The linear park, a great opportunity to rebuild and create community

© Copyright Stephen Craven and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Christchurch New Zealand’s very own earthquake city is slowly like a phoenix rising from the rubble and ashes. But, before it can be rebuilt it has to be further reduced to an even more ruinous state. Accompanying an old friend whom had entered into the rebuild mission, I was eager to hear what steps he and his associates had taken to rebreathe some much needed life into our flat lining city pulse rate. To my astounding shock, what I was invited to was not a homage to man the creator but of man the destructor. Hopping into his pepped up dozer he set forth in demonstrating how one turns something already devastated into an even greater eyesore.

Sitting down shortly after to masticate a sandwich brought by a fellow workmate we commenced to reflect upon the massacre that confronted us. His friend, a foreign boy of fair complexion with a bumpkin Canadian accent, shook his head. He informed me that he was a chippy (builder) by trade and had left O’Canada to be part of the rebuild effort. “You know, I hate undoing some of these great residential and country roads. They really could have done so much more with them”.

My friend a New Yorker, in origin nodded. “You’d be ‘a-booot’ right too, Hockey Boy” gently jibing at his Northern neighbours accent and die at all costs love for anything done on ice. “These dummy council and state ding dongs have put more money into pulling down the city that putting it up”. I could sense the animosity rolling of his tongue. I tried to lift the mood. “Well, so long as the pays good and it keeps rolling in, you’re doing a great job”. I hadn’t fooled myself and I was kidding if I thought I’d played a winning bluff against these highly intelligent North Americans.

Patty, the Canadian, drooped his head like a graceful swan retreating to the waters mark. “Nobody celebrates a guy that drives a digger, Tommy. Even more so when they see that guy driving round it all day and seeing the ground as a dusty flat pancake at the end of the day.” Hayden as agreed. “I do the job for the green but I don’t really like where it’s going. I feel pretty dissatisfied come clock out time.” I could see where they were coming from.

The patch where they toiled day in and day out looked like a mini Sahara with a view of the Port Hills in the background. “I can see the point when there fixing that road up for roadsters (cars) to race across it but to just pull them up when they’ve got another route being plotted out is just dumb.” Jumping back in I stated what I assumed to be ‘the obvious’, “well, but if the roads are no longer roadworthy why would you keep them there anyway. The dynamic Northern Duo, turned towards one another in a moment of collective group think unity then turned back grinning in my very direction.

“Buddy, you guys could learn a lot if you thought outside that tunnel vision box”, declared Patty. Hayden gave the thumbs up “the old girl (the section of highway) may not take a car but what’s to stop the graceful old senyora from holding some bicycles, skateboards, rollerblades or just some casual old stompers (walkers/joggers)”. I was little lagging in my effort to understand the picture which these guys were trying to decrypt for this old slow modelled Kiwi.

Patty waved in a fashion which suggested that I should make a move on and get with the programme and pronto. “You knoo (now I was beginning to hear his Canadianess) a nice little perch for a picnic, to smell the roses, to maybe watch the stars on a clear night. To meet your buds. To pick up your future wife”. Yanky chimed in “oh come on you have to know what we’re talking about you silly little flightless Kiwi. Surely you’ve seen them while watching CSI NY or one of those other all the same repackaged crime procedurals which we export to you guys”.

The Eureka light suddenly clicked on in my now radiance drenched mind. “Ah oh you mean those umm errr (rail) track umm errr retreats where you guys go for some R & R (rest and relaxation). The Canadian clapped while Uncle Sam pat my back.” Give the kid a prize, Maple leaf, croaked the relieved American glad that the game of charades had finally terminated. “Oh and FYI (for your information) we call them High Lines back in the States” he gleamed in referring to its appropriate technical title. “i looove them”  I replied not really knowing what else to say seeing that I had never been to NY and everything I did know about it had largely come from the tube (tv).

Captain America kept on beaming but his Canadian friend was keen to burst his ego bubble. “Typical New Yorker. You guys just think you conjure up everything.” The perplexed American stared back blank faced. The Canadian merrily bantered on. “You should have the right to know Tom that the idea really came from the French.” “Really?”I mustered all my energy to reply. “Oh yeah, the NY one and others alike it in the Land of the Free (cough cough poking a finger softly into the ribs of his southern neighbour) were actually inspired by the Promenade Plantee a tree-lined walkway in Paris. We actually walked part of it when it first opened up to the public in the early 90s.  C’etait magnifique.” “You would say that though you French speaking cheese eating surrendering monkey. Go chomp a French fry, buddy. We’ll stick with our Freedom fries (he said winking and heartily laughing)”. Amongst the fun spirited national revelry I was awestruck by the idea.

“It sounds so surreal, like aerial utopias floating in a sea of concretia.” I exclaimed at the glorious mental illusions that in that instance filled my mind. The American regained control of the reins from the mildly agitated Canadian. “Seriously, these elevated linear public parks pack a punch with what they afford your average spectator. They’ve allowed green foliage to reclaim its stakes to the NY cityscape and the sight of birds contentedly darting in and out of these ecochic highways is a refreshing presence”.

I could just picture the avian traffic flow soaring overhead while I leisurely sauntered without times pressuring presence at the back of my mind. “They certainly give you every ounce of a reason to get your butt away from the bureau” the eager Canadian added to the American’s soundly convincing case. “These sites are what keep city slickers sane” he pressed on. “There’s always a good reason to go to the Line. Whether it’s to meet a friend, engage in some vigorous or gently paced recreation or just to get some vitamin nature in your daily diet”.

Clearly, a great deal of foresight had gone into conceiving this project which advantageously served its citizens and visitors in so many marvellously magical manners. The plucky American crowed on “heck the tourists rave about it and it’s gonna be on your average visitors itinerary equally with seeing Lady Liberty herself”. “it doesn’t even seem phoney” he kept proceeding to state as if intent to drill his convictions well and truly into this disbelieving South Sea Islander. “It feels so genuine that it’s like a cardiac artery pumping goodness and goodwill around the Big Apple.”

The Canadian’s head tilted in acknowledgement. “I hate to say it but these places bring out the best in even your atypical unruly Yorker”. “It’s as if these parks have a power to morph these men and women into moral wonders. Showpieces for a model America beyond the sad stereotypes they sell us in pop culture”. El Americano shook his head, “you don’t believe everything you see, Champ. However point taken. The people that do take to these places are real people who take great pride in this park as an asset to the health of their city and their own wellbeing”. “I hear your natives get quite jumpy when anyone takes to the park in any sacrilegious fashion” queried Patty. Hayden fixed his eyes on the questioning Canadian intently “why wouldn’t they? This place means so much too so many people. It’s a hub and hive of throbbing social pursuits catering for such dynamically diverse tastes.”

Rolling on, Hayden turned his attention to the largely mute Kiwi elephant at the matinee tea party. “Several places like this could really give a much needed moral nudge and economic boost to the people of Christchurch, Tom.” I elevated my shoulders uncertain really of how to meet his challenge.

He persisted probing me to deliver a response, any kind of verbal spillage seemingly would suffice his foreign curiosities. “They’ve done some great stuff over on Oz to get the folks out and about come the ‘smoko’ (tea break) whistle”. His relentless poking forced me to contest. “Look, the idea is thought provoking but we don’t really ahh have anything very high left in Christchurch err as you can probably see”. They bellowed out in childlike laughter at my on the spot impromptu remark. “Who says you need to raise the road, Kid?” Hayden said trying to suppress the tears of delight which were welling in his squinting eyes. “Yeah” tipped in Patty “what’s so wrong with having a Flat Line, after all then you’ve got some great soil beneath you to grow some mighty bush”. I’d never looked at it from that angle before.

“A project like this could spur on so many benefits for the people of the city that seem almost inconceivable even fantastical”. I looked on not wishing to intrude while my guest were delegating so devotedly on this delicate matter of which my familiarity with the matter was minutely tickle. “Depending on where it goes a ummm Low Rise could serve as a way to get more commuters to get to work by bike or on the hop (foot). It’d be a great way to reduce congestion and to deal with your winter smog problem.” Mr Canada concurred. “Yeah and as some of these ex-roads are wider than the NY tracks you’d have some serious space to play around. Tree lined berms and spaces for curbside business stands. A vehicle-less utopia for friends of the planet.

“Let’s not forget the desirability of such a communal asset also” chipped in Hayden. Places such as these concoct a magnetism that draws people towards them. Like a neighbourhood with good schools, shops and other amenities people want things that bring ‘value’ to their lives. The High Line did this bringing about a host of psychosocial benefits all while boosting the housing market around the landmark. Once one guy has it, others will want a piece of it too and even if they can’t get it well its presence may be just enough to inspire some positive proactive change in the greater community. At the upbeat least, you’ll have some very passionate tourists hitting your side of the ‘burbs (suburbs)”.

Such splendid suggestions I thought as my view towards this previously contentious matter began to severely shift. “Best of all” Patty peeped “it would be a speedy and savvy use of time and resources to raise up the spirits of the townsfolk all while raising the morale of the workers currently devoted to more de constructing missions than ones devoted to development.” He sang on “oh how brighter our days were if we were tending to flower beds, raking leaves or painting pedestrian crossings rather than pulling up these barely scathed surfaces”. “So many of our chums could be putting in lightbulbs, installing park benches and moving fragrant strips of freshly clipped clover. Ah now wouldn’t that be a lift for our sunken souls.”

I couldn’t have agreed further for the thought of partaking of what they were doing on the daily failed to appeal to my nature where wasting perfectly adequate resources was akin to the act of committing a cardinal sin. The American sighed. “It chokes me up every day having to uproot perfectly healthy shrubs and plants along with incredibly fertile rich bio soil put it in a tipper truck and drive it out to the dump. What a blooming waste!” I took a moment to divulge a rare opinion. “It would be amazing if they converted one of these old roads into a bee and butterfly highway and filled it with pollen laden plants.”

Both smiled before Hayden replied “the opportunities are boundless and everyone should be able to get a bit of what they want from it. From using recycled debris already in existence to get the project off the ground to pleasing the many different types of expectations attached to such a venture. Whether that be a jogging track, arboretum or insectarium”. I adored the idea of an’Insect Kingdom’ given that the population of Christchurch’s bug population had taken a grand knock after the quakes.

Unsurprisingly, my Canadian friend had also pointed out that beyond our flowery gardens our river fish had also paid a price for the decrease of insect larvae breeding around our contaminated rivers. Indeed, for those ‘brave enough’ to still eat from these food sources, the competition for food from the rivers fostered heated hostility between suburban city dwellers. Of course, the pesky kind of buzzing nuisances were never really in danger of departing from our lives. While fish missed out on cadflies we still received our even more generous annual dumping of the common house fly and a swathe of malicious mosquitoes over the sweltering simmering summertime.

“Finding an equilibrium is the key to everything, Tom” decreed my deep thinking Canadian comrade. “I sadly saw a lot of homes where fish ponds were abandoned and these beauties were as homeless as their human equivalents. Surely, ponds could be created to give these forgotten fellows a fresh stance”. “And don’t forget the frogs “cried Hayden. “Anything that’s got an appetite for flies is a friend of mine”. “Yeah, ohhkaay fine and some toads for the Prince to pucker (kiss)” exclaimed Patty. “Hey, not cool, dude” expressed Hayden with a devilish grin on his face. “I’m still searching for a Maori Princess” he contested winking at me while doing so. “I’m sure the Maori would see the cultural benefits of supporting such an inspirational initiative” Patty professed. “I agree” I answered astounding myself more than my companions.

Hayden intercepted me. “The road could serve as a metaphorical time line of the accomplishments of your indigenous people” he emphasised. “On the plus aide aside from serving as a cultural smorgasbord for both locals and visitors alike, it could act as an emblematic reminder of the efforts we have to take both Maori and Pakeha to protect an environment which we all now share”. “But you don’t want it to be a walk of shame” replied the Canadian. The American shrugged. “Obvious what’s done is done but we still can take bold acts to remediate what we as a species have damaged. I like the idea of ending such a promenade with a symbolic pot of gold at the end of the yellow brick road. Why not have a meaningful road which leads to a ‘marae’ (Maori communal meeting house) a place which can serve to venerate and promote both cultural awareness and natural conservation.” “I like the idea of a place which at its core facilitates the promotion of sociocultural exhibitions which encourages cultural immersion, recycled eco-friendly arts and crafts marquees and a place where harmonious human collectively flourishes”.

Canadian Pat face palmed himself. “What KiwiBoy was really trying to say, in translated simplified English, is that the path could lead to a park, botanical reserve or an outdoor arena or theatre”. “Ah I got ya.” the relieved Yankee breathed. After deep acts of respiration he suggested that a ‘trail’ that lead to a market garden would be an exciting prospect. “It could be tailored and delivered in such a fashion that it operated under the strict specific principle that only eco appropriately raised goods could be vended.” “Uuuh uuuh uuuh what do you guys think about the install of a small toll bridge? It would be a phenomenal way to spin some dollars to aid some very needy and noble conservation projects”. “That could work “I answered bobbing my head upon my spring coil neck.

Patty yapped on.” yeah I’ve been doing some greenie bed time reading since touching down in NZ and from what I’ve learnt your bush is as unique as the birds and bugs it shelters”. I couldn’t disagree with that observation so I just threw in some fancy stats just to show my Northern friends that I could go toe to toe with them when it came to a good old fashioned debate. “About 80% of NZ shrub and tree life is endemic to our nation alone. Lamentably they all compete for survival on under 10% of our remaining largely undeveloped unprocessed land”. “Jeez” yelped the pair bewildered by the facts that lay before them.

The American composed himself and strove to reciprocate in some form of communication “it’s no surprise that so many creepy crawlies and flying critters are in danger when the habitat which they depend upon for survival has been so massively eroded”. I nodded not knowing how further to proceed only aware that all of us were well aware of both the anthropological and environmental crises which were often so heavily intertwined amidst one another.

Patty finally shattered the silence “I don’t know how pro or con I feel towards the gentrification of neighbours although I like the idea if it can lead to a reduction of crime. However, the fact that it would be a NZ and Southern Hemisphere first up novelty and something that could lead towards a greater holistic position intrigues and appeals to me immensely.” Hayden patted Pat “Pat has a point. I’d like to see something which brings humankind, their pets and nature closer together while serving as a historical legacy or a memorial to those in Christchurch whom have suffered from the historical ravages of those two great fears; quakes and puddles (floods)”.

The material to make this a reality was in abundance. However, the ‘start from scratch’ mentality still overrode the masses. “That’s a lot of reusable rubble that’s being hauled cross country on diesel gurgling tippers (waste trucks)” responded Patty. “They could have saved a few oil wells, the atmosphere and our patience if they’d just given the linear park idea some thought.” But instead, we elected to waste, money, resources and even more bemusingly our own time. Professing to possess the patience of saints whilst resting of on upon the lowest of social laurels. The ingenious nature of man can certainly represent itself in ever more spectacular shades sometimes. And at present this flat plane canvas of 50 shades of decay was leaving me and my companions very unfulfilled indeed.

 

 

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