FESTA Free Rangers

Remarkable things will happen during Labour weekend at FESTA whether you’re a solo festival butterfly or more of a pack animal. There’s bound to be something to get your juices flowing (literally, don’t miss getting your sweat on in the Nomadic Sauna).

The annual Festival of Transitional Architecture is a free, public event that engages with the city of Christchurch (New Zealand) by exploring urban regeneration through large scale collaborative projects and urban interventions. It is the first and only festival of its kind in the world.

Over the course of Labour Weekend events, performances and projects happen across empty sites and in vacant buildings within the city’s four avenues, reintroducing life and urban activity to the centre. This rediscovery of the inner city invites a variety of collective investigations into the nature of civic life and opens it up to the community’s desire to participate in the remaking of their city.

After the huge success of the inaugural FESTA last year, when 30,000 people swarmed to Luxcity, it’s great to know that Jessica Halliday returns as Director Extraordinaire, and with their stellar crew, FESTA is looking conspicuously like THE Festival to be at this year.

Chief Egg of the Freerange Pirate ship, Barnaby Bennett, is currently the Chair of the FESTA Board, and he’s been a relentless captain of advocacy and awesomeness for Christchurch. It’s not surprising then, that a fair few Freerange Captains couldn’t resist charting a course for the City Within A City.


Here’s a quick rundown of a few places to catch up with a Free Ranger at FESTA.

On Friday I’ll be hanging out in the Pallet Pavilion at Anissa Victoria’s Twilight Vintage Market from 4pm, from there you can pick up some of my new drawings if that kind of thing tickles your fancy. The Twilight Market will be stocked with interesting finds, good food, a bar, and live music, the perfect reason to wander through the blue fortress at dusk before things go crazy on Saturday.


Dusting off after Casual Friday, Barnaby Bennett will be hosting Urban T(act)ics, an open discussion with Chris Morley-Hall (founder of the Cuba Street Carnival), Federico Monsalve (Freerange director and design writer), James Coyle (architect/musician, Newtown Festival, Wellington),  Lucinda Hartley (director and co-founder of Co-design, Melbourne), and myself. Urban T(act)ics will be a chance for “groups and individuals doing similar work in Christchurch to learn lessons from other cities and to meet people curious about what is happening here. All presenters work in organisations that have influence in their city but not as part of government, and will reflect on how their work can be considered an action, activity or tactic within the city.

From there, Big Saturday gets huge, with the itchy anticipation of the main event, Canterbury Tales, building to a crescendo of surreal satisfaction.  Clink your glasses, see you in the morning!


The Sunday Sesh warms up with an all ages drawing workshop I’ll be running called Supernova City. Inspired by dream cartographers of the city, the workshop will work collectively to make drawings and traces of the city as we experience it, blurring past memories and future dreams on the same massive canvas. We’ll be at the Pallet Pavilion from 10-2pm, I’ll be posting our progress up on Facebook and Twitter (@byronkinnaird and @FreerangePress), hashtag drawing, hashtag cant wait!

The first ever gathering in the flesh of the Freerange Directors seems almost too good to be true (and it might not be true), but we’ll be getting together to launch Freerange Vol.7: The Commons at 6pm at 88 Worcester Street, one of the Canterbury Tales sites.  This issue is hugely relevant to Christchurch, so drop by to celebrate in Commons style with us.


There are seriously so many things to get involved in over the long weekend, check out the full programme, there’s bound to be something to do whether its learning about the Arches or the Pallet Pavillion, building a house, or meeting the puppets.


Full programme here.

Why a completely new Arts Precinct in Christchurch is a stupid idea.

The local newspaper the Press has recently published several articles (here, here, and here) arguing why it is in the best interests of the city to demolish the Town Hall and put the insurance money into a new arts precinct.  I think this is a very misinformed view that seems to be based almost entirely on information from press releases from the office of Gerry Brownlee.   I’d ask that if The Press is going to weigh in with a strong editorial position on the city, they should, at the least, do their homework.  This article argues the case against a new large arts precinct.

[I would like to compare the editorialising of the Press to a recent article in the NZ Herald  about the St. James building in Auckland. It consists of actual research, interviews, and factual information.]

In my view any decision to demolish the Christchurch Town Hall is more than likely to lead to a new development that will: A. take longer to build than it will to repair the current Town Hall, B. be more expensive, and C. be of a lower quality.

Before explaining these a little bit of background:

In the middle of 2012 the government launched its blueprint for the city, and one of the anchor projects in this blueprint was a new arts precinct.  This precinct was based on an assumption that the Town Hall was unrepairable, and that the $70 million dollars of insurance money from this should go to the new arts precinct.

In November last year the Christchurch City Council was asked to vote on whether they would pay for the full repair of the building which was estimated to be around $127 million dollars.   After some public discussion and lobbying by groups (including one I am part of) who argued for the unique heritage, arts, and civic values of the building, the council voted unanimously (!) to pay for the full repair.  The decision was based on overwhelming support for the retention of the building in the public submission for council city plan.

The Minister in charge of Earthquake Reconstruction, Gerry Brownlee, was obviously unhappy with the decision and said all sorts of half-truths to undermine the decision (which I have previously commented on here and here). In the large cost-sharing agreement between the council and CERA that was announced in July, the Town Hall and the Arts Precinct have been passed from CERA to the Council to develop (with ultimate approval from the Minister).

A short time after this cost sharing agreement the Council ran a full public meeting about the Town Hall and the Arts Precinct outlining the work they have been doing and their recommendations.   On Tuesday the 14th of August the plans and costings for the new recommendations were made public and presented to the elected councillors.  The recommendation is that the Christchurch Town Hall is fully repaired at a cost of around $127.5 million which includes large contingencies, and around $40 million to be spent on a new arts precinct to house space for the CSO, new Court Theatre, and the Christchurch Centre for Music.

Contrary to some commentary there has been very clear decision-making about this from the Councils position.  In November last year they voted, based on popular support and expert opinion, to keep the building. This year staff members and consultants have been working on: A. what needs repairing, B. what needs upgrading. C. how long it will take, and D. How much this will cost.

A ‘final’ vote will be made by council on the 29th of this August to pick which option to proceed with.

All this information can be downloaded here from the council. [full status of Christchurch Town Hall and Arts Precinct Projects]

I would like to make a note comparing the clarity and rigour of this process with the complete opacity of the other CERA led projects.  We don’t even know the brief for the other projects like the public river park, the convention centre, or the stadium.

To explain my claim that demolishing the Town Hall and replacing it with anew precinct will lead to a slower, more expensive, and lower quality outcome here is a better explanation:

Note: The following points are made on some assumption that if we are going to knock down a world-class building we need to replace it with something of equivalent quality.   I have based my comparison on recent world-class concert halls.  We currently have an internationally recognized venue (with full repair plan and money set aside to pay for it) so it’s fair to compare to the equivalent contemporary projects.  (I’d be interested to see any examples that provide counter arguments.)

A. The executive director of the CSO Richard Ballantyne was in the paper this week stating that the 4-year repair is too long and will affect the running of the CSO.   Does he really think a new arts precinct, for which the land is not even purchased and the brief isn’t even written yet will be ready in less than four years?   History doesn’t support him.

  • The Christchurch Town Hall itself was built on time and under budget and took 6 years from Warren and Mahoney winning the competition till opening.  It opened in 1972.
  • The Copenhagen Concert Hall is smaller than the Town Hall and took 6 years to construct.  (From start of construction, so doesn’t include the long design and pre-construction processes).  This building opened in 2009.
  • The Disney Concert Hall in L.A took 15 years to construct.   (The car-park alone cost $110 million and took 9 years!) The building was constructed between 1999 and 2003.
  • The Casa Da Musica in Lisbon by OMA took 6 years from the announcement of the winner of the design competition, and was opened in 2005.

These examples illustrate that it is naïve to think we can have a new world-class facility within four years. Especially when this is going to be happening in the middle the biggest building boom in NZ history.

B. $160 million dollars sounds like a lot of money.  It is a lot of money.  It really is a lot of money. $127.5 million to fix a building is a lot of money.  But the critical point that needs to be stressed here is that $160 million isn’t much for a world-class facility to be constructed (esp. in the middle of a construction boom). The costs for the buildings mentioned above are: Copenhagen Concert Hall (which is smaller than the Town Hall) was US$300 million dollars, the Disney Concert Hall was US$274 million, and the Casa Da Mucisa cost 500 milllion euros (the amount it went over budget was the total amount we would have to build a new building).   The idea that we can get a facility anywhere near the class of what we have already for this money is deeply questionable.  Demolishing a great building and then trying to quickly and cheaply get a new facility up and running is recipe for cultural ruin.

The CERA led campaign to demolish the Town Hall frequently states that the ground quality below the Town Hall is ‘the worst in the city’.  It did suffer from lateral spread and this has damaged the building.  However the proposed site of the new arts precinct is in worse condition and will be an expensive exercise to build there.  The engineers have come up with an injection method which will stabilise the ground and bring the building up to 100% of contemporary code.

C.   There is a commonly used project management rule of thumb that a project can be delivered quickly, cheaply, and to a high quality, but that you can only get one or two of these aspects, not all three.  The task of managing a project is to pick the most appropriate factors (after the quakes, speed was obviously the most important factor). Given the obvious need to get good quality venues into the city, speed is important, and given that we have only $160 million to spend on a building, budget is a problem.  This leaves the obvious conclusion that quality will be the first victim of this process.  Given that we have a quality building already in the city it seems obvious that demolishing an existing project is not wise.  (And that’s not even accounting for the important heritage and civic value of the building).

The Town Hall was innovative when it was built in 1972.  It is an exemplary building of a global architectural movement. The acoustics were the first of its kind and have been copied around the world.  It is an award winning, internationally recognized, and important building.  You might think it is ugly. That’s fine.  It has more international status than any other building in the country.   The new plans developed by the firm Warren and Mahoney, in conjunction with the original architects, upgrades the building to all new fire, services, and earthquake codes.  Problems such as the back stage entry and accessibility will be fixed with new extensions and interventions.  This is not just a repair but a major upgrade of the building. Buildings age and the demands on them change with time, so the opportunity to spend substantial sums adapting this building for another 50 or 100 years of use is a great one.  In my mind the question should not be whether we demolish and start again, but how to best adapt the Town Hall for future use.

It is easy to put up a nice argument and say we can have our old tired Town Hall or a new shiny arts precinct.   But its more accurate to say we can have a repaired, refurbished, modernized Town Hall that we know is a world class facility, or we can take a huge risk of hoping for some design and construction miracle to deliver something quickly with little money of the same quality.

The whole mantra of this reconstruction is that we are building for future generations, and this means we have to be prudent and wise with our decisions and not make big risky gambles.

Note: My last comment would be that we should now turn our attention to making sure the smaller $40 million dollar arts precinct fulfills its potential.   We need to make sure that it is a public facility that supports the arts across the whole city. I worry that it is becoming home to a few large organisations and won’t support a wider accessibility to arts. The brief for this new centre is based off an audit done by CCDU in secret that is not publically available.  So we are making $40 million dollar decisions on information citizens can’t access. It’s crazy.

The CCDU have actually done a bit of a dirty job with the arts precinct, and given them a bit of land south of the river between Gloucester and Armagh to use for this project.  The land north of Armagh would have been much better in my opinion. It would have had north facing river frontage, be next to Victoria Square, which will be something of a cultural centre, and would be next to the Town Hall.  Again, this is the type of strange decision-making happening in this city. Major urban planning decisions being made by an organisation with no public accountability.

Perhaps the Press should be concentrating on the radical lack of public input into urban planning in this city rather than lobbying for the demolition of our cultural heritage?


  1. We need a proper audit of the arts needs of the city to see what the city needs and how the council can best assist that with facilities.
  2. The function of James Hay theatre should be reviewed and perhaps requires a radically different design that offers more variety and easy reconfiguration.
  3. The CCC should be lobbying CERA to get the piece of land next to the river so the arts precinct can be close to the Town Hall and designed around the river.

This isn’t about the Christchurch Town Hall.

Well, obviously it is. But I suggest that the recent reemergence of the future of the Christchurch Town Hall in public conversation isn’t about the Town Hall.   There is a short and a long explanation to this:

Short Explanation.

There is no real doubt about the future of the Town Hall. The Christchurch City Council owns it.  They know pretty much it is going to cost to:

A. Repair the damage,

B. Mitigate against future quakes by fixing the land, and

C. Bring it up to current building codes.

It is not especially cheap to do this. But it is costed, and budgeted, and the council is diligently working toward this after the Councilors voted unanimously for this last November.   It’ll open sometime in 2017.  It is a crucial building in the life of the city, it is one of the nations most significant pieces of architecture, and internationally it is widely recognized as one of the great acoustic spaces. If you don’t believe this read some of the testimonials here from architects, musicians and acousticians:

‘The interior of the main hall is an acoustic wonder.’

Jonathan Mane-Wheoki, Professor of Fine Arts

‘It might not be too far-fetched to assert that, assuming the conductor knows his business, the hall acoustic afforded by the Lilburn Auditorium is little short of miraculous.’

Sir William Southgate

‘If demolished, it is unlikely to be replaced with a new building which possess the same qualities: architects of Miles Warren’s calibre are few and far between.’

Letter signed by Tony Van Raat signed on behalf of 20 architecture staff and 127 students at Unitec in Auckland.

 ‘Buildings are at one level physical artefacts, at another they are the repositories of our memories, places of celebration and commiseration, and the stage for life. The Town hall is exemplary in every respect and an inspiration to the whole of New Zealand and beyond. It is perhaps though as a symbol of renewal that it could be even more important now than it ever has been before. The opportunity to for it to be that awaits your decision. The like of it will not be seen again.’

Patrick Clifford, Past Pesident New Zealand Institute of Architects

 ‘I firmly believe that Christchurch Town Hall is of such architectural and cultural significance that every effort should be made to ensure its survival. It is perhaps one of only a few works of architecture in New Zealand that have had an influence on other buildings around the world, its acoustics much appreciated by famous international musicians.’

Barry Bergdoll, The Philip Johnson Chief Curator of Architecture and Design.

This is the short answer.  In principle that should be the end of the story.

Long Explanation.

But as we are living in a post-earthquake city with extraordinary complex planning and rebuild decisions to be made, of course it is not this simple.  If only. With the short explanation in mind you may well be asking yourself: If the decision to keep the Town Hall has been made, why is the minister in charge of rebuild, Gerry Brownlee writing in the media that it should be demolished?  It is a good question!

To answer this we need to step back a few steps and look at the broader context of the government city plan and the current negotiations about who is going to pay for which bit of it.

As you all know in the months after the February 2011 quake the Christchurch City Council was asked to develop a draft city plan. To do this they did some very broad (over 100,000 people were involved) and not very deep citizen engagement. Which is exactly what they should have done at that point. Exemplary and award winning.  A plan was developed, which was to some extent based on the work done before the quake with Danish firm Jan Gehl Architects. (an extremely highly regarded firm internationally who have worked in New York, Melbourne, London, Copenhagen and many others). This plan was put out for public feedback, revised and submitted to minister Brownlee for consideration.  For around 5 months over the summer of 2011/2012 there was silence about this plan as the Minister considered it. Around March 2012 the Minister largely rejected the plan and to set up his own group of design experts, we have no knowledge what led to the decision (but plenty of rumour). These experts included lots of local and some international figures. They were are professional and well regarded bunch who were given 100 days to work together with other government agencies and some members of the Christchurch City Council to come up with a new revised plan.  So far, so good. A bit strange rejecting the first plan, but we all know here that we are all making this up as we go along, so change is ok.

100 days later our prime minister comes to town, launches the new city plan, expensive videos for international investors are shown, the bubbly flows, everyone looks smug and all the property owners and business leaders smile.

The new city plan has a lot of lovely things in it.  A new big stadium, a convention centre four times the size of the old one, a new city library, a justice precinct, a new hospital, a sports centre, a new river park, a performing arts precinct, (remember this one) and lots lots more. Seventeen Anchor projects in total. There are a couple of things to note here:

Firstly, all these projects were put in the plan because the government had decided they should be in there, not because the 100-day plan came up with them. The 100 days was basically an exercise in placing these projects in the best place possible, not an exercise in working out what the city needs.  While saying that some new projects were introduced in the process such as the important east and south frames.

Secondly, the Minister may claim that the Share an Idea campaign and the previous council plan informed the new design, and he may claim that this constitutes public consultation.  In some respects he might be right, but we have to take his word for it as the entire process has been secret.  I don’t like taking ministers’ words on things.  Perhaps he could answer: What methodology did you use to sift through 100,000 ideas and turn it into a workable framework?  Did you check to see if the resulting framework was true to the ideas of the community?

As this process was happening there was, as with many hundreds of other buildings in the city, some concern about the damage to the Town Hall, and a lack of good information about it.  The council had a due process to slowly go through its building stock and do proper engineering reports. Which in regards to the Town Hall are available here.

The damage assessment by Holmes Consulting Group in August 2011 says:

‘In general terms, the building has been relatively undamaged by the shaking’ and that ‘the Town Hall has not sustained damage that would be considered substantial,’ and,

‘In summary, we do not consider the damage resulting from the earthquake to pose a significant structural hazard in relation to the occupation of the building.’

Ok, so the building is ok, but what about the land? The geotech report states:

‘Once excess pore water pressures from the 22 February 2011 and 13 June 2011 earthquakes and aftershocks have dissipated, it is likely that the strength of the soil underlying the buildings will return to the pre-earthquake levels.’

Additionally the original acoustic firm Marshall Day have had a preliminary look at the auditorium and commented in a report that: there is no visible damage to the auditoriums acoustic fabric”.

If I can risk paraphrasing these two reports on the structure and the ground I’d say:

1. The building performed well in the quakes, it is sound and stable.

2. However it has settled unevenly, so the floor level is not even through the whole complex.

3. The building needs to be brought up to contemporary building codes.

4. The land is prone to liquefaction and lateral spread, so while the building is in good condition it may again become uneven in events in the future.

5. There are a number of ways to mitigate this which are been explored.

These reports were published in August 2011 and to the best of my knowledge there has been no major change.

So it was with some surprise when the new city plan was launched with a complete  absence of the Town Hall.  In the visual document a green lawn has replaced the Town Hall. The only mention of the Town Hall in the document is in the section about the Performing Arts Precinct which is:

 ‘proposed to offer facilities for music and the performing arts, and to act as a catalyst for recovery. The precinct will embrace different sites and will support co-location of organisations as far as is possible.’ Then there is a very important sentence that says:  ‘The precinct designation will be sufficient to provide for a range of facilities in the event that the Town Hall cannot be repaired.’ (All this can be found online here:

This is a strange comment that assumes the building isn’t repairable, and only makes contingency for this scenario.  There is no mention of what happens if the Town Hall is repairable.

A FAQ on the CCDU website reiterates this position here and says:

‘Why is the Town Hall not shown on the Blueprint Plan? There are still some decisions to be made as to whether all or parts of the Town Hall can be repaired by CCC. If it is not able to be repaired, a performing arts centre containing two auditoria of 500 and 1500 seats respectively will be built in the Performing Arts Precinct as shown on the Blueprint Plan.’

Keep the key words ‘If it is not able to be repaired’ in mind.

Another side story, for reasons unknown to me the Council was underinsured on a number of buildings including the Town Hall and instead of insurance covering the $129 million dollar bill, only $70 million is coming from insurance.

The next part of this story is that Bob Parker asked the council staff to look at demolishing everything in the building apart from the auditorium (which is recognized as the most significant feature of the building). I don’t know where Bob got this idea from.  The council staff ordered heritage, and architecture reports to be made in response to this.  In general the feedback from experts was that this partial demolition makes no sense and the building was designed as a complex so needs to stay that way. Strangely the Council staff ignored this commentary and advised the Councillors to adopt the ‘destroy everything but the auditorium’ strategy.  The Councillors on this committee rejected partial retention recommendations and put this recommendation to the full council.

At this point Minister Brownlee seemed to get very frustrated and vented his anger at the decision to keep the building in a number of media. Including this interview with Mike Yardley.  I responded by rebutting his points in this article on the 19th of November

A few weeks later the full council voted unanimously to support the full retention of the Town Hall, and it was put in their budget to pay for it.  Remember the phrase, if it is not able to be repaired.  Well it is able to be repaired, and the CCC will pay for it.  The CCDU blueprint is part of the recovery plan and this is a legal document so while Mr Brownlee has extraordinary emergency powers powers he can not break due process and if he did try to over-rule the council there is good chances he would be  challenged under judicial review. Hopefully we don’t have to find out.

So the next question is: If we have an amazing building, of great value, that is repairable then why does the minister still want to demolish it? Again, another good question.  When I say this isn’t really about the Town Hall it is because it is the $70 million of insurance money that is really at stake here, and this comes back to a very hard ball negotiation happening between the CCC and the government at the moment.

In the first draft plan by the CCC the community was consulted on what they wanted and they proposed a number of buildings at certain sizes. The sizes of the buildings were also the scale (both in a business and urban sense) that the council staff thought was appropriate for Christchurch.  The new government-led blueprint, bravely or foolhardily, upscaled the convention centre and the stadium significantly and added other projects.  They have fronted for some of this money, and the council has too, but there is apparently (again its all secret so what would I know) a gap between the two.  The CCC has the advantage because they have the moral authority to argue for the smaller versions and it is also prudent of them not to end up having to maintain large expensive items like Stadiums and Convention centres.  The government has however bet the bank on the BIG blueprint and don’t want to lose control now. Negotiations continue. (announced next week!) Now some would suggest that Minister Brownlee’s quite verbose media presence in regards to the Town Hall and the consenting problems in the last week is less about those actual issues and more about putting pressure on the councilors during negotiations.

There is a report from Council staff to the councilors due in the next few weeks which outlines more precise costs and plans for the Town Hall. I don’t think any of us can really comment this until it this is made public. We will know more then.

I would like us to not get caught up in the framing that Minister Brownlee is making of this.  It is only the CCDU that has set up this weird choice that either we have a Town Hall or an Arts Precinct.  Or as he puts it, ‘You can either have your old broken run down past it used by date Town Hall, or you can have a new state of the art shiny fantastic arts precinct.’  To which I’d reply ‘You can keep your world renowned Town Hall that has served the city so proudly for the past forty years and has some of the best acoustics in the world or you can have an uncosted sketch of an idea with no details, no business case, or no idea of the desired quality.’

The 100-day plan came out almost a year ago, and at the time I wrote that it looked ok but that more details were needed to really understand it.  Almost 300 days later and we still don’t know what is planned for the convention centre, stadium, arts precinct, or any of the anchor projects.  It’s extraordinary. So we are meant to support the demolition of one the most important buildings in the country without any knowledge of what might replace it? Because that is what the minister is asking us. Really this is what he expects us to do.

Now I completely accept that some arts and cultural groups in Christchurch might be really excited about the new arts precinct.  I respect that.  But until we get some idea of what the government is actually proposing this is a false argument.  As a guide though there is a rule of thumb that very high quality auditorium spaces as we have with the Town Hall cost around $20,000 per seat. That puts the Town Hall at around $300 million dollars.  A similar building (based on the acoustic design of our town hall) in Paris has reached almost half a billion.  Now, do you really think that the government is seriously looking at that sort of money an arts precinct.  And if not why would we not spend $50 million to protect the town hall we already have.

Some suggest (Link to article on rebuilding Christchurch) that the $70 million is needed to not only help get the arts precinct going but a business plan is also linking this into the convention centre too. So in a twisted way the construction of the CCDU’s big convention centre is based on the need to demolish our best live arts space.  I don’t know if there is any accuracy to this, because, you guessed it, the whole process is being done in secret.

The other thing to mention is that the proposal is for the demolition of an Town Hall and replacement with an performing arts centre. Town Hall’s are fundamentally civic in nature and performing art is about well, performing arts. If we keep the Town Hall we get both, if we demolish it we lose the civic aspect.  When people say ‘we need a new Town Hall’ they misunderstand that this isn’t what is proposed.  In fact we don’t even know who would own the new one, or who would run it.

The most frustrating thing about this is that this public battle now means that the government and the council aren’t talking to each other and the plans to keep the Town Hall are not being considered as part of the city rebuild.  What we really need is:

A. Some information about what we need as a city, what can we actually support.

B. More information from both the CCC and CCDU about what their plans are for the Town Hall and performing arts area.

C. A short and in depth consultation with the relevant parties to see what great and creative solution we can come up with.

It’s completely irresponsible to talk about demolition when all the options aren’t even on the table yet.  This is banana republic stuff.

Call me naïve, but why can’t we just have all the information in front of us and have a serious grown up conversation about what to do. I suspect we still might be able to come up with a plan that means we all win.

How about a smaller and more flexible arts precinct, keep the Town Hall, fix up the auditorium, re-invent the James Hay, and have all this facing into the victoria Square with the new Ngai Tahu cultural centre. Can someone in power explain to me why this can’t work?

Ecnarusni: first TWO years in a munted canterbury settlement

(with apologies to samuel butler and many others besides)

To whomsoever the soil at any time belongs, to him belong the fruits of it. White parasols, and elephants mad with pride are the flowers of a grant of land. Sir Wm. Jonestranslation of an Indian grant of land, found at Tanna.

The streets of Christchurch have not been the same since September 4th 2010; even less so from February 22nd onward. Different flows have appeared; flows of detoured traffic conditions, flows of conversation veering always to the last shake, flows of the a/effluent, flows of money, flows of  light from new holes in the fabric.

Green uniforms of army guarding a closed ‘cbd’ were the first signs of an unusual time; suspicion is pre-supposed with the green men. Bored teen soldiers racing a LAV up Oxford Terrace an early event for me to note that energy transfers; released energy is absorbed again, and a lot of energy can be absorbed into teenage soldiers with nothing much to do; throttling it in a LAV the subsequent release. Cycling through the streets became an adrenaline sport, requiring constant vigilance, like liberty….they were sitting on a deck chair at a card table for 8 hours a day, protecting an empty city. The green men, first strangeness of the strange days that have found us.  Earthquakes have a physiology, why wouldn’t they? Dissipation of energy on a graduating scale. Human affairs, on the other hand, tend toward runaway. It is said that there is no such thing as a natural catastrophy, only the human response. The resilience, preparedness, and adaptability of those affected determines the true extent of damage. Nature did what it always does, what does it know of catastrophy? ; that concept takes time.

Having lived through these intense years since (and strangely monotonous ones, as most social interaction reverts to stories of aftershocks), what harrows most, after the initial adrenaline subsidence, is the stagnation occurring now with property issues; namely, insurance. There, I’ve said it- ‘ that which must not be named’, or as the Goons put it, ‘insurance, the white man’s burden’. Well, guess what, it’s everyone’s problem now.

James Lunday, an urban theorist speaking at the one of the tedx conferences, was suitably bemused in questioning the use of language after the first two events. The timidity of the term ‘munted’ seemed to insult his Glaswegian sensibilities, as he reminded us that the city was no longer munted after February 22, it was fucked. Now, a further two years along, and with ruptures of discontent hissing forth more frequently, can we now have a stronger word than fucked please James. Munted, fucked, ? Mcfucked? ; and so to the theme of this story, what does an uninsurable city look like? …perhaps a bit like this one.

Insurance is the elephant in the room, or would be if any room could be located among the layers of re- re- re -. No more ra ra ra, it is all re re re ; the layers of the underwriting maze. The draft of the City Plan elaborated so closely the views, opinions and desires of the community and key stakeholders (although, by this elusive terminology, the community are considered separate to stakeholders, and stakeholders separate to key stakeholders – and so on ad infinitumis someone being flattered?), that the elephant had temporarily been forgotten amongst the deserved glow of a responsive, exciting ….planning document!

Catalyst projects, river green belts, bicycle recognition, light rail links to the university, and even a suggestion to what became the largest speech bubble graphic of all – MORE GREEN SPACE. (Although this phrase may represent, in its lack of any Quality whatsoever, a real turning point toward actual engagement, through the sheer necessity for an expedition toward language that indicates Quality. Read again; MORE GREEN SPACE, it doesn’t actually say anything. More Hagley Park? More thirsty lawns? – fear and panic seem to drive people toward these dogmatic statements – the other species being the NO brigade [NO concrete, NO Cars] – words without qualitative aspects)

Worthy results, though, of a thorough consultation process that has pushed popular sentiment as generator to such a level that the results almost resemble placation. Such a prominence that one is left with an ever sharpening focus of what such offerings may be concealing. This is where the insurance elephant enters again, not so much mad with pride, as impassive, perhaps even sympathetic – “all admirable plans, but…” That’s a big but. Initial exuberance flees with the reportage and indicators which suggest that risk assessors many miles away will decide the fate of Christchurch. Not 106,000 ideas gathered from active citizens, and not meticulously compiled and presented vision plans.

On a good day the City Plan says all the right things, almost regurgitating public sentiment. On a bad day…..the city is uninsurable.

The Mayor is an ex game show host afterall and seems to have recalled those latent skills, only this time offering both the money AND the box; does the City Plan remain only a draft, a rehearsal so to speak. When the lights go up, does every AND become an OR again? with the ‘community’ consultation being the sparkly offerings dangled under noses to fill time between the ad breaks?

Meanwhile, the elephant has been dressed in orange fluoro and taken on tour.

Some wider ranging insights on insurance and its more far reaching ambitions;

(both taken from ‘The Perception of the Middle’ – Nathan Moore)

….”but the more useful insight is that developed by Donzlot and Ewald in terms of insurance. It is not simply a question of trying to protect against the future by assessing risks in the present, but of making the process of that assessment profitable in every conceivable way. It is this profitability of the future that motivates control, extended to every image of the universe in the hope of replacing it with an ever modulating universe of data. Decisions become impossible because the construction of consequences, in the form of further decisions, is displaced by discrete, and isomorphic, choices, in which the aim is not to extend the consequence, but rather to limit it through new understandings of liability.”

Perhaps the most appalling aspect of control is that it has reduced the City to nothing more than a representation of conflicts, and in this has sought to institute a new l aw of the jungleto favour the survival of the fittest but as Nietzsche pointed out, it is always the weakest who survive! … the artisan continues to extract combinations that are not determined by the needs of conflict. This reminds us that decisions can still be made, and that the City remains. Rather than a world of choice, we should re-discover cities of decision.

New Brighton Creative Quarter

Over the Summer break, I was Temporary Curator at the Creative Quarter in New Brighton. The Creative Quarter often referred to as “the cQ” is inside the heart of New Brighton mall – 101 Brighton Mall. Check it out on

With the help of many volunteers the space was created. Housing a 10m2 office/workshop/anything room, a stage, seating, sail, sandpit, running track, display board, artists and a range of artwork. The 10m2 workshop also utilising the suns power with solar power. We are even able to run film nights in the space with only solar power!!

What an awesome space it is. With the help of Sue Davidson’s Mural Madness, many artists came into the space transforming the space into an outside gallery.

Check out mural madness on the web:

Check out two artists from the project: Marie Ockleford and Michael Springer

Coming into the position with fresh ideas I was keen to collect the community organisations together, the groups renewing the Sumner, Addington and Lyttelton Community, as together we can share ideas and resources.

The Sumner Community produced these awesome bumper stickers originally free to residents are now available for a gold coin in the Sumner village.  I’m keen to see Renew Brighton and the Creative Quarter to follow suit with a bumper sticker, to connect the community.

Previously living in Sumner, it’s great to see “SumnerRocks” on cars all around the city – I’m always wondering if I know them from my time playing rugby or squash.

We have showed many films at cQ like WhaleRider thanks to South Pacific Pictures.

What films are suited to the outside? Are there any particular films that must be watched outside?

Maybe Horror films are easier to watch outside, I can run away this way.

Gapfiller have organised some amazing outdoor films on architecture, being passionate about architecture it was great to see the small Christchurch architecture crowd in attendance.

How would you manage a temporary space in Christchurch?

We have had Dallas Matoe working inside the cQ, a talented woodcarver. Running workshops to the public on traditional Maori woodcarving techniques.

In the future I’d like to see a map detailing the wonderful things happening in New Brighton, a gig guide etc. If you’re keen to help promote the space get in touch with Renew Brighton and cQ on and

They are looking at putting on a night market in the future.

New Brighton has so many opportunites !!

Christchurch has so many opportunities.

But you know that, you’re reading …

cQ Landscape

The last of the Grandparents: Becoming the middle generation

Last week my Grannie Janet moved from her house of 31 years to a rest home. What’s more, she’s moved cities after 48 years in the same place. From Central Christchurch to suburban Nelson. Not that it really matters what locale she is in these days as she doesn’t travel far by foot anymore. However she does know the Nelson area well, having emigrated there from England with her family at age 19. It is there she was married and had her only child, my Dad Mike, in 1954. She is now 93-year-old, and can get around with her walker over very short distances, only just. She is very blind, so her view hasn’t changed much from city to city. But it would be dismissive, assuming and unkind to say the move isn’t a big one, or that this kind of change in old age doesn’t make much difference to a person and their family. It really does.

Grannie and Granddaugher

Grannie was very involved with, and attached to her home in Christchurch, in the Avon Loop stretch of the river, which she named Sunset corner. She has a thing for naming houses, which I also like the notion of. Naming homes gives them bit of a personality, or character. As if they are beings in themselves, aside from their inhabitants. Grannie lived in the top right flat of four that she had had architecturally designed and built in 1982. They replaced an old villa that had sat on the site for decades. Despite having sold the three flats to other people, Grannie still thought of the surrounding grounds as hers. A botanist by profession, she was very keen to utilise every patch of soil on the section and did so with passion and care. Sometimes to the annoyance of her neighbours when she insisted on being party to the planting they did in their own fenced off plots. But over all, she had great relationships with her neighbours over the years, and participated in her wider community along Oxford Terrace, as an active member of the Avon Loop Planning Association.

Grannie has always had an interest in things botanical, as the daughter of a daffodil grower in Evesham, England. She formalised her knowledge and passion as a young women when studying a Diploma of Horticulture at Massey University in the first intake that allowed women on the course. She went on to work as a plant science demonstrator at Lincoln college in he 60’s and 70’s, and studied again, towards Landscape architecture after that. She was a member of the Botanical Society, Alpine Garden Society and a friend of the Botanic Gardens.

Along with several other community members, Grannie was really passionate about facilitating the reinstatement of native plants along the riverbank in the Avon Loop, and planting larger stabilising trees. She convinced the Christchurch City Council to plant two groups of Scenecio Greyii shrubs, who’s silvery colour shows up in car headlights around corners, to prevent cars running off the road.

My other grandparents, Elsie and Jack Locke, lived six doors down from her, so our whole family has a strong attachment to the Avon Loop area, and at the moment we are all quietly mourning Grannie leaving her home in our own ways, which for many people, and us particularly, spells the end of an era. I have been surprised by how much this change has affected me. She has lived at Sunset Corner our entire lives.  For my siblings and I, Grannie’s home was the last bastion of unchanged childhood normality, or familiarity we had. This is because in post earthquake Christchurch, almost every facet of our childhood stories and remembered landscapes have been changed in some way. The home we were born and raised in will be rebuilt and sold, the entire stretch of river that runs from that house to Grannies is severely damaged. The Avon Loop community has been red-zoned and largely abandoned as I write, which includes my parents home, our current family base. So old age or not, Grannie had to leave her place, which while still live-able sits on a potentially dangerous tilt, and the red-zoning means the entire Avon Loop must move on.

It is timely however, as her ailing health has made it untenable for her to live by herself. She began needing home help in 2004 following a 3rd hip operation and had come increasingly dependent on the home help and my parent’s daily assistance. But it was the earthquakes bought up the conversation that would have otherwise been very hard to broach. Due to the red zoning, the solution was not debatable. She had to leave.

For many months Grannie felt she was being unjustly thrown out of her home, which many elderly think as they are being shifted into a rest home. However Grannie’s resentment was aimed at the government’s post quake re-zoning plans, until she accepted that her health also necessitated the move. She is at peace with the shift now, but sad all the same. She has said to me a number of times that she is devastated to leave the home she had hoped to live out her days in, to leave my parents and move city. And like the rest of the community, heartbroken that it has all come to an end in such an abrupt and unexpected manor.

She has had remarkable innings however, a widower since 1954, Grannie has remained in her home far longer than most would at her age with her abilities. Her support has had a lot to do with it, but Grannie is also very stoic, fiercely independence and stubborn, which all help to keep one in their own home. I am very thankful that she remained there for the first 3 years of my daughter’s life, and I hope that she will have some memories of Great-Grannie at Sunset Corner.

Never again will we buzz the buzzer at Grannies and walk up the stairs to her living area to find her dozing in her chair, looking out over the cherry tree to the river. Grannie was a woman of habit and routine, and we will miss seeing her move slowly around her home, finding her way about, and gathering things to entertain her great-grandaughter during visits, or to make herself her daily cup-of-soup lunch. We will endeavor to keep the lemon drink cordial recipe alive, and in supply in her rest home. I have made it myself several times, but it is never quite the same as hers. Perhaps I need more habit and routine to get it just right.

Now that all her daily business is taken care of from morning to night in the home, I look forward to visiting Grannie in her new room and spending more time talking about family and listening to her old stories, than fussing about in her kitchen getting everything wrong and disrupting her routine.  She is a social woman, and will really enjoy the company there, and will no doubt have some more calories with each mouthful as well, cup-a-soups haven’t really cut the mustard all these years.

All this change has got me thinking about becoming the middle generation, as my parents have become the Grandparents, and Grannie travels towards the end of her road. This change is a major milestone in her life, and ours. She has left her home, which has prompted lots of reflection and discussion in our family. For me it has provided an opportunity to really think about her life. Of everything she has done and achieved. And most of all, her place in our family and the importance she holds as our oldest, most fragile and senior member. It is a nice time to think and talk together, while she is still around, because now one knows how much time is left.

Go well Grannie. See you in Nelson.

Grannie and Granddaugher





On Building Stories and Creating Cities

I’m a planning professional by degree and career, but when I talk about urban planning I’m not talking solely about the work that goes on in a professional office.  What I’m actually referring to is every action of every inhabitant of a city, because whether or not it is our direct intent, it is our collective actions that shape our communities.  Planning is not just a resource consent or a district plan, it’s an interactive communicative activity.  Our local and national identities stem from core stories that give meaning to our collective lives.  By telling stories about our past and our present our intention is to shape the future.[i]

Story telling is not a passive experience, stories tell as much about the teller as the teller tells about events. In any situation there is only one set of events that occur, yet everyone who is present will tell the story differently based on their experiences and personal biases.  Stories provide details that can clarify problems and opportunities.  They provide descriptions of character, they invoke values and they raise questions. [ii]  Stories are not merely told, they are created.  When we tell a story about ourselves we are drawing on our past behaviours and on others’ characterizations of ourselves.  In re-telling our stories we are reproducing ourselves and our behaviours. [iii]   In choosing which stories to tell we are defining our personal characteristics and shaping our own lives.

A professor of mine who was involved in the post-Katrina reconstruction of New Orleans talked to us about how it was those personal characteristics of all the key players that really mattered.  He said that over and over again he saw examples of the right kind of person, or unfortunately the wrong, make an enormous difference because their actions would have ripple effects.  He said that this happened even at the very lowest levels.  And what I understood is that it’s not so much that individuals and their actions can make a difference, it’s that individuals and their actions are what make a difference.  Which is heavy because it applies to all of us and it’s something that we have to be aware of all the time.  But don’t let it scare you, don’t let it weigh you down – let it excite you!

I have a story that I like about Christchurch because it’s about the All Blacks and I’ve loved them ever since I was a student in Dunedin.  I’ve been following them for about ten years now so I know that nobody deserved that cup more than they did.  But what interested me the most about the All Blacks winning was an interview with Richie McCaw where he said that after the earthquakes normal wasn’t normal anymore.   He said that in every aspect of his daily life he was forced to look at things a bit differently.  He explained that instead of it being an obstacle it became a strength because he also started looking at his game and his team a bit differently.  And when he applied this new mindset to his captaincy he was able to take his team to higher levels than ever before.  So this is just one example of how the story of the city affected one of its inhabitants, whose personal story then affected the city. Because whether or not you are a big rugby fan I can tell you that the atmosphere in Hagley Park was pure magic when they won, and that is now a part of the story of this city.

So now that we know that our cities and even our lives are built on stories, let’s look at how stories are created.  Author Margot Livesy tells us to look for what she calls ‘the hidden machinery.’  She advises aspiring writers to read all that is good for the good of your soul, and then learn to read as a writer and search out the ‘hidden machinery,’ which is the business of art to conceal and the business of the apprentice to comprehend.[iv]  To find these building blocks you have to read the work that’s not so good, and read work that’s in progress.  You have to read your own work as if it were someone else’s.  She tells us to admit our judgments, because few writers get steadily better but many get unsteadily so.

I find myself experiencing cities in the same way.  I enjoy what’s good about them for the good of my soul, and there’s so much to enjoy in cities!  I love pedestrian precincts with quirky little bars, cafes and boutiques; I love architecture and art galleries.  I love street fashion and fine dining, street food and high fashion.  Public transportation, I love taking the metro in Paris or the El train in Chicago.  People watching, public parks, talking to strangers, public libraries.  Live music, live comedy, nightlong dance parties in industrial districts; all of the wild and unpredictable things that happen in cities, I love it!  But then I can’t help but experience the city as a planner.  I take note of the urban design, I educate myself on the policies, I listen to and watch for the stories being told.  I try to piece together exactly what it is that makes that city work.  What is it exactly that makes it such an exciting and dynamic place to be?  Or maybe I’m in a city that’s not so nice and in that case I try to figure out what specifically it is about that city that doesn’t work.  And as I explore and experience my new home, Christchurch, I remind myself that few cities get steadily better, but many get unsteadily so.

So where does this ‘hidden machinery’ come from?  Where do we get the inspiration for the building blocks that we use to build our stories and create our cities?  Author Susan Power tells us that instead of writing what we know, we should write what we need to know.  She says that if she relied solely on firsthand experience then she would stick to her journal and never imagine herself in another’s shoes.  But in fiction anything is possible, there are no boundaries, there are no rules, except to make it work.[v]  In planning as well, there are no boundaries that will hold us back.  There are some rules of course, but they are flexible, they are only there to ‘make it work’.  We don’t have to rely solely on what we’ve experienced firsthand, we have a multitude of examples from across the world that we can imagine for ourselves and create in our own way.  And as planners, or even as human beings, I think it does us good to imagine ourselves in other people’s shoes, to think about what their life might be like and about how our work and our actions might affect them.  And hopefully they’ll do the same for us.

James Alan McPherson is a professor at the Iowa Writers Institute, which is pretty much the creative writing program in the states, and he reminds us that the humanities are untidy.  He says the purpose is not closure along a single line of inquiry as we might find in the sciences, but illuminations that are hard won because they can only be discovered in the midst of life.[vi]  And life is also untidy, there is never a single right answer or single right way of doing things.  But McPherson reminds us that if we remain alert we may begin to see the meaning of events, the character of other human beings, and become more generous, wise, and effective in our actions.  McPherson says that what he enjoys most about teaching writing workshops is the range of backgrounds in his students. He says physics majors discuss theories of causality with religion majors; medical doctors learn mythology from classmates educated in the classics; engineers and music majors learn that technology and music derive from the same idiom.  Film students help lawyers master the essentials of narrative pacing.  He observes that stories encourage abstraction and recombination at a time when our society is becoming increasingly technological and trite.[vii] Despite his many accomplishments McPherson is also quite humble, because he says that best of all is that he as a teacher gains wider knowledge from this diverse body of students.  Cities that are designed with their core stories in mind and that allow space for a multitude of stories to be told will by their very nature provide their inhabitants with a similar space to thrive and to grow.

At the core of any livable city lies the ability to accommodate diverse and locally grounded lifestyles and practices.  The residents are the authority when it comes to understanding a community and policy makers should draw on their expertise.  Institutional processes must make space for stories, creating a ‘sense of place’ that is shaped by the environment, culture, and history.  Policy makers too often ignore this elusive ‘sense of place’ but community is capital, people are willing to pay for it.[viii]  The value of a strong sense of place varies from economic contribution as a tourism draw to the aesthetic value of good design, to the emotional value of a place as part of the regional identity.  Beyond the monetary boost of a tourism visit, there is economic value rooted in the presence of the established local population, whose locational decision is based on their perception of, and ties to their community.

For those who call Christchurch home, as I do, remember that stories are our heritage and our legacy.  Our personal stories are a powerful contribution to building our community because it takes more than infrastructure and policy to create a city.  If you work professionally with the rebuild, your contribution is not relegated to your office.  If you don’t work professionally with the rebuild, you are still accountable for the future of this city.  We are actively building our community every day by indulging in our hobbies and by being a friend, family member, or neighbour.  Share your interests, learn about the interests of others, enjoy the time that you spend with those close to you, speak candidly about what is important to you, and listen when others do the same.  There are no boundaries that will hold us back, all we have to do is imagine the future as we’d like it to be, and create it in our own way.

Dedicated to Andy Isserman, who taught me that stories can be found in even the most mundane facts and figures and who never stopped telling stories of his own.


[i] Throgmorton, James. Inventing ‘the Greatest’: Constructing Louisville’s

Future out of Story and Clay.  Planning Theory 6:3 (2007), pp. 237-262.

[ii] Forester, John. Dealing with Differences: Dramas of Mediating Public Disputes Oxford University Press. 2009.

[iii] Sandercock, Leonie. 2003. Out of the Closet: The Importance of Stories and Storytelling in Planning Practice. Planning Theory & Practice 4:1 (2003), pp. 11-28.

[iv] Livesy, Margot “The Hidden Machinery.”  Frank Conroy, eds. The Eleventh Draft: Craft And The Writing Life From The Iowa Writers’ Workshop. New York : HarperCollins, 1999. Print.

[v] Power, Susan “The Wise Fool.”  Frank Conroy, eds. The Eleventh Draft: Craft And The Writing Life From The Iowa Writers’ Workshop. New York : HarperCollins, 1999. Print.

[vi] McPherson, James Alan “Workshopping Lucius Mummius.”  Frank Conroy, eds. The Eleventh Draft: Craft And The Writing Life From The Iowa Writers’ Workshop. New York : HarperCollins, 1999. Print.

[vii] Ibid.

8 Bolton, Roger. 1992. ‘Place prosperity vs. people prosperity’ revisited: An old issue with a new angle. Urban Studies 29: 185?203.

Songs for Christchurch Artist Prints

The amazing artist John Baker has produced the following drawings to raise funds for the Songs For Christchurch project we are working on.

We are offering one-off prints of these drawings, signed by the artists, and lovingly drawn and donated by John.

For sale, only for the next 5 days.

Please have a look at them here, then head to the pledgeme page to buy any of them:

The prints are a4 sized, signed by the Artist John Baker and the featured Musician.

1. Amanda Palmer. $200.

2.  Tim Finn $200.

3.  Mara TK (Electric Wire Hustle) $150

4.  Flight of the Conchords: $500

5. Ladi6: $200

6. Dallas (Fat Freddys Drop) $200

7. Adam McGrath (The Eastern): $100

8. James Coyle (Nudge) $100

9. Tim Prebble (Spartacus R) $100

10. Lisa Tomlins (Fly My Pretties) $150

11. Paul Hoskin (The Yoots) $100

Freerange collaborations

Here are a few projects we’ve been working with or supporting lately.

Songs for Christchurch

We’ve been working closely with artists around the world, including 2 grammy award winning artists, for around 18 months on this project. Launching later this year, we’ve just started a fundraising project to raise some funds to support the release.  Pledgeme site. 

The Children of Parihaka

In 2009, a group of Taranaki children were taken on a bus trip to visit the places their ancestors, passive resistors from Parihaka in the 1880s, were imprisoned and forced to labour in. Places like Addington Jail in Christchurch and various buildings and roads they worked on in Dunedin. Along the way, they were welcomed at local marae by descendants of local Maori who supported the prisoners at the time. It was an emotional journey, documented by Joseph’s camera and the children themselves. The narration is by the children, from their writing, poetry, song and art, expressed in a workshop after the journey.


Lurujarri Dreaming

This collaborative documentary will be a vehicle for the Goolarabooloo people to share their culture, history and vision for reconciliation with a wide national and international audience via broadcast, film festivals and online platforms. The Goolarabooloo are currently threatened by the prospect of a massive LNG refinery on their land, which threatens their sacred Songline, the Lurujarri Heritage Trail and there ability to carry out traditional cultural practices. The soundtrack will be composed by the renowned Deadly Award winning Broome indigenous musicians- the Pigram Brothers.

Lurujarri Dreaming Trailer from Bernadette Trench-Thiedeman on Vimeo.


Dear New Zealand: This is on you too.

Dear Rest of New Zealand, our caring family, friends, school mates, colleagues, and lost loves.  Those of you who experience Christchurch through the newspapers and the TVs.

It is now two years since the strangeness descended on Christchurch.   The first shake that set of the rolling maul of mixed emotions that continues now: senses of luck, despair, abandonment, love, hope, hopelessness, excitement, of people lost and communities gained.

Remember in hours and days after the February earthquake, staring at the television, with tears streaming down your eyes feeling powerless in the face of such violence and randomness.

Remember in the days and weeks after February trying to keep in touch with friends, loved ones, and old acquaintances. Not really knowing how to help, but offering none the less.

Remember in the weeks and months, when your focus returned to your own lives, to your own financial crisis, and your own family tragedies.   The events became something remembered in anniversaries and progressed measured through small items on the news.

The rubble maybe slowly disappearing into deep holes, but believe us when we say the city is still on fire. There are thousands of individual battles occurring across the city, it’s a massive slow moving urban bush fire that’s been raging now for 2 years. It’s hard to see the form of the future when you are fighting for your own house, securing your own city.

Whule your tears may have dried, people here are still crying, and these tears aren’t enough to put out the fires raging in our lives.   People are tired, tired from two years of stress and fighting fires.  Grey is the new colour of Christchurch, and it isn’t the sky and empty building sites.  Those photos you see of elderly people getting angry at insurance companies haven’t even had their mid-life crisis yet.

The urban surgeons and political gamblers can see a new city.  It’s not even an act of imagination for them, it’s so real it’s almost tangible.   They have such confidence in the strength of it’s vision, it’s power, its uniqueness. IT’S INNOVATIVE.  It’s best practice.   It’ll be cutting edge. It’s going to be an ICONIC CITY MOVING FORWARD.   It’s so new and exciting it can’t really be explained in language we understand.   We say “great, but who is paying for it?”  They say “Oh, you are of course, but we can’t tell you how much it will cost.”

It’s the paternal nature of the political approach that is so unsettling, experts telling  us how we want to live in our own city.    We have become so marginalized in our own city that the idea that we might have something constructive to add is considered radical.  Everything is backwards, upside down.  We fear that by the time we work it all out we will be living in someone else’s city.

It’s like ignoring the quiet terror of domestic violence. The victim is too tired to complain, too exhausted to think that there might be another type of relationship. The violence is not so much to the body as to the imagination.   The abuser is drunk on power, forcing her to sell of her grandmother’s jewellery to pay for his grandiose visions.  “But you said you like nice things” he whispers at night.

Or perhaps its the patient and the expert doctor about to undertake another round of emergency operations, they’ve almost lost her so many times, and now her family has to keep working so aren’t there to support her.  She was sick before the accident, so the doctors have decided to try some new techniques.   Trust us the doctor says we are the experts, we are doing everything to get you back to health.  She feels tired, exhausted.  The endless pain killers and aesthetic are effecting her memory, she sometimes forgets what life was like before the accident. Sometimes she gets confused and angry, “What are you doing to my body?” The doctors don’t like seeing their patients get up set, so they’ve largely stopped explaining the complex operations they are doing to her, instead politely returning questions with questions “You want to walk again don’t you?”

What’s this all about you say?  Stop talking in metaphors!  It’s hard because we are still in the fog of war, buildings demolished, news announcements made, plans launched. It’s all a confusing blur.    But there are a few simple and startling truths to start with.

We don’t actually know who is governing us.  Think about what that means.  The Canterbury Earthquake Reconstruction act means we don’t know who has authority over the big decisions in our lives.  The Christchurch City Council seems bewildered by situation, CERA tries to be friendly but is secretive to its core.

The government is in the process of the biggest government buy out of private land in our small nations history.  They claim it is voluntary but it is founded on the thuggish threat that if you don’t sell the government will cut off your power and water, and you won’t be able to insure your house.

The recent government blue print was created with no input from citizens of the city.   Doctors aren’t allowed to do this our bodies, teachers aren’t allowed to do this to our children, so why is this process (which despite their claims goes against contemporary international best practice) allowed in our city?

The government, with our tacit permission, is failing those that we owe most to, our elderly.  It is humiliating and shameful that our elders, our kuia and kaumatua are been left alone to deal with the violent bureaucracy of EQC, insurance companies, and CERA.    If society is measured by how it treats its young and elderly, then we are failing.  It is well known the elderly are strong and resolute in crisis, they understand what it means to put others ahead of themselves, to sacrifice.  But it is also well known that this sacrifice is often too much for an aged body to bear, and it is often the case that many die quickly after the initial strength and resilience.   Plans for the future are nice to things to have, but we shouldn’t forget the reality around us, even if it is hidden behind closed doors.

But this isn’t just about us.  If other ways aren’t articulated, aren’t argued for clear and loud, then this process becomes normal, inevitable.  Then politics has won over people, and your city will be next.   Even now the extraordinary legislation being used in Christchurch that enables cabinet to make executive decisions without the normal checks and balances such as the Resource Management Act has been used as a precedent in the War Memorial Project in Wellington.  Watchout New Zealand, the NZ cabinet urban design team is coming to a city near you!

The stresses of our lives, the focus on holding our own ground in difficult times is making us forget our collective powers.  We only have what we have because at various points in the past others have stood up for our rights, our rights as citizens, as parents, as children, as Maori, as women, as disabled, and even just our right to be human.

Right now there are many groups in New Zealand really fundamentally struggling to live a just life:  the young and poor, the forgotten elderly, and many many burnout and tired people in Christchurch.

Come for a visit, have a walk around and think about what your home town would look like if this happened to you, and think about how others would be able to help you. German Pastor Martin Niemöller wrote a famous poem in the late 30s.


First they came for the communists,

and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,

and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,

and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for me

and there was no one left to speak out for me.


Dear New Zealand,

This is on you too.



The Freerange Team in Christchurch.