More sensationalist garbage from the media this week, this time around the ‘abandonment’ of the CBD. Sir Bob Jones came out swinging in an opinion piece that Christchurch should go down the decentralisation route rather than attempt to rebuild the CBD, and that seems to have sent The Press onto some sort of crusade to convince everyone that the ideas they came up with in the draft Central City Plan, the ideas many experts have provided and supported, and the ideas we are following from many other great cities of the world, are complete rubbish because of one man.
In terms of Sir Bobs opinion piece, my view is that if all we want for this city is simply to be another provincial centre that makes up the numbers, then it is a very fine idea. Reading between the lines, I think Sir Bob doesn’t see, or want, a Christchurch that might well stand up to its proper role as a major city centre in New Zealand and be highly successful. Perhaps he sees it the city as twee…
Does Christchurch need a CBD? Hell yes! It may seem to many people that we don’t, either because they are still weak at the knees from 22 February or because they believe it is a waste of money due to the drift out to the suburbs. Why people would take that view when a lot of Christchurch’s ongoing problems have been due to continued decentralisation in the first place is beyond me. It is particularly insane we you realise all the knock on effects the recent closure of most of the CBD has had (increased congestion and commute times for one). Surely we should realise that reversing this trend can only be a good thing. There are plenty of examples, even close to home, with both Melbourne and Wellington really showing the way down in this part of the world. Decentralisation is not the answer (well, not complete decentralisation). We need a strong and vibrant CBD, we need a heart and without one I bet my bottom dollar that we will watch Christchurch amount to pretty much nothing spectacular. If most of our business is spread out, how well would Christchurch be able to do business in the future? When you arrive at the airport for a series of meetings, how the heck do you get around when you have to go to Riccarton, Ferrymead, the Central City, and Sydenham?
For a small and ambitious city like Christchurch, a strong, vibrant CBD is essential. This has been proven time and time again (again, just look at Wellington) and simply having multiple suburban centres and a downgraded or non-existent CBD won’t be enough (note that I am not against having secondary business and retail centres though). My vision for Christchurch has always been a more compact central business district, with mixed development (residential and commercial), effectively fulfilling the role of chief financial centre, cultural heart, entertainment centre surrounded by a dense inner city residential zone and vibrant mixed use inner city suburbs. Secondary centres would be a scaled down version of the CBD and would be the centre of local transport networks and linked to higher quality transport that connects them to the CBD and regional centres. The CBD, would be the heart of the city and connected to secondary and regional centres by world-class transport arteries. In my view, the draft Central City Plan goes some way toward that vision. It isn’t perfect, and I hope there are many changes still to be made before final implementation, but it is a bold and sensible vision that utilises some of the best ideas from great cities around the world. Revitalising the CBD is a no brainer part of it. It is what has been missing from this city for many years now. I am surprised by Sir Bob Jones view, especially considering that his home town Wellington that he loves so much is the poster boy for highly centralised cities. I also can’t imagine him investing in the kind of city he envisions Christchurch become! He may be worth millions, but he isn’t a city planner and so I take what he says with a grain of salt.
The real worry for me is that The Press is once again trying to start-up a big ‘anti-Plan’ movement by utilising its highly scientific online polls and classy and well researched comments sections on Stuff. Sir Bob never really said abandon the CBD, and some of his comments are actually interesting and highly relevant (except I think his overall decentralisation theme is rubbish, obviously), the truth is that his comments have been exaggerated into emotional, knee-jerk, garbage. Over 100,000 people had their say about the direction this city should go in and it generally disagrees with the approach one Sir Bob Jones thinks should be taken, and that The Press seem to love so much. Let us wait until the final Plan is out shall we, keep some perspective and stop scaremongering with baseless arguments for the sake of it. We only get one shot at this, point scoring will get us nowhere.