Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Will the REAL Garden City stand up (addition made)

NOTE; I have added an extra bit and a map to the posting "Will the REAL Garden City stand up" posted three weeks ago. The new bit is enclosed in RED worded  bits

Friday, January 14, 2011

Auckland is going under! But will NZ buy it?

"Auckland is about three and half times the size of greater Christchurch but appears to have received about 100 times more public transport funding towards infrastructure".

Building the New Lynn trench at $160 million, now Auckland wants to build rail right under the city at $2.3  billion.

A strong business case for building an underground commuter rail connection from Auckland's Britomart station to create a loop with the western line at Mount Eden has been produced by a consortium of highly experienced international transport engineering consultant firms. The line would have three inner city underground stations allowing faster, more frequent services, greatly increase the number of trains possible (Britomart with its clumsy narrow entry system is near capacity) and offer easy walking access tofro a station to virtually the whole CBD area, a huge advantage in attracting punters. The expected cost is around $2.3 billion dollars. A simple map, on this Stuff newsite report conveys what is proposed well.

Auckland is  growing rapidly, so there are real issues here that can not be ignored. Whether using standard international measures or a more a conservative NZ Transport Agency version for evaluating the cost-benefit ratio of this transport project the consortium identified a cost benefit ratio bottom line of 1.1 through to 3.5 - that is for every dollar spent on-flow benefits range from $1.10 created to $3.50 created. This is a very strong case made more compelling by the lack of other options for Auckland – with the city centred on the narrow isthmus between two harbours the amount of room to build any more motorways is severely compromised and rail can transport huge numbers of commuters.

What Transport Minister Stephen Joyce - and I imagine the rest of New Zealand - gags upon in this proposal is the huge cost!!

Auckland has already received almost $2 billion in funding towards public transport under the previous Labour Government. This includes the $600 million upgrading and double tracking of existing lines; the new lines to Onehunga and Manakau; the rebuild of many stations ranging from city centre Britomart (tax payer share $200 million); Newmarket $84 million, New Lynn underground rail (and above ground bus) at $160 million. The cost of electrifying these lines now adds a further $600 million, and the cost of buying electric trains units comes in the form of a $500 million government loan to KiwiRail. Add to this a further $200 million of taxpayer money towards the Northern Busway and of course, financial assistance towards the 52 kilometres of bus laning along Auckland roads. Not counted of course is the full time bus lanes on the new Manakau Bridge which in effect cost the taxpayer $46 million.

Three things stand out here - the huge cost of retrofitting a city towards public transport, a prerequisite for any larger city to function,  following years of taxpayer money being put into extravagant motorway schemes that have only generated more traffic and increased congestion!

Secondly -  for Canterbury residents, 13% of the countries population -   the chronic failure of Canterbury and Christchurch leadership on public transport issues. Notwithstanding Auckland's "greater need" it is absolutely ludicrous to think that Canterbury did not have the clout or political leverage to get some chunk of the action here. Auckland is about three and half times the size of greater Christchurch but appears to have received about 100 times more public transport funding towards infrastructure. To think what wonderful direct busways, shooting across the city, underpassing busy roads, sweeping along segregated tree lined boulevards, could have been built;  or even the carefully constructed long term strategy for introducing commuter rail over a thirty year period which could have been constructed with even just a small percentile of this funding. To think of the quality commuter coachlines and comfortable bus stations that could be spanning the province - had we but adequate visionary and practical transport leadership. Instead the province fired off over $250 million in taxes to Auckland, smug in the knowledge that doing public transport is "not rocket science" and "what a wonderful bus system we have" (though of course not so sophisticated or high quality planners or politicians rely upon it!).

The third thing that stands out and has put Stephen Joyce, Minister of Transport, on the spot, is Auckland's political clout! This is especially so when coupled with the results of a business case which even measured by conservative standards is hard to argue with from a Government that theoretically espouses good business practice. I loved the cartoon in the "Listener" just after the local body elections, showing a Frankenstein sitting upright and breaking the bonds that held him down, the Frankenstein is called Auckland or supercity and the head sewed on is that of newly elected Labour Mayor Len Brown. Two "scientists" - expected Mayoral victor John Banks and far right former ACT MP Rodney Hide stand aghast "Wrong head Rodney, wrong head !!" cries Banks, is the caption. I think it expresses what many New Zealanders must feel.  In fostering the amalgamation of 11 separate local authorities in the Auckland into one city, they have tilted the axis of New Zealand, giving one city-state enough concentrated power to dominate New Zealand and compete with, even undermine, Government for the whole country. Although the business plan study for the rail tunnel describes Auckland workers and CBD workers as more productive, due to concentration of skills and the tighter agglomeration of services, it is hard to see how this can be so when most of the wealth of New Zealand rests on tourism, dairy products, forestry, and coal etc, much of this based well away from Auckland. Indeed the rail tunnel report in saying Auckland has 32% of the NZ workforce and produces  36% of the GDP [p17 - see link below] seems to suggest that there is nothing hugely productive about Auckland region, despite other claims put forward. Or more efficient when there public transport system is already, in effect, hugely subsidised by other New Zealanders and there are now plans for it to be more so.

When National came to power it also rejected regional fuel taxes that Labour was moving towards. Regional fuel taxes appear to have been a major component in the highly successful upgrade of public transport in Canada during the last decade. Perhaps this rejection of regionalism was justifiable, given New Zealand's small size and undersized regional areas, and consequent boundary problems, but it left Joyce nowhere to stand except to bleat helplessly that Auckland and Wellington would need to pay more towards their very expensive commuter rail systems. Indeed Joyce seems to have made one of the few attempts to sheet back capital costs (and not just operating costs) to those who benefit from rail telling reporters in April 2010 how he would like to recover the full amount of the loan plus interest over the expected 35-year life of the new trains, (adding wistfully "I don't think anybody's under that illusion"). Auckland Chamber of Commerce head, Michael Barnett claims (NZ Herald 15 Dec 2010) that Auckland rail commuters are currently receiving a subsidy equivalent to about $7 a trip and wonders if the costs of the new loop route were added in whether this will rise to $12 or $16 per trip. Joyce himself claims in a recent NZ Herald column [see below] all the huge amount spent on Auckland rail to date has been to carry a mere 2% of commuters!

Yet for all this, the business case study results, prepared  for Auckland and KiwiRail - and the need to find commuting options beyond more roads - seems so strong Joyce and National will have to respond. The Government will have to come to the party even as Minister of Finance English is saying the $750 million to railways to jump start a $4.4 billion revival plan is "it" - all that the Government intends to give towards rail.

National also has another exposed flank, the rather absurd "holiday Highway" (as it has been dubbed) in essence virtually extending the Auckland motorway 85km to the north, between the little settlement of Puhoi and Wellsford, at a cost of $1.7 billion over twenty years. This project was mooted as one of the "Roads of National significance" (RoNS) put forward by National soon after election as their transport policy, but has almost no obvious support or significant economic value - a cost-benefit ratio study delivered to Minister Joyce 9 months after he announced the proposal showed that for every dollar spent it can be expected to return a mere 40cents of benefit. Joyce who can be very judgemental about public transport costs is strangely mute about this white elephant trail, but it is clear that it will leech money from the whole country for very small return, - hardly the hard headed business approach of National Party pretentions. 

The irony of the Auckland rail tunnel is that it will inevitably involve Government funding, if not from this Government from the one that replaces them, even if this is not as generously as in the past and Canterbury will pay again, tens of millions if not hundreds. Meanwhile Government funding to Christchurch cycleways [less than $2 million] is cut; the absurd farce of the city's ponderously slow bus lane implementation (13 years to get 3 routes built) is prolonged by Government cuts; the new Bus Exchange gets minimal taxpayer support (compared to Auckland or Wellington) and has funding to go underground withheld. Christchurch city can't get an extra $21 million to put its whole transport system through an underground hub, Auckland seeks over 100 x $21 million (2,300,000,000) to carry undeground what will probably never be more than half its public transport patronage. Even in cities with extensive rail networks buses still remain a huge factor. The disparity between ambitions, vision, commitment to infrastructure are so huge the question springs to mind; are we operating on the same planet?

Indeed are our local Southern politicians operating at all, when it comes to building public transport infrastructure in our supposedly "world class" city? In my experience YEAR AFTER YEAR the city of Christchurch stands by and allows all sorts of opportunities to create fast direct busways and logical rail corridors be built out, forever compromised, pathways blocked that only huge expense will ever re-open. Public transport being linear relies on clear run corridors (irrespective of whether serviced by buses, guided buses, trams, light rauil or heavy rail). Quality transport pivots on identifying and securing corridors, even for projects whose actual implementation may be years in advance. There is no evidence to suggest that any civic authority in Christchurch has a strategy on this. Amongst the latest losses - and a huge one;  a west side of city -university/airport direct link with a bus (future light rail?) underpass under the motorway extension (a cut and cover tunnel - possibly the simplest engineering project possible ) linking the south east and northeast sectors;  instead the city council repeats the fantasies of a decade by calling for another amateurish or generalised study of rail, which will no doubt the results echoing a similar general study done by Ecan in 2005 (which failed to even look at alternatives to the current inadequate rail alignment). Anything short of a proper cost-benefit ratio study such as done in Auckland (which cost $5 million!) can only be a nonsense. 

Will underground earth movements in Auckland further effect Christchurch's future? Yes, I think so, almost a second earthquake, the tunnel under Auckland  will be just another bloody great sink hole for Canterbury cash whilst our own province can't get its act together on a sensible but visionary public transport policy. 

For those who would like to read more about this issue - I suggest the following opinion pieces;  tough talking supercity Councillor and long time transport spokesperson Mike Lee lambasts the Government and Minister Joyce for reticence about going down the Auckland rail tunnel here; political analyst Rod Oram , writing in the Sunday Star-Times, digs deeply into the "holiday highway" and finds it built upon suspiciously weak ground here ; and (fairly rare for a Cabinet Minister) Stephen Joyce responds to Oram with an opinion piece here. For those who would like to read the original business case, all 127 pages, it is available here.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Garden City - not real but definitely standing up

Thanks to the guys at Christchurch Transport Blog,  I find (contrary or additional to) my last posting Christchurch the garden city is already standing tall, well at least in some folks imagination!!

I love the sheer zaniness of this suggestion but as per comment column to last posting, I'd rather see modest size buildings, good taste done well. The big statements are a young men's dreams [nowadays and a few young women's dreams] . Personally I'm into mellow time, not wasting public money, small things done well etc But love this fantastic Gardensity  YouTube all the same.

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!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Happy New Year from Christchurch, New Zealand

Happy New Year From NZ in Tranzit and Christchurch, NZ
This is not photo-shop, it is the cut-out figure of Charlie Chaplin outside Alice In Videoland, an art house and classic DVD hire shop in lower High Street. In the background nearby buildings built over 100 years ago in the Venetian gothic style, damaged in 7.1 magnitude earthquake on Sept 4th 2010 or in some of the 4,000 plus aftershocks since. Hopefully they will survive but dozens have not.
The city has been hugely lucky not to suffer loss of life (lucky, plus also has rigorous building standards) but faces now horrific costs and years of complications in rebuilding a central area and (more often its margins) when the CBD was already struggling. For or those who love the city and are also worn out by months of unpredictable [in timing] after-shocks, it can be hard not to feel pensive, a bit glum, not sure about the future.

The look on Charlie's face says it all. But,  Hey,  Happy New YEAR!!
carry on......