Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Build Christchurch Beautiful

It feels like it is a roller coaster ride in Christchurch at the moment. I hear exciting news like an art gallery opening up down the road so we can enjoy visiting a gallery again in this city, that the owners of the Dux are looking at opening up a new place for local bands to play at, also just down the road and the cardboard cathedral idea, I mentioned in the last blog post. Then there is the down news, more buildings being slated for demolition, people being very negative about the cardboard cathedral idea, and seeing photograghs of inside the CBD red zone with whole blocks just gone.
Tristan and I watched, with a small group of tourists and workers on lunch breaks, the wrecking ball smacking into the last of a multi-storey building at the end of Cashel mall. Next to it there is a big gap where other buildings used to be, including the pub we went to for dinner on the night I went into labour with Lucy. What is going to fill these empty spaces?
When we were in Melbourne we were talking with our friend, an ex Christchurch resident, who is looking to come back - but not to a boring city. I said, trying to be positive, they rebuilt Beirut three times and it is beautiful. Seven times she corrected me and then made a very wise point that I have been thinking about ever since. She said the Lebanese care for beauty and asthetics, while Kiwis are very practical. The more I have thought about that, the more it seems to be true and it worries me. As the aftershocks continue to only be small and relatively infrequent (I have felt only about three in the last week), I think about what will built in all those empty spaces.
If you don't think there is a problem being just practical you really need to listen to this talk by Grant Ryan on "The economic cost of being boring" from TedxEQCHCH.
I understand why people said they wanted working sewers and flat roads before they wanted a cardboard cathedral. But doing these ideas has no effect on sewers and roads being fixed any faster. It is a completely separate issue but it has a profound effect on the future of this city, my city, (listen to Grant Ryan - really if you haven't yet, you should). The cardboard cathedral, for example, is also to be used as public space and with the Town Hall and other usual venues still out of action we are going to need a venue in the city if we want to help support local bars, restaurants and cafes with reopening in our CBD.
I don't own any central city real estate and I keep wondering how as a resident I can encourage building owners to build Christchurch beautiful. I think we need to think carefully about support.
I have already decided we are going to dinner when Cafe Valentino is rebuilt because the owner said he intends the building to look 100 years old, the day it opens. He is doing something interesting. I think we really do need to strategically support these people - not just sit back and then be cross when we end up with a city that is practical but dull so visitors move quickly on and newcomers choose another place to live.
One thing Kiwis are good at is doing amazing things on small budgets. I don't think beautiful always has to be expensive, we need to be clever. Here are two examples of artworks that help make Melbourne the interesting place that it is - can we use ideas like this in our new buildings? Together - surely we can do it, if we don't give up because it is too hard, we're too busy trying to deal with EQC on getting our houses fixed or because we feel we have no voice. I think we all need to keep the pressure on those that do have the power either because they own the buildings or because we elected them to the council. Please Build Christchurch Beautiful, don't make me regret staying.

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5 Favourite Sights Seen

  • 1996 Watching tropical lightning turn night to day, outside a little wooden church in a small village in Sabah.
  • 2004 Flying down the Rainbow Valley at 8000ft in a cessna on a clear blue day.
  • 2003 Seeing and hearing Michael Schmacher rolling out of the pit garage in his Ferrari in Hungary.
  • 2009 Chancing upon 100 or more dolphins just off the Kaikoura Coast swimming around, jumping out of the water, doing somersaults and generally having fun.
  • 2006 Finding a pool at the bottom of a waterfall in the bush at Kaikoura that was full of playing baby seals.