I’m doing a smaller roundup of articles midweek due to a lack of time to write proper blog posts. Regular service will – hopefully – resume before much longer.
Let’s start with Christchurch. Rebecca Macfie writes (in the Listener) about what has been learnt in the five years since the Canterbury earthquakes. She highlights some lowlights:
Beyond that lie two large empty blocks that have been bought and cleared by Cera for a massive convention centre. The proposed complex was tagged by Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee as one of the priority projects in the Crown’s 2012 masterplan for the rebuilt CBD. Like an economic defibrillator, it was to kickstart the central city economy.
“In the near term it will provide certainty and confidence to the private sector, encouraging private investors to accelerate the rebuild of central Christchurch,” he wrote in advice to Cabinet in 2013. Longer term, it will “leave a legacy of buildings, public spaces and activity that will help define the rebuilt Christchurch”.
Construction was to be completed by early 2017, according to an “indicative anchor project delivery schedule” published by Cera in late 2013. But there’s nothing here except a sullen grey expanse of gravel and broken concrete, ringed by security fences.
Duval, like everyone else in Christchurch (including Mayor Lianne Dalziel), wants to know what’s going on, but no one is telling.
“We’re starved of information, and that creates uncertainty,” he says.
Some big calls that now look like they may have been the wrong calls:
The centralisation of control of such an enormous and complicated recovery task in the hands of a new government department and its minister alarmed some international experts, who wrote to Prime Minister John Key in late 2011 urging change. Among the signatories were Doug Ahlers, a recovery expert from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Sir Richard Leese of the Manchester City Council, and Kit Miyamoto, a seismic engineer with extensive experience of post-disaster reconstruction.
Offering their experience from “similar-scale disasters in other parts of the world”, they called for a governance structure that allowed business, non-government and community sectors to be heard, and warned that the decision to demolish the majority of the CBD (including repairable buildings) would lead to higher costs, a loss of city identity and a slower recovery.
“I think I can say with confidence that this could be considered by some as being worst practice,” wrote Ahlers of the Cera structure.
And some highlights:
There have also been successes – the wonderful new playground, a user-friendly bus interchange, well-advanced construction of a justice and emergency precinct for multiple agencies and 2000 staff, and an emerging “innovation precinct” that will be home to Vodafone and Kathmandu. The emerging retail precinct, consisting of four major developments driven by long-established local investors Nick Hunt, Tim Glasson, Philip Carter and Antony Gough, is generating high hopes that the area around Cashel St will become a vibrant hub.
More than 85% of the $3 billion job to repair the city’s pipes, drains and roads has been done (although only to a patch-up standard, rather than “as new”). The innovative Scirt alliance (Stronger Christchurch Infrastructure Rebuild Team) of big construction companies, local and central government is credited as a highly successful approach to getting through the horizontal infrastructure work.
New Zealand will have more natural disasters. Maybe not next year, and maybe not in my lifetime, but after all, we’re sitting on top of two shaky isles. So we need to learn from Christchurch’s experience, which means having an honest public conversation about what’s gone right and what’s gone wrong. I’ve been happy to see some challenging commentary popping up around the fifth anniversary of the quakes. May the conversation continue.
— Tom Gauld (@tomgauld) March 18, 2016
Closer to home, Gary Steel profiles Auckland’s Real Groovy record store on Audioculture – a vivacious survivor in an industry that’s undergone a few tectonic shifts over the last few decades:
As Auckland’s longest-running secondhand record store, Real Groovy has not only proved its most persistent critics wrong by surviving and prospering, but has also seen off nearly all of its competition in doing so.
Perhaps our most-loved record emporium, and the only one that bears serious comparison to California’s enormous Amoeba Music, Real Groovy has weathered a chequered past and a near-complete meltdown to revitalise itself as vinyl and music-related ephemera slowly overtake the mountains of unloved compact discs and DVDs.
Few of the busloads of daily browsers can know of this genuinely iconic shop’s beginnings up the road and around the bend from its famous location in Queen St, and it’s hard to picture just how a couple of guys with a tiny space on Mt Eden Rd could have transformed their used vinyl record shop into its current giant warehouse-like operation.
It’s been a while since I seriously spent a lot of time in a music shop – not because I’ve shifted to digital, but because I seem to have less time to seek out new music these days. But it wasn’t that long ago that visits to the big used record shops was a highlight of trips into town. There was – is – something great about browsing through big stacks of music without being totally certain about what you will find.
Cities are great in the same way: they’re big and varied, which means that it’s possible to be surprised by them. And without the element of the unexpected, what’s the point in living in the first place?
One thing that I am consistently surprised by, in cities, is the degree to which we’re willing to neglect them. Cities are, to use Ed Glaeser’s phrase, humanity’s greatest invention. But as Philip Kennicott points out in the Washington Post, American cities’ metro systems are currently undergoing shutdown because the systems were left to decay:
But above all, it is closed today for the same reason that much of what was built during the Great Society era now looks ugly to us: years of underfunding, disinvestment and deferred maintenance, a neglect that comes of a deeper social and political dysfunction. We have learned to tolerate decay, and ugliness.
That’s the reason Pershing Park, near the White House, is an eyesore today. And the same reason that outhouses in the National Park Service are often overflowing, and fountains all over Washington are out of service or nearly so. Demolition by neglect is now our maintenance policy, and not just when it comes to things we have made in bricks and mortar; it erodes our civic landscape, too.
Even more frightening: We are learning to adapt. In Flint, Mich., residents use bottled water, just as people all across the Third World drink bottled water. And today, in Washington, the city walks, bikes and hitches a ride, just as billions of residents of impoverished cities throughout the world regularly improvise their commute.
Mid-century infrastructure is reaching the end of its useful life all across the nation. But much of that Great Society infrastructure was a response to an earlier infrastructure that was, by the 1950s, reaching the end of its life. And the response then was to say: Let’s rebuild it, and let’s make it as beautiful as we can.
One of the things I appreciate about Auckland, right now, is that we are willing to invest in good design for public infrastructure. You can see that at new rail stations like Britomart and Panmure, where roofs and skylights have been designed to echo Auckland’s distinctive volcanic cones. You can certainly see it in the Pinkpath. Aesthetics don’t have an infinite value, but I’m glad that we’ve decided to assign them a non-zero value!