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Sunday, May 15, 2011

The New City - the mayor's message

There is a message from the mayor in Saturday's Press, pages A4 and A5, addressing the need and opportunities for rebuilding the city (also on the Press website here.)

A number of themes run through the message. Most are what you would expect in the aftermath of disasters whether from natural causes, or arising from human catastrophes such as mass redundancies or chronic unemployment. A few themes stand out.


The first theme, which opens the message, is the need to create a city that changes the population demographics - the number of aging people is rising and this should be reversed by retaining and attracting those who are younger. All of this is true, and universally so, as Christchurch does not have a monopoly on an increasingly aging population. What mustn't be lost is that the city is for all, and must be rebuilt to include all, in all its aspects. Rebuilding the city must be done without prejudice to sectors of the population. Failure to achieve this will result in a draft plan that is not supported by the residents of greater Christchurch.


The matter of public consultation over the connection between the city and its hinterland is covered briefly. Contained in a few sentences is a desire to cut off this significant area of consultation by presuming to know the collective view on how the city connects with what lies outside:
I believe we are fortunate to already have behind us the major consultation and decisions that inform the Greater Christchurch Urban Development Strategy.
It means we have a base document already agreed upon that lays out how the central city must connect with the greater Christchurch area; suburbs, satellite towns, transport and green spaces.
The Greater Christchurch Urban Development Strategy was developed well before the September earthquake (2007) and reflects the needs and visions of those living in a simple, almost naive, world. So much has changed that this document** cannot be considered to have much relevance, let alone give any mandate to proceed without consultation. As the rebuild beyond the inner city is CERA's responsibility, the interconnection between the two requires CERA and the Council to both consult with the people of Christchurch and Canterbury.

Changing Character of the City

Most people who have spent a number of years in the city have noticed its changing character, especially the drift from the city centre towards the suburbs and malls. Recalling his personal experience of changes in the city the mayor attributes this largely to external factors drawing people away from the centre.

Those sharing a similar chronology may, as I do, have a completely different understanding of the changes. The movement away from the central city arose very much as a result of the greater city becoming bigger. As this happened the inner city become less capable of, and later less interested in, serving the needs of the ordinary resident. Problems of access and parking arose, scarce land and buildings were increasingly dedicated to service activities, and later came a passion for making the city attractive to tourists and those with recreational dollars to spend. Over time the centre of the city became less relevant and less attractive for its residents.

The low relevance of the inner city is unlikely to be changed by many of the ideas now being promoted, and perhaps this is a good thing. If the inner city had been the primary hub for everything, as it is in Dunedin and for a significant part of Wellington, recovery after February 22nd would have been extraordinarily difficult. While the west would have remained undamaged, there would have been no infrastructure available (think malls and business parks) to provide emergency support, food, water, employment, and respite to the centre and the east.

Christchurch, like the internet, has evolved to have its important services distributed. There is no highly vulnerable centre upon which survival depends. For future resilience keeping this is essential, and any moves to bolster the inner city to the detriment of urban shopping and service centres must be resisted.


The message closes with an expression of hope for goodwill and a working together, rather than in competition. No doubt this is shared by everyone. Ensuring the needs of all are taken into consideration, and that this is done by allowing full community consultation to take place, will make this happen. Making presumptions, cutting corners, and too little community involvement will destroy any hope of goodwill and cooperation.

Ultimately the residents are the market, failure to provide what they want will result in discontent and a dead inner city, no matter how beautiful or green it appears.

**  The Greater Christchurch Urban Development Strategy and Action Plan 2007 and the Greater Christchurch Urban Development Strategy Summary 2008 can be found here.

ps: just to set the record straight - the mayor's message ends:
To paraphrase an ancient truth understood by those founders arriving to establish Christchurch: "Grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference".
As I understand it, this "ancient truth" is actually called the Serenity Prayer and starts "God grant me the serenity ...". It isn't ancient as its authorship is attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr, an American theologian, and dates to between 1937 and 1943 (authorities differ on the date). I'm not sure how this relates to the founders of Canterbury. For a good read on Niebuhr try The Atlantic journal article of November 2007 which can be found here (the 4th page makes reference to, and provides a date for, the Serenity Prayer).

Ooops - missed out the Niebuhr link. It has now been added (10.12 pm).

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