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How to rebuild our Communities?

The Chinese use these two symbols to write the word ‘crisis’. One symbol means danger; the other opportunity.  In a crisis be aware of the danger but recognise the opportunity” – Richard Nixon

Back in November 2008 we used this quote in our newsletter.  This was used at the time in respect of the impending recession however this could equally be applied to the recent Canterbury earthquake. So what opportunities has the earthquake produced?

  • Because of extensive damage in many parts of Christchurch and Kaiapoi many buildings and communities will need to be rebuilt.
  • A much needed boost to the local economy resulting in work opportunities for many of our unemployed professionals and trades people.

This catastrophe has provided an amazing opportunity to rebuild Christchurch, to rectify some of the past mistakes and also provide some economic stimulus for our region.

However, in our need to progress we also need to be mindful to not overreact and rush in when due consideration should be made.

An obvious example is road construction as it will often cost the same to construct a highly functional road as it costs to construct a lesser functional road. The difference comes in the design consideration given to the layout – the design costs are minimal compared to the construction cost. Therefore a little time and effort should be spent upfront as it will result in long term benefits and improved functionality.

I raise this point as only a few days after the earthquake the Christchurch City Council met under urgency to consider doubling the earthquake strengthening requirements of buildings. Apparently prior to the earthquake some discussion and limited consultation had been undertaken and this resulted in a report for Council staff recommending the strengthening. Council however devoted just 38 minutes to the meeting, which included time for the Mayor Bob Parker to give a speech (unlikely to have been brief).

I find this cause for concern when so few people with such limited knowledge make such far reaching decisions (and in only 38 minutes!) days after a calamitous event when emotions will obviously still be running high.

If we are to rebuild our city then we need to learn from the past, adopt design philosophies and building techniques to support meaningful and well directed policies. We should not rush to rebuild so as to only fill the now vacant spaces with less than functional, cheap and nasty eyesores.

Now is the time to improve our city, making it both functional and attractive for residents and visitors alike.

In my opinion we must engage the best New Zealand Urban Designers, Surveyors, Architects and Engineers that we can as this is the only way we will end up with attractive and functional modern buildings like the Victoria Apartments rather than the Pacific Apartments which do nothing for our city’s visual amenity.

An example of an attractive modern building, visually pleasing to the eye with modern functionality.

An effort must be made to keep hold of our more attractive heritage buildings such as the MLC building (corner of Hereford and Manchester Streets) or at least replicate some of these fine examples. These days not as much effort is devoted to the detail and workmanship as was the case of buildings of this era, it is this type of building which give cities their individual flavour and appeal. Do we really want to end up with a city of glass and concrete monoliths that lack in scale or artistry?

Yes we can learn from overseas, but we also have our own culture and style so design advice should be provided by our own local professionals. Not only will this likely result in a sympathetic design outcome but will also support our local economy rather than funnelling money offshore.

An example of a not so attractive modern building with beautiful New Regent Street in the foreground.

As an aside Christchurch was started as a public-private partnership and it is likely that Christchurch’s best chance of a successful regeneration and invigoration is to commit to more public-private partnership projects. 

Only time will tell how successful we have been in improving our city.

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