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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Wider still and wider

Wider still and wider

Last updated 05:00 20/06/2011
OPINION: One of the faults of pre-quake Christchurch was its far-flung boundaries. As suburbs spread out over the Plains, services had to be expensively stretched to provide for the new houses, and residents' travel time to work became longer. In the process, productive farmland was gobbled up and the city's community identity weakened.

One of the hopes of the rebuild was that this flabby development could be curtailed by providing more intensive housing within the four avenues and the adjoining suburbs, but that hope looks to be forlorn.

More concentrated housing in the centre is likely as a response to citizens' preferences shown in the consultation with them, and the realisation that people in residence are vital if the CBD is to be enlivened and prosper.

But the almost certain large-scale abandonment of earthquake-damaged suburbs means that new subdivisions on Christchurch's outer areas and the expansion of the satellite towns will be unavoidable.

This is borne out by the Weekend Press's announcement that a 2400-house development covering 180 hectares is being fast-tracked on the northern outskirts around Redwood.

Writers of letters to the editor are already objecting to the proposal, saying that the area is swampy and unsuitable for dwellings. Many other people must fear that the errors of the old Christchurch are about to be repeated.

But the developers and the city council recognise that new subdivisions are vital if those shifted from suburbs in the east are to be permanently resettled in sound homes and prosperous and happy new communities created.

Neither are the commercial motives of the developers reason for objection. They will make money but in doing so they will have to provide homes compliant with post-quake standards and able to sell in the face of competition from the several other large subdivisions mooted.

It is vital that the private sector participates in the rebuild in this way if Christchurch is to recover its basic services – and housing is very much one of those – promptly. Neither the city council nor the Government can finance anything like all the development needed.

But what the council must do is ensure the subdivisions are planned for quality living on safe land and that they are not cut off from the city. Moves are already afoot to ensure the safety and quality but the connections with the city are more problematic.

It is unclear if the existing transport plans are configured to cope with large new centres of population on the fringes. The need for roads and buses to accommodate larger volumes is suddenly emerging. As a result, light rail looks more feasible and the need for cycleways and free-flowing roads more urgent.

Also needed will be new schools and commercial areas and the recreation facilities that are increasingly important in people's lives.

Christchurch – its citizens and governors – have a daunting complexity of issues with which to deal but another is coming onto their agenda. The challenge is not just to rebuild the central business district as safe, sustainable and pleasant but to rethink and reformulate the greater metropolitan area.

- The Press

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