In a few minutes on 22 February 2011, a 6.3-magnitude earthquake killed 185 people and destroyed much of downtown Christchurch, while rendering swathes of the city uninhabitable. Within two years, 7,000 people – 2 per cent of the population – had moved to other centres around New Zealand and Australia.
It was undoubtedly tragic but the city’s recovery is something to celebrate. Until the quake, Christchurch was run by a cabal of old money, vested interests and small-town parochialism: it was pretty but dull. “All it really had in its favour was that it was a great place to raise a family,” says bar owner Johnny Moore, the son of former mayor Garry Moore. He runs Smash Palace, one of the first bars to open post-earthquake. It’s emblematic of the new city: set in two buses surrounded by hurricane fencing on a prominent downtown site.
Despite a running battle between central government and Christchurch’s council over the future of the city, the rebuild has swung into gear. New buildings, jobs and a new breed of entrepreneurs are reshaping the city: from bars to boutiques, galleries and food carts. Japanese architect Shigeru Ban’s beautiful temporary cathedral has also opened (pictured).
It’s an exciting time says Coralie Winn, creative director of Gap Filler: a not-for-profit group that set about activating abandoned spaces after the quake. “What we have here is a genuine need,” she says. “It’s connected to something real, which is that the city was stuffed. So we need energy and creative responses.”
Which is where smart, young entrepreneurs come in. “The opportunity is huge,” says Moore. “Small businesses can sneak in and do something creative in the spaces – while they’re there. Because they won’t be forever.”
How much it’s growing
Christchurch grew by 3,900 people last year.
Why it works
A new breed of creative businesses is seizing the opportunity and reshaping the city.
What it should do next
Christchurch needs a central-rebuild plan and to nurture the city’s young entrepreneurs.
Housing affordability in New Zealand is becoming an election issue this year. The problem is particularly bad in Auckland where rapid population growth is causing double-digit property-price inflation. The country’s reserve bank has already instituted tougher lending rules. The Auckland council and the central government have fast tracked large chunks of the city for intense development: the Auckland Housing Accord allows for 39,000 homes across 41 housing areas around the city. Auckland now faces decades of rebuilding – a prospect that is far from popular with residents in established areas, who are already opposing the changes.
Every city wants its own High Line. The success of New York’s redevelopment of a disused railway into a popular public space is one that cities around the world are eager to emulate. Sydney’s answer to this is the Goods Line, which will be a bustling hub that focuses on social interaction.
Currently an underused rail corridor in the city’s inner west, it will connect students, workers and tourists from Central station to Darling harbour, linking up a number of cultural institutions and a new Frank Gehry-designed building at the Sydney University of Technology. Construction is underway on the 4 metre-high, 500 metre-long raised walkway, designed locally by Aspect Studios. “We hope that this becomes one of the best 21st-century models for public space in an urban environment,” says Aspect director Sacha Coles.