Re-imagining Christchurch as a 21st century CBD

In November, the Chinese held their 18th National Party Congress. As the debate focused on a new era of leadership, one of the key influences was Jeremy Rifkin’s bestseller the 3rd Industrial Revolution. Perhaps its lessons already in currency in Europe, might well apply to the reframing and rebuilding of Christchurch’s new CBD as well?


Lets consider:


  1. Getting the context for the concept right. Whatever the final form, the result must be a 21st century city hub not just some kind of late 20th century concept. This means a shift from centralised and mechanistic mindsets to distributed networked and connected mindsets. This shift is not one of just words; it goes to the concepts or ideas that inform thinking and planning.


  1. Integrated physical connection. A key characteristic of this networked world is that everything stays connected to everything else. Thus the CBD must make sure that it stays connected to the next ring – where all the action is now. It would be a pity to see a new  vibrant centre surrounded by decaying edifices.


  1. Resilient infrastructures. As the World Trade Expo in China (2010) clearly showed, the future is one where every structure provides its own energy sources and should ideally link, through micro grids, to other providers. Can Christchurch CBD be a showcase of how the future energy grids operate? This will require a major rethink from both the utilities and the Council.


  1. Freely available super fast connectivity must be a minimum. The innovation and diversity that has sprung from adversity is throwing up many innovations and connectivity has been vital for the many teleworkers operating out of cafes everywhere. For this to continue to accelerate and for Christchurch to attract the young (and not so young) knowledge workers that will drive the future, ubiquitous broadband is vital, at least to the standard that most Koreans now enjoy. Perhaps this could be funded through an innovative  shared value charge by all users, businesses in the CBD and the Council?


  1. A city that feeds itself. Cities of the future will grow some of their own food. The expectation must be that most new buildings have biophyllic walls (walls that grow things) and roof top gardens. Already Christchurch has a few of these. The overall plan – as does the City of Rome’s – should not just make provision for food production but encourage it as a key part of the new city.


  1. Steps towards a post combustion world. All the great cities of the world keep vehicles on the outside. They create spaces for people to walk and promenade. As the age of the modern motor car comes to a close, how innovative can Christchurch be? Will there be electric car charging points in preferred locations? Can the spirit that helped it cope with earthquakes be captured and nurtured through the way new people spaces are created, or will everything be hopelessly compromised to our oil addiction?


  1. Framing future institutional form. Many of our cities reflect their history through the edifices that defined their times. Sadly for Christchurch, these statements of importance (for that is what buildings are) from the 19th and early 20th century have gone. But, as the old crank handle telephone demonstrates, there should not be an undue rush to recreate these signs of familiarity. Now it is possible to deliver the services that they once provided in more cost effective and client centric ways. While this is not true for important city features like Arts and Sports complexes, one might ask what does a library of the future look like (if it exists at all) or for that matter what does a future education institution look like when so much is going on line?


None of what is being suggested above has yet to be invented. There are well proven cost effective models in many places. Now is the time to ensure that the platform for this kind of future is put in place, before the current vested interests ‘rewire the future’ with yesterday’s solutions and technologies. As the small Kansas town of Greensburg can attest (their town was wiped out by a tornado) if the future is focused on a key idea – theirs was the ’greenest small town’ in the USA – then great dynamics are set in play. Christchurch has the chance to become the world’s first 21st century distributed CBD. Perhaps one that will become a ‘must visit’ destination. On what I have seen thus far, the planning has yet to have a level of focus beyond a commendable linkage to the river. It would be a pity to have wasted this terrible calamity through a crisis of imagination!


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