Dr Catherine Knight

Environmental history of the future: could Christchurch become our “Greenest City”?


April 10, 2011

Last week, I was privileged enough to attend the Rotorua Lakes Symposium in Rotorua City. This symposium, themed “Fix a lake and grow a city”, brought together scientists, politicians, natural resource managers, landscape architects, academics, tangata whenua, business people and many others to explore ways in which the lakes of Rotorua can be restored to create wealth and wellbeing in the Rotorua district. 

The quality of the presentations was excellent, particularly given that this symposium was organised by a society run entirely by volunteers (the Lakes Water Quality Society). However, one of the highlights for me was a presentation by Bo Frank, Mayor of the small Swedish city of Växjö.

Mayor Frank outlined how, through visionary leadership, broad-based political cooperation, and within the wider European Union imperative for improved sustainability in energy and resource use throughout the EU, the city of Växjö has positioned itself not just to be a “green city”, but the “Greenest City in Europe”. It has done this by setting, and going a substantial way towards achieving, ambitious targets for lowering its per capita carbon emissions through the promotion of energy-efficient housing and buildings, the establishment of bio-energy and bio-gas generation facilities and integrated transportation systems. And, of most immediate relevance to the symposium, it has invested heavily in the restoration of the City’s degraded lakes – thereby transforming a negative legacy of past environmental degradation into an opportunity to maximise the biodiversity, recreational, economic and spiritual value of the lakes.

Despite the symposium’s geographical focus on Rotorua, I found my mind turning to my former home of eight years, Christchurch. Christchurch has already made significant strides towards making a name for itself as an “eco-city”, establishing a ground-breaking bio-fuel generation plant to transform algae on the city’s sewerage ponds into fuel, as well as numerous other sustainability initiatives. But it seems to me that the devastation wrought by February’s earthquake and the imperative to rethink city planning and design could be an opportunity to create a city that other cities – both in New Zealand and around the world – derive inspiration from and model themselves on.

One of the other presentations at the symposium was from Hugh Morris, a civil engineer who is part of a team which has developed and applied techniques to create earthquake-resistant timber structures for large multi-story buildings. These timber structures have the potential to be used extensively to create attractive and resilient new buildings for a forward-looking Christchurch City.

With the political cooperation and commitment, vision and leadership demonstrated in Växjö, as well as the kind of innovation that New Zealand produces in great abundance, the emergence of Christchurch as the “Greenest City” of Australasia – or even the Southern Hemisphere – not only seems entirely possible, but to me at least, compelling. Through the synergy of vision and innovation, environmental history of the future could made in Christchurch.

Photo top left: the “spegelbollen” (“mirror ball”) in one of Växjö City’s lakes. Public art is valued very highly in the city, and there are annual competitions to select a new sculpture for the City. Above right: the famous Christchurch tram passing the Christchurch City Art Gallery. This synthesis of old and new has been a strength of the city to date.

Posted on 09/05/2011 by Lucas Associates |