Blueprint wins experts' approval

Posted 11 Aug 2012 by MediaStuff Popular
Posted in Business , CBD , Rebuild , Media , Positive , CCDU , Legal
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International disaster-recovery and city-regeneration experts have praised Christchurch's new blueprint. MARC GREENHILL reports.

Bill Johnson knows a good recovery plan when he sees one.

The long-term recovery manager for United States disaster-response firm Ceres Environmental headed Alabama's recovery efforts after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

He told The Press he gave Christchurch's central-city blueprint his seal of approval.

Identifying the location of Christchurch's anchor projects for investors was crucial, he said.

"This blueprint gives a lot of clarity and I think it's going to speed the recovery," he said.

"Who's staying, who's going, who's committed and what they're going to do for the ones who are staying - those are the key requirements that are necessary for a good recovery."

City and residential recovery needed to go hand in hand, he said, but Christchurch and the Katrina-battered cities faced the same issues.

Johnson was in New Orleans three years after Katrina and saw "vast" areas where the rebuild had not begun.

"Given the [Christchurch] area's still seismically active, I think the rebuild and recovery is going as fast as it can be," he said.

"Does everyone want it to happen faster? Yes, of course they do, but given the circumstances I think we're making amazing progress."

The rate of development in the city was "exciting", and ongoing quakes should be the only hold-up.

"Every time we get a hiccup, like the December quake, it seems like it just adds a few more months to everything," he said.

"It seems like that activity has dropped off dramatically, and if we continue on that course I don't see any hold-up for the rebuild of the central business district."

David Yencken, who more than 30 years ago was head of the team charged with reviving Melbourne's central business district, said the plan was 'impressive'.

During a visit to Christchurch in May he promoted the idea of precincts for the central city.

The blueprint's best features were the building- height limits and condensed commercial area, which offered the opportunity for parkland and open space.

However, it was 'far from clear' what the long-term plan was for open areas that retained commercial zoning, Yencken said.

The absence of a commitment to saving Christ Church Cathedral was a 'great pity'.

'Whether adequately covered in the current plan or not, I hope that continuous attention is paid to the protection of heritage buildings, to the creation of networks of laneways and the potential they offer for places for people to develop spontaneously,' he said.

She spoke to city planners in Christchurch in April. Lochhead said the plan built on Christchurch's "great bone structure and character".Helen Lochhead, an adjunct professor at Sydney University and a sustainable- cities expert, last year visited about 10 cities, including London, Stockholm, New York, Copenhagen and Vancouver, to study urban regeneration projects.

The condensed area contained by the green frame would create a more vibrant city centre, she said.

Anchor projects such as the stadium, library and sports facility acted as "urban acupuncture".

Lochhead applauded the creation of a design panel to oversee developments.

"In the urgent need to rebuild we often opt for expediency over longevity. However, down the track the only lasting legacy is the quality of the built environment, and to achieve this, mandating design excellence upfront is core," she said.

Charles Eadie, who led the rebuild of the Santa Cruz city centre after the 1989 San Francisco quake, said the "bones of the plan", especially the precincts and green space, were good.

However, its success relied heavily on private investors.

"In New Orleans [after Katrina], there were a lot of nice physical plans, but because there wasn't any economic feasibility underneath to support the plan and because there wasn't a lot of community support, they had a lot of false starts."

Unlike his city, which lost about 20 per cent of its buildings, Christchurch was starting mostly from scratch.

"Our task wasn't to get everybody to come back; our task was to focus on key properties to get some new retail anchors that would drive traffic to all the other retailers," Eadie said.

"There's no success downtown anywhere in the world that isn't fundamentally a retail place."

Santa Cruz's rebuild plan was completed about 18 months after the quake.

The community's ideas were included, but not at the expense of discouraging investors, Eadie said.

"It took a lot of time to work through the process, but when we were done we knew we had something that would work because the plan took away risk for investors.

"It was a blend of what people wanted and what needed to be in place," he said.

Santa Cruz's "turning point" came after about six years and most of the work was complete after 10 years.

Few could tell there had been an earthquake at the 20th anniversary celebrations.

"To us, the fact that nobody noticed meant it was successful," Eadie said.

He urged Cantabrians to be patient during the rebuild.

"It takes a long time. It's a marathon, not a sprint."

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