City of my Nightmares

Posted on April 12, 2011 by


As the Government looks to pass the legislation that will give the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) sweeping powers over Greater Christchurch, I have started to have nightmare visions about what the future Christchurch might look like.

Think scary thoughts - the Government's given itself unprecendented powers, but there's a real risk of disconnection between the CCC's plan for the CBD, and CERA's control over the rest of the city.

A largely characterless city is something I hope we can avoid, but is something I think we are at risk of getting when we put a Government Department in charge of running a city. This is even more possible should the elected local council’s get cut out of the process. Their collective vision, ability to connect with the community, and local knowledge would go a long way to ensure the city is rebuilt to a standard that is world-class, reflective of long-held visions, sustainable, maintains a strong connection to our heritage, and reflects what the people in the city want. Sadly, CERA doesn’t guarantee this, instead it seems to run the risk that we might throw the baby out with the bath water and impose solutions that aren’t necessarily the most effective, and are perhaps even detrimental to the future of our city.

What would such a nightmare scenario look like? Imagine Tower Junction as our CBD… perhaps that’s a little too extreme but certainly a CBD where car access is number one, where business sprawls throughout the city unchecked and unplanned, and where residential areas do likewise. Buildings are knocked down regardless of the level of damage or historical significance, and little to no standard is applied to rebuilt buildings in terms of style and function. I hope it doesn’t come to that, and I have faith the people of Christchurch will not accept anything close to such a scenario, but the threat is there and I have a natural concern when crucial decisions are made about Christchurch, and local decision-making machinery goes unused.

Of course, there are those that argue it is necessary, that we must “get on with it”. The fact is though, it will be a long time before the CBD can fully reopen, so why not use that time to save what we can of our city and to plan carefully. Can we really afford to rush this too much? For the future of Christchurch depends on getting it right. We can’t just rebuild, we must ensure that Christchurch is a place people want to stay in, move to, do business in, and visit. We must use this chance we have been given, out of tragedy, to create opportunity for the Christchurch of the future.

Thankfully, the Greens have stepped in to bat and are opposing the extreme power given to CERA and Gerry Brownlee. Because of this, and suggested changes from Labour, I hold out hope that there will be more emphasis given to the local authorities, and we might be safeguarded against a rushed response that has an emphasis on delivery rather than quality.

It is crucial that local authorities have as much input as possible in the rebuild and recovery of Christchurch. Without it, I fear we may end up with a poor quality result that will hinder, rather than aid, the future of the city. We must have a Christchurch that people want to continue to live in. We must have a city that is innovative, offers an abundance of lifestyle choices, is connected with good transport infrastructure and is well planned,  We have seen the vision that the City Council wants to achieve through papers, reports and programmes such as the Gehl plan and the Greater Christchurch UDS. Now is the time, with community input, to make that happen. Can we afford to get it wrong?