Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Will the REAL Garden City stand up?

"Drive by snap shots" (sorry bout quality) - passing damaged buildings south end of Manchester Street. This posting advocates building a village [with a distinctive garden plot] with a broad income strata and work-live units as an alternative to derelict car parking spaces and slab tilt warehouses otherwise likely. The trend - to be less trendy! And get Housing Corp and other big players on side, for some parts of the larger projects. 

Briar, a Canadian born friend with an exburerant nature made this comment a few weeks back on her Facebook after cruising the inner city night life (hmmm mebbe cruisin' aint the right word here!);

"I just spent a couple of hours doing an architectural/cultural tour of the lanes in the inner city. Gorgeous buildings, but whoeverthought up the idea that "Inner City Revitalisation" = boutique retail and fancy places to drink needs their priorities brought to light. What is aesthetically pleasing about drunk... people with money? *chuckles* gotta love Chch.

Ahh, such an artist, giving form to feelings already vaguely felt, not yet crystallized, not yet real-ized by others. But so right. There seems to me (note; me = a regular wine drinker) something terribly boring/passe about the glorification of drinking coffee all day and wine all night, and paying high prices for any piece of food given an Italian name, as an expression of ultimate sophistication. People with large bladders and BMWs are not the sol character types we need to attract into the city! The vision of copying Auckland, copying Sydney is not every body's cup of tea (or glass of pinot noir).

I would like to share a wider vision.


The earthquake has scythed a heap of the city into past tense, especially in the south-east quandrant - lower Manchester Street, Barbadoes St, top of Ferry/ High Street etc towards CPIT.

Look at the large open areas and added open sites - some were already existing pre-earthquake, some are likely to be post demolition; look at the likely cityscape two years hence; the area Madras St (possibly minus a building or two) eastwards across to Barbadoes St (the old Turners market site); the area around Barbadoes Street and St Asaph, some part now rubble (in worst case scenario including the loss of the distinctive Anglican nunnery); the Millers' (CCC) CarPark site between Tuam and St Asaph; possibly Millers old building itself, or the site thereof; Middle Manchester Street (The Para Rubber site and empty land either side); lower Manchester ... notably Country Road shop [across St Asaph St from aforementioned site] and adjoining buildings, probably several sites down towards Welles St and Cokers Hotel and Moorhouse Avenue, where several buildings have been caught in the crunch, one double whammied by the violent shaking on Boxing Day.

Just these sites alone offer huge empty spaces. And empty spaces that could be developed in a pattern. And wow, what an amazing opportunity for Christchurch. Combining these sections/areas we have a possibility here everybit as startling and radical as the rebuilding of Napier, after the earthquake in 1932 in the Art Deco style.


William Blake gave the world the magic hymn "Jerusalem" and the unforgettable words "Till we have built Jerusalem in England's green and pleasant land". According to a fomer flatmate who lived there for a year modern (and yet ancient) Jerusalem is the most fantastic city in the world to live in. Maybe, but I suspect modern day political complexities do not make it quite as attractive goal to emulate as in Blake's time, even metaphorically.  As far as the model for rebuilding Christchurch goes I say "stuff  Jerusalem!!" . Let's dig far deeper back in history and rise far higher, build a modern magnificent Babylon. Babylon with a capital HGB as in "hanging gardens of Babylon".


I am talking a high density, and in some parts very vertical,  garden city. And like any beautiful flower, with tints and shadings veering too different subtle colourings at different points of the compass.

My vision of the great re-build  is creating high density living the kiwi way, based very strongly on achieving maximum sense of nature, naturalness, privacy, garden access and treed corridors. The aim would be to design high rise towers (a few, mainly along southern boundaries of larger areas) and (mostly) 3 or 4 storey level flats in such a way as every apartment gets either (a) a visual corridor along treed pathways or streams or green space or (b) a good view of either the Port Hills or the Southern Alps (or both). And almost all higher ones get a tree tops view of the area, typically only punctured by the occasional surviving heritage building facade. Cunningly it will often be the same trees/forest/streams etc seen by eight or ten ot twenty different flats, but the design and placement of windows, trees and visual corridors (and pattern of separate pathways) will ensure other houses are rarely directly seen, the views feel amazingly private, rural.The areas through the current Millers carpark or Turners site might even include mountain style streams (albeit pumped reticulation).

Secondly every apartment would include a significantly larger than usual area of outdoor living - courtyard or large balcony which include big planter boxes capable of being used to grow a considerable flower or vegetable garden. The core market aimed for is the 45 plus age group (kids left home), plenty of life and energy, but less need for "fortress family", more need for freedom to follow interests, travel etc  Many flats would be relatively small 1 bedroom and office with a bed style - but down the corridor or somewhere in the complex there would be short term rentable flats, so families visiting mum and dad have places to stay and easy same building access - tenants and apartment owners per se holding time-share allocations to use or swap for this purpose. Likewise various support mechanisms for gardens and gardeners would be in place (including large lifts for furniture and wheelbarrow loads) and a fulltime caretaker/gardener assistance available. Also  - of course - the SHED - multi cubicle workspace and home mechanics pit fot the blokes to hang out. Other facilities might include building in corner dairies and meeting rooms for events, clubs and societies etc.  

Towards the night club areas near Lichfield St the apartments might be tempered a bit more towards the more associated lifestyle (less parkland, more chatty courtyard); towards the Polytech area the apartments are more likely to be tempered towards student flatting, and the green space tempered accordingly ( more open space to kick a ball around etc). Nonetheless the overall emphasis is on "green space" and green not only in the environmental sense but in the spiritual sense of plant life more significant than concrete and glass. And not age ghetto'd too overly. Hub points, pathways, meeting centres interconnect a range of ages, albeit by design factors some areas would tend to attract older residents, vibrant but not too much so,in lifestyle etc


The main wide pathways (pedestrian, wheelchair etc and cycle) would be totally public and often include embankments and ramping with over foot/bike bridges across streets, so that it possible to walk/ride just about anywhere in that area without directly encountering cars. Indeed with St Asaph Street and Lichfield St and Madras St and Barbadoes St offering access to the back of complexes and car-parking buildings (you rent buy parking space as an option!) apart from emergency vehicle access (along wider paths) vehicles would not enter main housing complex areas. It is envisioned here that both Tuam Street and Cashel Street could become slow streets, to Barbadoes St, with the greater part of the land in casual parking bays or large pedestrian and green areas - such as around the magnificent old Provincial Hotel.

The tower blocks might be built mainly to the South and not too densely; the lower apartment buildings all orientated towards the sun. Every single large tree and building, every visual corridor,  would be needed to be carefully planned and evaluated across seasonal shifts in the sunlight. Apart from using the tram (when the secret plan as to how this ponderously slow system can be of mobility use to residents is finally revealed!) local movement around the CBD could be guaranteed an extra "The Shuttle" bus system - same iconic "cartoon" buses but an additional route, at higher frequency, and with different coloured buses, linking high density inner city areas....perhaps "park to park" - from Lancaster Park Corner to North Hagley Park. 

Security would be based on a hierarchy - totally public pathways and cycleways;  then pathways or corridors for "Residents and visitors only" (CCTV monitored);  down to specific floors or corridors or lifts accessable by key pad entry only.

I ENCLOSE (25th JANUARY) A ROUGH MAP OF THE AREA DISCUSSED HERE. Areas in green are large open spaces owned by council or developers, or (very roughly) buildings demolished or likely to be so. Blue identifies areas of apartments already built, independent buildings, or conversions above shops such as the former Para Rubber building in High Street (not the latter in Manchester Street which I believe was demolished either immediately before or immediately after the earthquake). I believe combined and with other secondary development (apartments added to existing buildings etc) this creates a concentrated enough residential area with a "garden/forested lanes" etc element within the larger blocks to give a distinctive ambience to the area. The circles represent tower blocks on the south (non-sun blocking) side of larger three-four storey garden apartments. The black lined roads are part of the city plan identifying CBD streets which require window frontages etc.

The key facet that emerges for me is that "Manchester Street becomes High Street" so to speak; instead of trying to attract people into inner city living and suggesting the whole inner city as their home so to speak, yeah it's a great city but far too big and loose to feel homely, it sets out to recreate a "village" within a corner of the city with Manchester Street it's old fashion "main street" with some sort of attempt to ensure buildings and businesses stay more low key and folksy than too trendy, upmarket etc. I sort of see variegated design three or four storey live-work type units with lots of mansard roof lines, turrets or dormer windows to evoke a more homely evolved feel along the parts of Manchester street demolished.  In this scenario the hideous one way system is removed from Lichfield Street, thus re-covering one of the city's real gems thrown away in the name of "God the Car" . This would be replaced with a two way "slow road" with limited ten minute parking in bays (availability of bays indicated by electronic signals either end of section, so parker's don't need to enter on spec. ) allowing conversion of the many Edwardian buildings, most of which seem to survive the earthquake, to apartments, aimed more at the younger sections, but also plugging into main street in Manchester. Lichfield Street would then have a bus exit lane (with traffic light advantages) but otherwise mostly  large pedestrian recreation areas. [note many west bound buses currently use Lichfield St, logically not so when the new Bus Exchange opens]. St Asaph could remain a one street westwards, however illogical this is!

"Manchester St becomes the new High St" - the  central axis "main street" of the South-Eastern quandrant of the CBD, a garden rich, higher density residential area with a more medium income base and a more traditional main street shopping area

This is a massive scheme, which would need huge co-operation from site owners, and (as with earthquake repairs) a governing building firm, with sites sub-contracted to individual builder groups. It would probably involve at least four major corporate bodies including the two biggest South Island companies, Ngai Tahu and Christchurch City Holdings, as well as the Housing NZ (biggest landlord in NZ) and Christchurch City Council (second biggest landlord in NZ). This would truly be a public-private partnership with agreed parameters (for example of design principles) but freedom to design and build within these agreed boundaries for private owners and developers.   

I see recently an architect advocating shrinking the commercial area...in many ways this would achieve this, making an unique mixture of forested walkway, sunny generous apartments, older heritage quasi local "main street" areas (notably Manchester Street and Tuam St) and not so much as hyped up "inner city" living as "within city" living, congenial green space living. Lifestyle apartments that might attract all sorts of people, but an anchor population core of early middle aged.  I see this is as far more attractive alternative than the present narrow focus.

Ps To readers outside Christchurch - Christchurch for years was known as "the Garden City" and still has many beautiful public and private gardens. The expression "Garden City" came from the UK back about the 1930s (if I remember rightly) and also meant a "pre-planned city" (irrespective of the flower and park quota). This vision fits both readings of the expression!


  1. The Gardensity concept is a particular favourite of mine, though I would generally like to see the kind of Scandinavian urban architecture - we have borrowed far too much from California and Australia, perhaps to enhance the dream that this is a much warmer and dryer island than it really is.

    As for Gardensity (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MWVjbA25vLs) it's clearly not everyone's taste, obviously pre-earthquake (by about a week!), but it is incredibly bold, but I think a great mix of heritage, garden, and modernity, even if it is infeasible.

  2. Hi ChChTransport - I didn't know about this site (so thanks) but it isn't really what I mean. I don't believe we need to make spectacular or radical building designs because good quality design is timeless - I think more of apartments with aluminium windows (exterior, for low maintenance) but natural wood surrounds interior. Comfortable,congenial, good life, attractive, but not pretencious white places a dog fart would stain. This said a friend born in Europe says of my vision "Ya, we have these garden appartments in my country. Very very expensive". In contrast I am think more of "middle NZ" with a trendy edge and a student edge and a state house edge (proven tenants who remain eligible for state housing assistance but not in three bedroom houses )but reasonably subtly drawn across the canvas stretched between Colombo and Barbadoes; Cashel and Ferry-Rd- St Asaph Street Enough variety to make wholeness but not divisive conflict.

  3. Something like Gardensity is a one-off, a kind of flagship concept. I can imagine the construction costs would be just as spectacular!

    I'm also a particular fan of the suburb of Vauban, on the outskirts of Freiburg, Germany (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vauban,_Freiburg). A car-free suburb is probably still too radical for Chch, but again a guideline that we can copy or adapt.