A few days ago there was an interesting editorial in The Press (Fleeing Govt depts a vote of no confidence in CBD), which focused on the fact that 500 public sector jobs seem to have been permanently moved out of the CBD. Amongst a list of all the negative impacts such a move may have on the prospects of the rebuild, I felt it made some pretty good points about why rebuilding the CBD is important and why it will still be done despite this recent occurrence. Firstly, it had this to say:
“…even with the loss of the 500 public servants, developers are unlikely to turn their backs on the central city. It is bound to be resettled by a substantial number of companies and their office workers because of the convenience and ambience it will offer.”
I agree with this wholeheartedly. Law firms for example, particularly big ones, are very keen to get back and get the rebuild underway. They need to be near the courts, near other law firms, and in close proximity to other key institutions and facilities that offer the kind of services that you see in any world-class city including, restaurants, bars, hotels, and decent pub. Suburban office parks don’t come close to that, and they never will. In short, our big firms need a CBD, and the rest will follow.
“…after February 22. The talk was about the parking convenience and safe habitation at the outer encampments. But over the months, opinion has changed. Many people now regard themselves as working in a semi-industrial wasteland, with no public transport and far from their homes. Memories of the advantages of working in the old central city are pleasant and strong.”
I have heard this story many times. There were initially some suggestions that we should abandon the concept of a CBD following is virtual half-destruction almost a year ago. Apparently, people liked working out in the ‘burbs, plus people overwhelmingly use their cars anyway and suburban office parks offered parking spaces in abundance. This point of view ignored the fact that the dependence on car transportation was actually a bad thing, and not desired. The nature of these office parks makes it difficult to live in their vicinity, let alone have any kind of easy access to key facilities and services. Running errands, going for lunch or coffee, getting to work, meeting clients and so on suddenly shows up all the short comings of relying on sprawling office parks, especially for the larger, key firms. For some businesses, they may be fine, but they seem to be inadequate for the ‘bread and butter’ companies (law firms, financial institutions etc). You only have to look at other cities to see that a strong and vibrant CBD is essential.
Now, I don’t deny that creating multiple nodes around the city (‘villages’ if you will) is a good thing. In those cases though, the nodes are linked by good roads and public transport corridors, and have a mix of business, retail, and residential in and around them. They don’t sprawl but are higher density areas and are confined. They are essentially mini versions of the CBD, with strong links to the CBD and the surrounding neighborhoods. Proposals for the rebuilding of suburban centres reflects this kind of thinking. When it comes to a “decentralised” city, this is the kind of concept I think of, not sprawling and soulless office parks.
“Proximity to other offices will be useful, even in an age of electronic communications, public transport will be on offer almost at the doorstep and accommodation will be first class.”
We know that traffic is getting worse. If Christchurch wants to recover, grow, and prosper, then we have to acknowledge that the days of planning solely around the automobile as the main means of transportation are over. The final draft Central City Plan reflects that by suggesting a greater (but not total) focus on active and public transport modes. It will be the kind of thing that will attract business and people to Christchurch and Canterbury. Good public transport access to the CBD will therefore be crucial to the recovery of the CBD as well as the entire city and region. In turn, having a recovered, successful CBD is crucial to the future of the city. Office parks simply don’t lend themselves to good public and active transport, which causes a whole bunch of obvious issues, and an over-reliance on them will simply get us nowhere. The sooner we make a move back to being a city with a heart the better, and I sincerely believe it will happen.