Over 50% of the world’s population is now urbanised. It’s a tide that comes in but never goes out. Christchurch now has more people than before the quakes. And about 1/3 of the population of the South Island makes home here. A settler city, whose founders aim was to colonise what they saw as empty space, the origins of this city relied on a pastoral understanding of what cities were for. The first settlers were farmers, farm labourers and shopkeepers whose task was to service those on the land. This city has always been a strong “stock and station” city.
But what is its future shape and purpose to be? Post quake two directions became quickly visible. Where and how to house the remaining population given that a large part of the eastern city is deemed unsuitable for housing, and what shape should the inner city take. The answers became a rush for capital, and powerful forces began to claim ownership over the “solutions”. In the inner city the combination of needing to clear rubble, mourn the deaths, and somehow plan for an invisible future became a scramble for credibility between the government of the day, the City Council, and private developers many of whom had already lost their investment buildings and were looking to reclaim their place in the city future. Citizens found themselves spectators to most of this. There were consultations, but even when people put forward ideas, it became clear that the government had decided the last word would be in their hands. Nothing would happen without their sign off. The Greater Christchurch Regeneration Minister Dr Megan Woods still has to sign off anything the city decides to do leaving the final power external to the city.
A fundamental question of urban design worldwide is Whose city is it? Currently the answer depends on who you talk to. The City Council has some authority, but not all authority – hence some of the frustrations citizens feel about slow road repairs, for example, are not always attributable to the Council. But equally frustrating, as I see it, is a lack of coherent long term vision for what the city might become in the late 21st century where my great grandchildren will be living. The world is moving faster than I can comprehend. I admit it’s a hard ask – to think ahead with so much at stake is difficult. The pastoral beginnings of the city are still somewhat apparent in land use and attitude, but peak cow is becoming a reality, there are trends suggesting meat consumption is reducing world-wide, and reliance of Fonterra to lead the economics of the country is proving to be a false place to go. So what will happen? Will the gaming industry save us? The High-Tec industry? Electric cars? What will we be? The clear answer is that it’s unclear?
So … As we begin life in the next uncertain period, it’s apparent that issues of mental health, a gap between those with resources and those without, a struggle to maintain enough population in a largely empty country and yet an anti-immigration record, a reliance on other countries for our well-being, are issues that are present now, and will become more pressing as time goes on. These are not easy issues to talk about, or to face. There isn’t a bottle on a shelf containing the elixir of future truth. Our agreement on a meta-narrative which used to be supplied by religion has gone. History is fluid, and citizens still have to live. How we deal with each other in the city is as important as the resources we all share, or are excluded from. That’s the place where ‘streets’ tries to operate. In the people arena of life. But reserving the possibility of always commenting on the huge issues too. There is hope in people sharing spaces. As long as we can make spaces in which to share each other’s lives we will find a way forward. We will.