All posts by Barnaby Bennett

Death and Dying in New Zealand

The inaugural edition of our new series, Radical Futures, which is focused on future challenges, arrives hot off the press in late September.

We will all die. Yet we don’t talk about death and dying very much. Currently, and for the most part, a small group of people manage death for us behind closed doors. We are increasingly unlikely to know what options are available to us and those we care about. So, how can we prepare well? Are our collective and individual needs being met?

The ways we approach death – as a subject and in our practices – reveal much about our values and how we live. With an increasingly diverse and ageing population, advances in technology and medical care, and the social, economic and environmental challenges facing us, it is important to openly discuss how we plan for death as individuals and as a society. From tangihanga, DIY funerals and new technologies to funeral poverty, this book explores what a good death might mean today and aims to foster honest conversations about death and dying in New Zealand.

Featuring:

Catherine Moore (Auckland Cemeteries Manager)

Erin Harrington (University of Canterbury)

Guy Marriage (architect)

Dr Janine Penfield Winters (palliative care doctor)

Katie Williams (Kiwi Coffin Club)

Kay Paku (funeral director)

Dr Kiri Edge & Professor Linda Waimarie Nikora (University of Waikato)

Lynda Hannah (Natural funeral guide)

Marcus Elliott (coroner)

Melanie Mayell (deathwalker)

Philippa Thompson & Polly Yeung (social workers)

Dr Ruth McManus (University of Canterbury)

Steve Braunias (journalist)

Tricia Hendry (grief expert)

Becoming Freerange

Ten years ago Freerange Press was just a twinkle in the eye of a few young idealist designers. We started something very small and since then its been a decade of wonderfully surprising twists and turns. In 2008 the architect Gerald Melling embraced our enthusiasm and his last architecture book became our first publishing adventure. In the years between 2012 and 2015 we became embroiled in the complex and exhilarating task of understanding Christchurch as it recovered from a major disaster. We have produced 10 journals covering a wacky range of topics from the commons, feminism, gardening, violence, have now published over 15 books, and created an academic imprint called Harvest (Fresh scholarship from the field). We’ve had several thousand downloads of our journals, and sold over four thousand books. In 2012 we got an accountant, appointed a board of directors and set Freerange up as a cooperative business. This board has been sailing the boat for the past few years.

Now, in 2016 we want to Freerange to become a true cooperative, one that helps people to create wonderful, meaningful and beautiful publications and projects together. We want to make a company that helps people  imagine and realise amazing things together, and that uses publishing as a way to address both the problems of, and the beauties in, our world.

The first step in this journey is to open up our membership, so that people (like you) can become part of Freerange. Below we’ve outlined what that means, and what you get from it. But the main point is once you join you become part of our gang, and as a member of our gang YOU get to help decide what our Freerange is all about.

Co-op Membership

A few years ago we did a survey and lots of you said that the thing that most excited you about Freerange was the possibility of meeting and working with other great people. This was great feedback and we want to make sure this happens.

We need a variety of skills that we know you possess – from writing and editing to design, web, business and marketing.  This is an exciting time in our development with many cool paths we could navigate. We need to decide what we really want as a community.

We are also excited about putting the collective through a collaborative ‘’Refactor’’ process which will look at various aspects of what we do, how we do it, who is involved and how we can reward people better for their contributions (including paying people!). We will be hosting a discussion with all cooperative members on this process and how the redesign can best meet your needs as a contributor and member and generally amazing person.

How do I join?

The process of becoming a cooperative member is easy as. There is no liability or risk involved but will be plenty of piratey perks along the way.

Simply fill out this form and you’re on your way!

Opportunities and Benefits of Membership

  • A welcoming present! We’re giving the first 30 or so members a copy of Once in a Lifetime: City-building after disaster in Christchurch, and a copy of Songs for Christchurch! ($45 and $20 value respectably)
  • You get to participate in making beautiful things with great people.
  • You will be able to get involved in and share the profits from commercial Freerange projects
  • You get access to some of the skills and knowledge of the other members for your own projects
  • You get experience in running a cooperative and transparent company that tries to make profit while also distributing funds to good causes and making wonderful things
  • You get access to reduced price and free copies of books and journals

Obligations and Duties

Firstly, Freerange Cooperative Ltd is a limited Liability Company so members and directors are protected financially from any debt or obligation Freerange may incur, and it iss the Directors’ job to make sure everything is operating as it should be so there is no financial risk or liability for the members.

However there are some loose expectations:

  • That you have input into Loomio discussions and voting as much as possible
  • That you try to join in the yearly AGM or other meetings via skype or in person
  • That you become a champion of Freerange and help promote it to friends offline and online
  • That you generally try to think of ways to help Freerange flourish and grow
  • We want the members to collectively work this out, but we think a commitment of around ten hours a year will be needed.

If you have any questions at all, please send us an email. barnaby@projectfreerange.com It’s really important to us that we do this right, and a good chat might be just the thing. Otherwise you can join the Loomio discussion on this topic here.

Yours,

Freerange Directors

Barnaby Bennett
Joe Cederwall
Emma Johnson
Federico Monsalve
Byron Kinnaird
Jessie Moss

Freerange Directors

A guide to Christchurch rebuild for the rest of NZ.

IMG_3962It is now four years since the first quake struck Christchurch in September 2010. There are bright-eyed four-year old children who know nothing of the pre-quake city, and students that have completed entire university degrees post-quake. It’s been a while.

Unfortunately much of the national discussion about Christchurch is still framed around the sympathy, empathy, help, support and need that was so necessary in the immediate days and months after the earthquakes. Yes there are still thousands of people struggling with insurance and EQC repairs. But what people need now is their policies to be fulfilled, and reform and legislation to make sure that happens, not others to feel sorry for them. The default pity narrative needs to stop. It distracts from the real issues such as the economic, planning and governance problems that continue to dominate the city.

This article has 3 sections: The Blueprint, The Money, and why your vote affects us all in Christchurch.

I write the brief words below not as a long-term Christchurch resident. I moved here at the beginning of 2012. I write this as someone trained in architecture and city-building. I’ve discussed Christchurch with dozens of urban design experts, planners, and designers in the past few years and almost all of them are stunned and disappointed when I explain to them how the process is being managed in Christchurch. The major concern is that the entire central city planning is being led by a very small team of insulated designers, politicians, and property owners, who are using extraordinarily powerful legislation to achieve their goals.

A group of us (with Ryan Reynolds, James Dann, Emma Johnson, and myself as editors) recently published the book Once in a Lifetime: City-building after Disaster in Christchurch. This book offers a 500-page investigation and critique of the Government’s Blueprint for Christchurch. We chose not to talk about the election in the book because it is looking at a much bigger picture, but now I feel the need to frame some of the contents around the election. The book has 55 essays, so this doesn’t represent all the views, but as an editor is does represent what I think.

I write this critique from the position that the involvement, confidence and trust of the public is absolutely critical for city-planning and design. There is an innate intelligence in the people that live in a city, and the publics that people form in response to the issues that arise. To exclude these publics, and to distrust them  (if there was trust then why are their views not included) as the government does is foolish. To suggest, as the Minister in charge has, that this can in any way be best practice or industry leading is at odds with the planning and design literature of the past 40 years.

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1. The Government’s Blueprint.

In 2011 the government asked the Christchurch City Council to develop a city plan for post-quake Christchurch. The CCC developed the now famous and award winning Share an Idea campaign and consulted broadly with the people of Christchurch, who generated over 100,000 ideas for the new city. This led to the release of the Council’s Draft City Plan in November 2011. At the beginning of 2012 Minister Brownlee rejected the spatial aspects of that plan and invited a new team of designers to work on what was to become the known as the 100-day Blueprint. Since the end of 2011 the people of Christchurch have had no opportunity to contribute or feed in or critique this document.

There have been mixed reviews of the plan, some see it is as a bold and necessary document (Canterbury Tourism), others as a promising too much, others wondered where the residential details were (Russell Brown), others that it ignored all the real problems facing Christchurch (NBR), and others as significant re-orientation of the post-quake city without due discussion with the people of Christchurch (me!).

It replaced a sophisticated set of instruments that the Council had developed to encourage good development and planning with 18 large government-led projects. You can see the details here.

Like any first draft of a document it has some really good bits and some questionable bits. It was a heroic effort to complete it in 100 days. The problem is not that the plan that was produced in 100 days; the real problem is the way that it has been implemented. There has been little or no consultation on the plan since its launch, massive projects like the $100 million dollar Avon-Otakaro park, or the $284m Convention Centre have had almost no public input or consultation. There has been no international peer review either. The designers that made the plan have been locked out of the process since it was launched and there has been little ability for it to adapt to the rapidly changing city.

Think about this for your own city. Imagine the government coming into the historic centres of Auckland or Wellington. Firstly they ignore the heritage fabric of the place and encourage the demolition of 80% of the city, then they over-rule the local council’s plan, then they use the full power of the state to compulsorily purchase land and implement a huge number of projects with little or no discussion with the public.

This is exactly what has happened in Christchurch. If it sounds a bit extreme then I think you understand it properly.

The Blueprint is being implemented by an agency completely separate and often conflicting with the local council. Instead of upgrading the Council’s original plan and working with them and their deep knowledge of the city, CERA (Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority) has replicated hundreds of positions, wasted millions of dollars and built a knowledge-base in competition rather than in collaboration with the city. (Brownwyn Hayward explains this well in her paper: Rethinking Resilience: Reflections on the Earthquakes in Christchurch, New Zealand, 2010 and 2011)

The Council on the other hand is showing a rare mix of strong leadership and a real desire to be transparent and engage with various communities in a respectful and meaningful way. They are using new online tools to get quicker and better information and are directly funding and supporting scores of important post-quake projects in a way that CERA has never done.

If you think about the great things that have happened in the city since the quakes, almost all of them would have happened without the plan: the stunning restoration of the Arts Centre, C1, the urban gardening projects, Re:Start mall, Gap Filler, The Festival of Transitional Architecture, Life in Vacant Spaces, EPIC, Share an Idea, Ministry of Awesome, Court Theatre, Isaac Theatre Royal, developments like the Terrace, and the insurance-led building boom.

If speed was the goal of the blueprint then it has failed as we are barely 10% rebuilt almost 4 years after the big quake and if quality is the goal of the blueprint then why did it lower the environmental and urban design standards that were present in the council’s original plan. It amounts to a kind of homeopathic remedy that claims success when the patient was getting going to get better anyway.

The problem with much of the media discussion around the rebuild is that so much of it is about the speed or progress of it. There is little or no nuanced discussion of the quality of the decisions. While people do need their houses fixed quickly there are huge transport, urban planning, and infrastructure decisions that need time and consultation to make right. For the next 20 – 50 years it is going to be the quality of the decisions, not the speed with which they are made, that makes the difference. CERA’s Roger Sutton has said the same thing. (see Roger Sutton’s article in the new book) Given this the exclusion of the public from the decision-making is mysterious, unwise, and deeply undemocratic.

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2. The money.

The full cost of the rebuild is around $40 – $50 billion dollars, and around $15 billion of this is government money, your money. This is as it should be and it would be disgrace if we ever neglected the need to care for a region of the country after a disaster of this scale.

However this money is not a one way deal, and it should not be seen as benevolence. Two of the main things growing the NZ economy at the moment are Canterbury based. The first is the massive expansion of dairy on the Canterbury plains, and the second is the enormous amount of insurance money coming into the city from insurance companies from overseas. The government is deeply involved in the dairy expansion (in that it was enabled by firing the elected regional Council in 2010), and has little to do with the latter, as these are contracts between individuals and insurance companies.

So let’s be clear that the economy of Canterbury is producing a significant amount of growth for the country at the moment. We all benefit from that.

Without the earthquake National’s much praised economy would have close to zero growth. “Truth is, the economic recovery is itself a myth. Take away the Christchurch rebuild and growth is nominally zero.” (Bruce Bisset. 6.09.2014)

While a large amount of money has been promised and spent by the Government to support post-quake Christchurch, (to fix the roads and pipes, to fund the central city, and many other activities), it is likely that the government will take in a very similar amount in taxes from GST and income tax. The GST on $40 billion is around $6 billion (and this continues to flow and money spreads through the economy), and a significant amount of the money is being spent on salary and wages that are taxed at various levels, if we pick a low figure of 20% then that is another $6.8 billion in tax take. So without even going into the broader tax take and economic gain around $13 billion will come back from the $15 billion spend.

“the wider New Zealand public need to recognise it’s not them just footing the bill for poor old Christchurch, it’s actually going to cost them very little.” The Government had been “strangely quiet in this department,” Gough said.”  (Alan Wood. The Press. 31.05.2014)

So there is every chance that the earthquakes will be a cost neutral exercise for the government. On this level it has been a large and well-timed stimulus package for the country to help it out of the recession. (Interesting that this is the kind of stimulus package that Labour proposed going into the 2008 election.)

The hard work of people of the citizens of Christchurch, businesses, institutions, and government spending in Christchurch have been a huge part of NZ emergence from recession. While there has been extraordinary support and care for Christchurch in the past few years, the economic investment in Christchurch shouldn’t be seen as charity.

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3. How you vote affects us all in Christchurch

The simple reality is that no great city has ever developed while being ruled by somewhere else. It doesn’t make sense and it doesn’t work.

In the months after the quakes extraordinary powers were necessary. But at some point these extraordinary powers need to go, and in Christchurch they are still in place 3.5 years after the big deadly quake. It’s too long. They are still being used to fast-track decisions around the local Council, they are still being used to demolish heritage buildings without consents or discussion, and still being used to progress projects like the $500 million dollar convention centre with no public business case or public input into public space.

There is little ability to offer nuanced and critical feedback on individual projects or planning decisions. The exceptions being the childrens playground which did great work with school kids. The population is forced to either embrace or reject the entire plan, and this further isolates and disengages people as they go through a difficult recovery from disaster. The Governments own science advisor Sir Peter Gluckman warned about this happening in 2011. 

The key problem here is that we aren’t able to express the complex issues, to have the important arguments, and to direct the city in the direction that people live here want because we are being ruled by a large government agency.

I don’t think this is disaster capitalism or a conspiracy of any sorts. Its the more mundane reality of an ideology that distrusts the public and favours the safety and comfort of projects led by politicians and project managers.

As an extension of cabinet and its executive power, this government agency (Canterbury Earthquake Reconstruction Authority) rules with the tacit consent of the rest of the country, and this is why your voice is important. When you vote during the next few weeks, please consider Christchurch.

The National government has basically admitted that the time for these extraordinary powers is over, but rather than give us a plan for it, they have decided to move CERA into the office of the PM, further shifting the power to Wellington and away from Christchurch.

This call to support a new government is not to reject everything that has been done. We can bank the good stuff, the hard work and tough decisions and acknowledge those how worked through this tough time, but we need to change tack to let the public back in, and to turn this rebuild process into the extraordinary opportunity it still promises to be.

It shouldn’t, but the outcome of this election will likely make a huge difference to how Christchurch is governed and will inform thousands of little decisions about how the city will feel and look in 10 years time. The city and its people have shown extraordinary capacity for growth, innovation, creativity and a strong vision for the city. The new council is heavy hitting and filled with skilled operators, and the rebuild is paying for itself. It shouldn’t depend on a national election to reclaim our governance back, but it does. And that is why your vote is important.

For further analysis of the relationship between Design and Democracy my essay is here: https://medium.com/@mrbarnabyb/design-and-democracy-339fa4688d70

And if for further information on the book please visit here: www.oncinalifetime.org.nz

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The little we know

A few weeks ago the PM was in Christchurch to present to launch of the partners for the new Convention Centre Precinct in the heart of central Christchurch. This large, expensive project has been mutely accepted as inevitable and part of the rebuild. Personally I don’t understand why there has not been more discussion of the project, and more analysis of what it means for the city and what it represents for the future of the city. The Government is refusing to offer any real information on the project, so a nuanced discussion is impossible. Below I have presented the facts as we know them.

What do we know about the convention centre:

1. It is going to be placed on two of the most important central city blocks in the city. Between Cathedral Square and the Avon River.

2. It uses land that has been compulsory acquired. That is the full force of the state to force land off its owners.

3. There is $284 million dollar of government/public money going into the project.

4. The total project will be around $500 million.

5. That means a public to private ratio of less than 1:1. International experience shows normal public private ratios should be from 5 and up to 10: 1 before been considered seriously.

6. The project will be built by a large consortium of companies, including a urban design firm Boffa Miskell that used to be owned by the head designer of the government agency running the project (the CCDU) Don Miskell.

7. The Carter Group is a major part of the consortium. Philip Carter is the brother of the speaker of the house and National Party MP David Parker.

8. The Minister in charge of the rebuild is refusing to give any information on the financial or contract information on the Convention Centre until after the election.

9. Convention Centres are almost never put in the centre of the city because they require very large access areas that become deadzones.

10. The entire centre will be operated by a very large internation French compary Accor, so presumably any profits will go overseas.

11. Publically owned streets and footpaths have been taken by the crown and included in this project. We don’t know if equivalent or better (and true) public space is going to be part of the design.

12. We know that contracts have been signed and construction is due to start in 2015.

13. The economic logic of Convention Centres is that they bring high-yield business customers into the city and the country. However most of the workers running the centres are low waged.

14. This isn’t the type of project that was asked for in the Share an Idea consultation 3.5 years ago. (The last time anyone was asked about the central city)

15. We do know that the CCC built a Convention Centre in just north of the Town Hall in 1997 for $15 million.  This new one is a little bit bigger and 25 times the cost.

What we don’t know:

1. The business case hasn’t been made public for the merits of this building.

2. We don’t know what the ownership model will be.

3. We don’t know what areas will be publicly accessible or usable. Convention Centres are like stadiums, they either really busy and you need to pay to get in, or huge and empty (most of the time)

4. Despite $284 million of public money, we don’t know what is going to be in it.

5. We don’t know what urban design characteristics it will have. How they will activate the edges? How will trucks enter the site? How much parking is part of the project?

6. The launch cost $16,000. You can see it here. We don’t know how you can possibly spend that much on a launch for around 50 people.

7. We don’t know why if this is project makes so much sense economically, it needs $284 million of public money?

8. We don’t know if there has been extensive economic research to see if a very large convention centre will work in Christchurch.

9. We don’t know who will be liable for the costs if it doesn’t work.

10. We don’t know how the spaces in this project fit into the broader ecosystem of venues and facilities in the city.

I find it very frustrating that these huge financial and planning decisions are being made with little critical examination or discussion.

The Politicisation of CERA and the planning of new Christchurch

This, strangely, is a crossback-cross-post originally published at Rebuilding Christchurch by Barnaby Bennett, chief egg of the Freerange Press and editor of the magnificent book “Christchurch: The Transitional City Part IV“. This is the first of an epic four-and-a-half-part analysis of the political machinations in Christchurch, and how they are influencing the rebuild. -Byron, Ed.

 

No government was ever going to be able to seamlessly respond to a crazy series of events like the earthquakes that hit Christchurch between September 2010 and the end of 2011.  It was an insanely complex and difficult event and the tangled nature of all the little parts mean the development of new ideas and plans and the construction of these is no easy task. Yet, this shouldn’t mean a pass card for our representatives. In this article I’ll argue, and explain, why I think the removal of the public from most of the rebuild process is a critical mistake both politically for the government and for the citizens of Christchurch. Continue reading The Politicisation of CERA and the planning of new Christchurch

What’s going on with the Arts Precinct: Incompetence or Deceit?

In the last week there has been a long overdue rush of public announcements about the Performing Arts Precinct in Christchurch. These can be tidily split into categories of ‘why didn’t they announce this 6 months ago’, and the more bewildering ‘are you trying to make yourself look stupid?’.  I’ll explain this below, and by doing so try to work out a question that could easily apply to a number of projects in the city at the moment: is the current sad state of this project a result of incompetence or deceit? (It’s a long article, but there are specific recommendations at the end!)

I’ll start with the obvious announcement. The government has decided that a significant part of the area designated for the Arts Precinct is now no longer needed so they have wisely decided to remove the designation. This allows the owners of the land to avoid compulsory purchase of the land and to either sell the land or to develop what they want.  It has been obvious to everyone involved that this land was not needed for the arts precinct project with the Council’s repeated and consistent position to retain and repair the Town hall. For a department that has been given the mandate to improve the quality and speed of the rebuild it seems strange to tie up this bit of land for so long given that it has been known since late August last year when the Council voted unanimously (for the 2nd time) to retain the Townhall.  It was signaled long before this with the Council vote the previous year and the acknowledgment in the Cost Sharing Agreement between the CCC and CERA that the Town hall was likely to stay. This is from a famously fractured council, and not a single member voted against retention on two separate occasions. Continue reading What’s going on with the Arts Precinct: Incompetence or Deceit?

Save the Hundertwasser Gallery in Whangarei

I am seeking people to support a letter to the Whangarei District Councillors that are attempting to kill of the Hundertwasser Art Gallery Project in a council meeting tomorrow.  Please read this description and details are below.

A long planned (and debated) gallery designed by the late international Artist Hundertwasser is in danger of being dumped by the Whangarei District Council after some Councillors have put forward a proposal to remove it from the annual plan.  Their logic in doing this is that people have not been consulted about the project, yet they are trying to remove it from a document that will go for public consultation.

This is a project that offers huge financial and cultural opportunity for Whangarei, it has been supported by the last two mayoral candidates, the two sitting northland MPs Phil Heatley and Shane Jones (from both sides of the house) support the project.  Financial analysis of the project by Deloitte supports the councils position. A recent poll run by the local newspaper shows significant popular support for the project. And yet at a council meeting tomorrow a number of Councillors will attempt to vote this project out of the plan.

The total cost of the project is $13 million, of this the council has agreed to fund $8 million and a further $5 million will be raised seperately. $2 million of this amount has already being raised for the project.

One Councillor has stated that this money would be better spent on roads. To give a comparison the Wellsford to Puhoi road project is estimated to cost $760 million dollars, and the recently finished Te Matau a Pohe bridge cost $32 million dollars.

Another Councillor is worried this project will leave the WDC in a similar state to the Kaipara Council after that council misinvested in a sewerage project. The original budget for that project was $35 million and the total cost became $60 million. This is a small project compared to this and the construction of an art gallery is very predictable compared to a major sewerage system.

Spending $8 million on an Cultural project that will make Whangarei an international destination is a prudent decision and the current motion to cancel the project is unwise.

More about the project can be read here: http://www.wdc.govt.nz/FacilitiesandRecreation/Town-Basin/Pages/Hundertwasser-Art-Centre.aspx

If you would like your name attached to a letter that I am sending to the council to reject the motion being put forward by the Councillors: “That the Hundertwasser project not be included in this year’s annual plan and that staff be instructed to remove all reference to the Hundertwasser project in forthcoming workshops and annual plan drafts.” as being undemocratic and unwise can you please email me barnaby@projectfreerange.com tonight.

I will send the email first thing in the morning.  Can you please include your name and any fancy sounds positions you might hold. Also be great if you could say whether you grew up or had a connection to Whangarei.