By Bridget Gourlay
There’s a silver lining to every cloud. With continuous aftershocks, red-zoned suburbs and a demolished city centre lying eerily bare — Christchurch really needs its silver lining.
The central city draft plan was released in mid August. An expensive wish list from the council, it focuses on creating a ‘city within a garden’ — green spaces, pedestrian-friendly roads, lightrail joining the suburbs to the CBD. Largely, it has been met with delight from the public who look forward to having a thriving city centre once more.
But a city’s heart can’t function without a solid commercial centre. That’s why the plan also includes a number of innovative proposals for the business community.
First, we’re getting our own Silicon Valley. A high-technology complex called the Enterprise Precinct and Innovation Campus (EPIC) will be created at the former Para Rubber site from this December. In time it will become home to more than 700 employees working for 40-plus innovative businesses at a newly built campus.
Google’s Christopher Coleman, responsible for building many large Google campuses across the world, and Craig Nevill-Manning, who founded Google’s first remote engineering centre located in midtown Manhattan (now home to 2000 employees), are both prepared to offer free advice for the development of EPIC within Christchurch.
The city plan says “this shared environment will help promote business efficiency, develop collaborative business opportunities and serve as an example of the quality of business life to be found in the redeveloped Central City.”
SLI Systems CEO Shaun Ryan says the EPIC proposal will be a huge drawcard for Christchurch. “This is a unique opportunity to create a collaborative work environment that will allow our innovative companies to flourish. It will create long term employment and help bring some energy back to the heart of the city.”
EPIC has numerous property developers and tenants interested in investing in this project. It is hoped this will help Christchurch attract a skilled international workforce and retain local graduates.
There’s also a plan in the city draft for a hub of private education businesses. Called ‘Campus Central’, the city plan says it proposes a “range of smaller private and public tertiary education providers to co-locate in an integrated, purpose-built campus in the Central City.” A student village accommodation facility is also being proposed.
English language education school CLTI operated in Cashel Mall until the February earthquake. Director Linda Edwards says the proposed education hub and student village will work best if the international students have plenty of opportunity to interact with Kiwis. “They don’t want to be secluded away, they don’t want to be in a ghetto with own nationalities. They want to feel part of a new community, and not be isolated.”
Many international students lost their lives when Kings College, in the CTV building, collapsed. Edwards and her students were in the Link Centre when the earthquake hit; the ceiling partially collapsed on them and they waited half an hour, terrified, to be rescued.
However, Edwards says memories do fade. She points to the areas in South East Asia which were damaged by the tsunami in 2004 — for many international travellers, that disaster does not stop them from visiting.
“It will take time but people will forget. Young people in particular are not so worried. One Korean boy in my class said the other day that earthquakes are exciting. I remember in my 20s I went to San Francisco and I wanted to feel an earthquake — I never had in Britain. Parents, however, might not want their children to go (to Christchurch).”
While CLTI is operating from Bishopdale temporarily, Edwards says once the city is rebuilt she is keen to move the school back. “It depends on the cost of the rents. But it does feel more upbeat for the students in the centre of the town.”
Lessons from the past
The city plan also wants to turn our knowledge gained of surviving, coping and rebuilding from a disaster into something tangible.
An Earthquake Preparedness Institute (called the EPI-Centre) will be, according to the city plan, “built to the highest seismic and sustainability principles, highlighting Christchurch’s role as a leader in environmental design.”
The EPI-Centre includes a resource centre related to the built environment, as a point of focus for design professionals to share information and ideas with the public about the rebuild of the city, highlighting the innovative responses developed by architects and landscape architects.
“Enhanced understandings of everything from the performance of infrastructure to the social impacts of earthquakes can be included in this multi-purpose facility,” the city plan says.
The EPI-Centre will showcase local research and best practice which will aim to foster connections between Christchurch and other seismic activity cities of the world.
For more information visit www.cityplan.ccc.govt.nz