The case for cultural connection in city
Christchurch is being urged in consider urban comfort in the city’s rebuild.
Christchurch needs to consider its culture when designing its new central business district. That’s according to Lincoln University PhD researcher Silvia Tavares, who warns that resuscitating the city centre means not only designing effective microclimates, but ones which consider how Cantabrians actually use their public open spaces.
‘‘Beautiful CBD spaces with poor microclimates will be empty most of the year, as will spaces with great microclimates but used in the wrong way,’’ she says.
Tavares explains that while the term microclimate refers to how physical factors affect people in a urban space, such as being warm enough; urban comfort also includes how people adapt or relate culturally to their spaces, taking into account their preferences and traditions.
She recently submitted her PhD thesis on microclimates and urban comfort in Christchurch, and has returned from six months in Aachen, Germany, where she was researching how the concept applies to a culturally-mixed environment.
‘‘You can crunch the numbers around such things as wind speed and air temperature, but urban design must consider the unique preferences of the people in the place,’’ says Tavares.
She says Christchurch risks getting the CBD rebuild wrong by not considering the ‘‘how we live’’ and ‘‘who we are’’ aspects of Christchurch and Cantabrians.
‘‘There’s been a lot of talk about making the Christchurch CBD vibrant, but we need to be careful with what we mean by that.
‘‘You can’t necessarily just manufacture a downtown Melbourne or Madrid, and research suggests that that’s not what people who choose to live in Christchurch necessarily want anyway.’’
Tavares’ research highlighted factors such as a connection with landscapes, gardens and gardening, and the country as key aspects of the Christchurch’s cultural make-up.
She says physical landscapes and the types of activities they allow help shape local identities and what people want in cities.
‘‘This may explain the struggle Christchurch has traditionally had to vitalise the CBD even before the earthquakes. It may not be all about the suburban mall, as has often been suggested.’’
Tavares suggests that the longstanding Garden City tradition could explain while higher density development has ‘‘not been well-received.’’
She draws comparisons with Wellington, which, while having fewer people, has more hustle-andbustle feel because of apartment living. However, this is not an environment that people in Christchurch necessarily want to live in, she says.
‘‘Low density environments are such a strong Christchurch characteristic, and that is why many people choose to live here. We shouldn’t just assume that Cantabrians on the whole want
Central Christchurch needs its own brand of vibrancy, a researcher says.