Among the trees a city will grow
Last updated 13:04 28/02/2011
I was told many times when I arrived in New Zealand that Christchurch was the most English city outside England. It wasn't. The most English cities outside England are in Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, but once I experienced the Avon river, its poplars, the CBD architecture, and the city's mildly genteel sensibilities, I knew what they meant.
By then I'd also fallen in love with the place, its people and its wide boulevards, and the ability to drive across town in just a few minutes. In fact the wide linear boulevards and cross-town convenience were two things that made actually Christchurch differ from similarly sized British cities.
Things are going to change now, since nature viciously and fatally shook the city and all but razed its core, and already there are arguments about what kind of architecture will come to define the place.
But I'm more interested in the infrastructural opportunities it presents.
While planners and city designers don't have quite a clean slate to work with, the situation, however tragic and seemingly hopeless, offers the possibility in the future of a central hub near to a revamped Cathedral serviced by clean, efficient, new-from-the-ground-up public transport, and while I'm a keen and enthusiastic motorist, I've always been happier in the city without the added responsibility a car brings with it, even when you're not driving it.
Not having to park and pay for the privilege is good, and being able to have an impromptu pint of beer or glass or two of wine at the drop of a hat is even better.
While there'll have to be some vehicular access for light cars and cabs, deliveries and businesses, an electrically based transport system built into the city even before the new buildings go up could be a terrific start.
Perhaps an onionskin-like parking cost system where cars weighing less than 1000kg can park anywhere for very little, while those weighing 1000-1250kg have to stay an extra couple of colour-coded blocks farther out from the centre and pay more.
From 1250kg to 1500kg and you'll have to be another two blocks out, and anything heavier will have to be left outside the four avenues. The weight-based system is suggested because more energy is used as weight increases. Heavier, bigger cars shouldn't really be encouraged in my future Christchurch. Let's leave them for the holidays and weekends.
With those using the light rail's park and ride facilities at the four avenues perimeter, traffic would be literally lighter, while it's likely that those who don't like driving would also drop off their cars, whatever their size or lack of it, for a reasonably priced light rail or tram ride into town.
With fewer stark, tilt slab parking buildings - and preferably none - we're starting to make the future city look better already, and by rewarding users of smaller cars we'd be preparing drivers for the day when electric cars will be cheap enough to buy and use, say in 10 years or so.
And that would be the time for electric cars and public transport to be established as the only way to access the city, besides of course on foot or by bicycle.
It all needs debate. There will be those who think it's insolent, even bad taste, to think about this right now, and there will be flaws in every idea, including mine.
But we owe it to future generations to make Christchurch a modern New Zealand city, still with its gardens and parkland to link it with what some people call "the old country" rather than contrived slavishly to look like the place our founding fathers left so long ago.
Me, I've loved Christchurch for opening its heart to me 31 years ago.
I'm not tempted to leave it. I owe it, and those who've died here, to stay and perhaps in a small way have something to do with how it will function and look in the future.
This is for future populations who deserve at least a clean, welcome environment in which to live and one that's less likely to make it difficult for them to breathe in winter and less likely fall to pieces around them without warning.
It might not "look right" to some, but I could live with that.