Melanie Leigh Wilbur

Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel explains how her city is treating the rebound from natural disaster as a creative Year Zero.

For some cities, seeing their entire downtown leveled might signal the beginning of an unstoppable downward spiral. For Christchurch, New Zealand, however, the earthquake the city experienced in 2011 has actually kick-started a rebirth that has not just drawn international applause, but hopefully fired a permanent creative reboot for the city’s culture. Speaking Monday at The Atlantic’s CityLab 2015 summit in London, Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel outlined how her city is treating the rebound from natural disaster as a creative Year Zero.

“We’re not going back to what we were before—we can’t. What was there was gone. Instead, we’re changing the way we think, [asking] how do we embed a sense of vibrancy, energy, creativity and innovation into our rebuild?”

Among the responses have been brilliant projects such as the architect Shigeru Ban’s Cardboard Cathedral, a cluster of street art that’s spawned its own festival and public art commissions that actively involved local citizens in their creation. The rebuild has also shaken up ways the city does business. Life in Vacant Spaces, an umbrella organization intended to match vacant sites with temporary tenants, is emerging as an all-purpose bureaucracy-neutralizing machine for citizens, says Dalziel, one that could well have a future after the rebuild is complete.

While some rebuild era projects (such as the startup nurturer Ministry of Awesome) should continue, other aspects of the rebuild will necessarily remain fleeting. Dalziel herself is ruing the imminent departure of a mural depicting a ballerina that will disappear following reconstruction around the city’s Isaac Theatre Royal. What must nonetheless remain overall, Dalziel insists, is an understanding that the arts have a role far greater than merely creating an attractive city.

“Resilience has to include the cultural as well as the economic, the social, the environmental. If you take any one of those out of the mix, then you won’t have a resilient city.”

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Equity

    Berlin Will Freeze Rents for Five Years

    Local lawmakers agreed to one of Europe’s most radical rental laws, but it sets the stage for a battle with Germany’s national government.

  2. A person tapes an eviction notice to the door of an apartment.
    Equity

    Why Landlords File for Eviction (Hint: It’s Usually Not to Evict)

    Most of the time, a new study finds, landlords file for eviction because it tilts the power dynamic in their favor—not because they want to eject their tenants.

  3. A photo of a new apartment building under construction in Boston.
    Equity

    In Massachusetts, a ‘Paper Wall’ of Zoning Is Blocking New Housing

    Despite the area’s progressive politics, NIMBY-minded residents in and around Boston are skilled in keeping multi-family housing at bay.

  4. A photo of Madrid's Gran Via
    Environment

    Is This the End of the Road for Madrid’s Car Ban?

    With more conservative leadership moving in after elections, the Spanish capital’s pollution-fighting regulations on private vehicles may be in danger.

  5. Environment

    Paris Wants to Grow ‘Urban Forests’ at Famous Landmarks

    The city plans to fill some small but treasured sites with trees—a climate strategy that may also change the way Paris frames its architectural heritage.

×