The Commons of the Tragedy: Temporary Use and Social Capital in Christchurch’s Earthquake-Damaged Central City

Sally Carlton & Suzanne Vallance

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Carlton, S. & Vallance, S. (1). The Commons of the Tragedy: Temporary Use and Social Capital in Christchurch’s Earthquake-Damaged Central City. Social Forces, 96(2), 831–850.

adaptive urbanism , Bonding , bridging , linking , post-disaster , social capital , temporary use projects

Garrett Hardin's 1968 essay "The Tragedy of the Commons" famously decried the vulnerability of finite communal resources to overexploitation. Yet collective accessibility to and ownership of resources need not necessarily lead to their mismanagement or abuse; rather, the practice of sharing resources can engender positive environmental, social, economic, and political impacts. Social capital, as both the source and product of relational interactions which occur within public space, constitutes one of these benefits. This paper investigates the relationship between temporary communal spaces and social capital through a case study of the Commons project in Christchurch, New Zealand. Generated by both the space itself and the interactions that occur within it, the social capital created in and through the Commons has become a powerful symbol of recovery in a city recovering from disaster. Instead of the tragedy of the commons, therefore, this paper presents the story of the Commons of the tragedy and explores the ways in which social capital has been fostered in and through this space.

Main finding
This article investigates how temporary use projects, such as a pallet pavilion music venue and a multi-use sports facility, promote social capital following disaster. In particular, the authors looked at their effects on the bonding of close ties, bridging of groups, and linking of informal and formal groups. The projects provide opportunities for collective recovery in which citizens can gain a sense of control after losing power over their environment. The adaptability of each temporary use project itself and the changing nature of each project allows multiple activities and groups to be accommodated. However, the nature of these projects attracts people who are educated, middle-class, and European and tend to excludes others not included in those demographics. Bonding and bridging capital are important in setting up opportunities for linking capital, but more intention may be needed to bridge grassroots efforts with government agencies to make long-term, impactful political decisions to serve the common good.

Description of method used in the article
The authors employed mixed methods to examine the efforts of Gap Filler, a non-profit, to build temporary use projects in inner-city Christchurch in 2014 as it was recovering from the September 4, 2010 earthquake and years of aftershocks. Over three years, the authors conducted observations while volunteering, analyzed newsletters and online content, and interviewed 24 people. The interviews were conducted from January to July of 2014 and included Gap Filler staff, board members of another temporary use non-profit, Greening the Rubble, volunteers, creative advisors for the projects, and passersby. One of the authors was previously a volunteer for Gap Filler and the other served on the board of Greening the Rubble, which they recognize as a potential bias towards positive interpretation of the organization's impact.

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