Christchurch: Collaboration from Crisis

I was lucky enough to visit Christchurch, in the south island of New Zealand, last spring.

Christchurch was devastated by an earthquake in 2011 which claimed many lives, felled many buildings and tore down the infrastructural and symbolic spine of New Zealand’s oldest city in a matter of moments.

Rather less well documented is what the city has done to turn this around, consolidate and rebuild. And what stuck out to me when I visited was that a collaborative sense of resilience has been born from the crisis.

It’s in the pop-up working pods and the EPIC (Enterprise Precinct and Innovation Campus) which was set up specifically to house small digital companies who lost their office buildings in the earthquake.

It’s in the scaffolding that holds up the spire of the city’s namesake cathedral as a moment in time – not yet rubble and not refurbished – where life continues and does not await the inevitable.

Most notably, it’s in the attitudes of the people. To knuckle down, make their voice heard, and ensure that not only their phoenix rises from the ashes, but that it is soars and sets the trends for how cities should work for their inhabitants.

The natural disaster has indisputably changed the environment of the city, but through a collaborative governance, encompassing the needs and desires of individuals, the new environment can be adapted to and thrived within.

There’s also scope for fun: the ‘Smart Cross’ system is an interactive touch screen that allows pedestrians to play ping pong with people opposite them at pedestrian crossings. I didn’t win once!

The key here is that Christchurch understood that underlying the success of their resilience plan were individuals.

Government can’t do things FOR people, they do things WITH people.

The understanding and buy-in for this partnership is integral in managing any successful change, no matter its level of urgency. There’s a lot to be learnt from Christchurch.