Tag Archives: Christchurch future

Christchurch Resurgent [9]

24 December 2011.

So what lies ahead for the City of Christchurch? Buildings are going down all over the place at an ever-increasing rate. We are fast approaching a point in the road at which a decision on the shape of things to come must be made. We are now at a stage where an overall plan must be presented, but despite the Herculean efforts of many, all we have are vague pronouncements and piecemeal draughts of assorted visions that look very pretty on paper but that is as far as they go. None, so far, have the stamp of consensus. All are shallow, the work of technicians, not visionaries.

Christchurch’s beginnings lie clearly and firmly within a fully enunciated and finely detailed ideology. The Victorians were dedicated to imposing imperial order on the benighted chaos of Terra Nullia. Within that order, everything had to have meaning, and a meaning that was blindingly apparent to all [of that era] who saw it. That meaning was the divinely mandated mission of the Empire to bring the glory of Christian enlightenment and English law to the very ends of the earth. The builders of Christchurch were doing God’s Work, building a British Utopia in this, the farthest reach of Empire.

Were they right or wrong? I have absolutely no idea. To judge the purposes of imperial ideology in the light of post-modern political correctness is both vain and meaningless – not to mention quite beside the point here. I do know that the Victorians had a unified vision of what their bright new City should look like, how it would operate, and what symbols it would present to an admiring world. They argued fiercely amongst themselves about ways and means, but they were totally unified in their understanding of the underlying ideology, and in the ultimate source and inspiration of that ideology, lending a fine sense of eurhythmy to the emergent City.

We have two huge barriers to a repeat performance of such unanimity, the first being that the City is now wholly owned by a very large and disparate number of title-holders, many of them not Christchurch or even New Zealand residents, and all of whom have their own ideas about what should be built on their land, and how to go about building it. They will get about their rebuilding in their own good time, in their own individual ways, according to their own visions, needs and finances, and bugger eurhythmy.

Secondly, this firmly secular and staunchly individualistic society no longer has such a universally recognised ideology. In its place we have a hodgepodge of visions, mostly conflicting, the result of that religion of individualism that has undermined any earlier sense of cohesion. Pervading this is the barely bridled capitalism that is the outgrowth of unadulterated materialism, a capitalist ethic that demands that maximum profits be extracted from the minimum outlay in the shortest possible time. Much as I would love to see a new City of high quality and coherent planning, a City that will be a foundation for the next five hundred years, grow out of the rubble, I fear that weak and divided leadership and ad hoc, unco-ordinated decision-making shall leave us with a shambles and dreams of what might have been.

I believe that the new City of Christchurch shall in time emerge as a tourist precinct, not as a commercial centre.

The solicitors, the chartered accountants, the architects, the stockbrokers and the rest shall stay in their suburban communities. The City – what is left of it – shall draw in around Cathedral Square. It is noteworthy that of all the high-rise inner City buildings that are likely to remain are hotels: Ridges, the Millennium, the Heritage, Novotel, the Quest and the Marque. Close to four thousand beds lie within a couple of hundred metres of the Christ Church Cathedral.

I can see a much smaller City Centre evolving into a tourist hub, with bars and cafés, souvenir shops and ‘craft’ markets springing up to service a core made up of the main hotels. There shall be banks and Bureaux de Change, but these shall be branches rather than primary sites, and there shall be little commercial activity beyond that required to cater to the day to day needs of the tourist industry. The primary banks shall establish themselves outside the City proper, alongside the other financial houses. The once-burgeoning English-language trade will resurface in time, but it will probably be centred on Riccarton with its large shopping mall, and Ilam, where it can bask in the reflected academic glow of the University. Most of the land in the central City, particularly in the south-east quadrant, the area between Manchester Street and Fitzgerald Avenue, and north of Peterborough Street, will be given over to warehousing or bulk barns like Briscoe’s and Bunnings’.

What was the City could well become a back-water for tourists, with its restaurant-lined river, its botanic gardens, Museum and Art Gallery. Small shops in low-rise buildings would gradually open, with most development taking place along the route of a restored tramline. Gardens, lawns and flower-beds would be planted to cover a much wider riverine reserve extending from the heart of the City right along to New Brighton.

As visions go, maybe that is not such a bad one after all.

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