Christchurch First Impressions

With the Draft Plan for rebuilding Christchurch released last week, we will be devoting the next few blog entries to describe the weeks we spent embedded with the City Council and our work with the fantastic people of Christchurch…

Gehl Architects arrived in May to a devastated city. The City Art Gallery, one of the few public buildings to survive the Earthquake more or less unscathed, had become the temporary home for the council as well as emergency centre for rescue services. The presence of military and civil defense personel and all the safety equipment and warning notices, were all reminders of the severity of the situation.

Only a day after our arrival in Christchurch we were thrown into a huge two-day community engagement event called “Share an Idea”. There was a tremendous turn out by the people of the city, thousands of families came, many staying all day to listen to the lectures, to write their own ideas, and share ideas and experiences with each other. There was a truly positive atmosphere despite the dreadful background to the event. One of our key roles at this event was listening – indeed David began his address at ‘Share an Idea’ with the words: “I am here to listen, find out what kind of city you want to have, and then do everything I can to help you get it”

During the next week we were escorted through ‘the red zone’ – the centre of the city that remains off limits to the public. Nothing could have prepared us for that first walk in. The scale of the destruction, the sense of the power of nature and the inherent weakness of the built world, the frailty of humanity. Small details like the unfinished cups of coffee on the café tables on Cashel Mall made us aware of the many individual stories of the earthquake in Christchurch. There was an eerie silence throughout the central city, only the rustling of the leaves in the trees, it underscored that the most important component of a city is people.

Find the report here:

Christchurch Draft-Central-City-Plan

  1. Simon Goddard said:

    It’s interesting to see what an organisation such as Gap Filler ( has been doing to activate some of the ‘bombsites’ post earthquake – there is certainly enormous potential in what they have been doing there.

    What was encouraging for us, though, was to hear of how many businesses wanted to be back in the central city. While it was easier for their employees to drive to their temporary suburban locations they missed easy access to a choice of venues for lunch, choice of hairdressers, their favorite coffee shop and a cinema or music venue for a friday night. They recognized real value in being in the city, and missed it.

    Another interesting example is the cluster of shops located in the Avon loop near Pomeroy’s Pub. The residents within walking distance are lamenting the loss of these and wondering if this little community node will return. It took only 6 or so shops with a similar niche market gathered around an intersection to define a local community to some extent.

    A ‘village city’ with more of these small nodes of community scattered around a robust Central City core could work in Christchurch. But in order to do that we would imagine the need for more density at these community nodes and better conditions for walking and cycling to create a critical mass of residents that could support the niche offering. These are all things we have tried to address in the Central City Plan.

    These are some of our observations from the interim.

  2. There’s been some talk in recent months of former downtown entertainment venues/gathering places setting up temporary shop in the suburbs due since the disaster. Although this was due to necessity, and not without problems (there have been concerns about noise levels and drunkenness in what were previously exclusively residential neighborhoods) I am very curious to learn what this could teach us about re-integrating commercial life into suburban areas. Neighborhood bars do cause noise – but they also let me walk home after I’ve had a few.

    In your work to rebuild the city, can we learn from what happened in the interim?

    Good luck and wishing strength to all there.

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