Reactions to the Christchurch Central Recovery Plan
The Blueprint for central Christchurch
Will the revival of Christchurch now begin? The Christchurch Central Development Unit (CCDU), a division of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA), has released the Christchurch Central Recovery Plan
, which incorporates the spatial Blueprint Plan, the product of the soon-to-be-legendary 100 days of deliberations by a consortium including Boffa Miskell, Warren and Mahoney, Woods Bagot, Populous, and Sheppard and Rout. Cross Section invited various architects, landscape architects, urban designers and academics to respond to the Blueprint. The images accompanying the the text below are axonometric drawings of buildings and precincts in the Blueprint, including (bottom three) Convention Centre, Hagley Park cricket oval, and stadium.
After the initial few weeks following a major catastrophic event like an earthquake, the talk tends to be about silver linings, and the silver lining in most cities is the potential to rebuild the city into something better, more beautiful. An earthquake is seen as the chance to right the wrongs that inertia, poor planning and sometimes just plain bad luck have visited on a city. After the San Francisco earthquake in 1906 Daniel Burnham, who had just designed a new City Beautiful for San Francisco, rushed back, expecting to help put his new plans in place. And there was, in fact, passionate debate regarding the viability of adopting part or all of Daniel Burnham’s proposed plan for reshaping the city’s framework. The plans, however, were soon disbanded; the mayor quickly quashed plans for change to San Francisco’s urban structure, suggesting there were several obstacles in the way, not least the inertia of the government administration and the self-serving obstruction of property owners.1
There are two points to this story. The first is that a catastrophe is an opportunity to develop a vision for a new and improved city. Whether or not the vision is realized depends on a whole host of political, economic, social factors, but the vision usually reflects the latest fashion in planning principles (witness Burnham’s San Francisco and our own art nouveau Napier). The second point is that this vision is necessarily limited by what is already out there. A vision is often just a snapshot of current trends. For example, Jan Gehl has developed a global profile lately, so there is a lot of talk about walkability, and about sustainability – unsurprisingly, given the amounts of time and money invested in this field in this country – and so these topics are overwhelmingly what the discussion has been about. And those interests have been reflected in the new Christchurch Central Recovery Plan.
This is a beautiful document, with some evocative images and some nicely drawn plans which is an important step in the recovery process for the Christchurch community. It is primarily a document designed to make people feel good about the place and encourage confidence in the city’s capacity to recover. It suggests that Christchurch could be a new city for the 21st century, internationally recognized as a world-class city for its focus on sustainability and economic vigour. The vision is reinforced by a set of ‘best practice’ urban planning principles. But what’s missing is any reference to the city’s vulnerabilities or the way the new city might encourage people to adapt to life in this shifting, flood-prone and unstable landscape.
Adaptation and learning are hallmarks of resilience. In his introduction to the document Gerry Brownlee describes the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire as a “devastating tragedy but from it emerged one of the most beautiful and dynamic cities in the world. The energy of that rebuild was incredible – over 20,000 new buildings were constructed in a few short years – and set the stage for a century of growth”. Brownlee doesn’t mention that the city claimed the phoenix for its mascot because it had witnessed and recovered from an inordinate number of disastrous fires in the preceding century. Or that, before organized help came in the form of the military, 10 days after the earthquake, the local community just got on with the job, in a remarkably matter of fact way, because people in the city had learned to adapt: they had done it all before. There was an urban infrastructure – wide streets and small local parks distributed evenly around the city which allowed recovery in place if possible and a very wide diagonal road connected to a recently reinforced ferry terminal, offering quick escape for those who needed it – which allowed residents to adapt and take control of their own recovery process as much as possible.
This notion of communities actively managing their recovery is part of a new wave of emergency management literature promoting bottom-up recovery. According to this position, traditional command and control emergency operations are problematic because it is physically impossible to manage all of the dispersed impacts of an earthquake at once. Top-down approaches that pre-empt or exclude community involvement, can actually make communities more vulnerable to disaster2
; the most effective recovery processes co-opt the extensive expertise available from a variety of sources. Communities are part of this expertise; they usually have an intimate knowledge of their local environment and its potentially life-saving resources, and they often use this knowledge to manage their own recovery particularly in the first few days after a disaster. This idea is interesting because it starts to suggest a link between urban design and recovery: that a city might be a site for recovery rather than a place that should be recovered. This distinction is important because it suggests a role for designers in the recovery process. We need to better understand the relationship between communities and their local environment and use that knowledge to design cities that are locally significant and embedded in their context as well
as being international showcases for best practice urban design principles.
So as a big picture response to the plan, my suggestion is too many universals and not enough context. The plan needs to recognize that this is a city built in a vulnerable location and that its planning and design can actually begin to acknowledge and work with that fact. In terms of the recovery plan’s detail, and there are some interesting catalyst projects that are proposed as stimulants to economic recovery. But as a landscape architect I am most interested, at the detail level, in the idea of ‘the core and the frame’: the core being the central city and the frame being primarily landscape.
Christchurch has always suffered from having too much space and not enough intensity, a little like Adelaide, so the core/frame principle is to limit building height (max. 7 stories) in the core for safety reasons and limit the spread of the core with a green frame comprised of a hospital precinct to the south, the river to the west and north and a wide green block of undifferentiated parkland to the east. This is not a bad strategy at first glance, since the idea is to treat the eastern parkland like a ‘placeholder’ ready to absorb expansion of the core in future if necessary. In the meantime the parkland will be populated by people ‘recreating’.
There seem to be two problems with this: didn’t we just say there is already too much space? There is a certain paradox in responding to the problem of too much space with more space, even though it can be rationalized as part of an urban growth strategy. Then how will the proposed open space avoid the feeling of vacancy and instead achieve the vibrancy that city planners are looking for? The precedent photos (unfortunately not always referenced as they should be, particularly since we have one of the designers visiting from Sydney for the memorial competition in Wellington) show green space full of happy people. Are we sure this will happen?
The second point is this. Can the core survive if it is ringbarked? To use another biological analogy the frame ‘encapsulates’ the core much like an organism encapsulates a foreign body as a prelude to its eventual expulsion. Will the frame overcome the core? Can the core survive separation from the rest of the city’s urban fabric? And what happens if the city ultimately wants to expand? Will the community’s love for the newly created space create a no-go zone for developers much like the town belt in Wellington? Will the frame become Christchurch’s new and sacrosanct inner green belt?
These are questions, but I’m afraid I have no answers. But I am reminded of a similar after-earthquake rebuild in Tangshen, China, where earthquake planning recommendations, including the provision of large quantities of unstructured open space, resulted in dispersed urban form and made it difficult to achieve the liveable, diverse and sustainable urban environment it had envisioned. In fact, its wide streets and low rise buildings left it somewhat lacking in what some have called “urbane refinements”3
. Is this what we want for Christchurch?
. Phelan, J. D., “Recommendations for the Rehabilitation of San Francisco”, p3, in James D. Phelan Papers: Committees, Clubs and Organization
s; Apr. 30, 1906 - May 4, 1906
. San Francisco Earthquake and Fire Digital Collection, Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
. Comfort L. K., Shared Risks: Complex Systems in Seismic Response
. Oxford (UK), Pergamon/Elsevier Science, 1999.
. Mitchell, J., “Re-conceiving Recovery”, in S. Norman (ed.) New Zealand Recovery Symposium, Napier
. Wellington, Ministry for Civil Defense and Emergency Management 2004, pp 47-68.
Penny Allan is Associate Professor and Landscape Architecture programme director, VUW School of Architecture
If ever the saying “the end justifies the means” fitted a situation then the Christchurch Blueprint is it. After being part of the local branch group putting together the submission for our proposed “City Vision” last June and July, we never anticipated such a dynamic initiative as that proposed by the Christchurch Central Development Unit (CCDU). We have now found that the branch submission was very well reviewed by the CCDU when putting together the Blueprint, which is some consolation for all the work put in by those in the group, and after what initially appeared to be just a token response from the City Council and Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA).
So the Blueprint to me is an absolute necessity for the inner city to make a start back as a commercial centre. While most people I speak to agree, there is an increasing resistance by some landowners who feel pressured to sell and harbour a real feeling of injustice. The cynical among us would suggest that the sacrifice of some is for the greater good of the city, but that may be taking it too far. As with a lot of the fallout from the earthquake sequence, there are winners and losers, but far more of the latter. With the announcement of the new Blueprint and the Red Zone buy-outs, the prices some people have received (be it for their homes or businesses) have resulted in some unrealistic expectations.
In the old inner city (and I am referring to the area within the Four Avenues) many properties were more of a liability than an asset to their owners. Therefore at first many may have thought themselves better off selling to the government, but slowly the realization of the potential of the Blueprint is prompting other thoughts – thoughts of opportunities and windfalls. For example, a previously untenanted / untenantable old masonry property in southern Manchester Street is now just an empty block of land but one with a potential new lease of life. So what is the value of the land? Is it the pre-earthquake value or the value that takes into account the potential for redevelopment? Assuming, like most building owners in Christchurch, this building’s owners were grossly uninsured (especially in the face of the new seismic code for any rebuild), any payout they have had will leave them well short of rebuilding.
Those who are financially able and willing to redevelop now need to work in with the government and other parties to facilitate such a project, but of course if they are in the “Frame” they cannot rebuild. The battle lines are forming and I will not be surprised if, even under the CERA regulations, there will be legal challenges as people decline negotiated settlement offers and are faced with the compulsory acquisition of their properties. From a selfish point of view I hope there are not legal delays, as we need to move forward to implement this great plan. An additional fear is that land owners will take their money and invest elsewhere in the country, leading to the very capital flight that the Blueprint was designed to avoid.
For many, the most bitter pill to swallow is the government’s ability, under CERA, to amalgamate titles into larger parcels and sell them back to private developers. While achieving the goal of larger and better managed developments, the resulting larger land bundles will prevent smaller developers from buying their land back, unless they can form syndicates for the purpose – another useful outcome, but one that could be time-consuming to facilitate.
The main reason for the plan was to facilitate a more structured and better-funded and more orderly redevelopment of a new, condensed CBD. For this to work there are going to casualties, but I can’t see any other way. For me the Blueprint is a means to an end, and I hope to get an opportunity to be part of it. As far as the big anchor projects go, with one major exception, I don’t have any real counterview of the selection of projects or the locations set aside for their development. The exception is the stadium: such a beast has been proven, time and time again, to be just a ratepayers’ nemesis. What is really needed for any of this to work is confidence, and a concern for the greater good.
John Chaplin is a partner in the Christchurch practice Chaplin Crooks Architects
On 31 July urban design and planning hit prime time when the government and the Christchurch Central Development Unit (CCDU) used the evening television news shows to release the long awaited Christchurch Central Recovery Plan. Release of the plan culminates a long process of developing a vision for the third manifestation of Otautahi following the 2010-11 earthquakes. The recovery plan is based largely on the so-called Blueprint, developed by an international multidisciplinary consortium that included architectural practices Warren and Mahoney, Woods Bagot and Populous and was led by Boffa Miskell. Although the Blueprint was famously developed in 100 days, development of the whole of the plan took more than a year and followed a textbook process that included widespread public consultation, economic modelling and professional design expertise. Ultimately, few if any stakeholder groups can rightfully claim to have been excluded from the whole process and it is perhaps this fact, along with the certainty of vision for the Central Area that has generated across the board praise for the plan. So what does the future for Christchurch look like?
Two key features of the plan are its compactness and the amount of open green space that is provided for. The Christchurch City Council, assisted by Gehl Architects, recommended an increased influence of the Avon River on the spatial character of the city when it delivered the Draft City Plan to the recovery minister [Gerry Brownlee] at the end of last year. The Recovery Plan has reinforced this green corridor and added to it by “declaiming” several blocks along the eastern and southern edges of the central area. Together, these green spaces create a “frame” around a more compact central area. Indeed, the area contained within the frame, extending from Manchester Street in the east to Oxford Terrace and between Tuam Street in the south to Oxford Terrace, is no more than 13 blocks in area. In plan this is a truly walkable area with plenty of opportunity to seek relief and recreation in the green areas.
The frame successfully responds to the motivations underpinning the plan, which are to limit the size of the urban core and provide additional green open space, but it is not entirely without controversy. In a city where Latimer Square, now incorporated into the eastern leg of the frame, had presented a formidable barrier to casual cross-town pedestrian movement before the earthquakes, I am concerned that the frame will serve to isolate the city centre from the struggling areas further east. Public spaces need people to be safe and to appear safe. Sure, the six blocks of the eastern leg of the frame does not rival the area of New York’s Central Park, but then neither is there a substantial population in Christchurch, certainly not within the Four Avenues.
The frame seems vast and there may be insufficient numbers of people to properly activate the spaces, other than during stadium events. While the green open spaces provided for in the plan will be potential
sources of amenity to those who live, work and play in the city, the configurations of these spaces may be problematic without sufficient numbers of people throughout the day. In this respect, the southern leg of the frame is of less concern, as the plan’s authors suggest this area will be arranged as freestanding buildings within a park-like setting. This seems a curiosity: is it a frame or not? It may be that the buildings shown in this area will come later rather than sooner. In this respect, the frame can also be considered as a land-bank. I suspect that as development within the core business area reaches its potential, the government landowner can decide whether to release parts of the frame for development as a relief valve.
The Draft City Plan recommended that new buildings in the central area be limited to around seven storeys height and that heights step down progressively around this to form a classic transect profile. In addition to enhancing amenity for people in the street the prescribed heights were justified in relation to the height of the Anglican Cathedral, which the authors sought to give prominence to at the centre of the plan. Although this deference in height is now somewhat moot, with the Church having declared its intention to demolish the building, there is no doubt the lower heights will lead to a better street environment. The maximum height of 28 metres in the core area is further restricted by requiring that the height of the street façade extend no more than 21 metres above the footpath. Along the northern edge of Cashel Street, the city’s traditional shopping street, heights are limited to 17 metres. I find the maximum height prescriptions to be one of the most important features of the whole recovery plan, not only because of the positive environment that will result at street level but that it sends a clear message that the plan is about the common good more than it is about private interests.
Nevertheless, I am concerned that this strength will be eroded over time as property owners exert pressure. In the short term, the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act has unprecedented powers and can be expected to squash any and all attempts to extend buildings beyond the stated limits. But this Act is set to expire in 2016, just about the time developers are hitting their straps to implement the Recovery Plan. Just how effective will the Resource Management Act be at resisting the advances of developers, once CERA is out of the way and particularly as the current government seeks to further streamline resource consent processes?
Curiously, the plan revolves around specialist precincts including those dedicated to health services, convention centre, justice and innovation. These precincts seem to have found their way into the plan during the process of locating the anchor projects and the perceived need to reinforce these activities with other similar uses. Planning of precincts is another one of those curiosities of planning from a bygone era and will raise alarm bells as there is always the danger that precinct planning could leave parts of the city overly quiet at times. However, by promoting an overlay of mixed uses throughout the central area as the plan does and through good management this should be able to be avoided. The proposed stadium is certainly vulnerable to being a dead environment, but even this could be sidestepped by incorporating other activities into the perimeter of the building. It is located adjacent to the Innovation Precinct – just what exactly is going to be happening there that can’t happen elsewhere in the city? – and there may be some potential to somehow link the two.
There seems to be a lot going for the Recovery Plan, both in terms of the process that led to its formation and in the form it envisages for the reconstituted central area. The plan goes well beyond the levels of certainty evident in most district plans around the country. The plan seeks to capture the immense potential inherent in the circumstances and is accordingly visionary. And yet, because so much is there, the plan also precipitates a number of questions about matters that are not addressed. Amongst these is the question of built heritage and to what extent the proposed frame respects any heritage buildings within it. Notably absent from the plan, although it has been footnoted, is the Christchurch Town Hall. This building is not only significant in New Zealand but also internationally. On the principle that it is much easier to delete something at a later date, it seems to me that it would have been prudent to include the building in the plan, even as the question of reinstatement of the Town Hall is discussed further. If, as one hopes, the Town Hall is recoverable, what does this mean for the proposed location of the Performing Arts Precinct?
Transport is also an issue that is only addressed marginally in the plan, with a new bus interchange located along the southern edge of the core. Earlier, the Draft City Plan made recommendations for a light rail system to be established between the city centre and the University of Canterbury campus at Ilam, with a potential to extend further out to the airport. There is no mention of this in the Blueprint, and one assumes this exciting idea has been allowed to wither. It seems everyone in the city wants to increase the use of public transport but relatively few people use it themselves. One way to enhance the attractiveness of public transport is to make driving less attractive. This can be achieved by limiting car parking in the city. The recovery plan no longer requires car parking for new development in the central city and there are limitations on parking if it is provided. This is certainly a step in the right direction.
Finally, it is quite concerning that the Recovery Plan, which addresses the area within the Four Avenues, has seemingly been developed in isolation from the city’s surrounding suburban areas. In my view there needs to be a comprehensive strategy to shift growth demand from the suburban areas, with which the central area had been fighting a losing battle for many years, into the area covered by the Recovery Plan. Although there were benefits arising from this emerging pattern in the immediate aftermath of the earthquakes, with businesses able to relocate quickly to unaffected areas, the time has come to stimulate growth of the central area aided in part by limiting growth potential in the suburban areas. This pertains not only to commercial and retail activities but more importantly to residential activities. As well as in the upper floors of new buildings in the central area, the areas just outside the Recovery Plan’s green frame have considerable potential to be developed for residential as well as range of other uses. It is people that will give effect to this plan and establishing a solid residential base within the Four Avenues will be a solid step forward in ensuring this plan lives up to its potential.
Morten Gjerde is Senior Lecturer, Architecture, VUW School of Architecture
Since the last issue of Cross Section was published the commission to produce the Christchurch Central Recovery Plan has been awarded, all the work completed and the resulting plan made operative. The City Council produced their own Central City Plan in December of 2011 and waited for the earthquake recovery minister to approve it, but it never happened. Instead the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Unit under the direction of the earthquake recovery minister created the Christchurch Central Development Unit (CCDU) and embarked on their own path of creating a recovery plan.
Looking back it was unlikely the City Council could ever have created the design-led masterplanning process which has now been completed – the Council is still primarily a regulatory animal, despite a convincing appreciation of the importance of urban design in recent years. The Council’s plan for central Christchurch was unable to nominate specific sites for key projects as there was no mechanism for following through with rationalization of land ownership (and the Council was scared of distorting property values). The new CCDU plan does this, based on a shortlist of major projects listed in the brief.
The fact the commission was won and completed by a New Zealand-based multidisciplinary team (with some specialist knowledge pulled in from overseas) was a great outcome. The understanding of the city shown in the resulting design masterplan – let’s call it the Miskell Plan – is very evident. It is a credit to the design team that its members resisted whipping up sketches of what some of the buildings might look like and have instead used ghosted yellow forms within relatively bare three-dimensional views of the city, successfully producing a pure urban design proposal without stirring up any debate about architectural style.
The appendix to the masterplan became a functioning part of the City Plan three days after the plan became public, and that’s it, there is no appeal period. The letters have gone out to some of the property owners whose land will be acquired for the major projects and the process of central government buying up sites as part of a compulsory acquisition has begun. Things seem to be moving quickly, but they need to. It is comforting to know there has been as much effort directed by CCDU at the financial modeling of the recovery plan as the spatial masterplan as it is now time for our elected representatives to confidently pull out the chequebook and get on with it. There appears to be widespread support amongst local architects for the Miskell Plan.
In broad terms the Miskell Plan boldly proposes to condense the CBD by removing 12 city blocks from the mix around the east and south side of the city and either turn these blocks into a new stretched park (east side) or heavily restrict commercial development on them to low rise buildings with a lot of space between them (south side). This is the heart of the concept, and there is no question it will improve the now smaller CBD and the quality of city beyond the “frame” to the south and east. The plan is in a way an assessment of what amount of critical mass for retail and commercial office space Christchurch can muster in a CBD molded into dense urban form by reducing the amount of developable land. Major projects are sited very close to the CBD and, if it all comes to pass, Christchurch will be a pedestrian- (and cyclist-) friendly city. Defining several of the major projects as precincts is valid in my view, given they are to be the catalyst to pull together groups who currently function separately. The locations and relationships between the major projects are considered and appropriate. The scale of the proposed convention centre poses the greatest design challenge of all the major projects, having been shown on the best site in the city.
There is increasing suspicion amongst some landowners that the government will acquire land and then sell it again, after aggregating sites together, possibly for a profit, and there is a determination to not cooperate currently emerging in some quarters. There will definitely be winners and losers. The rebuilding of retail shops and commercial office space has been left to the private sector under revised rules in defined locations. The prime retail Cashel Mall retail area has a requirement for masterplanning to embrace a site area of no less than 7500 square metres, which will require cooperation between neighbours. The role of the Council’s own urban design panel in assessing proposals of this type may prove not to be significant as there is a new decision-making body established in the recovery plan, comprising of one representative from each of the Council, Ngai Tahu and CCDU, which can decide if consents should be granted. There is a danger of this process being politicized at the expense of quality design outcomes if the calibre of this powerful new group is anything less than excellent.
How often does the chance come along to propose reordering a city in the way the earthquakes have presented? Hopefully, very rarely, given the amount of pain and grief required to get to this point. What the priority anchor projects are, and who will design them, are issues that are still unclear. Personally, I think the covered stadium can wait.
Alec Bruce is partner in the Christchurch practice Wilkie + Bruce Registered Architects
The Blueprint Plan, as part of the Christchurch Recovery Plan, is long-awaited and is a significant accomplishment. It demonstrates good urban design judgment to build on the best underlying features of the city – the Avon, the city grid and existing business and activity – even though popular suggestions have included departing from the current central city structure and form. A valuable sense of continuity with the past, as well as activity and much if not all site ownership is retained. Even Haussmann’s Paris was an incision into the existing urban fabric, not wholesale replacement.
Key strategies include:
- Concentration of the city centre. This will be essential to achieve the vitality and activity necessary for success.
- A green frame around three sides. This includes a business park in a green campus-like setting. This is likely to attract those businesses that would otherwise locate on the periphery, or somewhere else entirely – like Auckland, or Sydney.
- ‘Anchor projects’ as catalysts for revitalization. These, if well designed, can be expected to contribute to regeneration of the centre
The Blueprint’s focus on redevelopment is allied with attention to the public realm throughout, and this is taken through into the District Plan. The text is comprehensive and the intent is clear and sound, but will this be successful? On the basis of a brief overview, largely yes. However, despite all of the fine work to date, significant challenges remain:
- There is potential for ill-defined, under-utilized residual space around buildings in the southern arm of the ‘frame’. Central city green space fails when there is too much of it; it lacks edge activity and its users are distributed too widely. This has been seen before in Corbusian Modernist town planning.
- The largest ‘anchor’ projects risk being out of scale, and dominating underutilized streets. Will the fine-grained activity at their edges, so necessary to attract occupation, and contribute to life on the streets be provided?
- Gloucester Street is covered by the Convention Centre for well over 100 metres. What happens under?
- A new large plaza opens towards the River Avon, but the Convention Centre also opens on to Oxford Terrace, Armagh and Colombo Streets as well as Cathedral Square. Is there too much paved open space, and will this compete with Cathedral Square?
Finally the Blueprint provides desirable direction and certainty, but is there too much certainty? The Ministerial Foreword notes that “the answers for central Christchurch will continue to evolve” and the Plan must be “broad and flexible”. However the scope for reflection and adjustment appears to be limited with Government stating:
The Christchurch Central Recovery Plan is a critical statutory document. From the time of notification (31 July 2012) of this Recovery Plan, those exercising functions or powers under the Resource Management Act 1991 must not make decisions that are inconsistent with the Recovery Plan.
There must be scope for refinement as more attention is paid to sites, areas and projects at the next level of design.
Graeme McIndoe is principal of Wellington architecture and urban design practice McIndoeUrban
The launch of the CCDU Blueprint for central Christchurch on 30 July was greeted with a generally favourable reaction, but almost a month on, as more details emerge and as the implications of the plan begin to sink in, a feeling of disquiet is growing. In a CBD where so much has been destroyed one might have expected that an initial premise of a recovery plan would be the retention of every building that could reasonably be retained and that the key buildings that define the identity of the city, Christ Church Cathedral, the Provincial Council Buildings and the Town Hall, should have been identified for retention and repair. None of these things has happened. The central city has been treated as a blank canvas, its grid of streets a chessboard across which key projects have been moved until a game plan emerged. For the planners this may have seemed a winning strategy; as far as public participation is concerned, it is checkmate.
Some of the key elements of the City Council’s “Share an Idea” consultation process have been retained; the commitment to a low-rise city and the Avon River park are there, but the call for a sustainable, green city has been subverted by the “Frame”, a block-wide green space that constrains the new CBD to the south and east. While this was initially praised there is a growing realization that this is, in reality, merely a tool to stimulate development and artificially constrain the supply of land. Government’s ultimate intention is to on-sell the land it is to compulsorily acquire in order to offset its costs. So far the acquisition process is far from clear, resistance to compulsory acquisition is growing and the new green may yet turn into a battlefield. The future of re-usable buildings in this zone is also unclear. Some are heritage buildings such as the NG Gallery, which pioneered the return of business to the CBD but is now threatened by the proposed stadium. Others are near-new or shortly to be completed. When so much has been lost the idea of demolishing more buildings to achieve arbitrary planning outcomes seems profligate.
There are many other unanswered questions. Why have the proven planning ideas of Cullen, Jacobs and Gehl been ignored in favour of the tired concept of precincts? Too many of the major projects – the convention centre, stadium and performing arts precinct – support activities that usually present blank faces to the street and for much of the time are empty shells. And why should activities that primarily support the needs of visitors be given the best sites? The view from Warren and Mahoney’s much-used Central Library across the river to the Provincial Council Buildings was one of the best in Christchurch yet the repairable library is to be sacrificed for a convention centre for which no cost benefit analysis has been provided.
The conclusion is dawning that the CCDU Blueprint is more a mechanism to woo investors than a plan to ensure that the people who live, work and play in Christchurch are provided with a liveable city that recognized the need to preserve identity and stimulate diversity. If the plan for central Christchurch put the needs of the city’s people first the right kinds of investment would almost certainly follow. The danger of such a centrally led plan is that an increasingly disillusioned public will simply ignore the CBD and continue to make do with the reconfigured city that has grown up around the central void.
Ian Lochhead is Associate Professor, art History and Theory, School of Humanities, University of Canterbury
The Christchurch Central Recovery Plan has some really good features. It is certainly ambitious, challenging and will take time to bring to fruition. But it is just the trick to energise an all-too-often flagging community devastated by the loss of so much of its built city. With over 70% of the city demolished – a figure likely to rise to 85% when the fate of many buildings is finally known – the community has to take heart that a well planned, compact and liveable city will arise from the liquefaction and rubble. It is coming up to two years since the 2010 earthquakes and we are still demolishing!
One of the plan’s good features is its compactness. Bounded by Hagley Park to the west, the Avon River in the north, and by the proposed new green “frame” to the north and east, an intensified CBD offers the prospect of an exciting place. This is in contrast to the sprawling, low density, partially occupied regions of the past. Interestingly, the Avon River, which became our Achilles heel during the earthquakes, once again becomes the focus of the city by virtue of the extensive expansion and greening of its banks.
Some might regard the placing of various precincts – entertainment, convention centre, cultural (Maori), justice and police and sport – within or on the edges of the CBD as simply a shuffling of the cards, but it is another intensification of the activities that make a lively city. Cathedral Square gets yet another make-over, but without a cathedral it may be a long time before its relevance is re-established. One of the Recovery Plan’s best features is the encouragement of residential living in close proximity to the green “frame”. While this close proximity to the city activities is a source of potential conflict, one hopes it will make the city safe and vibrant and a great place in which to live, work and play.
Barry Dacombe is principal of Christchurch practice Barry Dacombe Architect
I would make the following points:
1. The establishment up of the CCDU is a good move. It sets up an administrative framework to oversee the redevelopment of the CBD.
2. The Blueprint is a bold plan. The ideas in the plan are about rebuilding the city in a new way that ensures we do not rebuild all the faults and issues the CBD had. It addresses density issues, transport issues, public space issues, all simultaneously.
3. Most Christchurch residents I have spoken with support the plan; the media have found it difficult to find opposition to the plan which is rare in Christchurch. The only objectors are those who will lose buildings, which is understandable.
4. The weakest part of the plan is to put a test cricket ground in Hagley Park. This idea seems to have little to do with the CBD rebuild. It is not uncommon in Christchurch for mayors to be voted out on such issues.
Chris Wilson is a partner in the Christchurch practice Wilson & Hill Architects
The idea of a blueprint or plan to provide a structure for Christchurch was an absolute necessity. In some ways it was well overdue, following the nine months spent with the Christchurch City Council trying to achieve the same, as the initial optimism for a rebuild has been replaced by a level of uncertainty and pessimism.
I think the contents of the Blueprint are good on a conceptual level, but need some further work on a detailed level. The green “frame” and Avon Park will help define the centre and concentrate commercial development in a distinct area. The idea of precincts is a bit prescriptive, but is probably the best way to get activity happening in certain locations. Precincts generally evolve over time in a city, and artificial edicts may not work so well for the likes of theatre where naturally these functions might be spread around a city. I think the stadium, which is a massive building, is best located on the edge of the Four Avenues, at the corner of Moorhouse and Fitzgerald Avenues, as the City Council advocated. Other than that, knowing where key government-funded projects will be sited is a positive outcome, as these will be the catalyst for private investment.
William Fulton is a partner in Christchurch practice Fulton Ross Team Architecture
Contraction of the CBD has been expected and is a wise move. At the same, the scale of change will take many people by surprise: only 12 central city blocks east of the Avon. It needs to be remembered that the area between the Avon and Hagley Park will retain much of its existing character and parts of this will be perceived as a continuation of the central city. When the two areas – east and west of the Avon – are added together, the size of the central area seems viable. Interestingly, the plan has little to say about the zone between the river and Hagley Park. This may be because the area is already well supplied with amenities which have survived the earthquakes.
The green “Frame” is a second bold move. The broad swath of open space partially restores the city’s town belt (albeit on a smaller scale) and helps to redress the historic imbalance of amenities on the eastern and western sides of the central city. The character of the Frame is less clear on the southern flank of the CBD where it could be interpreted as an “office park” precinct complete with the inevitable parking lots.
The plan attempts to enliven each quadrant of the central city with a distinctive “activity node”. Typically, these are large projects such as the hospital, the conference centre and the stadium. By locating these on the edge of the CBD, the plan should help to animate the centre by generating short journeys on foot or by public transport. This arrangement also takes account of the fact that, prior to the earthquakes, inner-city retail was already concentrated around Cashell Street and High Street. The plan recognized and encourages this pattern. So, it’s important for other quadrants of the CBD to have their own activity generators.
Complexes like the conference centre and the community sports centre will certainly have a catalytic effect on their surroundings. However, the size and the inward focus of these developments will mean the facilities are difficult to integrate well with surrounding city streets. This task will all the more challenging if retail space is concentrated in perhaps just half the central area.
Another risk with this approach is a latter-day form of “functional zoning”: each precinct with its own specialized activity, hours of operation and population. We usually find cities stimulating because they mix up different people and activities in unpredictable ways. However, this potential needs to be seen in perspective. We need to look at the substantial area of the plan which isn’t coloured green or yellow. This shows the extent of privately owned land and building. Redevelopment of these sites will be less predictable, and will have an important leavening effect on the outcome, especially if site aggregation does not prevent smaller developments among the larger ones.
Finally, when New Zealanders visit Adelaide they are soon told that the celebrated surveyor William Light who laid out Adelaide went on to plan Christchurch. This is not true. The two cities were founded 13 years apart by quite different people. However, the proposed plan will certainly cause Christchurch to appear more like the famously “planned” capital of South Australia.
Chris McDonald is Senior Lecturer, Architecture, VUW School of Architecture
The centre of Christchurch was already dying, prominent Marxist critic Sir Bob Jones wrote a year ago, before the earthquake finished it off. The idea of rebuilding the CBD was risible, he suggested: like many cities around the world Christchurch was decentralizing – a logical consequence of the new urban infrastructure of big box retail, malls and office parks. Christchurch, Sir Bob opined, should go with the flow. Why resist the facts of global urbanism? “[The city] could follow the model of many Christchurch-sized American cities with insignificant CBDs and instead comprise suburbs, each with its own commercial centre of low-rise, low-cost, walkup offices with shops below.”
What Sir Bob and other critics, including this writer, hadn’t bargained for was that just as disasters can generate the wish for the new, for example, the rebuilding of the white city of Napier, it can also generate a desperate desire for a return to the normal, or as we contemplate the latest plan for Christchurch, the supernormal. In their desire to make Christchurch the über garden city, the designers of the new Christchurch plan have turned to the other great Australasian garden city, Adelaide, and appropriated its city plan.
Designed by Colonel Light in 1837, the Adelaide central city grid is surrounded by more than seven square kilometers of city gardens – the famous Parklands. These frame the central city with the River Torrens forming the northern boundary to the CBD. The designers of the new Christchurch plan have used the Avon in a similar way, forming a park boundary to the central city on the western edge while the new Parklands or “frame” bounds the city on the southern and eastern sides. The construction of this new park will involve the demolition of many of the CBD’s periphery buildings.
Thus, at a stroke, the designers have brilliantly cut the Gordian knot that Bob Jones described. By demolishing the “old dungers” and car sale yards that surrounded the CBD they have got rid of low-rent city margin and will drive up the property prices for the remaining property owners in the CBD. The other great advantage of the new park is that the government can actually be seen to be doing something. The acquisition of the properties will be painful, but the demolition and building of the new park will be relatively swift and make an immediate impact on the city. Photos of the new Christchurch, artfully framed by grass and newly planted trees, will be prominent, while international competitions for the convention centre and new arts precinct will occupy the rest of our attention. It looks like Sir Bob’s prediction will come true after all: “it would be an army of gardeners and not builders that would be required, to transform [Christchurch] into a very different but hugely admired, fabulous garden city”.
Matthew Bradbury is Senior Lecturer, Landscape Architecture, Unitec, Auckland
The plan, the plan! I would like to say a lot but probably not a lot on record! We have a huge amount of debate in our office over it and it’s easy to be critical. I can understand the logic, but I struggle with precincts – Isn’t diversity good urbanism? Also a layer of demographics? Won’t it be very expensive to rent within the precincts? – and the very severe “Frame”: is there the potential for us versus them? Also, there is very little acknowledgement of the significance of public transport, that is, the main linkages into the city from the south and the east. It would have been nice to have the transport out of the “Frame”, and be able to walk into it…
Charlie Nott is director of Christchurch practice C Nott Architects