What I think Christchurch will be like in 2030?

This post first appeared at Brendon Harre’s blog and is republished with permission.

Science has not yet mastered prophecy. We predict too much for the next year and yet far too little for the next 10. Neil Armstrong

Christchurch’s Southern motorway (pictured) and Northern motorway will be finished by the end of 2020. Christchurch is a city designed almost exclusively for the private motor vehicle.

Most likely Christchurch in 2030 will have changed in much the same way as it has changed in the past.

By 2030 the urban population of Greater Christchurch (the city plus the satellite towns of Lincoln, Rolleston, West Melton, Kaiapoi, Rangiora, Pegasus and Woodend) will be 615,000 people, based on how fast the city grew in the last five years.

Even if population growth slows to 1.5% p.a, by 2030 Christchurch will have a population of 580,000.

By 2030 it will be common knowledge among New Zealanders that Christchurch is the country’s second largest city.

Greater Wellington’s population (the city plus Porirua, Lower and Upper Hutt) will only grow to 515,000 by 2030, and only if it grows as fast as Christchurch, which the wider Wellington area hasn’t achieved for decades.

This clear difference in populations will reorder the relative status of New Zealand’s cities.

Wellington will become like Canberra. An important government city, boutique in size, midway between two bigger and faster growing commercial cities.

Christchurch will be the country’s great southern city, not as big as Auckland, New Zealand’s even greater northern city but significant none the less.

Christchurch’s population growth to 615,000 people means 46,000 houses will be built in the decade to 2030 and green space for another four Rolleston’s (pop 16,200 in 2018) will be used.

These four Rolleston’s will fill in a banana shaped wide corridor that has Lincoln/Rolleston at one end and Rangiora/Pegasus at the other. By 2030 Christchurch will be more banana than its earlier apple shape.

The four Rolleston’s will access Christchurch via the completed northern and southern motorways, which off peak will be fast and convenient. Unfortunately, these new residents will not have alternative transport mode choices when the road network becomes congested.

Another three Rolleston’s will fill in Christchurch’s existing suburbs. The decade to 2030 will have an increased rate of infilling compared to the rebuild decade to 2020 when only 25% of housing was infill.

The three Rolleston’s will have many transport choices. For instance, cycling on the city’s new cycling network or busing using faster buses that can access bus priority lanes. These residents will be attracted to a rapidly refilling city centre.

Christchurch’s population will have been boosted by affordable housing. 46,000 houses over 10 years works out at 383 houses per month. A build rate the city has managed since the earthquakes rebuild.

Christchurch has shown it can build quickly and affordably compared to Auckland, Tauranga, Hamilton, Wellington and Queenstown. There is no reason this will change.

Christchurch’s housing costs are on par with Australia. Yet in Australian cities, like Brisbane, income growth is higher and transport costs are lower.

By 2030 half of Christchurch’s household income growth will still be spent on increased transport costs. Increased transport spending will limit the city’s disposable income.

Christchurch, like the rest of New Zealand, will struggle to compete with Australia.

There will be a net loss of Cantabrians to Australia. Christchurch’s population growth will come from a mix of natural increase, internal and international migration (from countries other than Australia).

Christchurch in 2030 will be even more multi-cultural.

Alongside the extra 115,000 people and 46,000 new houses there will be over 100,000 more private motor vehicles because out of New Zealand’s three big urban centres, Christchurch has by far the highest car ownership rate.

In 2030 CO2 emissions from transport will remain the city’s largest contribution to greenhouse gas emissions.

The road supply in Christchurch will increase by the new suburban streets of the four Rolleston’s. There will be no new arterial roads or inner city suburban streets. Mostly the four Rolleston’s will be too far away to benefit from Christchurch’s expanding cycle network.

Despite the minimal increase in road space there will be a large increase in the number of cars driving and parking. Traffic in 2030 will be like the period after the earthquakes when 30% of the roads were damaged and the population was 30% smaller.

Arguments about using the city’s road space for on-street car parking versus alternative transport modes (bus and cycle lanes) will intensify.

Christchurch’s roads will be chronically congested by 2030. It will be obvious that Christchurch made the same mistake that Auckland did.

Christchurch by 2030 will learn that it needs to copy Auckland in retrofitting a multi-modal transport system into a city primarily designed for the car.

By 2030 global warming will be further advanced. Christchurch will be hotter and extreme weather related events will be more common. The opportunity to act will have almost past.

By 2030 hope versus disillusionment will be the big challenge, especially for the young.

What Christchurch could be like by 2030

Christchurch needs something like Canberra’s new light rail system. Source Bidgee

I would like a city that is productive so it can compete against other Australasian cities, a city that is fair so that young and low-income earners do not face crippling housing and transport costs, and a city that is sustainable, especially regarding transitioning to a zero-carbon society.

Christchurch needs to change its business as usual approach because it will not achieve the outcomes the city wants.

Primarily the city needs to learn how to build affordable housing in locations with more transport choices. Places with transport modes that are sustainable, spatially efficient and lower cost.

The obvious missing transport option is mass transit in the form of commuter rail.

By 2030 Christchurch should have re-established a commuter rail network between Rangiora and Rolleston. New rail suburbs should be built in places like, Belfast, Middleton and Opawa (redeveloping unwanted industrial areas).

These suburbs will be closer to the city and more compact compared to motorway induced sprawl suburbs that the city is more familiar with.

Kiwirail’s Middleton freight yard should move out to a freight logistic centre in Rolleston.

Rail Suburbs could have narrow plots with houses built to a common firewall and planning rules stipulating a minimum height of three stories. Photo -Bergen, Norway

The rail suburbs should learn the master planning and place-making lessons from cities around the world that have achieved density done well.

By 2030 a detailed mass transit spatial plan should be work in progress. Something like Copenhagen’s five finger model or the tram-train network in Karlsruhe Germany that connects off centred heavy rail tracks with street running tracks in the city centre.

An example of this detailed spatial plan would include an inner city rail loop connecting the rail line in Riccarton to Moorhouse Ave rail via the Christchurch Public Hospital and the Bus Exchange. There could also be new lines down Lincoln road to connect to housing opportunities near Halswell and a line to the university and the airport.

These mass transit lines should be fast, frequent and reliable. They should be grade separated from congested roads. They should have high capacity, being able to move as many people as Christchurch’s 4-laned motorways, but without the externality costs of congestion and CO2 pollution.

Mass transit should be the spine of Christchurch’s public transport system. There should be connections with infrastructure for buses, cycling, walking and various devices offering mobility as a service.

By 2030 I would like to think that Christchurch will be on a firm path so that it can optimistically face the future.

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