Gosh – that was a surprise! Our venerated local broadsheet, el Domino Postale, appears to have gone and written an excellent, thoughtful article on what we need to do with Cuba St. Have they got a new reporter perhaps, one who is actually interested in matters more important than cute doggies or cats stuck up trees? There is hope, at least – keep an eye out on Nikki McDonald. The article raises some serious points, which I think that we have also raised before – what to do with a street whose charm lies in it’s eclectic collection of semi derelict buildings?
Christchurch, as the article points out, is our wake up call. Yes yes, Cashel St did all fall down and now is no more, but the argument that therefore Cuba Street’s oldest buildings are all death traps does not necessarily hold the most water. Yes, some 24 people died in Cashel, but need anyone be reminded that most of Christchurch’s dead were killed in the most modern, CNC building? Tacky, distasteful, yes, to even have to state this, but the modern era, eccentric core buildings that killed so savagely in Canterbury are just as prevalent up here in Wellville. It will still be some time before our esteemed band of structural Engineers finish up their conclusions to their Royal Commission report, but we all know already that they are going to find that it was the soft storey on the ground floor, or the feeble cracked perimeter columns on the CNC that finished that building off.
Do we have any such nasty buildings here in Wellington? Surely not, I hear you say? But yes, we do, and while they may not be so feeble, they could still collapse in a Big One. So: let’s not be so squeamish about talking about death: it’s going to bite us all one day. Civil Defence estimates that the death toll from an 8.0ish quake in Wellington could take 500-600 lives.
Inevitably, some of Wellington’s more small minded citizens just want to demolish everything old – “The heritage is nice when it’s not trying to land on your head. Most of these “heritage” buildings are deathtraps waiting for a moderately strong earthquake to happen. Most buildings in Cashel mall that collapsed weren’t even nice to look at, and may of Cuba street buildings at risk are the same. Bowl down the old shaddy crap and put in proper new buildings. Safety and functionality are surely more important. New can be cool and funky too if build properly.” remarks The Riddler in the online Stuff comments on the article above, but I’m afraid I disagree – you just can’t replace the old stuff. Buildings like Ernestos, the Bristol, the Albemarle, the Workingmens Club – you really just can’t ever replace that. We are likely to be just left with a mountain of ugly crappy buildings, if the Riddler was to be followed, like this hunk of ugliness:
It really is true – we just can’t build them like that any more.
But one thing is for certain – it is a lot easier to strengthen them while they are still standing up, than when they are horizontal and turned to dust, as Cantabrians have discovered. We really do need to find a method for saving our existing built heritage fabric while we can – we need to do strengthen them now, rather than wait for the quake to make it all too late. I suspect that therefore what we really need right now is discussion between building owners and the Council, on how we are going to do it. Whether it is tax relief, or rates rebates, or zero GST on heritage, or public private partnerships, or offering heritage development incentives, or offsetting development levy contributions, or incentivizing inner city redevelopments that retain heritage and destroy ugly modern monsters – there are hundreds of ways to keep those old buildings in play. But the time to start is now.