When I moved to Christchurch in January it struck me as odd that Christchurch claims to be the Garden City yet this seems to be entirely founded on a single asset, Hagley Park.
The Central City was somewhere nice to go for a bit of shopping on the weekend but it wasn't somewhere you'd want to stay for more than a couple of hours. You could loiter around the Cathedral for a little while but it felt like a get in / get out environment. Not at all the sort of rest & relaxation that the word "garden" evokes.
There were some beautiful heritage buildings but being in Cashel Street Mall for the 22 February quake I now treat such architecture with contempt.
I don't want Christchurch Central City to be rebuilt as a utilitarian investment opportunity with no thought for character, personality, aesthetic and art.
Neither do I want the old brick buildings restored to their former deadly glory.
I don't want more Frankenstein constructs like the Clarendon Tower with ugly concrete and glass rising behind a low heritage facade like Quasimodo hiding behind a flower.
Fortunately none of these things are dependent on perpetuating Christchurch's aspirational image as the Garden City.
My question is - do we even want to be known as such any more?
If we do want to be the Garden City we need to exploit our primary asset, Hagley Park, and we need to extend the concept and carry it throughout the city. We already have some bare and severely underutilised green spaces in Latimer and Cranmer Square but a garden cannot be compartmentalised into a few dedicated spaces. The concept needs to pervade every aspect of urban planning.
Perhaps the idea of a Garden City has become obsolete? Perhaps we don't care about it any more? When I wandered through Millbrook Reserve in Merivale along the Avon River the one word that came to mind was 'neglected'.
I'm not suggested we give up altogether on the idea of valuing and nurturing our natural resources - not at all. Our land is an important part of both NZ European and Maori Ngai Tahu culture and must be cherished.
In a 2002 survey by the Christchurch City Council residents stated as their priorities: water quality, wildlife, cleaning up the river, and pedestrian and cyclist access. I don't believe this has changed significantly in the intervening 9 years, if at all. But meeting these objectives does not require Christchurch to be the Garden City.
Since 22 February and particuarly since TEDxEQChCh on 21 May people have been talking about
Christchurch as a sustainable city, perhaps even become a worldwide best practice case study in sustainable design. Do we now want to be known as Christchurch the Sustainable City?
What I'm advocating for here is that we don't straddle the fence between clinging onto an obsolete brand and moving onto something new. It's confusing for residents, confusing for tourists and you can't have budgets that adequately support the development and management of two distinct visions for our city.
If we no longer want to be the Garden City then let's repurpose Hagley Park. If we no longer want to be a heritage destination then we should let go of our heritage buildings and adopt a new style of architecture for our Central City.
But above all let's decide on something otherwise the future of our Central City is this; naked tilt-slab
concrete constructions optimised for speed and efficiency of construction that's not designed for the people who have to live here, use them and walk past them every day.