City-making project grows people and places together

The Anti-Gravity installation at the Festival of Transitional Architecture last year.

The Anti-Gravity installation at the Festival of Transitional Architecture last year.

OPINION: In the five years since the beginning of the Canterbury earthquakes, Christchurch communities have stepped up with a fantastic range of expressions of recovery. 

The outpouring of creativity found in the three Festivals of Transitional Architecture (FESTA) brought the central city back to glowing life.  Life in Vacant Spaces has been dedicated to inspiring the people of Christchurch to activate the city's vacant sites with intriguing and entrepreneurial transitional projects.   Private clients and their architects sat together to reimagine what a lost building could be replaced with, and gaps in the permanent city fabric have begun to be filled.

The city is being remade.  During this process Christchurch is discovering the complexity of the process of city-making.  City-making occurs at the intersection of people and place.  It can be a process that occurs behind closed doors and in professional circles; equally, it can be a grassroots initiative driven by the passion of citizens for their place.

Christchurch has discovered that recovery is a long game.  A quality rebuild requires fresh collaborations that are nimble enough to adapt and grow with the processes of recovery. Rich collaborations between corporates and not for profits, between professionals and the grassroots, and between the city and its citizens can strengthen the outcomes.

Organisations such as Gap Filler have executed vibrant projects, many being locally and internationally celebrated.  They have helped cement communities of interest together and enabled them to get involved in re-making their places. 

All of these city-makers have grown in experience and skill and started asking how their values can begin to have a broader and substantive ongoing influence in the longer term city-making process in Christchurch.  How can Christchurch be more vibrant, sustainable and full of the dreams of its people?

Within this context the Christchurch Transitional Architecture Charitable Trust, set up as the vehicle to underpin FESTA, has been asking similar questions.  This group is increasingly interested in how the re-build can be more intertwined with the community.  There are myriad professions involved in reimagining our city in what can seem a complex and obscure process.  There is a strong collective desire to understand how city-making processes can become more accessible to, or be driven by, the wider community.

In response to this community need for understanding, Te Pūtahi: Christchurch Centre for Architecture and City-Making has emerged.  The name springs from pū meaning bundle and tahi meaning together or as one – a bringing together or congruence.   The idea is an inclusive centre for city-making that seeks to assist with grouping together and combining fields/whakaaro/disciplines.

Te Pūtahi has evolved from FESTA and brings together key leaders in city-making in Christchurch. Their collaboration both together and with others will help make our city a place people want to be. Cities are complex and wonderful places made more resilient and exciting by the diversity of contributors to their creation and reinvention. Te Pūtahi will support all those who support city-making in Christchurch to collaborate, develop and stay inspired and energised. 

The organisation's first initiative was a collaboration with Christchurch City Council on the Christchurch Conversations. The inaugural lecture was by Charles Montgomery – an urban designer and author of Happy City: Transforming Our Lives through Urban Design.   Alongside his public lecture, a series of events and activities was arranged that gave Healthy Christchurch and others the opportunity to interpret and make local his ideas.

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Recovery, and the ongoing evolution of Christchurch, will need debate, discussion and community involvement in the shaping of the city for years to come.  Forums that support that ongoing conversation remain important for the health of the rebuild.

Te Pūtahi will engage not only with the rebuild but will connect our citizens: the stated purpose is to grow people and places together.  In a recent Te Pūtahi exhibition, People Building Better Cities (by Global Studio and the Centre for Sustainable Urban Development, Columbia University), parallel opportunities for different interest groups to engage with ideas around city-making were included.  In addition to the exhibition opening in central Christchurch, there was training in participation, academic study groups, schools workshops and public lectures / panel discussions.

It is early days for Te Pūtahi, and the group is developing an exciting programme for times ahead.  For now the centre is popping up around the city as we establish ourselves as the "go to" place for critical and constructive conversations around architecture and city-making.  This is just one example of how transitional "institutions" are developing and adapting to the changing needs of the city as it re-invents itself. 

The city needs the community to be rebuilt and the community needs a healthy and flourishing city.  This interdependence of people and their place is fundamental to human settlement, and like any relationship, requires an investment of time and energy to ensure an ongoing synergy.  The best city-making needs energised and connected "city-makers", so it is very exciting in Christchurch to see the emergence of greater diversity and collaboration in this sphere.

Richard Hayman is a local architect, a member of the CCC Urban Design Panel and the chair of the Christchurch Transitional Architecture Trust.

 - Stuff


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