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The Press – News column Mar 10

Victoria Square controversy

The summer’s biggest  hot-potato in Christchurch has now been served up on a cooling plate for public engagement. The Central City Development Unit set fire to civic passions late last year with its incendiary plan to subject Victoria Square to a stack of re-design molestations, frittering over $7 million in the process.   A substantial swath of Victoria’s velvety green expanse was to be supplanted by cadaverous grey pavers, and the primary sprawling lawn was to be reined in and reduced to a rectangle. In a fit of post-colonial cringe, Captain Cook was to be dethroned from his commanding centre-court positon and shuffled off to an inconspicuous corner.  But sin of sins, the CCDU cadre intended to completely obliterate Victoria Square’s curvaceously winding pathways, creating a sterilised space of squared paddocks and utilitarian straight-line paths. However, the CCDU website no longer displays any references to those horror proposals. It’s like they never actually existed, or it was just all a bad dream. The previous detailed design plan has been expunged from public view. Have those radical changes actually been jettisoned, or could they still come back to haunt us? Similarly, it’s curious the feedback form makes no specific reference to those design demons.  Instead, the engagement form reads like a rather limp and ambiguous questionnaire,  pitched at six year olds. First, you’re invited to a burst of box-ticking, whereby you rate your preferred uses for Victoria Square, on a scale of importance as a place for the likes of  “relaxation” , “meeting friends and whanau”, “fitness”  and “eating.”  (Seriously – eating. I am not making this up!) You’re then encouraged to answer a range of equally bland questions, where you can elaborate on why Victoria Square is such an important place for you to go eating.  Next up, the form asks you what features of the square you want retained and if there are any new features you’d like to see included. ( Please don’t say more eating opportunities.) Finally, the questionnaire climaxes with this zinger.  “What does Victoria Square mean to you and to your whanau?” Hit me, now.  I actually have a question for the questionnaire. Why do you have to run such an infantalising engagement campaign? Some aspects to the CCDU’s previous design plan make perfect sense – notably, a new punting landing and the restoration of the Bowker Fountain. But beyond that,  there’s no public appetite for sweeping makeovers. That’s what this engagement  campaign will reaffirm. But it won’t be until mid-year, before we’ll know whether the CCDU has truly got the message.

Mike’s weekly current affairs column, first published in The Press newspaper, March 10.

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