Revitalising the CBD

Posted on December 7, 2010 by

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There has been some interesting discussion in the media lately regarding the future of the Christchurch City Centre. Over the last 20 years or so the Inner-city has suffered substantially as Christchurch has sprawled and suburbs have continued to develop unabated.

Now several key figures are trying to stir momentum for a final push to get a proper revitalisation of the City Centre underway, including the Mayor. But what way is the right way? There seem to be three prevailing views on the issue:

  • Lets accept that the City Centre is done for and that people prefer the convenience of free parking at their local shopping mall
  • Introduce more and cheaper/free parking in the City Centre to entice shoppers back by matching the malls
  • Redevelop, intensify, and change the role of the City Centre along the lines of other cities around the world.

You may well beg to differ, but I believe in a nutshell that those three views seem to about cover it. It strikes me that the first two focus on comparing the City Centre to the suburbs in a very direct manner, and also are primarily concerned with retail. In my opinion, this is wrong. The City Centre is a unique focal point of intensification and far from being an albatross around the city’s neck, is in fact a gold mine waiting to be opened up.

In my mind, there are three things that need to be undertaken for a successful revitalisation of the City Centre:

  1. Encourage businesses into the CBD and away from the plethora of sprawling business estates. This includes both small, local businesses and bigger, national companies. This would probably require incentives for developers and businesses and changes to planning. An increase in commercial activity will lead to greater retail opportunities.
  2. Improve public transport links. Continuing to roll out bus lanes and other measures such as the new transport interchange are essential, but so is sorting out and implementing a more effective public transport system. Lets get an action plan together and start implementing it (and that includes rail). Better transport links will lead to more business, just look at the business case for the Auckland CBD underground rail link. I would also include street improvements in here, making the CBD more pedestrian/people and cycle friendly.
  3. Residential intensification in the CBD. Christchurch is a quarter acre paradise, but the CBD is the perfect place to offer up other ways of living, something all modern cities do, including our chief competitors Auckland and Wellington. Furthermore, an increase in the CBD residential population will also lead to a further increase in retail activity. With increased commercial activity in the CBD, it makes sense to also have people living there.

    Concept of lanes hiding big-box developments (2005 Central City South concept)

None of these three points come before the other. All should be implemented together, and I think that is important to remember. There has been some discussion about developing a major shopping mall in the City Centre, advocating for the developers of the controversial Styx Mill retail project to be offered a deal to develop their project in the City Centre instead. There is an opinion piece in the Press by Paul Lonsdale about this, but I think this misses the point slightly. There is no one solution, we need to look at the overall fabric of the CBD and see what makes it unique and look to exploit that rather than trying to come up with “band-aid” solutions such as increasing free parking (best use of money? who will pay?) and building shopping malls (will that tick all the revitalisation boxes?).

My second point focuses on improving transport links, principally public transport. This is why I have chosen to focus on this issue as better transport links to the CBD are vital to any revitalisation. Look at why Auckland is trying to build an underground rail link through their CBD, and why Wellington’s CBD is already vibrant (and they are trying to get a light-rail line running along the Golden Mile!!!). With this in mind, I think that there are two key projects that are essential to revitalising the CBD. The underground transport interchange, and rail/light-rail. In the case of the later, it is essential that a solid action plan is developed and approved so it can be implemented.  Not far behind is the full roll-out of bus lanes, linking the CBD with secondary centres., which I think is a great interim step that has been a long-time coming and sadly appears to have stalled (although it seems they will gain further attention in 2011).

However, again there is no one solution, it needs to be a wide, far-reaching response. But public transport needs to play a vital role in that solution. That is why it is vital that planned improvements do not fall off the wagon, and that future projects are pushed hard for by local government.

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Posted in: Christchurch, General