Part 4: An alternative explanation?
An alternative to the exploitative explanation is that the governing ‘elite’ response to the Christchurch earthquakes has exhibited a cargo cult mentality (definition of cargo cult here). Eric Crampton a Canterbury University economist who has recently moved to Wellington to work for the NZ Initiative wrote about this thinking behind the desire for higher Central Christchurch property prices in government circles.
The Blueprint produced by the Christchurch Central Development Unit purpose was the following, as reported by The NZ Herald in 2012, “The frame, in tandem with zoning provisions, reduces the extent of the central city commercial area so that the oversupply of land is addressed,” says the Blueprint. “It will help to increase the value of properties generally across the central city in a way that regulations to contain the central core, or new zoning decisions, could not.” The document goes on to say a further purpose of the frame is to create a buffer zone for the core to expand in the future — “if there is demand for housing or commercial development”.
Eric described this thinking as;
Because successful cities have high downtown property prices, they thought they could make Christchurch successful by forcing prices to be high. Well, that doesn’t work: high prices in successful cities reflect that people get a lot of value from being located in great downtowns, not the other way around.
Eric Crampton’s analysis (articles here and here) indicate the Fletcher/Crown high property price business model is a risky strategy for redeveloping Christchurch. It is a big ‘all your eggs in the one basket’ project. The risk being that the fundamental amenity value of Central Christchurch has fallen, not risen. There are less businesses, shops, workers in Central Christchurch than previously. Long-term inner city Christchurch problems of transport and parking have been put in the ‘too hard’ basket and left for another generation to solve. Christchurch itself lost just over 2000 residents or nearly 1% of its population between the 2006 and 2013 censuses. Meanwhile the neighbouring Cantabrian councils of Waimakiriri grew by about 6500, or by close to 20%; Selwyn grew by 8700 — more than a third. Eric Crampton states these facts indicate prices and rents in downtown Christchurch, in particular the east side of the CBD should fall -not rise. A local property developer explains why.
Developer Ernest Duval, founder of the post-quake property owner’s group, City Owners Rebuild Entity (Core), says the whole dynamic of central Christchurch has lurched decisively west.
“If you look, all the people-focused amenities are on the west of the city. The new Metro Sports Centre, the museum, the Botanical Gardens, the Arts Centre — all of the things people want close by are on that side.”
Duval says Cathedral Square once told its own story. It was the city’s transport hub and cinema centre. It was the natural place of ceremony and assembly.
Yet under the Government’s blueprint plan, even the civic welcoming function of Cathedral Square is to be shifted over to Victoria Square. The idea is to make that the new bicultural front door to the city, a greeting place developed in partnership with Ngai Tahu.
Duval says because of the square’s threatened loss of post-quake identity, the surrounding blocks reaching down towards Manchester St have become problematic in turn.
The contagion now threatens the Government’s East Frame, its plan to sell off six expensively acquired blocks of land, stretching from the Avon River to Lichfield Street, for inner-city apartments.
Barnaby Bennett a designer and editor is a critic of the proposed convention centre.
His argument (same link) has similar themes to the cargo cult mentality argument for the Eastern Frame in that what is happening is a result of stress and the need for the governing elite to appear in control.
Bennett says after disasters, the popular view is that it is the communities that can’t cope. There is looting and dysfunction. But as Christchurch found out, the opposite is mostly the case.
… it is instead the elite who fear they have the most to lose economically. “In the quest to appear to be in control, they often make foolish large decisions,” says Bennett.
He says it is the only reason he can see for the convention centre being made so large and taking over such a prime spot.
The Government forced through a purchase of all the properties between the square and the bend of the Avon River. It even decided to build over Gloucester Street without public consultation, saying it might make a nice internal shopping arcade.
I think Eric, Earnest and Barnaby are right and the result will be inner city Christchurch, especially on the east side, will be a sterile, expensive and a slowly built place compared to similar sized cities. Unless a new direction is found, this is a massive missed opportunity. The Canterbury region is New Zealand’s second largest region. Its population is growing much faster than the similar sized Wellington region and is only second to Auckland for population growth in the country. An expensive inner city area will reinforce the Canterbury trend of extreme decentralisation whereby businesses leave the centre and residents leave the city for neighbouring satellite towns and lifestyle blocks.