This is part five in a five part series of guest posts on the Christchurch rebuild from reader Brendon Harre. It first appeared on the Making Christchurch blog.

You can read Part 1Part 2Part 3 and Part 4

Part 5: Is there an alternative model to re-developing a city centre?

The fundamental problem is how to increase amenity value without increasing property prices? How to return the amenity value created by the presence and enterprise of the community back to that community rather than to some passive site owner benefiting from increased land prices due to the efforts of others?

Obviously this is a big issue that has troubled theorists for a long time.

I will not suggest any general solutions but I will suggest a model different from Fletchers or even Mike Greer’s might have been more effective for re-developing Christchurch’s earthquake damaged inner core, in particular the Eastern Frame.

I think there was some logic for a government agency in buying up large blocks of land to ensure there is some consistency in what was rebuilt. Although it could be argued the fairest, fastest and simplest way for inner city Christchurch to rebuild would be to let the original owners to rebuild as they saw fit, but with a modern earthquake code buildings. This is what London in the most part did after the Great Fire of London. All the grand plans were eventually rejected by the Crown because of disinterested uncooperative locals and due to the fear of rioting. The major difference between the new and old London being the dictate to build in stone not wood. I believe the major flaw in the Christchurch CBD rebuild is the monopolistic nature of the process.

The eastern side of Christchurch CBD has always been the low cost, alternative, hippy and creative side of the city centre. Enterprises like start-up photography companies had premises in this part of town. Rod Donald the former co-leader of the Green party had his offices at 16 Bedford Row, which is now part of Fletchers Eastern Frame development. The interests of this ‘smaller’ end of town have not been considered in the rebuild model.

If the Crown had repackaged/planned the sites in some sort of logical way and released them back onto the market at cost for hundreds of local site owners/developers (original site owners getting the first right of purchase) to rebuild for their needs I think the community would have been better served.

Something similar to this proposal was done in Amsterdam when they redeveloped an old industrial wharf for housing and commercial space.

This being the Borneo Sporenberg project. This project was discussed in the Transportblog article Multiplication through Subdivision in 2013, as it is the inspiration for the Auckland development Vinegar Lane and some suggested changes to the Unitary plan.

Borneo Sporenburg_01

Another way to look at the Borneo Sporenburg development is it is a modern version of the traditional Euro-bloc.

Brendon Harre - Chch Part 5 - Euro Block

These are efficient high density residential building spaces because they create about 100 residential units per hectare – comparable to apartment buildings. But without the need for the same height and expensive infrastructure such as elevators. Further because each site is developed independently, each site has its own stairs and every floor has lighting and cross ventilation to the street and courtyard. This is important because if there is only one set of stairs for a group of sites and a long communal corridor it would break each floor in two, limiting light and ventilation.

The CCDU has a list of settled Crown purchases in Central Christchurch. This includes scores of purchases for the Eastern Frame. Prices ranged from $1829sqm for a 267–271 Madras St address down to $330sqm for 7 Liverpool St. With the typical prices being around the $1000sqm level. Unfortunately we don’t have the price that Fletchers pays the Crown or the details of the profit sharing agreement. So we cannot know if the Crown is making a profit or loss on land sales, if the Crown paid too much or too little for the land, although Brownlee assures us the Crown will not realise a loss.

With the CCDU purchase price figures we can do some back of the envelope calculations for our Euro-bloc build.

Let’s say the Euro-bloc courtyard developments are divided into sites that are between 7 and 10 metres wide and 10 metres deep, with a further 6 metres deep of internal courtyard space for car parking or other uses. With a height of 3 stories and the possibility of roof-top terraces.

For a 7 metre wide Euro-bloc site.

  • The whole site is 7 x (10 + 6) =112sqm
  • The building envelope would be 7m x 10m x 3 stories high = 210sqm.
  • Set the selling price for the sites at say $2000sqm, thus allowing for $1000sqm in development costs to construct paths, cycle-ways, parks etc. This means site cost is $224,000 for the 7m wide site. Note this is a comparable price to a suburban Christchurch section but at 112sqm it is one fifth the size i.e. five times more expensive –so consistent with the standard city land price curve.
  • Building cost for this sort of site could be expensive –maybe $3000sqm so $630,000 in building costs.
  • Total land plus build cost being $850,000.
  • For this you would get 210sqm of floor space, easily 4 bedrooms and multiple living spaces, a large rooftop terrace and parking in the courtyard. Alternatively you could break the space up to a ground floor commercial space. A small middle floor apartment and another top floor apartment with a roof top terrace. It is easy to imagine other ways of dividing the space between large to small residential versus commercial spaces.
  • The total build would be beyond a young nurse’s wage, but one floor, at a third of the cost, so $300,000 for a 60sqm (10sqm is lost to communal spaces –like stairs) being a large one bedroom apartment would not be.

Would this sort of Euro-bloc development be better than the Fletchers/Crown partnership CBD development?

I think it would for the following reasons.

  • Although land plus build costs are comparable to what Fletchers proposes, I doubt Fletchers apartments and townhouses will offer 210sqm of space, with parking and a large outside space.
  • Hundreds of site owners competitively completing their own builds with no ‘monopoly’ incentive to delay would likely build faster than 8 or 9 years. Some sites could probably have been started to be developed before now – 5 years after the first earthquake.
  • A modern version of the Euro-bloc would have street appeal that would attract people to the area. A fast developing, dynamic, low cost inner city residential/commercial area would add amenity value to the city.
  • The Euro-bloc proposal would be more responsive to the market/communities changing demand or preferences for inner city space –being able to flexibly change between small (60sqm) to large (210sqm) residential spaces and to switch from residential to commercial space.
  • The Euro-bloc proposal would allow original inner city landlords a way to be part of the rebuild, thus discouraging capital flight. It would maintain a large locally engaged productive capital base as opposed to encouraging passive ‘capital gains orientated’ absentee ownership of property.

In conclusion I think there is serious flaws in the Christchurch rebuild model because it only considered the needs of a limited number of property developers and the Crown, whilst ignoring the opportunity to create a broader community of beneficiaries.

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    1. If there has to be car-parking then it is best to be hidden, like in an internal courtyard. This allows the Euro-bloc to create a pedestrian friendly streetscape -this is discussed in Charles Montgomery’s Happy Cities. It gives the Euro-bloc residents a choice, they can have an internal courtyard of carparks or trees, gardens, barbecues and so on…..

      1. Carparking is not a choice; once a place is paved and reserved for cars it no other use can be chosen. The euro block illustrated has no internal carparking, but many I have seen there have underground parking. Naturally this costs more but by unbundling this parking and making it a separate cost this then does become a choice.

        These are the only viable options for this typology unless the amenity of the internal green space is to be surrendered. Naturally high quality PT is required as the foil to these or other developments being devalued by being swamped in parking.

        1. I have seen some Euro-bloc internal courtyards used for car parking -that wasn’t visible from the pedestrian orientated main road/footpath in Helsinki. But Patrick you are right that the nicer ones would have a communal garden like courtyard. Underground parking was sometimes provided but it is expensive. Of course if you mainly live, work, socialise etc in the inner city and there is good public transport then you don’t need a car or car parking……

          Also some internal courtyard are a mixed commercial use space -for deliveries, have places for storing refuse from restaurants/cafe etc. So they are sometimes functional not beautiful spaces.

      2. I would find a courtyard full of cars much more objectionable than parking in front of the houses. In a lower density development, like terraced housing, you can provide parking in the front yard without having it take up the entire width of the lot. Meaning there is still space for landscaping, and maybe a tree now and then.

  1. Now to ensure we are not building to the same “fundamental principle” of the ideal communist city.
    1. Mobility is not to be equal
    2. Distances are planned on motor city scale
    3. Vehicular traffic is to dominate
    4. City belt. Every sector is surrounded on at least two side by car parking
    Page 117 “To comprehend our examples, one must realize that our standards are the ones actually expected to prevail in the near future.”

    1. I’m not sure if you’re praising the “ideal communist city” or criticising it, but I’m amused at this comparison.

  2. Spot on Brendon- I was hoping your posts might be leading towards this type of solution. Fantastic, and so sad that a once in a lifetime opportunity to do something like this is being lost.
    Is there any hope for some other lots near the CBD to have this model applied?

  3. Let’s list some other advantages of those Eurobloc style developments.
    – Worth repeating: you can have a fairly large house with a reasonable backyard on a plot of just 200m² (8 by 25m).
    – Those sections are freehold sections. At the moment if you want anything even remotely that small you’ll always end up with a body cooperate.
    – Individuals can buy a plot and hire an architect to have their own house built.

    Now let that third point sink in for a while. That represents an entire market segment which is completely missing in Auckland.

    (bias warning — as a Belgian guy I was born with the proverbial brick in my stomach)

    What things can individuals do where a developer doesn’t need to bother:

    — You can have an architect draw up the layout of the space according to your preferences: would you like an ensuite bathroom? A walk-in wardrobe? How many bathrooms? You like a smaller or larger kitchen? You want a hallway or you want your front door directly in your living? Etc.

    Resulting in much more variety in floor plans. This advantage also flows on to people buying existing houses or renting them, since they will then also encounter all those different plans.

    — properly layout the lights and power sockets. Skipping this step is a very bad way to save money.

    — build it properly. Eg. have your cook top level. Have the dish rack in your sink actually drain into your sink. Insulate it properly, since you‘ll be paying the bills. Don’t put carpet in your kitchen. Make sure things don’t start falling apart after a few years. Save costs by building slightly smaller instead of using cheaper materials.

    In short, I think those different incentives will have a positive influence on the housing stock being built.

    1. Yeah imagine if flatbush was full of these in euroblock. We would have solved aucklands housing crises long ago without the need to be pushing the urban limits out to huapai and wellsford.

  4. Rented a house in Vathorst for close to a month earlier this year,
    2 off street car parks (1 garaged 1 under back deck), access drive-way was under back decks, plus there was also on street parking plus large car parking field on Vollenhovekade straat.
    The house was about 5.5m wide, had 5 levels, 2 toilets, 1 bathroom, 3 bedrooms plus room on roof, the house with the box of roof, kitchen on canal/street side always plenty of people on the street, lounge over looked inner shared area which was always alive with children playing.
    There were 6 of us living here, having 5 levels, allow us all to have our own space, great type of housing.
    What was most interesting about Vathorst was the mixing of housing types, this place is an architect’s play ground.

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