Saturday, January 7, 2012

Update from Christchurch - the changing parking habits of an earthquake ravaged city.

Well I thought that I should just give you all an update on how things are working out in Christchurch.

Christchurch is a lovely city with great amenities and community spirit, even if a lot of the assets have been damaged or destroyed by one of the many earthquakes.  You can feel why the Crusaders are the best rugby team in the world (outside of the All Blacks of course) because the whole region will get in behind them.  The inner strength of Cantabrians is not matched anywhere else I have been, as it is forged in a climate of moments of terror, instability, isolation, weather and family.  Being from a bigger city, I envy the balance between city and town that they have created.  It works.

To give you an idea of the current situation, I shop at the local supermarket, a block up from my house. It has an underground car park, as many of this type of supermarket has, and an open air car park out front. The open air lot is always jammed and the cars are parked down the streets these days. Even though there are 'cattle-stops' on the footpaths to hinder the removal of shopping trolleys, the people will still take their groceries down the street and risk some kind of retribution from the local shopkeepers trolley police, rather than park in an almost empty underground car park. Yesterday the open air lot was jammed and the underground car park had three cars, that I could see, in it. The largest mall in Christchurch, is the same. The cars are now parked up and down the streets surrounding the mall as a preference rather than park in the multi-storied building provided.

Like any business that has been supporting a regular customer base, as soon as the assets you use to service those customers are destroyed, the activity struggles as it cannot fund itself to provide a service or improve that provision of service until the funding comes back.  You have to pare the service back to a core that you can safely and economically provide and consolidate before you start to expand to what the city now requires.  But the city still has assets that can be used and how can you convince people to use the assets that you have if the don't want to use them?

It raises some interesting questions - how will we get people back into using multi-story car parks?  How do you get your customers to use underground car parks in the future?  How do you provide a service to your city that no one wants to use, but because the assets are there or will get repaired (speculating at this point as no decisions have been made that I know of), you know they will be under utilised in that form?  Should the funds be better spent elsewhere to provide that service in open air lots or on street parking services?  There are lots of questions to ask.

I was in a building in the Red Zone on the 22nd December 2011.  It was a bit of a recce to see what equipment in that building could be reclaimed and put into storage.  The building is written off and the car park was underneath.  It is a single floor under the building.  It was an eerie feeling as we used torches and headlamps to work through the booth rescuing everything from barrier arms and ticket spitters to toasted sandwich makers and staff radios.  We got most of what we wanted onto a trailer and left the area.  The next day, the 23rd Dec., we had a magnitude 5.8, 6.0 and two other sizable shakes.  You can understand why no one would want to go under a building anymore.

The challenge ahead is huge, not just to complete the demolition of the parking buildings that may be earmarked for destruction, but to build the provision of parking services back up so it can support a much needed increase in commercial and community activity, that must happen for the city to thrive again.  What that provision of parking services will look like, I am not sure yet as the community must have a say.  I do know that it will be a long road but one that must be travelled.

Kevin Warwood

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