Missed opportunities in the Christchurch rebuild?

Not enough consultation with central city users has gone into the rebuild of Christchurch, according to landscape architect Louise Bailey. And that’s meant missed opportunities in creating an accessible city that is lively and safe for all people of Christchurch, she says.

Bailey, who’s the NZILA chair for Canterbury/Westland, says there’s a strong feeling among her peers that the redesign of the city has been done with a “top down approach, where the powers to a degree, dictated what happened.  Much of the real estate in our city is owned by no more than a handful of individuals so Council worked with these.  The best design comes out of a combination of bottom up - working with and consulting with people who use these places - as well as having the professionals who overlay their professional knowledge into that.”

She feels the central city has lost its “fine grain” through the requirement of property owners and developers to work with larger sites. Not only did it slow down the rebuilding process but it also meant the central city has continuous edges that are one building, giving a “sameness” in design instead of the personality of smaller structures. 

 Landscape architect Louise Bailey describes Cashel street as "a mass of building."

Landscape architect Louise Bailey describes Cashel street as "a mass of building."

The Terraces development is exceptional in its variation of the materials, limited height, and interactive edges, Bailey says. (There are others just emerging that also meet the plan but not in that main central core.)

 The Terraces development which has earned praise from Bailey.

The Terraces development which has earned praise from Bailey.

“I think the blueprint was rushed, there was a bit of a panic that something had to be done really quickly,” she told Landscape Architecture Aotearoa. “And I do understand that businesses had to get up and running fairly quickly but I think maybe a lot more consultation with these business owners in the central city and a bit more time delay might have come up with a better result.”

The opportunity has also been missed to redo the streets from scratch, with careful consideration as to exactly what kind of streets were needed, she says. She cites St Asaph St as a classic example of where engineer-driven design has failed. “Cycle lanes, same width footpaths on both sides of the road and concrete build-outs make for one of the most unattractive and poorly functioning streets in the city.”

 St Asaph street - where Louise Bailey says engineer-driven design has failed.

St Asaph street - where Louise Bailey says engineer-driven design has failed.

In this one-way street the setup’s now a little too cosy for motorists. Business owners on the street have reported their safety concerns to The Press. People were “just about getting wiped out” climbing out of their cars and into traffic, they told the local paper.

An audit of the roading restructure has already recommended minor changes, including improving access to on-street parking. It’s also suggested shifting road markings to allow more space for parked motorists opening car doors, and adding edge lines to reinforce lane position.

 A novel interpretation of the parking rules in central Christchurch.

A novel interpretation of the parking rules in central Christchurch.

“What is sad is that a lot of mistakes have been repeated.” Lessons could have been learned from the Re:Start project, driven by the Central City Business Association, she says. Mostly situated on the northern side of Cashel St, Re:Start was a temporary shopping mall made up of shipping containers one or two levels high. “We realised that at that height they (the containers)  let sun in and out in to the street. But when the permanent new buildings were built they completely ignored that. While the internal courtyards work to a degree, the tall buildings on the north of Cashel St cast shade across the street, and combined with our east west orientated streets which catch the miserable easterly wind, Cashel St is now cold and uninviting, the same as it was pre-earthquakes.  In the southern hemisphere we know that tall buildings on the north side of the road cast a shadow and the taller they are the greater the shadow.

 Cashel Street is "cold and uninviting" says landscape architect Louise Bailey.

Cashel Street is "cold and uninviting" says landscape architect Louise Bailey.

“What has been now mostly delivered to us is a city that would work for people living within the central city and not for the greater area and suburbs of Christchurch. It seems to be modelled on a Jan Gehl approach which is wonderful in principle and has been implemented successfully in cities of much greater density of population, for example Melbourne and Copenhagen. The changes to these cities developed over a long period and adapted over time with the people.

“Christchurch with its small, low density population needs to take the message out of his design principles and apply it on a much smaller scale over a longer period as population increases. Perhaps in 50 years Christchurch may have that density of population that could take full advantage of the cycle lanes, bars, cafes and theatres but in the meantime it is the tourists and bureaucrats who mostly benefit.”