Property editor of the NZ Herald

British TV star urges new quake city layout

Christchurch CBD skyline.
Christchurch CBD skyline.

British designer, writer and television personality Kevin McCloud doesn't want Christchurch CBD to be rebuilt along the same traditional lines and has advocated the city's grid-type layout be broken down.

McCloud, best known for his Grand Designs TV series which screens in New Zealand, said new Christchurch architecture could be different to anywhere else - and should be.

He has called for planning to challenge the city's rigid grid forms from the old ground plan and he cited Melbourne as an example of "what happens when you relax planing laws and allow people to repopulate a city centre - it springs alive".

McCloud visited Christchurch after the earthquakes and his thoughts are in a new book, Once in a Lifetime: City-building after Disaster in Christchurch, edited by Barnaby Bennett, James Dann, Emma Johnson and Ryan Reynolds, a 512-page series of 55 essays.

McCloud said Christchurch could become a series of villages or new neighbourhoods that could be self-sufficient in food and energy, a type of super-sustainable and resilient city prototype, a place that takes biodiversity, landscape and Maori design principles to its very heart.

The new book contains a wide variety of views about Christchurch, master planning the rebuild, architecture, social and environmental issues and people's response to the earthquakes.

Shamubeel Eaqub, NZIER principal economist and from Lincoln outside Christchurch, wrote about "overly restrictive policies on height, density and urban limits" which he said needed to be considered.

Centrally planned clusters never worked because the beauty of cities was that the close proximity of different people, skills and ideas gave rise to new ways of doing things and that was the lifeblood of innovation, Eaqub said. "Creating strict precincts based on one vision of how an economy or community is organised is misguided," he wrote.

The Christchurch Central Recovery Plan had good elements but was too restrictive on building and urban design practices.

"The plan has good enough elements to get the tick but it is taking too long to implement. The longer we wait, the higher the chances of permanent damage to Christchurch's economic future as the South Island's economic capital," he warned.

Eric Crampton, ex-Canterbury University economics lecturer and now head of research with the New Zealand Initiative in Wellington, wrote how the length of time it took to plan the new city centre had disastrous consequences.

"In Christchurch, the three-year-long quest for the perfect central city plan stopped anyone downtown from proceeding with any work at all for far too long, bleeding downtown's prospective recovery as businesses fled for the suburbs or left town entirely," he wrote.

- NZ Herald

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