I have been welcoming conferences here for the last couple of months and I have to say how good it has been to show off what is happening in our city.
I attended the World Cities Summit in Singapore a couple of weeks ago, and it was great to be with so many people again. What I have missed over the Covid protection period has been the opportunity to meet people in person. The reality is that we can see and listen to each other online, however it’s what happens between the sessions that makes a conference come to life.
And the location offers the opportunity to be inspired by what we can see around us. And in our case, there is a lot to see.
When this was just a placeholder on the blueprint it was hard to imagine the scale of a convention centre that would take us from Victoria Square to Cathedral Square.
And now it’s real, Te Pae, and what a difference it is making.
Ōtautahi Christchurch is the country’s oldest city established by Royal Charter in 1856 and has become Aotearoa’s newest city, and that is being reflected in the people who are choosing to make this place their home.
We have got so much going for us:
We’re less expensive than other major New Zealand centres, in terms of commercial rent, land cost, and residential costs.
We’re internationally connected with one of New Zealand’s busiest international airports and a significant seaport.
We have four internationally recognised tertiary institutions.
The city centre is more than 80 per cent brand new, with buildings built to new seismic, sustainability and accessibility requirements.
Our central city is walkable with new laneways, hotels, restaurants, and bars all within minutes’ walk from the major conference venues. And all this is punctuated by urban green areas, the Avon Ōtakaro River winding through the central city, and one of the world’s largest urban parks, Hagley Park, in the heart of the central city.
I read the introduction to this year’s conference: which said that Resilience & Recovery are relevant to the property sector as a whole – whether it is a crisis sparked by a natural event, a pandemic or whether we personally have the stamina to thrive during adversity – there couldn’t be a more fitting location than Ōtautahi Christchurch, and in particular, Te Pae our stunning new Convention Centre to discuss these issues.
Prior to being elected as Mayor, I asked the outgoing Mayor if he would sign off an expression of interest in becoming a member of the 100 Resilient Cities Network pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation. He was more than happy to do so, which meant that I was able to sign the application on my first day in the role.
The fact that our city was chosen as one of around 30 inaugural members of the network is a tribute to the commitment we were already making as a city to build resilience, not just in terms of infrastructure, but in terms of community resilience - a vital ingredient for facing the enormous challenges that lie ahead.
Little did we know back then, the extent of the challenges we would have already faced – the flooding, the Port Hills Fire and the tragedy of the terrorism attack on two city mosques in 2019 – book-ended by the earthquakes and a global pandemic.
In each case the response saw the city come together in ways that have made me feel proud to be the Mayor and which leave a legacy of knowledge and understanding that will stand us in good stead for the future challenges that we know climate change will bring.
I think of the Mayoral Taskforce on Flooding in 2014 which enabled us to build resilience in residential areas vulnerable to flooding and create confidence going forward.
As my term comes to an end, I have been reflecting on the state of the city I thought I was inheriting nine years ago and all that has happened since. There were some unfortunate surprises back then. However, what I want to share with you is the incredible sense of optimism I continue to hold for this city and our place in the world.
We are an incredible city and the fact you are here means you can see it for yourself.
As a council we set the vision for our city early on as a place of opportunity for all – a place that is open to new ideas, new people and new ways of doing things – a place where anything is possible. And the possibilities remain boundless.
We offer our residents the opportunity to grow, to connect and to find balance. I took these words from a talk I gave at the end of my first term as Mayor.
The opportunity to grow spoke to a city of learning and development; the freedom to create new things and bring ideas to life supported by an excellent innovation eco-system; and the offer of meaningful work.
The opportunity to connect means we are connected to each other, as people and as communities, the rest of the country and the rest of the world; we are a collaborative city; and since March 15, 2019, we have become known as a compassionate city.
The opportunity for balance refers to healthy living and interaction with nature; a modern city built for living in; New Zealand’s most cycle and pedestrian friendly central city, surrounded by stunning natural features.
I remember Malcolm Johns, our airport’s Chief Executive describing Christchurch as the Goldilocks city – not too big, not too small, just right.
I always say we are big enough to have all the facilities a big city has, yet not so big you get lost in the crowd.
We are not only right-sized, but we also have room to grow - sustainably.
With the urban areas of the two districts to our north and south, Greater Christchurch is the fastest growing area outside Auckland.
We are relatively easy to get around, and we have the advantage that we can get ahead of the challenges that Auckland has had to face.
We have worked with our neighbours in Selwyn and Waimakariri to create an urban planning environment over many years through the Greater Christchurch Partnership and we have just entered into an Urban Growth partnership with the government.
The infrastructure boundaries have come under pressure as a result of the NPS-UD, and we have a council decision on the agenda today on the notification of Plan change 14, which gives effect to the NPS-UD, as well as the recent RMA changes enabling increased intensification.
Balancing aspirations for a low rise, human scale Central City with the need for urban intensification to reduce our reliance on urban sprawl is a very live debate.
No one opposes intensification, but it cannot be at the expense of our tree canopy, which is under increasing pressure.
Nor can it be at the expense of good urban design, making our neighbourhoods great places to be.
If there is a note of frustration I will sound, it is that we were already well ahead of the curve before Labour and National joined forces to impose the changes without consulting with us or our communities.
Our District Plan had already been completely overhauled after the earthquakes, and we already have central city and residential medium density zones providing for 50 and 30 households per hectare respectively. So, the imposition of a one-size-fits-all approach makes no sense. But it is what it is.
So where to from here?
After the earthquake, the City Council developed a draft recovery plan based on a community engagement simply called Share an Idea. This engaged the whole community in reimaging what the central city could be. Thousands participated. It was a remarkable exercise in co-creation.
And although the process was superseded by a government blueprint and the Central City recovery Plan that was embedded in our District Plan, there are great examples of when the design matched the expectations the community had set.
The Strip has been replaced by the Terraces – and the city has turned to face the river – Ōtakaro is now as familiar a name as is the Avon. And a bleak pre-earthquake environment has been reimagined as a Riverside Market and a pedestrianised street which you would have seen last night. I say this to emphasise the importance of the private sector investment in our reimagined city.
I want to talk also about the significance of our city embracing its pre-European history.
This most English of cities has embedded this history in the landscape, the names in the buildings, and in the pou that complete the narrative. If you walk into Victoria Square, you will see this. Walk across to our amazing city library – Turanga and you will see it as well.
What is more, we have learned more about what shaped us as a city that our European forebears built on the swamp they drained. The earthquakes taught us the importance of that.
And a place that is near and dear to my heart. Once homes to thousands of residents, then the desolated Residential Red Zone, and now the Ōtakaro Avon River Corridor – a pathway from the city to the sea is one of the most amazing opportunities a city could ever have to rethink an area of more than 600ha around four times the size of Hagley Park.
The creation of this area has made the city more resilient against the impacts of climate change, and at the same time, opens up the opportunity for a new form of co-governance between mana whenua and the city that respects the land and the river in a way that could never have previously been possible.
That is truly exciting.
Like cities all over the world, we face the challenges of climate change, technological and societal change. And while we can draw on the past, old solutions will not help us respond to new challenges.
In addition, we are a new city, and like cities across the world, we are competing to develop, attract, and more importantly retain high-value industry and talent.
That’s why our EDA, ChristchurchNZ has drawn on our region’s strength, and looked to the global challenges that lie ahead. They have focused on four industry clusters:
Future Transport & Aerospace; Food, Fibre & Agritech; and Health-tech & Resilient Communities. These clusters are enabled and supported by the fourth cluster, a strong High-tech services sector.
We are creating communities around these clusters which bring together business, tertiaries, researchers, students and government agencies to enable us to stand on the world stage and attract the diverse and skilled talent our city needs, and to retain our young, local talent.
So some issues that you could be thinking about as a Sector:
- Partnerships – our city is still evolving. How can developers, communities and public agencies like the Council and Kāinga Ora work together to create great neighbourhoods.
- How do we co-create solutions to new challenges such as overcrowded on-street carparking, communal waste management, liveable streets and urban canopy cover.
- How do we reimagine affordability and with that, what a range of housing tenure options could achieve.
The other side of that though is not what’s missing, but what there’s too much of and that’s our attachment to our own cars. Single occupancy vehicles on that daily commute - day in, day out. It is the single greatest draw on our carbon emissions profile that remains the easiest to fix.
Every commuter could take action and what a difference it would make.
However, it can be hard to cut through the headlines that this time in the electoral cycle invoke.
Change will have to happen. And I am sure our city will recognise that sooner or later.
Urban development and transport go hand-in-glove, and I am hopeful that the changes to the Public Transport Operating Model announced by government alongside the work on mass rapid transit will produce the sustainable solutions we need.
And I thought I’d end with this quote – from Judith Rodin who was the President of the Rockefeller Foundation when we joined the 100 Resilient Cities Network.
I love this quote because it makes me enormously optimistic for the future of our city. “There is no ultimate or end state of resilience. But, by working together to build resilience to the greatest degree possible, we can reduce our reliance on crisis as a driver of change and, instead, deliberately take the future into our own hands – for the well-being of our families, our communities, our cities, and indeed, the planet we all share.”
We will always be a city of opportunity for all. And it is that sense of possibility that fills me with the sense of optimism I felt when I first ran for the Mayoralty nine years ago.
Thank you for choosing Ōtautahi Christchurch for your conference. You have definitely come to the right place.