Tag Archives: Earthquake

Why a completely new Arts Precinct in Christchurch is a stupid idea.

The local newspaper the Press has recently published several articles (here, here, and here) arguing why it is in the best interests of the city to demolish the Town Hall and put the insurance money into a new arts precinct.  I think this is a very misinformed view that seems to be based almost entirely on information from press releases from the office of Gerry Brownlee.   I’d ask that if The Press is going to weigh in with a strong editorial position on the city, they should, at the least, do their homework.  This article argues the case against a new large arts precinct.

[I would like to compare the editorialising of the Press to a recent article in the NZ Herald  about the St. James building in Auckland. It consists of actual research, interviews, and factual information.]

In my view any decision to demolish the Christchurch Town Hall is more than likely to lead to a new development that will: A. take longer to build than it will to repair the current Town Hall, B. be more expensive, and C. be of a lower quality.

Before explaining these a little bit of background:

In the middle of 2012 the government launched its blueprint for the city, and one of the anchor projects in this blueprint was a new arts precinct.  This precinct was based on an assumption that the Town Hall was unrepairable, and that the $70 million dollars of insurance money from this should go to the new arts precinct.

In November last year the Christchurch City Council was asked to vote on whether they would pay for the full repair of the building which was estimated to be around $127 million dollars.   After some public discussion and lobbying by groups (including one I am part of) who argued for the unique heritage, arts, and civic values of the building, the council voted unanimously (!) to pay for the full repair.  The decision was based on overwhelming support for the retention of the building in the public submission for council city plan.

The Minister in charge of Earthquake Reconstruction, Gerry Brownlee, was obviously unhappy with the decision and said all sorts of half-truths to undermine the decision (which I have previously commented on here and here). In the large cost-sharing agreement between the council and CERA that was announced in July, the Town Hall and the Arts Precinct have been passed from CERA to the Council to develop (with ultimate approval from the Minister).

A short time after this cost sharing agreement the Council ran a full public meeting about the Town Hall and the Arts Precinct outlining the work they have been doing and their recommendations.   On Tuesday the 14th of August the plans and costings for the new recommendations were made public and presented to the elected councillors.  The recommendation is that the Christchurch Town Hall is fully repaired at a cost of around $127.5 million which includes large contingencies, and around $40 million to be spent on a new arts precinct to house space for the CSO, new Court Theatre, and the Christchurch Centre for Music.

Contrary to some commentary there has been very clear decision-making about this from the Councils position.  In November last year they voted, based on popular support and expert opinion, to keep the building. This year staff members and consultants have been working on: A. what needs repairing, B. what needs upgrading. C. how long it will take, and D. How much this will cost.

A ‘final’ vote will be made by council on the 29th of this August to pick which option to proceed with.

All this information can be downloaded here from the council. [full status of Christchurch Town Hall and Arts Precinct Projects]

I would like to make a note comparing the clarity and rigour of this process with the complete opacity of the other CERA led projects.  We don’t even know the brief for the other projects like the public river park, the convention centre, or the stadium.

To explain my claim that demolishing the Town Hall and replacing it with anew precinct will lead to a slower, more expensive, and lower quality outcome here is a better explanation:

Note: The following points are made on some assumption that if we are going to knock down a world-class building we need to replace it with something of equivalent quality.   I have based my comparison on recent world-class concert halls.  We currently have an internationally recognized venue (with full repair plan and money set aside to pay for it) so it’s fair to compare to the equivalent contemporary projects.  (I’d be interested to see any examples that provide counter arguments.)

A. The executive director of the CSO Richard Ballantyne was in the paper this week stating that the 4-year repair is too long and will affect the running of the CSO.   Does he really think a new arts precinct, for which the land is not even purchased and the brief isn’t even written yet will be ready in less than four years?   History doesn’t support him.

  • The Christchurch Town Hall itself was built on time and under budget and took 6 years from Warren and Mahoney winning the competition till opening.  It opened in 1972.
  • The Copenhagen Concert Hall is smaller than the Town Hall and took 6 years to construct.  (From start of construction, so doesn’t include the long design and pre-construction processes).  This building opened in 2009.
  • The Disney Concert Hall in L.A took 15 years to construct.   (The car-park alone cost $110 million and took 9 years!) The building was constructed between 1999 and 2003.
  • The Casa Da Musica in Lisbon by OMA took 6 years from the announcement of the winner of the design competition, and was opened in 2005.

These examples illustrate that it is naïve to think we can have a new world-class facility within four years. Especially when this is going to be happening in the middle the biggest building boom in NZ history.

B. $160 million dollars sounds like a lot of money.  It is a lot of money.  It really is a lot of money. $127.5 million to fix a building is a lot of money.  But the critical point that needs to be stressed here is that $160 million isn’t much for a world-class facility to be constructed (esp. in the middle of a construction boom). The costs for the buildings mentioned above are: Copenhagen Concert Hall (which is smaller than the Town Hall) was US$300 million dollars, the Disney Concert Hall was US$274 million, and the Casa Da Mucisa cost 500 milllion euros (the amount it went over budget was the total amount we would have to build a new building).   The idea that we can get a facility anywhere near the class of what we have already for this money is deeply questionable.  Demolishing a great building and then trying to quickly and cheaply get a new facility up and running is recipe for cultural ruin.

The CERA led campaign to demolish the Town Hall frequently states that the ground quality below the Town Hall is ‘the worst in the city’.  It did suffer from lateral spread and this has damaged the building.  However the proposed site of the new arts precinct is in worse condition and will be an expensive exercise to build there.  The engineers have come up with an injection method which will stabilise the ground and bring the building up to 100% of contemporary code.

C.   There is a commonly used project management rule of thumb that a project can be delivered quickly, cheaply, and to a high quality, but that you can only get one or two of these aspects, not all three.  The task of managing a project is to pick the most appropriate factors (after the quakes, speed was obviously the most important factor). Given the obvious need to get good quality venues into the city, speed is important, and given that we have only $160 million to spend on a building, budget is a problem.  This leaves the obvious conclusion that quality will be the first victim of this process.  Given that we have a quality building already in the city it seems obvious that demolishing an existing project is not wise.  (And that’s not even accounting for the important heritage and civic value of the building).

The Town Hall was innovative when it was built in 1972.  It is an exemplary building of a global architectural movement. The acoustics were the first of its kind and have been copied around the world.  It is an award winning, internationally recognized, and important building.  You might think it is ugly. That’s fine.  It has more international status than any other building in the country.   The new plans developed by the firm Warren and Mahoney, in conjunction with the original architects, upgrades the building to all new fire, services, and earthquake codes.  Problems such as the back stage entry and accessibility will be fixed with new extensions and interventions.  This is not just a repair but a major upgrade of the building. Buildings age and the demands on them change with time, so the opportunity to spend substantial sums adapting this building for another 50 or 100 years of use is a great one.  In my mind the question should not be whether we demolish and start again, but how to best adapt the Town Hall for future use.

It is easy to put up a nice argument and say we can have our old tired Town Hall or a new shiny arts precinct.   But its more accurate to say we can have a repaired, refurbished, modernized Town Hall that we know is a world class facility, or we can take a huge risk of hoping for some design and construction miracle to deliver something quickly with little money of the same quality.

The whole mantra of this reconstruction is that we are building for future generations, and this means we have to be prudent and wise with our decisions and not make big risky gambles.

Note: My last comment would be that we should now turn our attention to making sure the smaller $40 million dollar arts precinct fulfills its potential.   We need to make sure that it is a public facility that supports the arts across the whole city. I worry that it is becoming home to a few large organisations and won’t support a wider accessibility to arts. The brief for this new centre is based off an audit done by CCDU in secret that is not publically available.  So we are making $40 million dollar decisions on information citizens can’t access. It’s crazy.

The CCDU have actually done a bit of a dirty job with the arts precinct, and given them a bit of land south of the river between Gloucester and Armagh to use for this project.  The land north of Armagh would have been much better in my opinion. It would have had north facing river frontage, be next to Victoria Square, which will be something of a cultural centre, and would be next to the Town Hall.  Again, this is the type of strange decision-making happening in this city. Major urban planning decisions being made by an organisation with no public accountability.

Perhaps the Press should be concentrating on the radical lack of public input into urban planning in this city rather than lobbying for the demolition of our cultural heritage?

Recommendations:

  1. We need a proper audit of the arts needs of the city to see what the city needs and how the council can best assist that with facilities.
  2. The function of James Hay theatre should be reviewed and perhaps requires a radically different design that offers more variety and easy reconfiguration.
  3. The CCC should be lobbying CERA to get the piece of land next to the river so the arts precinct can be close to the Town Hall and designed around the river.

Dear New Zealand: This is on you too.

Dear Rest of New Zealand, our caring family, friends, school mates, colleagues, and lost loves.  Those of you who experience Christchurch through the newspapers and the TVs.

It is now two years since the strangeness descended on Christchurch.   The first shake that set of the rolling maul of mixed emotions that continues now: senses of luck, despair, abandonment, love, hope, hopelessness, excitement, of people lost and communities gained.

Remember in hours and days after the February earthquake, staring at the television, with tears streaming down your eyes feeling powerless in the face of such violence and randomness.

Remember in the days and weeks after February trying to keep in touch with friends, loved ones, and old acquaintances. Not really knowing how to help, but offering none the less.

Remember in the weeks and months, when your focus returned to your own lives, to your own financial crisis, and your own family tragedies.   The events became something remembered in anniversaries and progressed measured through small items on the news.

The rubble maybe slowly disappearing into deep holes, but believe us when we say the city is still on fire. There are thousands of individual battles occurring across the city, it’s a massive slow moving urban bush fire that’s been raging now for 2 years. It’s hard to see the form of the future when you are fighting for your own house, securing your own city.

Whule your tears may have dried, people here are still crying, and these tears aren’t enough to put out the fires raging in our lives.   People are tired, tired from two years of stress and fighting fires.  Grey is the new colour of Christchurch, and it isn’t the sky and empty building sites.  Those photos you see of elderly people getting angry at insurance companies haven’t even had their mid-life crisis yet.

The urban surgeons and political gamblers can see a new city.  It’s not even an act of imagination for them, it’s so real it’s almost tangible.   They have such confidence in the strength of it’s vision, it’s power, its uniqueness. IT’S INNOVATIVE.  It’s best practice.   It’ll be cutting edge. It’s going to be an ICONIC CITY MOVING FORWARD.   It’s so new and exciting it can’t really be explained in language we understand.   We say “great, but who is paying for it?”  They say “Oh, you are of course, but we can’t tell you how much it will cost.”

It’s the paternal nature of the political approach that is so unsettling, experts telling  us how we want to live in our own city.    We have become so marginalized in our own city that the idea that we might have something constructive to add is considered radical.  Everything is backwards, upside down.  We fear that by the time we work it all out we will be living in someone else’s city.

It’s like ignoring the quiet terror of domestic violence. The victim is too tired to complain, too exhausted to think that there might be another type of relationship. The violence is not so much to the body as to the imagination.   The abuser is drunk on power, forcing her to sell of her grandmother’s jewellery to pay for his grandiose visions.  “But you said you like nice things” he whispers at night.

Or perhaps its the patient and the expert doctor about to undertake another round of emergency operations, they’ve almost lost her so many times, and now her family has to keep working so aren’t there to support her.  She was sick before the accident, so the doctors have decided to try some new techniques.   Trust us the doctor says we are the experts, we are doing everything to get you back to health.  She feels tired, exhausted.  The endless pain killers and aesthetic are effecting her memory, she sometimes forgets what life was like before the accident. Sometimes she gets confused and angry, “What are you doing to my body?” The doctors don’t like seeing their patients get up set, so they’ve largely stopped explaining the complex operations they are doing to her, instead politely returning questions with questions “You want to walk again don’t you?”

What’s this all about you say?  Stop talking in metaphors!  It’s hard because we are still in the fog of war, buildings demolished, news announcements made, plans launched. It’s all a confusing blur.    But there are a few simple and startling truths to start with.

We don’t actually know who is governing us.  Think about what that means.  The Canterbury Earthquake Reconstruction act means we don’t know who has authority over the big decisions in our lives.  The Christchurch City Council seems bewildered by situation, CERA tries to be friendly but is secretive to its core.

The government is in the process of the biggest government buy out of private land in our small nations history.  They claim it is voluntary but it is founded on the thuggish threat that if you don’t sell the government will cut off your power and water, and you won’t be able to insure your house.

The recent government blue print was created with no input from citizens of the city.   Doctors aren’t allowed to do this our bodies, teachers aren’t allowed to do this to our children, so why is this process (which despite their claims goes against contemporary international best practice) allowed in our city?

The government, with our tacit permission, is failing those that we owe most to, our elderly.  It is humiliating and shameful that our elders, our kuia and kaumatua are been left alone to deal with the violent bureaucracy of EQC, insurance companies, and CERA.    If society is measured by how it treats its young and elderly, then we are failing.  It is well known the elderly are strong and resolute in crisis, they understand what it means to put others ahead of themselves, to sacrifice.  But it is also well known that this sacrifice is often too much for an aged body to bear, and it is often the case that many die quickly after the initial strength and resilience.   Plans for the future are nice to things to have, but we shouldn’t forget the reality around us, even if it is hidden behind closed doors.

But this isn’t just about us.  If other ways aren’t articulated, aren’t argued for clear and loud, then this process becomes normal, inevitable.  Then politics has won over people, and your city will be next.   Even now the extraordinary legislation being used in Christchurch that enables cabinet to make executive decisions without the normal checks and balances such as the Resource Management Act has been used as a precedent in the War Memorial Project in Wellington.  Watchout New Zealand, the NZ cabinet urban design team is coming to a city near you!

The stresses of our lives, the focus on holding our own ground in difficult times is making us forget our collective powers.  We only have what we have because at various points in the past others have stood up for our rights, our rights as citizens, as parents, as children, as Maori, as women, as disabled, and even just our right to be human.

Right now there are many groups in New Zealand really fundamentally struggling to live a just life:  the young and poor, the forgotten elderly, and many many burnout and tired people in Christchurch.

Come for a visit, have a walk around and think about what your home town would look like if this happened to you, and think about how others would be able to help you. German Pastor Martin Niemöller wrote a famous poem in the late 30s.

 

First they came for the communists,

and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,

and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,

and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for me

and there was no one left to speak out for me.

 

Dear New Zealand,

This is on you too.

 

Yours,

The Freerange Team in Christchurch.

Heartbreak, despair and life lessons in earthquake town: Discovering we don’t actually have absolute rights to ‘our’ land and homes.

In 1942 my grandparents Elsie and Jack Locke moved to Christchurch with their young son Don, and bought a run down workers cottage. This was 392 Oxford Terrace, on the banks of the Avon River, in a community that came to be known as the Avon Loop. At first they were unimpressed with what must have been a damp, dark and small four-roomed house, until they looked back at the river from what was to become Elsie’s study. The river and its banks held much promise; so there they stayed and had three more children. The youngest was my mother who was born in the cottage itself, a rarity in the early 1950’s.

Years later, in the 1980’s my mother settled with my Dad to have us three kids further down stream towards the ocean. We made weekly trips back and forth between that home and the Avon Loop. Ten doors down on Oxford Terrace lives my Dad’s mother, our Grannie, Janet. We spent years along this stretch of the river with our cousins, popping in and out of the cottages, running along the riverbank, swinging in the branches of the willow trees, and revelling in the nurturing attention of our grandparents and the Avon Loop community at gatherings and festivals on the riverbank.

In recent years the Avon Loop has consisted of approximately eighty houses and numerous units in council flats. It has had a long-standing history of strong community resilience. The area started out as neighbourhood of workers houses in the late 1800’s, and became an area for young families in the 1940’s, when my family’s connection to the place began. In the mid 1970’s, a hotel in the Loop threatened to take over much of the community in its proposed expansion, prompting a coordinated community resistance. This heralded the birth of the Avon Loop Protection Association, now known as the Avon Loop Planning Association (ALPA). ALPA won, ensuring that all future developments needed to consult with the community. Furthermore, ALPA created a strong bond between all the residents, young and old, who shared the common aspiration of a connected and responsive community, where all voices and opinions could be heard. A place for the people who took care of the location that supported them, the river itself. ALPA settled into its role as the kaitiaki, the guardians of the river. My grandparents started a recycling scheme, planted the riverbank with natives and instigated the creation of a community cottage and children’s playgroup with ALPA.

However, since September the 4th 2010, anyone connected to Christchurch has had their lives changed forever. Due to two devastating earthquakes and all the smaller ones in between huge parts of Christchurch have been damaged beyond repair. The Avon Loop community was badly damaged, and this time the people have had no power or control over the fate of the community. No means to take part in the subsequent decisions made by the Government regarding the ongoing occupation of the Loop or what will become of the area in the future.

Nearly two years on from that cool spring morning in September 2010, I am sharing my story of the change and loss my family has suffered and continues experience as a result of the earthquakes. The home us kids grew up in out in the suburb of Burwood, a mudbrick house built by family, has crumbled and must be rebuilt. And we are also in the process of losing our family home, our cottage in the Loop, to land zoning and bureaucracy.

The undamaged cottage in which my parents currently live, is a beautifully built house, completed just after the February 2011 earthquake, using the materials from the original cottage that stood on the same site at 392 Oxford Terrace. The new cottage looks the same as the old one from the riverbank, and looks out onto the broken and dying magnolia trees my grandparent’s ashes are buried under. It is nestled among many others, half fallen down, demolished or abandoned. The cottage survived the earthquakes in one piece brilliantly, however the Loop has been red zoned as the riverbank is badly damaged and the land the houses sit on has sunk. The Government is unwilling to fix the riverbank, and insurance companies will no longer cover individual residences because of the new flood risk to the houses. This means all the houses will eventually have to go, whether the houses themselves are sound or not. Our parents have to leave their undamaged, year old home, as does our 92 year old Grannie who lives around the corner. She was on track to live out her days in her home with the support of my parents, however she will now be shifted to a retirement home.

At night there aren’t many lights on, a few here and there in between patches of darkness. It really does feel like coping with imminent death, as more and more households leave the Loop, finding new strong houses and communities elsewhere. This community in which I grew up in with my family, is in the process of dying. Gone are the dreams of living in a supportive, vibrant and happy community, within walking and biking distance of the city centre, living by the river and enjoying family so nearby.  Coping with this situation is very difficult, every day is different. Some days I am angry, others peaceful and accepting. It is an unknown, and no doubt long process we are all moving through together. I am still in shock and disbelief at it all, and sometimes I wonder when I will move on to the ‘next stage of grief’, to get closer to acceptance and healing. I don’t know how these things work, I’ve never felt grief like this before.

There is nothing we can do, lest we pump all of our money into a court battle with the Government we would inevitably lose. Since the second, most damaging and deadly February earthquake, the National Government established an authoritarian department called the ‘Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority’, CERA. It is headed by MP Gerry Brownlee, and has effectively taken over the Christchurch City Council’s ability to lead the city’s direction in the future. CERA has a mammoth task co-ordinating a city wide replan, rebuild and repair job, and makes it harder for itself by shutting out affected residents. They are excluding residents and alI the ideas, opinions and experience they have to offer, as well as many professional experts in areas such as design and architecture. Why they have made it impossible for public input is questionable, and as they rarely release any information, technical or otherwise we are left to feel shut out, shut down, disregarded, suspicious and disempowered.

Our family has been learning the hard way that we do not really own land and houses, just the rights to them. The Crown virtually owns New Zealand, which I argue was mostly stolen from Maori. Anyhow, the Crown, enabled by the Government can forcibly remove the rights you have to your land in such events as these. We could think of ourselves as lucky as they are buying out the entire Avon Loop along with many insurance companies, so we do not leave empty handed, if not very short changed, but I cannot consider us lucky. In fact I am fearful. I am scared that as we come back to the Loop less and less, our memories will fade. Each day I have spent there, and spend there now, walking around the riverbank and cottages, I see places that remind me of my grand parents and other memories with family. The community causes me to think daily of my connection to the land and the people on it. I am worried about what will happen when we don’t have this land. I am deeply saddened and frustrated that my daughter will not visit the Loop very often, and will have much less physical reminders of her family roots. She will not remember the time that we were here at all, as she is just two years old. I have taken all of this for granted my whole life, and now I see that not many people have grown up with such a home base.

What is certain is that next April 2013, our family will move out of the Loop, but what will become of the undamaged cottage remains to be seen. Will the Christchurch City Council be convinced to buy it as a park visitor centre? Can it be shifted to another location, or will it be deconstructed within two years of being built, reduced again to a pile of wood as the original cottage was only three years ago.

I currently feel very angry and deeply sad about our predicament, however I know that we will find a new family base somewhere when the time is right. I also know that I will be stronger for this experience, once the wounds begin to heal, and that there are many life lessons we are in the process of learning. I am not sure what they are exactly yet as I feel we are still in the midst of it all. But one thing that is for certain, which comforts me to no end, is that Nana and Grandad will forever remain in the earth on the riverbank, and for this reason alone we are forever bound to the Avon Loop, whatever may come of it in the future. It is sure that machinery will eventually dig up their resting places in order to restore the fragile, collapsed riverbank, or turn it all into a park. However, we will always return to be with our parents and grandparents, with Elsie and Jack Locke, no matter what the uncertain future holds for the river, its banks and the land the houses once stood on in the Loop. They are in the earth and a part of me, therefore I am in the earth and it is me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Dear Gerry and Roger pt I

[This is an open letter sent to The Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Reconstruction, Gerry Brownlee, and the Cera CEO, Roger Sutton]

Dear Gerry and Roger,

Re: Red Zone Decisions.

I am writing to express deep concerns about critical aspects of decision-making in Christchurch since the September 2010 earthquake. There are two areas in which your governance is failing. They are both difficult, but history and international precedent tell us they are critical to good governance. The two areas are transparency and vision.

Transparency is critical to the healthy functioning of democracy; it enables people to see why decisions are being made. In one of the most successful and well governed cities in the world, Vancouver, all council and planning meetings are held in public, filmed and archived. Deals between land-owners, councils, and governments are made in public, and are subsequently made in favour of public good.

I accept that decisions like red-zoning properties are not taken lightly, and that the motivation to protect residents in these areas is a noble one.  I also appreciate the incredible amount of detailed engineering expertise that is constantly contributing to our understanding of this very complex situation.

The people who work at Cera are, in my experience, very hard working and act with the utmost care and respect. I can only imagine the emotional toll it must take to announce night after night to communities that their homes and neighbourhoods are going to be destroyed.

This is, however a political issue, and the processes which have been created to work through these issues are, in my opinion, deeply troubling. There are much more complex and difficult situations in developing countries where the informal residents, who don’t own land, are accorded more respect and greater legal rights than the residents in the Christchurch’s red zones at the moment.

In its decisions to remove entire neighborhoods, the government has followed a course that has involved no real public or community engagement. Information is not shared with communities until a final decision has been made. For some residents, this vast chasm in communication has extended over a year now.

The decision to red-zone land is a complex one that necessarily draws on knowledge about geotechnical information, land use, property prices, and re-insurability. While there is undeniably a technical aspect to this work, the complete absence of community engagement in the decision-making process is paternal in nature and suggests a deep fear of or disrespect for the citizens who live in these places.

While it is obvious that there are complicated issues surrounding the liability of EQC and private insurers, the government should not permit this complexity to obscure the accountability of its own processes. Indeed, this complexity should encourage transparency of process. The “offer” to buy out houses cannot be presented as such if its refusal entails the withdrawal of both services and insurance. What is really on offer here is a forced removal from the land. The government knows well that the latter would call for  consultation, transparency, and for rights, such as the option of first refusal (if the land is resold at a future date) to be extended to residents. In its present terms, the government is offering a Claytons choice that illustrates cowardice in the face of the incredible bravery shown by the people here in Christchurch over the past 18 months.

We ask that you start to engage with residents before decisions are made. Tell them what is going on. They have lived through the past 18 months, why is there a need to keep information secret from the public? This invites rumours and gossip. There are two types of information at play here; that which is not of the government’s making: the land condition, the engineering reports, people’s insurance contracts etc. We understand that the current government is not to blame for the immense difficulties with these issues. Then there is another type of information which the government is responsible for: the communication, the decisions since the earthquake, the amount of money currently at stake. Acknowledge that people are mature enough to make the distinction between these. Let the sunlight in.

Please consider extending the offer on red-zone land. Five years seems a more appropriate timeframe. If you want to leave now then great take the offer, start afresh in a new house. If however the residents want to know what is happening to the area, if they think there might be a review process, if they are worried their land is going to be a park or a condo, then give people 4 or 5 years to work this out. There is a housing shortage in the city. Why force people out of perfectly good houses for no immediate reason? Time and some sense of stability are the fresh air that people need in Christchurch right now. It is your job to give them this. Not to pressure them into decisions without full knowledge of their situation and in order to conform to timelines that have no apparent logic.

At the TEDx conference in May 2011 one of the speakers talked about Christchurch becoming the place that people in the rest of the world will refer to as exemplary: “let’s do what they did in Christchurch”. Coming only a few months after February, this was a generous comment that recognized the city’s potential to pave a way for others.

Gerry and Roger, you are failing us in this vision. Your relationship with the community is paternal rather than constructive, your timelines are slow and opaque, and your power structures are vague and unarticulated. The unseemly haste to demolish the heritage of the city is at odds with the long political delays in decision making in the red zones, planning, and other areas. The people of Christchurch understand the need to make decisions based on economics and supply of capital. You need to understand that while the heritage of the city does not have a direct financial value, it does have an immense social and cultural worth. It is the government’s role to protect this worth, not expedite its destruction with false excuses of haste and cost.   There are dozens of examples both residential and urban, such as the Avon loop neighbourhood and the Anglican cathedral respectably, where there is no need to make decisions yet, time can be used in our favour.

Slow decision-making is fine and often better if the decisions are careful and people are made aware of the processes and information as to why it is taking time and what may happen. The ponderous decision-making currently emerging from Cera is unacceptable because critical decisions, like housing support for those still homeless one year after the event, are late and ineffective. The country continues to embrace the idea that no one should be left ruined or damaged by the events of the past 18 months. The hundreds of families living in cold garages, the elderly living in housing unfit for humans, the people who are soon to be forced out of perfectly good houses, and the lack of appeal or review process all illustrate your lack of ability, or will, to accomplish this.

Gerry and Roger, you are failing to give people a vision for the future, and by doing so you are extending their suffering and sense of powerlessness.  You made the peculiar decision to separate the planning of the CBD from the rest of the city, asking the City Council to create a plan for this central area, but not the rest of the city/  Through the dark times of last year they created a remarkable process and a visionary plan, that was not without problems, but that did give vision to peoples voices and much needed hope to this city.   You then sat on this plan for endless months, only to finally accept to the vision but reject the process, as if the ends can be separated from the means to achieve it.  Once again transparency was removed and powerful decisions were made behind closed doors with out any sense of logic or honest agenda.  They appointment of professional teams to work on the city offers some hope, but again there is no communication about how they were appointed, what they are doing, how they hope to achieve it, and by what criteria their success will be judged.

Soon after the February 22nd quake extraordinary legislation was passed that gave you power to do what was needed to assure that people were protected in this city. At the time, many legal experts were worried at the scope and breadth of these powers. Dean Knight of Victoria University expressed concern that the Canterbury Earthquake Response and Recovery Act 2010, “gives ministers vast and untrammelled power to change laws in the name of earthquake recovery – without adequate checks and balances and that this legislation violates basic principles within our constitution and upsets our democratic infrastructure.” His concerns were echoed by others in the legal community. These are concerns which still need to be voiced.

In an abstracted sense the earthquake legislation was concerning and dangerous, but we held our noses and let the extraordinary legislation pass as a response to the extraordinary times in Christchurch. Now, 12 months later, the practical impact of poorly considered legislation is playing out in Canterbury. The last remaining traces of democracy are being folded into Cera’s reach, as if the problems and delays were being caused by a lack of centralized power. Gerry and Roger, you of all people must understand that with power comes responsibility. You cannot demotivate, disempower, and demolish communities without taking on the responsibility to care for these people. Saying that “there is no problem” or that “the market will sort it out” or that we “are being hysterical’ or that you “can’t do anything about it” is simply an abdication of your power. The best that can be said of the Cera legislation is that is sets the conditions for a benevolent dictatorship. The key part of this contract between the government and the people of NZ is a benevolence that is lacking with frequent references the people must continue to suffer until the market responds to their needs.

Gerry and Roger, you have remarkable power in your hands. Please show some humility and change this short-sighted, opaque and ill-timed decision-making. Please engage with the people of Christchurch. If you are not capable of reflection and change, and if you are not capable of articulating, or even enabling a vision for this city, then perhaps it is time to open up space for those who can.

Yours Sincerely

Barnaby Bennett

 

Lovely Lyttelton

I thought this video sits nicely in the theme of our next release Chur Chur: Stories from the Christchurch earthquake When I visited Chch after the earthquake in February my parent’s neighbour said to me one day “I’ve realised that even though you can always rely on your family and friends, sometimes your neighbours are the people you need the most”. True true. This is a beautiful video.

Love in a Little Town from James Muir on Vimeo.

Inside the redzone

Post-quake Christchurch

Pictures and story by Kate Shuttleworth

The ground still shudders in Christchurch – there’s an underlying feeling of constant movement and instability. I had a taste of the frayed nerves that Cantabrians feel daily when I woke for a quake measuring 5.1. It jolted me upright in bed at 3am.  By the time it had registered, and I was sitting up in bed trying to decide whether jumping out of bed was warranted, it had stopped. The adrenaline and fright left me awake. The 3am startling left me lying in bed fighting to get some rest before the  start of the day – this has been the reality for some people for months.

Christchurch field officer Ian Hamill has been working solidly for the past few months trying to retrieve PPTA equipment from its office in Latimer View House on Gloucester Street within the red zone. The organisation of this brief entry into the fourth floor office space has been long and arduous for Ian. The building is red-stickered, meaning it is unsafe to enter as it stands – this does not mean automatic demolition although some owners are being given 24-hours notice that a building is going to be demolished and few are given the chance to recover possessions. The PPTA have been fortunate to gain access to the building. Two landlords and two paid engineers accompanied the PPTA’s team of four onto the site.

Mychael Stevenson, Peter Cooke, Ian Hamill and myself (Kate Shuttleworth) had an early start at the Civil Defence outpost next to the Christchurch City Art Gallery. We had a security check and photo IDs were made in order to gain access into the strictly guarded cordon last week. Driving into the red zone is what I’d imagine driving into a war zone to be like. Parts of buildings are shattered with no apparent logic – debris litters the central streets. The Christchurch cathedral has been left a shell, totally lacking in its former presence. A safety briefing outside the the former Christchurch PPTA branch office building gave us the information we needed to safely enter. A generator had been secured to allow lighting up the stair well to the fourth floor.

 

While it seemed dangerous and daunting at first the job needed to be done and engineers assured us they would be there in case of an emergency.
A generator was secured and allowed the stairwell to be lit, we’d expected it to be pitch black and had donned our headlamps in preparation for this.
The engineers worked with the building owners to remove a panel of glass on the floor  allowing access to a scissor lift to take office equipment to a truck on ground level.
The office was in a total state of chaos – littered with paper up to half a metre thick in places. Filing cabinet drawers had flown out and were strewn and buckled – their contents thrown  in all directions. Pot plants had been hurled across the room and furniture and electronics were strewn on the floor. Computers, phones, and drawers were nowhere near their places of origin. Some staff who’d been inside the building during the February earthquake did not want to go near the building as they’d been traumatized by the event. They’d given a list of personal items for us to look for – most of these were found. They included, an undamaged pair of glasses thrown across the reception area; family photographs; artwork; a samurai sword, shrapnel from the Western Front in World War I and some tins of apple tea.

We worked solidly to try and retrieve members files. If you can imagine files scattered everyone with their contents all over the place. We tried to retrieve as many files as possible but closed and very old files had to be abandoned due to lack of time.
Peter Cooke worked non-stop to secure as much electronic equipment as possible. I photographed events while clearing the reception and Rae James’ office space. Three hours later after lots of clearing, lifting and sorting we were finished and all  felt it had been a excellent team effort where we’d retrieved as much as was practically possible

 

 

Chucking Bricks in Christchurch

Christchurch has lost it’s chimneys. Perhaps it should have lost them before this. Tens of thousands of homes now have holes in their ceilings after their chimneys collapsed in the feburary earthquake, and now residents can’t light fires when they need them most. I am not a great fan of chimneys anyway. We don’t live in the stone age, and just plain burning stuff is a stone age way of heating, no matter how romantic it may be. If going to the toilet on the footpath was romantic, then it’d be behaviour on a par environmentally with heating your home by using a fire.

But Christchurch was a city built disregarding it’s environment anyway. Someone just let a town sprawl out over a shallow windless depression of drained marshland, and then let people heat everything in it with coal and wood. Many of them still did until a few weeks back. I used to live in Lytellton and cycle to work in Christchurch over the bridle path track. I’d crest that hill, sweating, at 8.30am of an autumn morning, and ahead would be a lake of coal smoke with a few tall buildings poking up through it. I’ve commuted by bicycle in Los Angeles and London as well, and Christchurch was worse to ride in than either because of it’s dependence on this insane victorian style of heating.

I like a room with a mantlepiece and a fireplace, but I really just like leaning on the mantlepiece and pretending to smoke a pipe. A fireplace nicely breaks up a boring wall, and is handy for putting bookshelves up on each side of, but actually lighting a fire in an open fireplace isn’t something that happens much in my experience. Uncontained wood burns with amazing swiftness, and almost all the heat produced by it goes straight up the chimney and warms the globe rather than warming you. Woodburners of course aren’t quite so inefficient, and they don’t need those two or three metric tonnes of brick that you can feel hanging over you in these shakey isles either. Woodburners just need a shaft of pipe, and that isn’t going to collapse and hurt anyone, or take a large chunk of roof down with it either.

I’ve lived in many old houses with chimneys, and I’ve liked all those houses, so it’s odd that I should be arguing against a part of them, but I just can’t help myself. Chimneys are inefficient, and whilst I love old buildings, I’ve never seen chimneys as being defining points of their character. If you’ve ever looked across the London rooftops, out over that sea of grotty victorian and edwardian sprawl that ends in an assault of brick on the sky, you’ll know that it’s one of the most sordid and grimy views that the world has. All that those ranks of chimneys speak of is the bad old industrial revolution. Child labour, coal smoke, the mill-worker’s failing lungs, the seamstress’s clouded eyes.

I haven’t liked the old houses I’ve lived in because they’ve had chimneys, but because they’ve been beautiful houses, even if sometimes their charm has been that of decaying grandeur. One house in Aro Valley had two chimneys that were unusable and lacked witches hats, but also had a peaked roof with a fine view. We ran left and right speaker cables down the chimneys and set a waterproofed speaker atop each, and lo, with the addition of a decent ladder a summer of fun afternoons was born.

There was another hatless chimney which used to moan oddly on windy nights. When it started to smell as well as moan I excavated it and found a dead possum atop of a lot of wet 80’s newspapers that were stuffed up there. I buried the possum, gave up on heating the room, and just put some ferns in the fireplace to catch the drips. They thrived. I didn’t.

An issue like redundant chimneys in New Zealand feels a very small thing to be concerned about in respect of the serious devastation in Japan, a country that’s never been cursed with these weighty pieces of victorian architecture. In the context of Japan’s earthquake I could grumble about nuclear power, or our insane reliance on oil, and what is more I could argue with much more force and vigour about these things than I can about chimneys. But people have long been talking about the problems with nuclear power and with oil, and no-one’s listened, and nothing’s changed, and in the mean time I might as well make an argument for getting rid of these mildly dangerous and mostly obsolete structures all around us. I doubt that the powers that be have much vested interest in chimneys, so here we might actually make a difference.

I just feel that rooftops are prime places for better things. All of our energy comes from the sun in some way (except for geologic energy and nuclear energy, and we’ve had enough of those), and rooftops are sun-traps. Brick chimneys aren’t hard to dismantle either if you tackle them carefully in a top-down fashion. I feel more people should get up there and do things with all that sun-drenched space.

You could divert your guttering to collect rainwater for the garden, or throw up a solar water-heating panel. I know of people who’ve successfully dissembled their chimney down to the mantlepiece without even putting up scaffolding.   Sure, a non-structural chimney is work to remove, but it’s not difficult work. And then you’ve got a fine hole just waiting for a skylight.

And a pile of bricks for the garden.

 

Marcus McShane

 

 

For practical advice:

http://forum.doityourself.com/fireplaces-heating-stoves-flues-chimneys/197333-removing-chimney.html

http://www.ehow.com/how_5034337_remove-victorian-brick-chimney.html

 

 

The Quake

As history uncurls her fingers from Christchurch, the stories of loss, survival, and the stupid blunt force of an indifferent planet emerge from the dust.  For those of us with friends and family in Christchurch, the test of our support is not of the past 6 days, but in the coming days, weeks, and months when the adrenaline will fade and the long slow and tedious task of re constructing lives will begin.

While the pain is individual and the stories unique to Christchurch the pattern is universal and the suffering is the same shared recently by communities around the world, from government murders in Egypt, deadly floods in Queensland, civil unrest in Libya, floods in Pakistan, droughts in China and Nth Korea, and bombs in Iraq, the list goes on.

With this in mind I’ve been impressed by the surprising humanizing role of technology in the last few weeks.  Most of the time these devices and interfaces that now consume our lives seem to take us away from the nature, loved ones, and things we really appreciate.  The frustrations to technologies that not only consume our working and relaxing hours, but are also increasingly providing mundane fodder for our conversations.  It is great then to see some truly mobilizing potential with these ubiquitous technologies.

  • Within hours of the Christchurch Earthquake google had worked with a number of organizations on a very effective missing persons interface Google Missing Person List.
  • Within days, Habitat for humanity had started a very easy to use website for both offering accommodation and finding help for places to stay at the Habitat Shelter Website.
  • A international group of volunteers called Crisescampnz has produced the beautifully designed massive collaboration site titled the Christchurch Recovery Map,
  • The Canterbury University Students Association showed the value of Student Unions with their fantastic Student Volunteer Army.

These are just four of the many responses to the Earthquake we’ve seen in the past week, they illustrate that these new technologies offer not only a speediness of set up and communication not previously possible, but also a radical repositioning of the role of the citizen.  These new technologies are becoming critical tools in what might as well be called the democracies we live in, and its a good reminder that democracy isn’t about voting every three years, its ability to engage with issues of governance as a free citizen.

Internationally we are seeing profound change in the middle east, and here too democratic forces and technology are meeting.  The global advocacy and activist group Avaaz has been enabling internet satellite into parts of Libya and Bahrain so that people there can keep up with important international news.  AVAAZ Satellite delivery. This fantastic sign from Egypt suggests we are seeing the growth of a global activist movement.  Egypt supporting America.

My last comment on the Christchurch earthquake is to realize the important work that has been going on in Nz for the past 50 years that has minimized the effects of last tuesday.  The force on buildings was TWICE what the building code asked for, so its impressive that so few collapsed.  In addition to this the rescue response sounds like it has been extraordinarily well co-ordinated given the desperate circumstances.  Brian Rudman of the Herald states

“as a small bunch of people, spread across a geologically challenged group of remote islands, we New Zealanders actually don’t do such a bad job of looking after ourselves.  Unknown to most of us, we do have structures on which to fall back in times of emergency – like Civil Defence, which had its origins after the Napier disaster and got a pat on the back from the head of the British urban rescue team, who said this was the best-organised rescue effort he’d attended, through which local communities have joined together to assist each other in moments of need.

So hats off to not just the men and women working on the ground, but to the 100’s of planner, bureaucrats and politicians who have prepared funds and expertise for disasters like this.  Here’s to long term planning, long may it continue.