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A guide to Christchurch rebuild for the rest of NZ.

by on September 15th, 2014 in Freerange | No comment

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

by on September 6th, 2014 in Freerange | One comment

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.

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The Rapaki – a hybrid couture

by on June 20th, 2014 in People | 2 Comments

Long before we armed ourselves with phones featuring front-facing cameras and Instagram, the average New Zealander had to work much harder to produce a ‘selfie’. In 1860, Aotearoa’s unmatched king of the self portrait was one Gustavus Ferdinand von Tempsky. Without the aid of hashtags, Von cultivated his celebrity status via the favoured social media of the day – ‘carte-de-visits’. These were a sort of personal calling card featuring posed portraits, which became a collectable craze in the colony. Demand for images of the flamboyant Von outstripped photographers supply – and his carte-de-visits [Fig. 1] became highly sought after. Within these proto-Polaroids lies an illuminating story of Pākehā and Māori hybrid battle couture – the rāpaki.

"Gustavus Ferdinand von Tempsky - Carte-de-visite. Circa 1868." http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22308963

Fig. 1 “Gustavus Ferdinand von Tempsky – Carte-de-visite. Circa 1868.”
http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22308963

Gold-rush lured the Prussian born von Tempsky to these isles following adventures in Berlin, the Caribbean, California, Mexico, Guatemala, Salvador, Glasgow, Liverpool, Victoria and Melbourne. As war broke out across New Zealand the young von Tempsky traded the goldfields of the Coromandel for the battlefields of Taranaki. Despite one-fifth of the burgeoning colony’s population consisting of British soldiers, Māori allied to the Kīngitanga movement were proving a resilient, elusive foe to the Imperial Army. In response the Forest Rangers were formed to match Māori at their own guerilla game; it was within this elite irregular force that Von would make his name. The Forest Rangers were about as badass as their name suggests – today the SAS can trace their lineage to this group, and in the 1860s they became the heroes of the frontier. Abandoning redoubt building and marching for covert missions into the depths of enemy territory, they were rewarded with double rum rations, higher pay, and as Von’s carte-de-visits testify – fame.

Though his selfie output was decidedly less prolific than today’s teen, Von is captured in several carte-de-visits exhibiting his flair for fashion with Garibaldi shirts and out of the ordinary weaponry. His wife Amelia wrote to let him know “you are fast becoming the laughing stock of everyone with eccentricities of costume” (Von Tempsky’s Ghost, MP4). Other carte-de-visits and paintings capture him in full military costume, but none capture him in what he and his Forest Rangers became famed for fighting in – the rāpaki. Perhaps it was a vague wish to uphold some of the Victorian value placed on formality; whatever the reasons, Von’s calling cards did capture his outlandish appearance, but it was eyewitness recollections of his rāpaki battledress which cemented his reputation as an adaptive antipodean warrior.

Rāpaki is the noun which describes a Māori garment of woven harakeke worn from the waist to the knee. They were constructed from a woven base (kaupapa) which tags (hukahuka) were attached to [Fig. 2]. Māori had worn it for centuries, but the Forest Rangers were perhaps the first Pākehā to realise it was truly a garment honed for Aotearoa – and shed their trousers for what is effectively a skirt. An accurate point of adoption is untraceable, though eleven kūpapa (pro-government) Māori are recorded as serving in the Forest Rangers and could have instigated the move. Initially the Forest Rangers were issued with standard army uniforms, but in the wet bush they found their trousers quickly rotted and tore. So they improvised their own uniforms by wearing the rāpaki, subsequently enhancing their public image as that of a rough and ready band of adventurers.

"Traditional woven rāpaki from circa 1850. The archetypal rāpaki from which further types would evolve" http://collections.tepapa.govt.nz/Object/66505

Fig. 2 “Traditional woven rāpaki from circa 1850. The archetypal rāpaki from which further types would evolve”
http://collections.tepapa.govt.nz/Object/66505

Von Tempsky’s men succeeded where the British Army could not by adapting Māori methods of dress and warfare. Forest Ranger J.M. Roberts explained: “This [the tactics of the British commanders] was not the way of the colonial soldier who knew his business. We learned very early to look on a tree as a friend. If it could shelter a Māori it could also shelter us” (Cowan 25). British commanders dreaded the New Zealand bush, it was a terrain unfamiliar to them. Historian Danny Keenan explains: “The bush was just this great big primordial thing they were afraid of. It was so thick, so terrible” (Von Tempsky’s Ghost, MP4). They preferred to square up to their enemy on open ground where they were more comfortable in conflict. However for much of the New Zealand Wars the British were forced to toil over unmapped land in search of a flitting enemy, through unroaded swamps, bush, ranges, and unbridged rivers. Each man adorned with conspicuous red jackets, wrapped with radiant sashes and capped with shining regiment badge. Their army was slow to adapt and the British soldier stood out from the bush like a lighthouse in the dead of night.

The adoption of the rāpaki is a significant moment within the New Zealand Wars as it highlights a Pākehā concession to a Māori concept. Whilst the British were quick to recognize Māori chivalry and courage, they did not afford them recognition for military intelligence or technology. Within the New Zealand Wars the rāpaki can certainly be framed as technology: the science of the application of knowledge to practical purposes. Just as the pā was constructed in rapport with the land, so Māori had conceived the rāpaki to be in harmony with the bush environment. The lightweight garment allowed the wearer to move quickly through the bush with an ease of movement incomparable to trousers; perhaps why Māori named Von Tempsky ‘Manurau’ (one hundred birds) for his ability to move through the bush like a flock of birds, seemingly being in many places at once.

The rāpaki shed water naturally but dried easily over a fire when saturated. Army issue trousers rotted, ripped and were difficult to repair by comparison. Importantly rāpaki allowed rapid crossing of rivers, streams and movement through swamp [Fig. 3]. Whereas trousers had to be rolled up, removed or worn heavy and soaking until dried. As weaving skills waned Māori and Pākehā replaced harakeke for woven wool in the form of blankets. Wrapped around the waist the tartan pattern of most contributed to their similarity in appearance to the Scottish kilt, both variants can be seen in later images of the Armed Constabulary. The transfer of a Māori form re-imagined with a Pākehā material – constitutes perhaps one of the first hybrid forms used by both cultures.

"Armed Constabulary on the warpath with both harakeke & blanket rāpaki. 1868." http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23218703

Fig. 3 “Armed Constabulary on the warpath with both harakeke & blanket rāpaki. 1868.”
http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23218703

For most of New Zealand’s history the two primary cultures, Māori and Pākehā, have been separated in many ways. Conflict and confrontation has been more common than collaboration and reverence. Our relationship with the past has been an uneasy one, and the New Zealand Wars are remembered with less clarity and certainly less commemoration than wars fought elsewhere. Von and his Forest Rangers adaptation of the rāpaki, and its subsequent evolution of form is trivial within the wider context of the Wars. But it is one of many refutations to the belief that transfer of ideas and knowledge was a one way street – from Pākehā to Māori. Long held paradigms of materials, craft and conventions is upturned by an intimate understanding developed over decades, and acquired and tested within immediate environments.

The rāpaki is a salient sign of the true blurred nature of the New Zealand Wars. Neither side truly won or lost, and the sides themselves were often a tangle of Pākehā, Māori, Pākehā-Māori and kūpapa Māori [Fig 4]. At a singular time Māori and Pākehā alike utilised this bush fashion – woven from flax or wool, and paired with pounamu mere or Bowie knife. Conflict forced an eschewing of status quo for the best possible tools, forms and fashions taken and transformed from both cultures. Today, in a relative world of peace, this collaborative approach is surely a valuable weapon in forging a new New Zealand.

 

Fig. 4 "Tom Adamson (a Pākehā–Māori) and Wiremu Mutu (kūpapa Māori both wearing the r?paki. Circa 1865." http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/photograph/26792/tom-adamson-kupapa-pakeha-maori

Fig. 4 “Tom Adamson (a Pākehā–Māori) and Wiremu Mutu (kūpapa Māori both wearing the rāpaki. Circa 1865.”
http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/photograph/26792/tom-adamson-kupapa-pakeha-maori

 

Cowan, James. “Famous New Zealanders: No. 11: Colonel J. M. Roberts, N.Z.C: The Story of the Forest Rangers,” The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 8, Issue 10. Feb. 1, 1934.

Von Tempsky’s Ghost. Dir., Writ. John Milligan. 2002. NZ On Screen, 2011. MP4 File.

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Gardening With Soul

by on June 10th, 2014 in Gardening and Violence, Home, People | No comment

Gardening With Soul is an award-winning New Zealand documentary from filmmaker Jess Feast, and it has just opened nationally in New Zealand and selected cinemas across Australia. I can’t wait to check it out, it looks like a beautiful story, made even more incredible for capturing the magical day it snowed in Wellington.

Gardening with Soul premiered at the New Zealand International Film Festival in July 2013, 

Sister Loyola is one of the liveliest nonagenarians you could ever meet.

As the main gardener at the Home of Compassion in Island Bay, Wellington, her daily tasks include heavy lifting alongside vigorous spade and wheelbarrow work, which she sometimes performs on crutches. Loyola and the other Sisters of Compassion follow the vision of Mother Aubert to ‘meet the needs of the oppressed and powerless in their communities’. 

The lively, beautifully shot documentary (edited by Annie Collins. written & directed by Jess Feast) is filmed almost entirely in this small community on the southern coast of Wellington. With music by local musician David Long, and full of the sea- and garden-scapes that have informed Loyola’s life, Gardening with Soul uncovers a local legend and her community for the wider world. It is a conceptual triumph for Feast. Any belief we might harbour that becoming a nun is avoiding the real world is turned firmly on its head as we witness this extraordinary soul steer a sharp course through all weathers, trying to shine love on everything she sees. 

-Jo Randerson, International Film Festival

If you like to read up before seeing a film, I’d recommend this insightful Interview with filmmaker Jess Feast, otherwise find your local screening and get there!

Can’t wait to check it out, also if this gets you all tingly, you can download Freerange Vol.2: Gardening & Violence, which suddently feels a bit scandalous against this beautiful story.

Thanks to Gina for passing this on!

 

 

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