Sunday, May 22, 2011

Looking to the future...

Last weekend (15 May) Claire and I went to the Westpac Arena (or whatever its latest corporate brand name is) to participate in the City Council's Share an Idea Community Expo - the first large-scale opportunity for the citizens of Christchurch to articulate their thoughts/desires for the rebuild of their city. I went because I thought it was important to be there, to seize the democratic opportunity and swell the numbers - but I also went with a fair dollop of cynicism, fully aware that this could be a token consultation, largely disconnected from the 'real business' of earthquake recovery.

I was blown away. The arena was set up with a 'speakers' corner' where invited experts were addressing a large audience sitting in the raked seats of the auditorium. On the floor there were four designated areas addressing different aspects of the rebuild. Each area had panels mounted with large-scale photos of relevant city environments. There was a wall which presented 'trigger questions' and people were invited people to provide their feedback. They could do this electronically - there was a row of computers for each of the four themes - or on post-it notes. What stunned me was the seriousness and intensity with which people were engaging. The ideas flowed. Hundreds, thousands of pieces of coloured paper. Many people silently reading what others had written. Council staff were busy removing and filing post-its as the walls filled and filled again... 10,000 people participated over two days.

In another area ample supplies of lego enabled children - and adults - to express their visions for Christchurch in 3D. The children, of course, were all constructing skyscrapers - though I suspect that, if asked, they would have vehemently denied any wish to rebuild in this style. I was hugely impressed at the number of families with young children. One man I spoke to explained that, since this was their (the children's) future, it was important that they participated in the process.

I was particularly impressed by this very solid (!) multi-coloured Hundertwasser-style construction!

There was a large-screen video of before and after the 22 February quake still shots. Another screen played interviews with adults and children talking of their visions for the future of Christchurch. There was also a big, summary wall on which people were invited to write directly. There seemed to me to be significant consensus on many aspects of the rebuild. Low rise, green, eco-friendly, wood as a preferred building material, good design - respectful of heritage but not bound by it, multi-purpose (commercial, entertainment, residential...), supportive of diversity, people-friendly, foot, bike and public transport friendly... 

There was dissension too, architecture and transport in particular hotly contested. 

I came away feeling moved and heartened by the City Council's thoughtful and creative preparation for this event, and by the response. The genie is out of the bottle. You can't invite feedback on such a scale (and this is just the beginning of the public engagement) and then ignore it. Always strongly opinionated when it comes to their city, Christchurch residents will, I believe, fight for the best solutions possible within the constraints of budget.


  1. With tears in my eyes, Jane, I read this post, on my first day back from a two week writing retreat, for which I was essentially isolated from the news of the world. So thrilling and hopeful to see in action the beauty and resilience of the human spirit and of a governmental body with the interests of the people at its heart. Gave me hope for the world at large, not just Christchurch---that eventually, goodness and right thinking does prevail---that if it can happen in one place, it can happen in the U.S., in Africa, in the Middle East---eventually---whatever the source of the destruction. Especially heartening was your long list of priorities for which there was consensus. "Low rise, green, eco-friendly, . . . " Christchurch leads by example. As a career educator, Christchurch's priority of including the children in the rightful rebuilding was the thing that most lifted my spirits---along with the encouragement of new ideas and creative problem solving. It is thrilling to think what can happen in such a nourishing environment. It is the next generation that will pick up the hammer and if we do our jobs well, they will swing it with integrity. Thanks for this lovely re-entry! dkm

  2. Thank you for taking the time to make such a thoughtful comment so soon after your return Deb. Yes, this city will belong to the next generations and it is vital that they have lots of input. Already there are youth forums underway...

    And there have been more tragic tornadoes in the US...Many shattered lives.

    I hope your 2 weeks was productive on the writing front and a very happy time spent with family. You will be reacquainting yourself with house, garden, birds...coming home is always a nice part of going away!