By Kayte John
I think many of you will agree with me when I say — it has been quite a year in Christchurch. As 2011 draws to a close it’s clear that life does go on and although the city might have taken a pretty serious beating, it has prevailed.
It may not look the same as it did before, but nine months on it is evolving — offering us new opportunities. You only have to look at the bars and shops opening up in shipping containers to be reminded that there is opportunity behind every setback.
Many of us are discovering our new favourite places around the city. One of these new haunts is the Container Mall.
The long wait is finally over for us to get back to Cashel Mall. It’s not the same mall we once remembered; it’s now a low-rise spacious and bright container complex.
More than 20,000 people gathered in City Mall at the opening on October 29. It features 27 temporary shops housed in brightly painted shipping containers, representing a new beginning for Christchurch’s quake-ravaged CBD. The container mall is the first significant part of the inner city to reopen since the February earthquake.
When I think of Cashel Mall I remember lunch hours wandering through Whitcoulls, being tempted by the smell of fresh doughnuts, enjoying two dollar rice from Dumplings on the wooden benches with fellow CBD workers, and the array of great clothes stores. My main memory is the walk along Cashel Mall to The Strip. At least once a week after finishing work I would meet friends on The Strip for an evening drink.
Unfortunately the last time I was in the city didn’t end up with a glass of wine in hand. I was forced to leave work, leave my belongings behind and walk home surrounded by the images that still haunt me to this day.
After spending many months reminiscing about the old Cashel Mall I decided to put my thoughts and concerns behind me and embrace the new container mall. As soon as I enter Cashel Mall I see an abundance of people shopping, enjoying a coffee and simply nosing at what’s left of the city. After taking a stroll around the area it’s clear to see that vibrancy and optimism have returned to central Christchurch for the first time since the quake.
As I walk into Ballantynes it feels like I have never left. Swooning over cosmetics, I get chatting to a woman from Avonhead, she says, “Everything is beautifully presented, it’s great.” She’s not wrong, as I leave Ballantynes with my purchases I see the freshly planted gardens, hanging baskets, brightly coloured containers, hear live music and enjoy the friendly smiles of cheerful staff. The smell of fresh coffee complements all of this.
The new container mall provides us with high-end fashion stores, two coffee shops, and some old favourites including Johnson’s Grocery and Scorpio Books. I popped in to visit Colin Johnson, owner of Johnson’s Grocery. The original store on Colombo Street provided us with thousands of items, neatly stacked on floor-to-ceiling shelves. Today he still has my favourite British confectionery and wears the traditional white apron. I asked him about the opening and with a smile he replies, “It was the happiest day of my working life, I’ve never been so busy.” Johnson’s Grocery, originally opened in 1911, is possibly the last remaining grocery shop of its kind in New Zealand.
Along with Johnson, Rachel Eadie, manger of Scorpio Books, said the weekend was manic. “We have been extremely busy, the opening was bigger than anticipated. We kicked off with a sale and it was crazy, spirits are up and everyone is supporting each other.”
Cashel Mall is not the only place that’s hosting businesses out of these shipping containers. There are many containers opening around the city offering new cafés, bars and now clothes stores.
The Merivale container complex is set to open in four weeks time and bars such as Cargo Bar on Lincoln Rd and The Carlton Country Club on the corner of Bealey Ave and Papanui Rd are operating from containers and trucks.
While joining a group of girls for morning coffee in Cashel Mall I ask them if they see these containers as a trend, I quickly get a reply saying, “I don’t think the people of Christchurch see this as a trend but as an opportunity and a new destination”. Another girl adds, “We have been without some of our favourtie bars, restaurants and shops for too long, its great that these containers can offer some life and entertainment back into the city”.
Janine Rendel, who works at the Ballantynes Contemporary Lounge says, “We have been so busy since the opening, we thought things would settle down in the week but we were wrong. I think people are excited to get back into the city, and with all these new places opening, people have a reason to get dressed up and go out again.”
Rendel, along with many store owners and staff, wants to stay in Cashel Mall as long as possible. Abby Donaldson, manager of boutique clothes store, Ruby, spent her first day as manager in its old High Street store when the February quake hit. However, this has not scared her away. “It’s fantastic to be back in the city. We were offered to move to the malls but that’s not what Ruby is about, we stood our ground and finally we are here — welcome back everyone.”
What’s on offer
- Shops in the north precinct are Infinite Definite, Barkers, Trelise Cooper, Maher Shoes, Kooky, Hot Damn, Mini Cooper, Storm, D’Fusion, Simply NZ, Mimco, Kingan Jones, Yoobee, Ruby, 3 Wise Men, Crafted Coffee, Plush, Hapa, Kathmandu and the ASB bank.
- The south precinct includes Hunters and Collectors, Cosmic, Scorpio Books, Karen Walker-Ketzke, Diesel-Witchery Man, Gstar-Ben Sherman, Super Dry-Scotch & Soda, Lonsdale-Doosh, Armani Jeans-Ted Baker, Johnson’s Grocery, Toi Toi and Hummingbird Coffee.
- Ballantynes runs alongside the southern containers and its Contemporary Lounge is next door, in an open and spacious container.
- Three Wilsons carparks are available, charging $1 an hour, as well as a council carpark offering free parking for the first two hours.
While the current operational shape of Christchurch’s CBD is, via the container mall, distinctly rectangular, it is market forces that will determine how it looks in the future, not grandiose planning.
So sure of this is the Property Institute of New Zealand Canterbury/Westland branch, that it has lodged a submission on the Christchurch City Council’s Draft Central City Plan.
The submission says the central city area can be nurtured back to health through the age old prescription of market forces and consumer demand, and argues against prescriptive limits on building heights and retail floor areas.
It recommends shelving light rail for now, supports a centrally located sports hub, wants affordable housing in the central city linked to occupant purpose (rather than simply low rents), and challenges the seemingly ‘anti-car’ tone in the plan.
It cites the removal of motor vehicles from the CBD as unrealistic and impractical, stating that car parking for retail and office activity is paramount because restrictions and disincentives compromise development.
The institute expressed optimism that given the right incentives for development and occupancy, a city will emerge that meets the plan’s aspirations for a “strong, prosperous and resilient place where people want to invest, residents want to spend their time and where visitors want to stop for a few days”.
While saying such aspirations are laudable, the Institute is “very concerned” at the plan’s commercial viability.
Canterbury/Westland Branch chairman Marius Ogg says implementation is the key to the plan’s success. “For this to happen a level of market empowerment, to a degree which is not evident in the plan, is necessary,” he says.
“The CBD needs to be made as inviting as possible for tenants, owners and developers to rebuild and reoccupy it with confidence and this will not be achieved through prescriptive planning. Prohibitions and restrictions — particularly in relation to building heights, retail floor space and car parking — are not positive signals for investment and progress. Market dynamics need to be left to determine what happens within the CBD, without comprising the overall aim of the plan and revitalisation. Both can be achieved through appropriate design and implementation controls, rather than up front rulings.
“The views expressed by the Property Institute in the submission are consistent with our philosophically founded belief that the market, rather than centralised prescription and prohibition, will ultimately play the dominant role in determining the shape and extent of redevelopment in Christchurch.”
Specific points made in the submission include:
There should be an emphasis on design and enhanced seismic standards, rather than blanket restrictions. If the design, seismic standards and direction are clear and appropriate, then the market should be allowed to dictate the height. It is possible to design and engineer tall buildings specific to geo-technical constraints. Exceeding seismic standards should be encouraged.
Retail floor space
The total size retail footprint in the central city needs to be reconsidered, relative to the realistic demand for such space. A much smaller retail footprint, particularly to the fringe of the core, is required to create a concentration of vibrant retail space.
The Institute is opposed to the concept if it equates with low cost accommodation, likely to show early deterioration in appearance and occupied simply on the basis of low entry cost. Members see the real issue around central city housing as people having a reason to live there, over and above simple affordability.
Housing should be linked to the residential needs of staff associated with key institutions and facilities such as the hospital, the polytechnic, the proposed sports hub and entertainment complexes. There are too many national and international examples of the adverse social consequences of cheap inner city accommodation where the sole criterion for occupancy has been affordability.
A sports hub with a family recreation focus, as distinct from a performance sport focus, is supported. It is described as a potential ‘anchor’ for the central city and would generate a high level of pedestrian traffic. The existing proposed location (near AMI stadium) is seen as too far away to provide any real support to or from the central core retail precinct. Preferred locations would be within easy walking distance of Cashel mall.
The Institute notes its “immense cost” compared with other transport options and says an investment at the moment would absorb a disproportionate amount of the overall transport budget. There are other funding priorities. Attention should be concentrated on a dedicated bus system, but the corridors for a rail system could be provided for now and used in the interim as bus routes, cycle paths and other transportation passageways.
The market will respond badly to restraints on car parking in the central city. Short term car parking and retail activity are critically interlocked. Mechanisms to directly connect retailers to car parking should be supported. Retailers are seen as the people best positioned to decide on short term parking requirements and price. More than any other stakeholder, they know that as traders in the city’s core they have to compete with suburbia where parking is not so constrained.
To get office workers, retail assistants and other mass occupation groups into the central city for their jobs, the Institute suggests a “park and ride” concept as a good compromise between private and public transport modes. This would involve driving to a strategically placed parking facility, then taking a public bus from there to work locations.