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Town Planning for a better Christchurch
With the recent destruction in New Zealand’s second largest city it’s a good time to think about sustainable town planning. While existing cities often require expensive ‘retrofits’ of environmentally friendly features, there is an opportunity in beautiful Christchurch to begin with a semi-clean slate.
Town planning is often short-sighted and does not take into account inconvenient truths such as peak oil (and the general rise in the cost of energy). Given the amount of information there is on peak oil it’s obscene that often we don’t take this into consideration.
New Zealand’s urban structure is generally characterised by sprawling suburbs surrounding concentrated commercial centres. Our public transport systems are mostly inadequate with the bulk of commuters relying on private cars to get around. In the near future the rising cost of energy is going to put a lot of pressure on our poorly designed cities.
A transport system based around fossil fuel based cars has many costs beyond petrol use:
- The large quantities of energy and oil products that go into the manufacture of cars.
- The construction of roads (fewer roads are needed if public transport is more widely used).
- Negative environmental effects of using more land for roads and parking lots e.g. habitat destruction and loss of arable land.
- Air pollution in the form of carbon monoxide and the climate changing effects of carbon monoxide.
If we are to be smart about rebuilding Christchurch we shouldn't rush into the reconstruction without planning for a city that meets the needs of today as well as considering the needs of tomorrow.
We have a chance to construct a city that is bicycle and pedestrian friendly. Putting cycle lanes in existing cities can be a costly (but none-the-less worthwhile) exercise, but with the up-coming rebuild of central Christchurch it would be much easier. By doing this now, we’re going to save a lot of money and effort instead of being forced to do this later.
In a recent talk I went to on the future of energy there was a brilliant graph showing a comparison in energy use between various modes of transport. The thing that really stood out was the energy efficiency of electric bicycles, surpassing even regular bikes and walking (when you take into account the food used to power our bodies). Other highly efficient forms of transport were electric buses (when capacity is at a decent level), electric rail and public transport in general.
In an ideal world we would see a city designed around a backbone of electric rail catering for the transport of our electric bikes and then the use of our electric bikes to arrive at destinations away from the railway system. The technology is there to achieve this; all we need now is the collective will to put this type of plan into action.
Article by Carlin Archer