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The Press-News column Nov 18

The sterile and vapid revamp to Victoria Square

I’ve always loved Christchurch in November. A red-letter month pregnant with promise and excitement, from the frisson of fireworks to the farmyard frills, fillies and frivolity of Cup & Show Week. November 2014 has been accentuated with some welcome wins for our central city, including last night’s triumphant re-opening of the Issac Theatre Royal, following a guts and glory restoration; the resumption of the Christchurch Tram’s full city loop service and the insatiably popular return of “Icecream Charlie”. Which brings me to Victoria Square, the city’s most-loved square.  If you overlay CERA’s detailed design plan with the current lay-out to this public space, it seems pretty clear to me, that a fairly substantial swath of lawn is going to be uprooted in favour of cadaverous grey pavers.  Is history repeating itself in Christchurch? Fourteen years ago, under the Moore-led council, millions of dollars was frittered strangling the life out of Cathedral Square, as it was carpet-bombed with the Stalingrad paver aesthetic. The proposed paving job for Victoria Square looks suspiciously similar and equally dispiriting. Poor old Victoria. Not content with removing some of her leafy shade, she’s also facing having parts of her expansive velvety lawn ripped out and boxed in. Call it an unsolicited Brazilian. Meanwhile, Captain Cook will be carted away from his central position, consigned to a less conspicuous post-colonial setting. The overriding irritation with this $7 million “refresh” is the destruction of Victoria Square’s curvaceous paths, in favour of square paddocks and utilitarian straight lines. How sterile, how vapid, how very Canberra.  It’s equally understandable that people are miffed by what the design plan doesn’t contain. Why is the northern half of the plan missing? Why has the floral clock been completely ignored? When the Central City Blueprint was released in June  2012, CERA’s publicity trumpeted that Victoria Square would be enlarged , reaching the Durham-Kilmore Street corner, becoming home to  Ngai Tahu’s Te Puna Ahurea Cultural Centre, “forming a symbolic entranceway to the new city.”  However, two and half years on,  the “interactive and dynamic” cultural centre is cloaked in closed door mystery. CERA  confirms that no taxpayer money has been committed to it. Ngai Tahu’s Leanne Scott wouldn’t confirm they’re still committed to the Victoria Square site, maintaining that discussions remain focused on “how it might be funded.” We should welcome the prospect of tomorrow’s Christchurch confidently projecting our cultural richness and our broader story, more prominently. But like CERA, it would be helpful if Ngai Tahu enlightened, entrusted and engaged with the wider community about their grand designs.

Mike Yardley’s weekly current affairs column, as first published in The Press. Nov 18.

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