afford new houses? Where will they work?

Do we actually need one city centre, or would a series of hubs and low-rises work better, as Sir Bob Jones suggested? What will the city look like? Where will the main amenities be? How will people get around?

The big picture comprises a series of elements, all inter- related. The next articles will look at each of these in detail:

Housing: The housing crisis was entirely predictable. What are some solutions?

Transportation: How people get around is crucial in determining the shape of the city, suburbs and outlying areas.

Architecture: The cathedral(s) matter, but so do other buildings. The Government needs to support and encourage architects to produce their best work.

International comparisons: What can we learn from Asia, Europe, the United States and Australia?

The present way of working isn't working. Big problems were evident before the earthquakes, and the cracks have only widened.

It is my hope that some ideas presented here will stimulate further thought - or even action.

David Killick edits the monthly At Home supplement for The Press. He has a strong interest in design and has lived previously in Britain and Germany. The second part of his series will run next Monday. Email: david@davidkillick.co.nz.

- The Press

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