Public space and recovery: learning from post-earthquake Christchurch

Diane Brand & Hugh Nicholson

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Brand, D. & Nicholson, H. (1). Public space and recovery: learning from post-earthquake Christchurch. Journal of Urban Design, 21(2), 159–176.

How might the urban structure and public space of Christchurch change as a result of the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes? This paper will look at council and community led post-earthquake urban space projects in Christchurch, New Zealand, to investigate the potential reconfiguration of urban public space and structure and the balance of top-down and bottom-up design processes for the delivery of these projects. This will be achieved by comparing the performance of the urban public space and structure of the city during the post-earthquake emergency and recovery phases, with a view to understanding the contribution that these elements can make to the resilience of Christchurch. The paper will argue that Christchurch’s nineteenth century urban structure served the population well during the emergency phases of the disaster and that post-earthquake community-led initiatives model innovative capabilities which may enhance urban design practice in the future.

Main finding
This article finds that the chaotic urban voids left after the earthquakes in Christchurch have inspired citizens groups to spontaneously reclaim the glut of public space in the city, demonstrating an alternative approach for public space provision and use. These projects have embellished public space in both extent and detail, animated it in a way that rebalances the political, individual and collective lives of Cantabrians, adjusted the territory of participatory planning, served to re-establish or reinforce existing public space and street networks, and introduced transitional spaces and activities as places for asserting new cultural identities. The transitional projects in Christchurch offer lessons in putting the ‘public’ back into public space and an opportunity to adjust the balance of top-down and bottom-up design processes for the delivery of public space projects.

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Performance/Cultural Expression
Case Study
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