Perspective piece by Mark Gibson for Eyes East Episode 6 (Focus on Community Connections from City to Sea)
An excellent way to orientate yourself to what is happening in the east along the Otakaro-Avon corridor, and especially the transformation in the Residential Red Zone (RRZ), is to walk through it. This is why I have now led ten community walks from the city to the sea, or the reverse, over the last four years.
With the clearance of the former suburbs completed you can see the land for what it is, and you can see signs of it slowly becoming itself again. You see how low-lying it is, you see how and where water pools, and you can see the cabbage trees seeking to reassert their dominance. Before the suburban overlay was imposed incrementally this flood plain was largely wetland.
In 2013 during a television interview, Ngai Tahu Kaiwhakahaere, Sir Mark Solomon, spoke of the post-quake Christchurch rebuild and said: “We need to rebuild the city to the natural environment, not the natural environment to the city”.
Informing this comment was a long cultural history of experience and knowledge of this place. A local wisdom that was shared with, but ignored and rubbished by the English pioneers of the city and successive generations confident in their civilising power over nature.
As a result of the earthquakes of 2010-11 have we now experienced enough of this place to know it differently to earlier Europeans? Are we now ready to evolve in the way we live here, responsive to the nature of the land; or are we still stuck in a maladaptive place in our relationship to it? How long does the orientation programme need to be until we get it?
I suggest that the answer to these critical questions will be apparent in the decisions that are made about the future of the Avon RRZ.
A strong perspective in the east is that the land that has been red-zoned along the river now needs to be re-zoned for nature and recreation, rather than a return to the past mistake of residential subdivisions. The silver-lining of the earthquake experience is that we now have the opportunity to do things very differently, and we need to grasp this with both hands.
It is important that this is done in an integrated way. It would be another disaster to allow piecemeal, ad hoc development – this is what contributed to the mess we are now dealing with in the east. We need to make the transformation of the RRZ into a world-class, city to sea, urban ecological reserve, and multi-purpose park that meets diverse needs, another anchor project - for the regeneration of the east.
Equally important is that this project is done with local communities. A grand re-design imposed on the people and communities of the east would rub salt into already very deep wounds, and compound the lopsided feel of where the power lies in this city. This is the opportunity for another new beginning where communities are empowered to create the futures that they desire.
So for a meaningful regeneration of the east to happen “with” needs to be the way it’s done - with the land and with the people. Any other way will just be more of the same.
Mark Gibson is Co-chair of Avon Otakaro Network; Co-ordinator of the River of Life project; Minister of New Brighton Union Church & Eastern Strategy Co-ordinator for the Methodist Church.
Mark is also a published poet. His first book “The In-Between Land” was released in June 2015.
Mark features in Episode 6 of Eyes East, the TV series about the recovery of the eastern suburbs which can be viewed on-line at www.rebuildchristchurch.co.nz/videos/eyes-east