Another Talk At Christchurch's Tuesday Club Sparking Debate

After his first talk at the Smash Palace in Christchurch's Tuesday Club in May, Bernd spoke there again on 16 August. This time he emphasised on the Residential Red Zone in East Christchurch. In his address he suggested an international competition similar to the U.S. Solar Decathlon where off-grid demountable stilt-houses should be developed in anticipation of our suburbs in flood-prone areas destined to retreat in a scheduled manner when climate change will hit New Zealand. Read what Garry Moore, three-terms Mayor of Christchurch and host of the club commented the session.

"We had another wonderful address from Bernd Gundermann. I love hearing from this guy. He makes me think. Thanks to Regenerate Christchurch for bringing him back.

One of his ideas, which would have made a few people who want the Red Zone wince, were his thoughts on what to do with the Red Zone. His initial idea is to remove all the old roads and infrastructure from the area. I don’t think there would be many people who would disagree with this. His next idea caused a few eyes to water. He suggested that there be an international architectural students competition where the students would be required to design houses which have little if any imprint on the land in the Red Zone. To design houses which would be totally self-sufficient in power, and waste. There would be no place for cars and the houses would have to be clustered, probably on poles with walkways to get to them.

Now for those who do not agree with anything being built on the Red Zone this will be a big challenge to accept. However, if this is seen with the backdrop of Bernd’s original talk to the Tuesday Club of “managed retreat” from the coast as we address the issue of sea level rise, this could be a very valuable experiment. This would take place in an area we all own. We could all be the observers of early ideas which our descendants will thank us for in the long run. They will say that we addressed an issue, which they were having to battle with, very early on, using land which nature had challenged us over. Places where we should never have built, as well as places where we should never have declared them a Red Zone as well. This is very interesting thinking. That we use the land for experiments to get our thinking right as we hand on our society to future generations.

The beauty of having this sort of thinking is that somebody from outside our City sees things through different eyes from us. We have clustered into groupings and we naturally gather around those who agree with what we are thinking. Here is an idea which might work. It might not. But, without addressing the challenge which Bernd gave us, are we being as closed minded as others we are so critical of? This part of the eastern coast needs to be thought through in a very innovative manner. I can just see Evan Smith’s fingers wavering over his keyboard in Auckland as he recovers from his transplant thinking all sorts of bad things about me right now!

Bernd’s address reminded me of a village Pam and I visited in Malaysia. After I had slit the throat of one of the local pigs, which seemed to be a local custom, we visited these amazing long houses. They were very old. The houses were all connected. When you went up the steps to the left they were Catholics and to the right, Methodists. That aside, this was the village. Young and old. All living in structures which were on stilts and which protected this community from flooding when the nearby river burst its banks, again.

I’d like to see this idea considered along with all the others which are being discussed right now. It might work. It might not. But it sure adds to the essential discussion of how we get to the place of understanding “managed retreat”.

Bernd covered many other topics, particularly when people asked questions. Thanks for coming again and we really enjoyed you being with us."

Well, the anticipated resistance from the Avon-Otakaro Network does not exist. Its Co-Chair Evan Smith responded to Garry Moore's comment:

"I know a challenge when I hear one - so as you say my fingers are wavering above the keyboard in Auckland - but you may be surprised at my response…!

I and many of us with the Avon-Ōtākaro Network have always believed that some of the red zone - particularly on the outer fringes and in the upper reaches - would be redeveloped as residential. We just don't concede this in public, and where necessary advocate for this to be kept to the absolute minimum - after all there is much more land now made available for residential development in Greater Christchurch than we currently need for the next few decades without rebuilding in the red zone.

But if there was to be a degree of residential redevelopment, then I can see great value in this being along the innovative and experimental lines that Bernd suggests - especially if they are smaller 'peninsular' clusters set within a naturally restored floodplain along the red zone/green zone interface - hell I'd live in one! But perhaps these could be offered to those in green-zoned areas from which we also need to retreat in the long term - the parts of Southshore and South Brighton that aren't tenable neighbourhoods in their current form in the long term - and perhaps they would provide innovative solutions for housing in these communities long term. I'm not sure.

I would love to see the likes of Sam Martin of Exterior Architecture in London, Bernd and Don Bruggers sit around a table and brain storm some of this.

We also need to remember this is flood plain which the river needs to breathe - any development can not interfere with this or pollute it - and we also need to recognise that this land and water has many emotions, traumas, memories and tangata whenua values that need to be acknowledged and respected - we need to approach this with enormous sensitivity and consideration."

Urbia Group absolutely agrees with Evan's statement and looks forward to the unfolding debate about this key topic of Christchurch's urban future.