Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Future tense

Today saw the announcement of the CERA - Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority - the new agency that will lead us through the sure-to-be turbulent process of demolishing & rebuilding Christchurch. There is a place called Rolleston just outside of C-city that for years has been proclaiming itself as "the town of the future"... but what will future Christchurch look like?
^^ I snapped this while walking back from the polytech campus the other day...

People used to have all sorts of grand ambitions for cities of the "future" but as yet none of us have a flying car and the domestic robot of the Jetsons is still a long way off. We can (and should) dream big for our city but it's a safe bet those dreams won't include high-rise buildings. Before the February quake there were already discussion forums and ideas sites on what to do with Christchurch... some sites, like Gardensity, existed even before the first quake on September 4th while others, like Ideas for Christchurch, have been set up in response to that event.

But February changed everything. It's no longer a few buildings that may or may not have to come down (depending on whether the heritage campaigners or the economists win), it's most of the CBD, two or three suburbs and a large number of private dwellings all over the city. The new authority has the power to "acquire, hold, deal with and dispose of property" which may provide the ways & means of planning and building a unified city centre. Central city property owners that don't play ball and embrace the vision of the new city (whatever that may be) could find themselves being relieved of their property by the authority in order for the grand scheme to be realised.

How we/the authority arrive at a consensus - or even a vague plan - is going to be the difficult part. They promise to consult. They promise to appoint representatives of different communities, from a "cross-section of interest groups"... it will be interesting to see who makes the list, and exactly what "communities" and "interests" they represent. I wish them luck.

In the meantime, here's one of the more interesting ideas for a reborn central city... the concept that I was reminded of when I saw that space-age artwork by the railway track.

An elevated future? Why not? This is our chance to be visionary, to create something that will be worth waiting 5-10 (or more) years for. Our inner city will be a nearly-blank canvas by the time all the damaged buildings are taken down so let's not waste this opportunity to start afresh, to consider a wide range of options and maybe even to be bold.

This is not the first time in our country's history that a city has been felled by an earthquake, although in Napier's case most of the damage was done by the blaze that followed. There are lessons that can be learned from Napier, not only in terms of process and temporary solutions, but also that there will always be whingers and moaners who disagree with the decision/plan/design/colour scheme etc. We teach our radio students that the vocal/active listeners are actually the minority... most of the listeners (or population) will just let things happen without participating in any way.

It will be interesting to see who gets to speak for whom on this new Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Community Forum, and what influence - if any - they'll have anyway. Those of us who are stuck in the middle of this disaster zone continue to hope for the best, while fearing that the whole committee/authority/forum approach will leave us with a city that is mediocre, non-offensive and bland.

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