“Future Chch likely to be ‘a letdown’ – “all was not entirely well among the people for whom the new city was being built”

Moving to Christchurch to help with the long-winded rebuild (3 years on and the CBD is still in ruins), or maybe you’re emigrating there because you’ve heard it’s a nice place to live?

There’s a great article in the Sydney Morning Herald that you should probably take a look at. The link is here http://www.smh.com.au/world/total-rebuild-20140317-34way.html. Here are some excerpts:


Date March 22, 2014 by Peter Robb

Almost completely destroyed in the 2011 earthquake, central Christchurch is – very slowly – emerging anew.

… As we move ever more slowly from green periphery to business centre, the landscape opens out. Behind high cyclone wire fences, all you see is rubble-strewn open space. There are a few medium-high office blocks standing arbitrarily in this empty flatness and, like the teeth in a centenarian’s mouth, they mainly emphasise what’s missing.

…Flatness is everywhere. The cathedral is still there, behind a safety fence. The great steeple is down and one end has collapsed and it looks like a dead blue whale disintegrating on a beach. You can see why the Church of England and its bishop Victoria Matthews want it quietly gone. It reeks of death and the past. They are opposed by die-hard heritagists, including UNESCO and a group of engineers, who insist it can be saved…

After viewing a few buildings that were in the process of being rebuilt – the Theatre Royal the Town Hall for the performing arts and the “neo-Gothic complex of the original University of Canterbury,” he wrote

Three years after the earthquake, these were the only things I saw happening on the ground. The rest was still on the computers. There was a lot of it, and a lot of it was being done by Warren and Mahoney (who hosted me and our photographer) in several studios around New Zealand, and in the one they recently opened in Sydney’s Surry Hills.

All I saw of the future city was a rapid slide show of artists’ impressions of a series of low-slung cuboids. The maximum height allowed for new buildings is 28 metres, seven or eight storeys. Sensible and appealing enough for a modest city of under half a million people, though the rationale of lasting trauma in the city didn’t entirely convince as an argument against height…

In their abandonment, these do not look like great designs. They display the motifs of jobbing commercial architecture over the decades. Some 1960s brutalism, a lot of the brown aggregate cladding popular in the early ’70s. An amusingly redundant faux balcony superstructure from the postmodernist ’80s. And so on. You wonder whether the new Christchurch is going to be imprisoned in the stylistic moment of its rebuilding…

The artist’s impression showed a long strip of grass and pavement running between two uniform rows of young professional townhouses. The strip between the lines of houses was 40 metres wide – because, Miskell told me, at 20 metres you could still see the look on a person’s face. The townhouse occupants would police the strip through their front windows on either side, ensuring it did not become a new terrain for dealers in substances and their clients.

This strategic beautification was a response to the fact that a nearby park had become the domain for illicit trafficking. It recognized that all was not entirely well among the people for whom the new city was being built.

Christchurch has its dark side. Over breakfast each morning, I read progress reports of a case in which a young woman had been tortured to death and thrown into the river by gang members after a dispute over drug payments. Self-policing townhouses didn’t seem much of an answer to social malaise. “

He then cited the tremendous amount of work that had been done in Chile to rebuild after the devastating earthquake.  Alejandro Aravena, the architect responsible had

collaborated with the Catholic Church and the mining and oil industries to create a common good. The social mix, the economic and social tensions built into his urban designs, have released a dynamism into cities that no one, except the architects themselves, had imagined.

A larger social imagination was hard to find in play over my three days in Christchurch. I had the feeling that the new city would be much like the old, only with lower buildings that were less likely to fall down. Given the city’s origin in a bold if wacky social experiment, and New Zealand’s outstanding history of advanced social practice in the last century, the future looked like being a letdown.”

You may also be interested in

Christchurch and Canterbury then and now, three years after the earthquake

“Scathing Report Describes New Zealand and EQC’s Ill-preparedness”

Christchurch Earthquake Workers Threatened with Knives

Migrant Tales – Some of the Memories We Will Take Back With Us to Scotland

Christchurch Wrecks Rented Out to Tenants

Families, Older People Leaving Christchurch, Teachers Stressed

3 thoughts on ““Future Chch likely to be ‘a letdown’ – “all was not entirely well among the people for whom the new city was being built”

  1. Rather depressing news from a First World country, particularly when contrasted with the progress in “Third World” Chile.

    • A common sight in downtown christchurch is a bunch of road cones, machinery that sits there as a prop and a group of men chatting away to each other. Occasionally playing on their smart phones or absent altogether. They don’t work night shifts or do weekends. The rebuild at this rate will take 20 years.

  2. The response to the Christchurch earthquakes and subsequent “rebuild” borders on the incompetence of Katrina, although Gerry Brownlee often cites Katrina as an example of a standard that New Zealand is exceeding.

    The sad thing is not that Christchurch cannot be rebuilt, it is that arrogant, lazy, inefficient, and incompetent Kiwis cannot do it.

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