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Cometh the Hour

Written By: - Date published: 9:19 pm, March 7th, 2011 - 53 comments
Categories: Deep stuff, disaster, heritage, history, housing, sustainability - Tags: ,

Well it does look increasingly as if the Government’s response to the earthquake is going to be somewhere between disaster capitalism and total shortsightedness, if they really are intent on axing the Auckland rail tunnel to pay for urban renewal in Christchurch. If so, this will replace natural disaster in Christchurch with human-made disaster in Auckland, or rather a second one following the leaky buildings crisis, itself a quake in slow motion.

The latest Wikileaks revelations on Saudi Arabia’s emptying tank  only show what a bad time it is for National’s key infrastructure ministers to be championing the idea  that ‘road’s the mode’. A mode that doesn’t work in Auckland anyway. Even if petrol were free, we’d still be grinding through gridlock. Any policy that seeks to increase traffic volumes in Auckland, instead of squelching them with efficient public transport, is just madness.

Yet National’s ministers just don’t get this. I don’t know whether this is for ideological reasons, or more simply because they “would have reached their ceiling of competence as Presbyterian elders in a provincial city in the 1960′s,” as one respondent puts it here. Bit of an insult to Presbyterian elders, but the point is otherwise well made.

So the 2011 election is going to be about the city, about visions not just for Christchurch but also for Auckland. And for other cities as well, including Celia Wade-Brown’s Wellington, though their problems are currently less critical (a big one in Wellington could change that, but let’s hope not.)

This is where Labour has a real chance of setting the agenda. They’ve done it before. A series of visionary regional plans probably helped Labour win the 1946 election, an election it was expected to lose.

Much of the post-War development of New Zealand followed these plans, with the notable exception of rapid rail and a CBD tunnel in Auckland, which a succession of National governments kept putting off (they’re still at it.)

In Christchurch, the plans included a ring of new housing areas on the western side of the city. The waterlogged Bexley and Aranui areas were to be left as part of a green belt dividing Brighton from the city proper. Clearly, those old-time Ministry of Works engineers must have known a thing or two.

Knowledgeable people are now talking about relocating population from the soggiest parts of the eastern suburbs to a new town at Rolleston. Rolleston, too, was a Labour idea, though a more recent one, championed by Norman Kirk in the 1970s.

In short, what I’m getting at is that Labour needs to return to its urban roots, and set a bold agenda for the New Zealand city once again.

It goes without saying that it hasn’t done this for a generation, not since Roger Douglas’s deep-pocketed mates from the class of 1987 conned Labour into abolishing the Ministry of Works and Development in 1988. And, into repealing the Town and Country Planning Act in favour of the paradise-for-lawyers RMA. Strictly speaking it was National that passed the latter in 1991, but Geoffrey Palmer drew up the bill.

It’s true that Helen Clark’s government dipped its toe into things like urban design, built the Northern Busway, and helped upgrade Auckland public transport from shocking to merely slow everywhere else. But at the risk of being ungrateful, I don’t know if anything that happened under Helen Clark and her unstable lineup of ministers—constantly reshuffled like glass in a kaleidoscope, on the Charlton Ogburn principle—could really be classed as visionary, so much as a catchup on long-deferred maintenance.

It wasn’t until its very last year that the Clark government officially accepted rail electrification, and even the idea of a common ticket on all the buses, as necessary for Auckland.

We may, nonetheless, be in a spot of luck this time. Because if we go back to the years before the annus horribilis of 1987, we find that between 1984 and 1987, Phil Goff was a Minister of Housing with a reputation for precocious energy and innovation.

In 1985 the then 32-year old Goff was honoured with an invitation to give the annual lecture of the Auckland branch of the New Zealand Geographical Society, a lecture that in the past had been given by such figures as Professor Kenneth Cumberland, of Landmarks fame. The lecture was given in October, a little more than a year after the election. Its title was Housing in Metropolitan Areas.

Tacking a careful political course, Goff argued that housing was one area where a broadly state-directed system remained legitimate, regardless of liberalisation elsewhere.

Goff argued that it was a cop-out to narrowly target state housing development on the poor and leave the rest up to laissez-faire.

Against the narrow view of the state’s role, Goff argued that state should focus on the quality of all suburban environments, the provision of affordable finance, the development of large, well-planned blocks of land, and the general maintenance of a steady stream of new houses, in ways that would both lower the price of new housing in the market by increasing supply, and also help the private building trade to plan ahead and reduce its own build costs in a sustainable manner. These last points are more implicit than explicit, but nonetheless implied.

In effect, even though it was legitimate for the private sector to do most of the work, the state should be a cornerstone investor in land subdivision, and set both quantity and quality targets for a joint national housing venture between the government, private sector builders, and local government.

Goff paid particular attention to the new social and environmental rules that he had laid down for the development of one of the last of the old western Christchurch state properties, the New Zealand Housing Corporation’s 44 hectare Blair Block (now the Hyde Park area, off Withells Road):

An area of corporation owned land in Christchurch known as the Blair Block was before the election earmarked for sale as an exclusive high cost development. That subdivision has now been redesigned to incorporate a percentage of Corporation rental and lower cost homes for purchase as well as higher cost housing. Provision has also been made for pensioner housing. The Corporation rental units will be high quality, architecturally designed homes not identifiable as different from or inferior to private sector housing. Social segregation, epitomised in the development of Otara and Pakuranga, does not lead to the development of a healthy community. Although the stereotyping of the past does lead to some resistance to integration, I believe that most New Zealanders today support the development of socially balanced communities.

The Blair Block, which I have just referred to, is interesting for another reason as well. As a joint venture with the private sector, responsibility was placed on the Corporation’s staff to produce a coherent landscape design replacing piecemeal and un-coordinated development. The design has focused on a roading and greenway system aimed at emphasising the human needs of residents, rather than the demands imposed by the motor vehicle. Cul-de-sacs will be separated from the main road by paving and planting at intersections. The design caters for recreation spaces, public seating and planting designed to create a natural parkland effect. A walkway system protected by a canopy of trees and separated from the road by a strip of shrubs giving access to a central reserve area, will encourage walking and social contact. This sort of involvement by the corporation will create a new image for it in the 1980s.

Of course all that was 25 years ago or more, and Goff was replaced after the 1987 election; but I don’t think that such genuine engagement with social-democratic concepts of urban planning can be forgotten.

So a campaign that is likely to be about the city, will be fronted in Labour’s case by a leader experienced in social-democratic urban planning traditions.

As to where the money will come from for quality urban futures, that will be, as a more famous Labour politician said, “a question of priorities”.

As a question of priorities, Goff can start by signaling that Labour will ditch Joyce’s holiday highway brainwave, while proceeding to build a rail tunnel that has been on the books since 1924.

I take it as read the more onerous welfare cuts won’t be on Goff’s agenda either.

But beyond that, it’s clear that some of the money is going to have to come from the speculator and the current beneficiaries of a skewed financial system. It must come indirectly, from the profits of a renewed system of social land development and mortgage banking. And also more directly, from reinstatement of capital gains taxes and death duties. All of this is as recommended by many contributors to this website and also here.

For if in fact we do not claw back the capital gains of the baby-boomer boom, build more affordable housing and allow wages to catch up, the Malthusian, urban inequalities that have been built up over the last generation will soon transmit to the next. And then New Zealand will be ‘Two Zealands’, as I’ve seen it lately put. The New Zealand experiment will be concluded. I suspect, or rather hope, that Goff does not want that to happen.

To reiterate, this is how the 2011 election should be fought. On one side the city as a good place to live, in ways that also include reorienting investment to the actually productive sector (Labour). On the other, the city as a mine for mortgages payable to Aussie banks and a drag-strip for cars, whose owners can’t afford the petrol any more (National).

National must not be allowed to wriggle off this hook. It’s on this terrain that National is at its weakest and Labour at its strongest. Terrain on which Goff can’t help but look like George Bailey, and the NACT Hollow Men as a collective Henry F. Potter.

And such a campaign will engage the public. For the cities are now where most of us live, work and breathe. Even those who live in the country, or in small towns, probably have relatives in the city.

So many other political issues are of interest only to wonks, or else, here-today gone-tomorrow moral panics. But everyone is interested in the city. Everyone these days worries about Auckland traffic.

Everyone lives in a house. Most of us are worried about urban crime, welfare and inequality. And nobody wants too many kids to have emigrate in search of work that our cities should be providing.

In Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch the local mayors all have visionary plans for improvement and reconstruction. All Labour has to do to take Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch is to say, ‘Vote Labour if you want your mayor’s plans to succeed’.

This is a rare moment of opportunity. Sixty years ago there was a chapter on Wellington in a book called Great Cities of the World. The author of that chapter wrote that “The two outstanding problems are those of town planning and electoral apathy, and like a pair of simultaneous equations each of them may provide the solution for the other.”

National have been trying to stuff this political genie back into the bottle ever since. It’s time we stopped their little game.

It’s up to Phil Goff, and Labour, to nail down the election on those terms. Goff has the talent to do this. But I fear he may be afflicted by the original George Bailey’s diffidence. As W B Yeats wrote, “The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.”

We all know the problem, it’s a bit like the King’s Speech. New Zealand tends to clobber anyone who’s any good, making them think twice, three times before saying anything in the end. They keep quiet, or quietly emigrate.
Goff and Labour need to find a way to throw caution to the winds, and fast.

IMAGE CREDIT: Christchurch metropolitan works [cartographic material]. [Wellington, N.Z. : Ministry of Works, 1946] From: Appendix to the Journals of the House of Representatives of New Zealand, 1946, D-3. Digital copy. Wellington, N.Z. : National Library of New Zealand, [2008]

– ChrisH

53 comments on “Cometh the Hour ”

  1. cometh the hour, cometh the man with the plan.

    this is an amazingly well-researched article – quotes from Goff from 25 years ago!

    You’re right. Labour, in those great days of the 1930s-1950s when Labour governments made long-term plans, designed our cities – some of the most liveable in the world. And they would be even better if the plans had been followed through more completely.

    Goff should recapture some of the spirit of that speech. I’m sure he would find many friends in the urban planning community to help develop a plan for the new Christchurch. I doubt they’ll be busy answering request for help from Brownlee.

  2. Peter 2

    Plenty to digest here, thanks! One message I get from a first read is that Labour must decide to try and win the election with leadership and vision instead of simply hoping that National will lose it.

  3. higherstandard 3

    Ya know if Labour go down this track all the electorate will hear is Capital gains tax and Death duties and they will be utterly fucked – to implement either of those you will need to have agreement between Nat and Lab to progress it – neither will because they prefer to pander to the masses with tax cuts, freebies and the like.

    ….to quote Monty

    ” Just give the great unwashed a pair of oversized breasts and a happy ending, and they’ll ‘oink’ for more every time.”

    All the Nats and Labour are interested in is to maintain the parliamentary status quo where everyone gets to have a turn on the opposite side of the house every couple of terms.

    • Colonial Viper 3.1

      Ya know if Labour go down this track all the electorate will hear is Capital gains tax and Death duties and they will be utterly fucked

      Not that I disagree with your point about potential public opprobrium, but a CGT, an estate tax and an assets tax (covering the ownership of property, stocks and bonds) could be targetted to affect only a small minority of persons. Those with a net worth of over $500K for instance – a large majority of New Zealanders have net worths of much less than that.

      The sales line is simple: tax the few, provide benefits to all.

      • higherstandard 3.1.1

        CV for a start let’s consider the following.

        1. If these taxes can be targeted to affect only a small minority how much would it actually raise ?
        2. A net worth of $500k ……… I suspect on a family basis you’d hurt a huge number of potential labour voters in the large urban centres
        3. I suspect your suggestions would cause a frenzy of trust formations.

        • Colonial Viper

          All worthy points mate but I don’t believe ones which can’t be addressed.

          1) The top 100 wealthy NZers own (at a guess) $60B between them. A 10% one off levy on this wealth (which would change ZERO in their lifestyle) would pay for the public’s share of the rebuild Christchurch. Now, I’m not saying that this is what should be done, merely saying that there is a shit tonne of assets out there, much of which has been placed outside the tax base. (Sam Morgan is in this top 100 list for instance)

          2) Yes some Labour supporters would definitely be hurt. But you tax the few in order to benefit everyone. the Government would need to be seen using that money well on projects which make a distinct difference to the quality of our cities.

          3) Trusts are entities, the Govt organises them to get taxed at the same rates to remove this incentive. For instance, my understanding is that in the UK, trusts cannot be used to protect against the estate tax.

      • TightyRighty 3.1.2

        Tax the few to provide benefits to all. This is just lazy self interest wrapped in social envy of people who made something of themselves. Suck it up bitch, thank God only the useless few have the passionate vocalism, and the useful majority can see them for what they really and not as they see themselves

        • Colonial Viper

          Tax the few to provide benefits to all.

          It’s got a good ring to it eh? Stop the endless upwards redistribution of wealth for a moment and use that capital to create community and collective oriented cities and environments which everyone will benefit from.

        • bbfloyd

          is it that time of the month again tighty? or is it just the pmt before it? i wouldn’t want to attribute that kind of nasty bigoted rubbish to anyone who had thought about it with their actual brain before making the kind of ass you’ve just made of yourself.

        • prism

          Hello Tighty Righty didn’t know there was a millionaire behind the name. You are so dismissive of people being taxed according to their wealth and ability to pay (without any pain or hurt to their comfortable living expenses), that its a clear indication you are in this fortunate condition. Or else your opinions indicate that you are an ideological fossil.

          antispam – stops – As in the buck stops – here.

  4. r0b 4

    Excellent post.

    Hey – anyone in the Labour Party or Parliamentary wings reading? Read the above post. Read it twice. Then get to work!

  5. I may be wrong, but my understanding of the Blair Block sequence of decisions was that, while the Corporation owned it, the Waimairi District/County Council claimed it couldn’t be built on because it was part of their ‘green belt’. Given that, the Corporation went to sell it to private interests. The Hyde Park development was invented and then, curiously, the WCC reversed the decision about its green belt status. WCC amalgamated with the CCC in 1989. In short, my understanding is that the effect of the decisions was that a state housing area in Christchurch’s west was headed off at the pass and a largely private, upper-middle class development went ahead (the west, of course, has little liquefaction today).

    In that context, maybe Goff was trying to make the best of a done deal? Sounds possible, given that it was “before the election earmarked for sale as an exclusive, high cost development” (emphasis added).

    As I said, maybe I’m wrong. I’d like to know the truth, if anyone out there knows it.

  6. vto 6

    Good enthusiasm but sounds like a lot of Urban Planning Authority.

    Go to it if it tickles your fancy but don’t expect to impose such authority on others.

    Perhaps in fact rather this opportunity is an opportunity to let opportunity fly. Out of control even!. I mean, given that there is now an over-abundance of urban land how about some pieces of it go to other ways and means of living. You Urban Planners don’t need it all do you? Practice your skills on your disciples and leave those with wings to their own runway.

    • Colonial Viper 6.1

      Cities of the future will need to be substantially, although certainly not entirely, centrally planned.

      There is no way that you can organise a massive mass transport system in any large city otherwise, for instance.

      The the short termism of profit maximising free market property development guarantees total failure, at a time that our cities need to be designed and built to last the next 250 years.

      • vto 6.1.1

        Understand your point there but there are many examples of failed central planning. Central planning is not needed for anything more than base infrastructure. Central planners are scary in their propensity to miss the vital factors and get things wrong. 90% of NZ’s built environment has been provided by private development and I would suggest that 90% of NZers are happy with it. Anyways…

        In Christchurch it seems very clear to me that the changing demographics need to stabilise before anything even remotely solid as an idea for how to rebuild the city can take hold. For instance, the CBD will need to be cleared before the people can begin to decide if they will return there. It is no good getting ahead and coming up with wonderful centrally planned “build it and they will come” type rebuilds if the people will not use the buildings. The build must follow the people’s desires and needs – NOT the other way around, otherwise failure is a certainty.

        Similarly, it seems abundantly clear to me (due also to Chch’s previous struggles with central city living etc) that any revival and rebuild of the central city must be driven by living environments, and not some retail spectacular or office building mash-up or similar. It must come from making it a place to live first and foremost. The reason is not only is it far less likely to fail but it will also get the right heart into the city in the quickest and easiest fashion. All else will then follow.

        Of course, the retailers will not like that. I see dear old Richard Ballantyne is all upbeat (and stressed) about retail retail retail. I think some of these people need to wake up. People don’t go the city to shop, they go to the malls. Give up on it. The horse has bolted. And who wants a central city centred around consumerism anyway? Not me. Especially when there are far better things to do with it.

        So a central Christchurch, low-lying, many many green spaces dotted all over, the garden city explosion, Hagley Park sprouts tentacles reaching through the Heritage Precinct and into the CBD, several and diverse locations within to live, all new. I can see it.

        • kriswgtn

          So a central Christchurch, low-lying, many many green spaces dotted all over, the garden city explosion, Hagley Park sprouts tentacles reaching through the Heritage Precinct and into the CBD, several and diverse locations within to live, all new. I can see it.

          And I totally agree with you on this..Why build more malls when heading south you have Riccarton Mall,Papanui Mall, Linwood Mall etc etc etc.

          I hope they dont fuck this up but I have a feeling they will.

      • vto 6.1.2

        Oh, and giving development and architecture an absolute free rein in a part of the city is a must-have. Let your mind wander for a moment and think of the possibilities. It is this type of possibility that may lift Chch onto some international stages…

    • prism 6.2

      vto Are you thinking that there could be community farms set up on the east side, with sparse housing built to ‘float’ on a high water table/liquefaction? This would be another land use and means of living for those who like to live simply, work with their physical as well as mental faculties and grow their own food.

      Was this your thought or what ideas were prompting your comment?

      • vto 6.2.1

        prism, not that specifically but it would certainly fit within the framework imagined. There are many ways that living environments can be organised and it just scares me that a politician and a bureaucracy somewhere may attempt a city-wide determination for us. Which they will attempt of course.

        In mind more was a view of the opportunity to place in various areas of the city some new and nil rules for living to see what the human ideal can produce. Imo some things quite innovative and internationally spectacular could result in the blink of a couple of eyes. And with little risk of negative effect on the general pace and place of all other things.

        Why wouldn’t you?

        • prism

          vto – Thinking about what it could be like. Would probably end up with a real mixture of the eccentric and different concepts. Some might visually look like a Hundertwasser town painting. Would need structural and health overviews from the Council, but without a deadening hand on innovation, to ensure that living conditions didn’t deteriorate because of inadequate design. I don’t trust bright sparks to think sensibly about all needed and practical human requirements. Could have one area for architects, another for more organic designs.

          • vto

            I don’t trust bright sparks either, other than for their bright sparks. And that is exactly where the important crux to getting things right comes in… it is crucial there is a nexus-thingy between the new environment and its creators. This always lacks where planners and politicians and etc can participate in something such as this and then leave their job or position and just 30 seconds spray and walk away. By the nature of such relationships they are not appropriate for such a job. Hence my earlier call that this new build must be led by the people and their desires and needs, not by a determinator from above.

            As for the scary thought of our neighbours being able to parade themselves as a Hunderwasser town painting, well people do that every day with what they dress themselves in down our street so I aint too concerned. They are few. Ish.

            I am merely sowing the seeds for what could be. Christchurch had previously occupied a unique world-wide geographical position which the world (north of Bombay) was only just starting to cotton onto. In fact the city imo was on its way to supercede even the north in its import and position. The earthquake has opened all of this up like a tin can..

            • Pascal's bookie

              What do you reckon about the idea, (that I’ve seen kicked about in a few spots), of holding an international competition for the rebuild design, with the locals getting to vote on the winning design?

              Obviously you don’t want to let some nonce do all the detailing, but I think at the broadest level the idea has some merit in attracting international attention to the city’s rebuild.
              (Also, world class cheap $$$ design if handled right as the winner gets recognition and mana for being picked for such a prestigious and monumental project, just sayin).

              • vto

                Still lacks the required nexus. Who would get to vote? The people who want to live back in the city? And people who wont go near the city again? And non-ratepayers? oo-eerrrr, I’ll leave those squibbly bits to you. Sounds just like what is being avoided.. design by committee.

                In a bit of a nuttyshell.. the design and build and habitation of such should be decided on by those who will live in and use that space, with a nod to their wider community. It is the only way to get the built space right for its users.

                edit: I don’t think there will be any difficulty attracting international talenrt to the rebuild. It is the oportunity of a lifetime for much of the international community too.

  7. fatty 7

    “In Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch the local mayors all have visionary plans for improvement and reconstruction. All Labour has to do to take Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch is to say, ‘Vote Labour if you want your mayor’s plans to succeed’.”

    WTF are Bob Parker’s plans?..a few months ago the issue was the dominance of the malls over the central city, orange jacket’s response was to build a giant mall in the city centre…nice one, what an ignorant dumbass. He gave his mate $17 million for being a failure, paid millions for a flower show instead of investing it in our city’s people.
    He is the worst thing about Christchurch. He’s as useful as an STD.

    ‘Vote Labour if you want your mayor’s plans to succeed’

    I want him to fail.

    • ChrisH 7.1

      @ Fatty – This is the sort of thing I had in mind: http://chchtransport.wordpress.com/2010/11/04/university-academic-comments-on-light-rail/ . A mall’s not necessarily a bad idea provided car parking is kept to a minimum, lots of cities have supermarkets in the CBD area (Wellington included). Can’t comment too much about the rest!

      • fatty 7.1.1

        True, I was wrong there, I forgot about the light rail….and this does offer me hope:

        “While visiting the Pacific Northwest, I hope that the mayor also observed the extensive investment put into cycling, particularly in Vancouver and Portland.
        This ranges from cycle lanes to pathways, lower speed limits, car- free zones and “bicycle boulevards”, much more than our current token efforts here.
        Such investment, together with pedestrian-friendly urban design, strongly complements good public transport investment.
        Particularly in conjunction with allowing bikes on public transport, it provides for a wider range of journey distances and destinations and thus offers a viable alternative to many private motor vehicle journeys.”

        I really hope Christchurch changes a lot, there’s no doubting this is an opportunity that we are ‘lucky’ to have.
        Bob’s history as Christchurch mayor in most instances has been to side with the powerful at the expense of the general public, I hope things change, but have my reservations

  8. ianmac 8

    Be interesting to get Ian Athfield’s view on Cometh the Hour. He will have an influence on future directions. Great post by the way. Plenty to think about.

    • Alwyn 8.1

      Whatever he might say he would presumably be opposed to any planning or central authority having any say in what was built.
      In the book “Home Work Leading New Zealand Architects’ Own Houses”, he says in the section on his own home in Welllington when talking about the Wellingto City Council.
      “I think there’s a sort of unspoken acknowledgement that it’s probably better that I shouldn’t be questioned about what I’m doing up here. I haven’t got a consent for 25 years. I don’t think the council is interested in picking a fight.”

  9. Jenny 10

    The ball is in the oppositions court

  10. Afewknowthetruth 11

    We are living in a post peak oil world and none of the old ‘rules’ apply anymore, and worn old policies of the past are highly counter-productive.

    Practically all economic activity in the present system is dependent on cheap oil, and the financial arrangements are dependent on an INCREASING supply of cheap oil: complete failure of the system is written into the system.

    Those who are ‘awake’ have known for a decade this crisis was coming and did their best to prevent a hard landing.Most people were not the least bit interested. So now we have the hard landing.

    Even at this late stage in the game we could prevent a ‘splat on the concrete landing’ by throwing out all the old, redundant paradigms. But we won\’t. We should recognise that ‘growth’ and development’ are a at the heart of the predicament we are in. But we won\’t. The bansksters and global corporations who have a strangleholkd on society will not have a bar of it and 99%+ of the populace just don\’t get it because they don\’t want to.

    So we will witness catastrophic failure of society over the coming few years as we squander what is left of the cheap oil on various forms of lunacy. That will be followed by complete collapse of industrial living at some stage over the next 20 years, possibly a lot sooner.

    To believe any political party or individual can halt geophysical/geochemical forces is to be uttterly deluded. Most people are deluded, They are infected with industrial disease and don\’t know it. .

    ‘what an ignorant dumbass.’ All politicians and mayors etc. are ‘ignorant diumbasses’. That’s why there is no hope for most people. The ‘ignorant dumbasses’ will continue to lead society towards catastrophe: it’s all they are capable of.

    • Luva 11.1

      You have been repeating this boring armagedon speech for several months now. Your message is consistent and repeated ad nauseum. But tour negativity is getting me down because I can’t see what your solution to this catastrophic collapse is?

      You are good at scaring us or trying to but you don’t have many answers!

      Care to enlighten us on how we all avoid the shit storm you have forecast

      • Afewknowthetruth 11.1.1

        Sorry the truth is so boring.

        Permaculture and Powerdown probably offer the best responses to this predicament in the short term (as I kept saying through 2005 to 2009 -it’s all in the books I have written; of course most people were not listening when the window of opportunity was wide open).

        Now it is too late for any solutions as such. But those who disengage from mainstream culture as much as possible will undoubtedly fare better than those who continue to adhere to mainstream culture duing the meltdown.

        By the way, the bizarre narrative of the ‘need for GDP growth’ and ‘salvation via development’ gets relentlessly repeated, much more than anything I say!

      • lprent 11.1.2

        Actually a good question*, especially in view of this post which is all about making future choices in the rebuild process.

        * Surprised the hell out of me bearing in mind your usual attitudes to engaging with other commentators around here.

    • vto 11.2

      “So we will witness catastrophic failure of society ..”

      Well mr few, you may well get the chance to witness such failure on a smaller scale here in Chch over the next few weeks or so. Small pockets here and there I suspect may go through types of societal failure (some already have to an extent). Not always anarchic and disruptive, but also simply change in how groups organise themselves, how big they are, how they function.

      In fact, in our corner of the city it has certainly gone through a type of societal failure. Putting aside the grimness and tragedy and smelly discomfort for a moment, it is certainly a facsinating time. Come visit and experience it! (not allowed to bring anything but the clothes you wear for authenticity purposes)

  11. Luva 12

    I don’t find the ‘truth’ boring. I find the repetition of the ‘truth’ without any practical solutions boring.

    If the situation is as dire as you suggest and it is to late for permaculture and powerdown what hope is there?

    I might as well buy a v8 and go down driving a fast gas guzzling car

    • Tel 12.1

      By going down driving a fast gas guzzling car, under National transport policy I take that to mean sitting in a grid lock queue to the petrol station as the looters tear the car apart! 😈

    • Afewknowthetruth 12.2

      A good article here

      ‘This time when we go down it will be global. There are no new lands to pillage, no new peoples to exploit. Technology, which has obliterated the constraints of time and space, has turned our global village into a global death trap. The fate of Easter Island will be writ large across the broad expanse of planet Earth.’
      Full article at

      Kindly note that the author got the CO2 content wrong. It’s not 329ppm but is 391ppm, so is already 41ppm above the prostulated upper limit of 350ppm for continuation of life on this planet, and is rising at over 2ppm per annum.

    • Luva
      That is why in 2001 after working out how stuffed it all is, I went and had a vasectomy, not because I don’t like children, but because if I had one the thought of it trying to live through this shit storm was so disheartening.
      But instead of wasting my money in a selfish V8 blur, I went and spent most of my spare time and money trying to wake people up … but I failed miserably, just like AFKTT.

  12. One: Surely the rebuilding of Christchurch must occur well away from low-lying land regardless of soil conditions and technical ability to build stable structures – because of the likelihood of sea-rise.
    Two: It could also be on the village model: town centre, residential in the next circle with gardens, green parks and industrial in the outer circle for work. Many towns rather than one city so that it will be possible to walk to all the amenities. Peak oil is real – atmospheric warming is real -planning for powering down is the intelligent way.

  13. Afewknowthetruth 14

    The sane response to the Christchurch debacle would be to forget what was, and build modest, energy efficient homes in small clusters, with plenty of adjacent land for food production, more than 10 metres above current high tide level.

  14. Colonial Viper 15

    Key losing plot, he says 10,000 houses gone, CD says 2,190

    Official figures released today by Civil Defence tag the number of homes condemned to date in Christchurch at 2190 – about 7800 shy of John Key’s estimate of 10,000 – causing some to question where the Prime Minister’s office is getting its information.

    Although hundreds, if not thousands more houses could be red-stickered (signaling their destruction) as inspectors continue the arduous assessment process in Christchurch, Civil Defence staff were scratching their heads yesterday following Key’s update on the earthquake situation.


  15. prism 16


    I mean, given that there is now an over-abundance of urban land how about some pieces of it go to other ways and means of living. You Urban Planners don’t need it all do you? Practice your skills on your disciples and leave those with wings to their own runway.

    I am interested in what you mean. Can you spell it out for the east? I wondered if you meant that using the east for community farms Bexley-way might be a good idea. Using the land, but as someone said, having sparse housing in groups above high-tide level, considering that we are expecting storm surges with the rising seas predicted.

    Or were you thinking only about central Christchurch?

  16. Jenny 17

    Q: What’s possible?

    A: Everything is possible

    To live comfortably in an active earthquake zone is possible.

    Buildings can be made Earthquake resistant and needn’t kill.

    Services also, can be toughened and made earth quake resistant as well.

    Every house in an earthquake zone should have a back up rain fed water tank. At the other end of the water cycle, every street in an earthquake zone should have an emergency sump able to hold at least a weeks worth of sewerage. Steel and concrete waste pipes should be replaced with deformable polyurethane pipes. For very little extra cost the main trunk of such systems could be built with passive sensors that in an emergency could be accessed to pinpoint breaks and deformations, aiding swift location and repair.

    For power and communications, overhead is more reliable than underground, and if damaged much swifter to repair. With proper design fully integrated overhead systems needn’t be a purely functional eyesore.

    With a switch to overhead, Christchurch could be the first city in the land to have full broadband communications. (In an emergency good communications are vital often being the difference between life and death, helping in the making informed decisions by those on the ground and getting urgent messages to the authorities out) .

    Becoming our first fully wired city, Christchurch could become an IT hub.

    Brain’s idea of energy efficient homes at least 10 metres above sea level with lots of open ground for urban farming projects, sounds like sense as well. In an emergency where supply chains can break down, at least some food would be near at hand.

    To avoid becoming a commuting nightmare a comprehensive fully integrated public transport system would be vital as well.

    Is this,or some variation of this possible?

    Of course it is.

    All that is missing is the political will.

    Napier was rebuilt – Christchurch will be be too – hopefully better and stronger and healthier and safer than before.

  17. prism 18

    The idea for central Christchurch regeneration involving using Hagley Park as the ground for a new planned city heart, and laying down a new park in the old square and where buildings need to come down would be a positive solution to the present messy interior. Work could go on in parallel on the new park and the necessary demolishment at the same time as the Hagley ‘Square’ development.

    The owners of unsafe buildings or those that stood in the new park land could be offered an exchange of land to the new area. The Cathedral and other retained historic buildings would be at the edge of parkland. The new park would need to be big enough so that all the present uses of present Hagley Park could continue. I haven’t looked at a map and outlined the relevant areas to see if this is doable but if so it’s worth considering. Trees could be saved where possible and more planted around the new park.

    • vto 18.1

      mr prism, I had always thought pre-earthquakes that the City Council, in trying to re-ignite the central city, would have been better to buy and demolish those couple of ugly fugly buildings on its northwest side (names escaped my late tired bwain) rather than lay and re-lay cobbly stones on the pavement. It would have opened up the centre something sunny..

      and been cheaper

      btw, an answer above too.

  18. ChrisH 19

    Thanks to all those who’ve supported this post. There’s a lot of really good ideas coming out in the comments IMHO, especially the point about 30 seconds spray and walk away, which in a nutshell is why a lot of conventional management theories don’t work for the city, or indeed, at all. As Brian Easton says in the Listener, 5 March, “First, every business needs a cornerstone owner committed to its future, not the flashy wideboys who flick the firm on from one temporary owner to another, damaging it each time, as happened to NZ Steel, Telecom, the railways, Air New Zealand…. “. And Whitcoulls one might add. The point is that if a revolving door collection of suits can stuff a company, how much more so for a city. And that in a nutshell is the essence of some of the commenters’ criticism of central planners, bureaucrats, politicians and all the rest, not to mention developers–not that some aren’t trying to do their best in a system that nonetheless encourages greed, short-termism, amnesia, and mediocrity. Obviously we need planning etc, and as I point out, if the Ministry of Works had had its way Bexley would still be a wetland (see the map). But anyhow, the key issue is that if the local people of Christchurch aren’t mobilised as guardians of their own environment, because they live there and have to put up for the rest of their lives with whatever decisions are being made now, you can expect that things will turn out not to their satisfaction. The people of Christchurch are, collectively, the “cornerstone owner” of the city in Easton’s sense. But having said that, the people need to be presented with options. The Designers Institute of New Zealand held a conference last year on innovative ideas for the Super City which probably have zero chance of getting anywhere in Auckland, but could be the basis for leveraging the international contest that some people have talked about for Christchurch. So we should thnk about getting DINZ to run the contest. And PS extensions of Hagley park are precisely the sort of thing that are likely to come up in the contest entries. On the DINZ conference, see http://www.dinz.org.nz/Events/2010/October/46049 .

  19. prism 20

    Great continuing post ChrisH and your ideas fit the description of Idealistic pragmatism which should be I think the way major approach these days.

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