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.