Cities of tomorrow: A better life? – WORD Christchurch

When it comes to city-building and urban planning people in Christchurch have more to say about this than they ever have. We’re at a crucial point in our recovery where most of the old that will go has and we’re getting a clearer and clearer idea of what the new will actually be like. It’s an in-between place, a liminal place, and not necessarily a comfortable place.

So picking the brains of experts in the field of governance, sustainability and city planning seems like a good idea. Sure, we might all have opinions about how to make a city that offers a better life for its inhabitants but they’re not necessarily well informed ones. What do the experts think?

On the panel for this session were French experts Marie-Anne Gobert of Lyon, Cécile Maisonneuve of Paris, Mark Todd of Auckland property development company (and literary prize sponsors) Ockham, and former Christchurch resident (who now lives in Sydney) Barnaby Bennett.

Anne-Marie Gobert, Barnaby Bennett, Kim Hill, Cecile Maisonneuve and Mark Todd
Anne-Marie Gobert, Barnaby Bennett, Kim Hill, Cecile Maisonneuve and Mark Todd, Flickr File Reference: 2016-08-27-IMG_2499

Radio New Zealand presenter Kim Hill had what turned out to be a reasonably challenging job, in keeping the discussion moving along, correctly interpreting the French accents, and managing the audience input – tasks she undertook with her characteristic gentle belligerence.

Speaking of the audience, this was bar far the most vocal crowd I’ve been part of in the festival so far. Christchurch people are, generally speaking, fairly undemonstrative in these kinds of events but this topic generated much spontaneous clapping (mainly when Central Government was pinned as having failed in some respect) and vocal affirmations of the “hear, hear” variety.

I guess when an author is discussing their work we’re happy to sit and listen, but we are all, to some extent or other, experts in our own city and people attending this session obviously have a reasonable level of engagement with the subject matter.

The main points that stuck out for me were –

  • Local authorities need to be willing to take risks and to experiment, to try small-scale pilots of things to learn if they work and then be scaled up if successful. Failure, particuarly when small, fast and comparatively inexpensive aren’t cause for shame or embarrassment, they’re a crucial way to learn what works and what doesn’t.
  • Good public transportation is vital.
  • Engagement with communities needs to be iterative.
  • Stratification of the rich and poor is really bad for cities and the people who live in them
  • Public-private partnerships can work if the terms are clearly defined

The question and answer session at the end was unfortunately rather overshadowed by a gentleman (I use the term loosely) from Southland who ranted on and on and even with prodding from Kim Hill simply refused to get to the point, prompting her to ask –

I appreciate this dystopian polemic, sir…but is there a question?

The crowd was actively booing him and telling him to shut up at this point and by the time he insulted Barnaby Bennett’s dress sense, he’d lost pretty much everyone. It was the most extraordinary thing I’ve ever seen at a literary festival.

More WORD Christchurch


Barnaby Bennett: WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival

WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival kicks off on 27 August. We’ve asked three quick questions of festival guests:

Barnaby Bennett

Cover of Peace, power, and politicsWhat (or who) are you most looking forward to at WORD Christchurch?

I’m mostly looking forward to launching our book Once in a Lifetime: City-building after Disaster in Christchurch. We’ve had amazing support in creating it and it has the voices of so many people in it who will be at the launch, so I’m mainly excited (and a little scared) to let it out into the world. Also pretty excited to see people like Nicky Hager, Gerard Smyth, and Maire Leadbeater talk about their work. We are blessed with a great lineage of articulate activists in this country.

What do you think about libraries?

Well, as a Ph.D student libraries are incredibly important, they the heart of research. I don’t think contemporary society could exist without them. It’s obvious that new technologies are changing them, but in all my experiences librarians are the people most on top of what that change means to libraries and how to adapt to the new opportunities.

Cover of Barnaby BennettShare a surprising fact about yourself.

Um, my name got borrowed for a brilliant children’s book by Hannah Rainforth called Barnaby Bennett which is all about a little Māori boy who always wears red. Also I was born in the year (1980) that humans exceeded the carrying capacity of the earth for the first time, I sometimes worry I was the one that put us over the edge.

Transitional Christchurch – in Auckland

Search catalogueChristchurch: A Transitional City Part IV is that rather fabulous looking book bound in brown paper. It documents Christchurch’s transitional projects, street art, and pop-ups. Architectural designer Barnaby Bennett presented the session. I found it difficult, not because of anything lacking in him but because the session was really aimed at Aucklanders. As Barnaby observed: “You could put anyone from Christchurch up here and they could talk about it eloquently.”

There were a lot of questions and discussion on Christchurch “Crisischurch”: CERA, Christchurch City Council, Gerry Brownle, Ngai Tahu …

Barnaby showed slides of things like the Pallet Pavilion, the Think Differently book exchange (the fridge), street art featuring bandaids, and even our own Central Library Peterborough got a look in.

I thought Barnaby’s observation that “Temporary things stay much longer and start to inscribe patterns of behaviour” was a valid one. We have certainly seen that happening. He mentioned that “things go into a liquid state before they start freezing” and that these transitional things are “crystallising”.

A challenging session and one that brought out to me that all of New Zealand needs to get a clue about what is happening in Christchurch. As Barnaby said,  game playing in Auckland is based on what has been gotten away with in Christchurch.

He ended by saying:

Christchurch has brought out to me the lack of solidarity in New Zealand.