OPINION: It has been well known that since the earthquake that devastated the heart of Christchurch 18 months ago one of the things residents most crave is a central city in which they can easily mingle, relax and socialise.
Just how strong that craving is was dramatically demonstrated on Saturday night when thousands crammed into a small and restricted part of Gloucester St to watch Luxcity, the creation of a city of light built with laser beams, balloons and fabric suspended from the cranes that are engaged in the demolition of ruined buildings.
The organisers said they wanted to create the illusion of an urban scene for one night, so Christchurch could remember what it had lost and what it wanted to recover. It may have been only an illusion of a city they created but if the numbers who turned up to see it are any guide, it succeeded far beyond their expectations.
Indeed, the numbers were so great that at times the crowd was jammed more or less to a standstill and food stalls quickly ran out of supplies.
It is something the organisers of any similar event in future might bear in mind - that however bleak and unattractive the desolate landscape of the central city is at present, there is a strong untapped desire to reconnect with the city that needs to be borne in mind. Luxcity was itself one such event designed to cater precisely to that desire.
It was one of the first events in a nine-day Festival of Transitional Architecture (Festa) whose aim, in the words of Dr George Parker, a member of the organising team, is "to promote the unique opportunity Christchurch has to be the global epicentre for creative urban renewal through experimental architecture, art and performance".
It aims to do this by, among other things, events centred on some of the most striking examples of transitional architecture - some perhaps more transitional than others - that have already sprung into being in an attempt to bring about an imaginative revival of Christchurch commerce, business, art and architecture.
Physically, they may have little in common. The Re:Start mall, the temporary AMI stadium, Gap Filler's various enterprises (the latest being the Summer Pallet Pavilion on the site of the now-demolished Park Royal Hotel), Smash Palace (the bar in a bus), the Enterprise Precinct and Innovation Campus and so on all meet widely differing needs in widely differing ways.
But they have all arisen spontaneously, from below rather than from any plan imposed from above, and have creatively sprung up to meet the needs of a broken city.
While the city undoubtedly needs a blueprint for the grander revival projects, it needs the organic growth of many smaller enterprises just as much. The verve and spice and creativity of the best of these at present temporary undertakings are likely to shape and influence the city as it rebuilds. It is the spirit and energy of these businesses and events that have obviously caught the eye of the editors of the Lonely Planet's Best in Travel guide and caused them to place us in the top 10 tourist destinations in the world for next year. Many Christchurch people have thought for some time that the revival would be an unparalleled attraction but, as always when one praises oneself, there is the nagging suspicion there is an element of whistling in the dark about it.
To receive the imprimatur of the astute and widely followed editors of Lonely Planet is a welcome confirmation of its truth.
- The Press