Christchurch's "Transitional" phase is over: Where to for Transitional 2.0?

Jessica Halliday and Anne Cunningham, co-directors of Te Pūtahi - the Christchurch Centre for Architecture and ...
John Kirk-Anderson

Jessica Halliday and Anne Cunningham, co-directors of Te Pūtahi - the Christchurch Centre for Architecture and City-Making, a phase two transitional group, at the Agropolis Urban Farm, Lichfield Street.

Long live the transitional. The burst of creative projects that made the early post-quake years interesting has come to end, but that doesn't mean events like Festa have been dropped. WILL HARVIE reports.

They never really settled on a lingo. "Transitional" is probably the most well known, but we've had "pop-up", "temporary" and a congress held in Christchurch last October called it "adaptive urbanism".

Whatever the name, the idea was that in Christchurch after the September 2010 earthquake – and especially after the February 2011 quake – there was an urgent need to bring life to vacant spaces. Groups such as Greening the Rubble, Gap Filler and the Festival of Transitional Architecture sprung to life.

Lawrence Arabia, aka James Milne, performs in the Pallet Pavilion in 2013. Lawrence Arabia, aka James Milne, performs in ...
John Kirk-Anderson

Lawrence Arabia, aka James Milne, performs in the Pallet Pavilion in 2013. Lawrence Arabia, aka James Milne, performs in the Pallet Pavilion in 2013. The transitional structure had to be fully consented.

The movement lumbered itself with the grammatically awkward "transitional" but attracted global attention for quirky innovation and a leading member, Coralie Winn of Gap Filler, won a Queen's Service Medal at the 2015 New Year Honours.

That initial burst of creativity has ended, participants say. "The transitional organisations that led the movement have matured," says Jessica Halliday, co-founder and director of the Festa. There won't be a Festa this year, she says, because today there are more bars, restaurants, venues and more entertainments generally in the central city. There's less need for interventions from well-meaning creatives.

Plus transitional leaders needed time for recuperation and recovery. "People are tired" after years of fighting for funding and resources, Halliday says. 

Ryan Reynolds comments on the rebuild at the corner of High and Cashel Streets in February.
Kirk Hargreaves

Ryan Reynolds comments on the rebuild at the corner of High and Cashel Streets in February.

"We need to do (Festa) with more mature partnerships." It will be back in 2016, she says, and then probably in 2018. 

"We're into a new phase," says Ryan Reynolds, co-founder of Gap Filler and chair of the trust that governs the non-profit.  

The new phase is being called "city making" and has already had an airing.

Associate Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Nicky Wagner says the transitional movement influenced the ...
Chris Hillock

Associate Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Nicky Wagner says the transitional movement influenced the rebuild, at least in part.

In August, Halliday and some of her transitional mates launched Te Pūtahi - the Christchurch Centre for Architecture and City-Making, a conceptual institute "focused on the current rebuild and on-going renewal of our city for the long term".

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It's first effort was to use temporary space in the new UniMed building on Gloucester St for a five-week exhibition called People Building Better Cities, which included talks and workshops.

"This has been my dream since 2007," says Halliday, an architectural historian who saw almost all of historical Christchurch knocked over by wrecking balls in 2011-13. Something had to be done about the black hole that was central Christchurch. "We responded to ... the situation we found ourselves in," she says of Festa.

The situation has changed again and so the movement is responding differently.

It's not that Gap Filler and the rest are closing. They'll keep doing what they've been doing, get more ambitious and apply a longer-term focus. "Exactly," says Reynolds. 

The transitional was defined by "small-scale, temporary projects" designed as experiments, Reynolds says. The small experiments will continue — Friday's  intended PARK(ing) Day, an effort to transform car-parking spaces to an active public space — being a current example. 

The point was that "repurposing car-parking spaces into parks for people, even for a short while, creates conversation about how public space is used in our cities". And encourages the city council to allow more permanent parklets on public space, perhaps.

So what is city making? Here things get a bit vague, in part because so far it's mostly been talk rather than projects.

The movement is now exploring more forcefully how to impact permanent private and public projects, Reynolds says.

"Christchurch has changed its thinking. A city is not just buildings, but the process and the participation," Reynolds. "How do we get more participation in city-making?"

"We need to invite people to behave in a way that they wouldn't otherwise and create more social reactions, even joy." 

Developers spending $100 million on a project are likely to be conservative about what's allowed, says Reynolds. City-making will try to show that participation will bring people to buildings and spaces that they wouldn't otherwise visit. Participation is good for business. 

He offers two contrasting buildings, the new Christchurch Bus Interchange and the Pallet Pavilion. The bus station's only public consultation was Share an Idea, the 2011 city council effort. The Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority did none. The pavilion was built by about 300 mostly amateur volunteers, and was beloved by many more. How many love the bus interchange?

"If you involve people in meaningful ways, especially with civic buildings, they will respond," says Reynolds.

The new vibe is "more directed and political," says Jane Gregg of Life in Vacant Spaces, the non-governmental organisation that brokers deals between landowners and transitional projects. People are asking, where are the power zones and what buttons need pushing."

"It's becoming increasingly clear that the top-down project is falling apart and ... the citizenry needs to save it," Gregg says.

"Creativity needs tension," says Anne Cunningham, co-director of Te Pūtahi, the city-making institute. "Ideas take time to develop. We have to embroider the knowledge we already have."

Read more:
Christchurch should be transition capital
* Festa: Carnival of shape and light 
Pallet Pavilion shut doors in style
Te Pūtahi: How design can help your neighbourhood

So did the transitional, phase one, make a difference?

Reynolds says yes. In April, Gap Filler published a five-year plan, the first time it had formally considered a long-term existence. "We thought we were having a social impact," he says.

Even National MP and Associate Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Nicky Wagner says it did. She points to the Agropolis Urban Farm, a still-existing transitional project, as one experiment that proved to Cera that a community garden and orchard could be established on the north bank of the Avon River between Colombo and Manchesters Sts. Cera is evaluating two proposals, one from a collaboration of community groups. 

At least one transitional project, the Arcades -- those tall arches that march across the former Crowne Plaza site near the casino -- more or less show up on Cera maps of the future city. They look to be permanent. 

Moreover, it's worth remembering that the transitional also captured some of the city's establishment. The Anglican church built the cardboard cathedral, the retail industry came up with Re:Start Mall, the IT industry erected the Epic building, and rugby got millions from central government for a stadium in Addington.   

Recall too that Christchurch bus operators had a transitional central station and have since opened the permanent Bus Interchange. Christchurch Libraries have also lent books and such from various transitional spaces, which will presumably fold into the new central library in the Square.

Which asks the question, when did the first phase of the Christchurch transitional end? Barnaby Bennett, who co-published a book called Christchurch: The Transitional City  pegs it at almost a year ago, at the end of the third annual Festa. Others say it rumbled to a halt as last summer gave way to autumn.

Some say it never ended and shouldn't . "All cities have gaps and always will," says Kaila Colbin of the Ministry of Awesome. She thumps a table in frustration when saying this. Her ministry was another group founded after the quakes, albeit with a focus on business start-ups and networking rather than the arts.

And George Shaw, the guy most responsible for bringing street art to Christchurch in the post-quake era, says "we never saw it as transitional". Sure, some murals will be built out, but "we always hoped [new murals] would be done on an annual basis ... and that Christchurch would be known around the world for it's great street art".

"Our biggest mistake was under-estimating ourselves," says Cunningham. "We had to prevent Christchurch from being that city that suffered trauma but never sorted it out." 

 - Stuff

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