This week I was in conversation with many people about the need for all sorts of leadership in our City. At every level. People generally agreed that leadership starts with each of us.
I am most interested in what are the elements which make a City thrive. I read everything I can lay my hands on about this topic. That makes me tragic. Then, to make matters worse, Clare Piper sent me an article by Richard Florida on the future of Cities. Here’s the link to the article https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2020-06-19/cities-will-survive-pandemics-and-protests.
There were several parts of the article which I thought were messages to us in this City, even though he was mostly writing about large cities.
Firstly, he considered the luxury housing market. When we think about Christchurch, we could reflect on the Fletchers developments which mostly sit empty, and silent, much of the time. Empty apartments built for a small market in this City which is already saturated. Also, the apartments sold, mostly for Air B n B, in the middle of the City by Williams Corporation. It always entertains me that land agents ring CCC complaining about the noise from Central City bars pretending that they live there.
When Florida writes about where the cheap spaces are, we should reflect on Sydenham, Richmond, Linwood or Phillipstown. That’s where the rents are affordable. That’s where the opportunity is. That’s where the people who kept the land prices high in the Central City, don’t own land. Maybe it’s time for us to think about the links between the middle and these suburbs, just as Jim Lunday has been advocating since he moved to Christchurch.
Here’s what the article said:
the combination of shrinking demand for offices and commercial real estate, fewer buyers for an already overbuilt luxury housing market, and the ongoing carnage of urban retail will make urban real estate significantly more affordable. Cheap space after all, as Jane Jacobs liked to remind us, remains the fundamental enabler of urban dynamism. Even as the economic fallout from the pandemic hits hard at the restaurants, cafes, boutiques, galleries and music venues that shape the intricate sidewalk ballet of urban life, it will also enable cities to reset and recharge their creative scenes. In short, it offers a chance to rebuild less divided and more equitable urban spaces.
Next Florida turned his mind to the revival of a City. He writes about the need to be able to walk and to mix with people where we can purchase “things” from shopkeepers we know and like. His writing reminded me that I was looking for a part for my vintage car this week. The guy who was behind the counter went to great lengths to find where I could get the part, even though he couldn’t help me himself. As I left, I said “thanks for nothing” to which he replied “and thanks for forgetting I have a starving wife and children at home and that you haven’t given a toss about them”. Brilliant theatre of the streets. Both of us enjoyed each other’s company. Both of us took the piss out of each other. The exchange was so good that when I need something he sells; I will go back. That’s real retail.
The same can be said of where the theatres are. Or where I go to gawk at something being sold which is supposedly art, and not understanding how the hell somebody bought it. Or wandering through whatever heritage buildings we have left. Or walking through old industrial parts of town. That’s a City.
If street life and commerce are to return in some reasonable level and form, small Main Street businesses, restaurants, and arts and cultural institutions and their workers will not only need extensive financial support, they will need significant technical support and advice on how to redesign and reconfigure for health and safety, as well as financial support to stay afloat.
The message from the passage above is for CCC and ChristchurchNZ. Now is the time to invest in our business sector. That might take the form of support, training sessions, marketing campaigns, linking up with business opportunities or whatever. As a member of family which is determinedly committed to staying in business and keeping our staff, and their families, fed and feeling supported, it’s a hard time. At the same time, it is really incredible to hear people coming into our business and wishing us all the best and saying how pleased they are that we have survived.
Central Government has to come to the party. Local Government now has its big opportunity to become a heap more active.
The next part of the article Florida is contemplating about active planning. The issue in Christchurch is that CCC has gutted its planning capacity. One of the fundamental roles of Local Government is the responsibility to lead sensible local planning. At present there are no planners at the top level of CCC. How can the elected reps keep up with planning trends, when trained planners are not at the top table? This problem needs to be addressed urgently. There needs to be a link between planning at City level, and business. Each sector needs to know and understand each other. Structures which embrace both need to be put in place urgently. This City is as far away from “urban policy innovation” referred to below.
Not only are cities on the upswing, we are in the early stages of a new wave of urban policy innovation, which is occurring from the bottom up in cities, our true laboratories of democracy. Even before the current crises, cities were beginning to address the mounting challenges of racial and class division, inequality, police reform and worsening housing burdens. Coalitions and networks of mayors, urban leaders, neighbourhood and civic groups, philanthropy, and public-private partnerships were already moving on all of these fronts to develop new and better strategies for inclusive urban development. The current crises have given these initiatives greater salience and urgency. And, the racial and economic diversity of cities and of today’s urban protest movement give them heightened political resonance.
Another issue in Florida’s mind is for the urgent need to implement support structures, and public tasks, for those who are unemployed. Especially the young. If we can clear the streets so that everybody had a roof over their head during Covid 19, we must have the same commitment to those in our midst who are unemployed. Once again, we need a partnership between Central and Local Government, community agencies, training institutions and the private sector. This requires on-the-streets-leadership.
We are seeing the coming together of a political force that can spark a new urban agenda and much more. The growing ranks of unemployed and under-employed are demanding — and deserve — an expanded social safety net. That will also require much-needed investments that at long last address the root causes of concentrated poverty and of systemic racial and economic inequality. This coalescing movement represents a political force that is stronger and more potent than anything we have seen in decades.
As I was writing this, I received an article from Carl Davidson about a guy called Matthew Crawford who, like me, is a complete petrolhead. He would have admired the fact that six of us travelled to Fairlie and back in two open cars on Queens Birthday Monday to buy a pie and then find some gravel roads to hoon around on.
This guy’s writing, which is analysed in this article https://www.newstatesman.com/why-we-drive-driverless-cars-matthew-crawford-review, reminded me of something which hasn’t been covered so far in this article. That to attract people who will be entrepreneurs, both public and private, our City has to also feel edgy. It has to be fun and people need to do ridiculous things and we need to encourage them to be try harder and we will support them. He has a thing about autonomous cars. He says that they are a scam designed to make our lives less interesting, less surprising and more profitable to the Silicon Valley monopolists. What an interesting view. I hadn’t even thought about that before. It’s all part of a con.
Reading this article in the New Statesman reminded me that as well as the challenges in Richard Florida’s article, let’s also create the space to encourage people to rebel against conformist thinking. Let’s embrace what Greta Thunberg said we all have to do as citizens of this world. Let’s have surprises in our lives every day. Let’s stop filling the Silicon Valley pockets and demand that our Government taxes them, and to ignore the paid tarts they send into Cabinet Minister’s offices to say what damage they will do to the economy if they tax them.
The end of the article above ended with this quote.
“The most authoritative voices in commerce and technology,” Matthew Crawford writes, “express a determination to eliminate contingency from life as much as possible, and replace it with machine-generated certainty.”