Monday, 20 August 2012

Gutter Black

Puddleglum wrote an excellent post on the blueprint for the redevelopment of Christchurch's CBD.  Here's a link, I recommend it.  The post has been widely linked to from several prominent websites and has a good comment base, by quality and quantity.  Great work Puddleglum.
The overall theme of Puddleglum's post is that the Blueprint is a Christmas present.  Having deliberated, I think it is more like an easter egg.  A pretty shell, with a hollow centre.

The Hollow Centre
The anchor projects include a rugby stadium, a cricket oval, a convention centre and a sports facility.  Most of the time these will be empty.  More accurately, the people who come to these places will be transient, coming for and at a fixed time for a narrow purpose.  Outside these times and purposes....did you hear that echo?
What the CBD needs to bring it back to life is people.  Not only people passing through, also people who are there because it is their place.  To its credit the Blueprint does allow for this.  There's the health precinct. But that required very little brain power - the hospital was there already and it doesn't take a genius to figure it was best to leave it there.  The justice precinct - no great gain there, the police and courts were always in the middle of town.  And the innovation precinct.  I'm ambivalent as to whether it is a good idea or not, but I'll give it the benefit of the doubt.  So, why have it in the CBD? Access to fast internet where and when it arrives it Christchurch? No. Near other centres of innovation like the university? No. Near businesses that are interested in and supportive of innovation? No, they are spread out across the city and there's no certainty they will reconcentrate in the CBD.  Near transport hubs and links?  There's the bus exchange, I suppose, but no, not really.  Near where the people who do the innovating live (to make for a shorter trip to work)?  Hard to say.
What will bring people back to the CBD is somewhere to live and something to do.
The "somewhere to live" bit is addressed, nominally, through the demonstration housing.  Except of course the amount of housing actually provided is minimal.  There's no serious discussion of who the housing will be targetted at, though the proximity to the stadium suggests it won't be the elderly, families with young children or anyone who could afford to buy somewhere else.  Which leads to the idea that it might just be a roundabout way of saying we are going to build a slum.  If it were to be built between the justice precinct and the health precinct, it might make sense....
The something to do isn't really addressed at all.  Not living in the CBD, and not intending to, like many other residents I will have two or three reasons to go to the rebuilt CBD.  To work, to shop and to show visitors around.
My employer isn't moving back to the CBD.  It's too expensive compared to the suburbs, and my colleagues don't want to work in multistorey buildings.
I never shopped much in the CBD, and I doubt that will change much.  I tend to shop locally around where I live and work.  More and more I get things over the internet.  The whole idea of a CBD as a place to shop may well have had its day.  Cashel Mall is great, and more of that kind of thing will attract visitors.
As for showing visitors, what is there to show them?  The police building, the hospital, the sports complex, the innovation centre?  Without some inspired architecture, it's really just the earthquake memorial and whatever happens with the cathedral.

The Frame
I'd love to say something nice about the frame.  It's been lauded, generally, but I'm not convinced.  Latimer Square and Cranmer Square are often empty.  The frame just makes more empty space.
Christchurch is already well served for parks and open space.  There's nothing in the Blueprint that says why the frame is any different from the local park.  Why will people use the frame?  There are plenty of reasons why they might, but the Blueprint does not appear to have considered any of them.

That's where my concerns lie.  The Blueprint is vague, it lacks detail and substance.
Back when I started out a blueprint wasn't a collection of random things scattered about, apparently thoughtlessly.  Rather, it was a precise description, down to the finest detail, of what was to be done.  It was enough to create what was to be built.  According to that description, what we have is nothing like a blueprint.  I can only conclude that the meaning of the word has been co-opted to give the impression of completeness, while providing much less.  All we have is a glossy covering, a shell.
I want to be convinced of the why and the hows.  I want to know and believe that CERA know what they are doing.  But the Blueprint not only fails to convince me about the whys and hows, it completely omits them.
In part I think that this is due to the timeframe allowed.  The firm that did the work are competent and deserve their good reputation.  But this is not their best work.  The timeframe was arbitrary, and politically driven, to provide an illusion of action and hide a year of inaction by the government.  I can only imagine the outcome if the firm who did the work had a reasonable time and worked to a quality standard, i.e. if they focussed on getting it right, rather than getting it done.
As it is, it seems a lot of the work went into amending the District Plan.  If the District Plan had proven to be a good tool for sustaining and growing the CBD, then this would have been worthwhile.

And then there are the two missing pieces, funding and transport.
Questions in parliament since the announcement have clarified the question of funding.  The government expects CCC to sell assets to fund the plan that the government has foisted upon it.  Like a pirate being asked about prisoners who walked the plank, the government are suggesting that the council has options, and what they do is their choice.  Tui run a series of billboards about that.
Transport is just not there.  With the rebuild under way it's the ideal time to get multi-modal transport integrated into the city.  That means feet, bikes, cars, buses and something with rails.  I'd like to say why it's not there, but I can't figure it out.  And there's no good excuse for leaving something so fundamental out.

Hello Sailor - Hello Sailor, 1977


  1. " A pretty shell, with a hollow centre."

    I thought you were describing Key.

    Welcome back.

  2. The description of Key as hollow underestimates him. For all my dislike of the things he shows by his actions he believes in, I have to respect his ability to get what he wants. The closest that the opposition have come to countering Key is Russel Norman.