Although Christchurch didn’t meet my initial expectations, I have grown to feel very at home in this city. Amidst the rubble from the 2011 earthquake is a community that is supportive, welcoming, and inspiring. The rebuild is much more than physical reconstruction, and it has been an irreplaceable experience to be able to contribute in a small way to the recovery of this city. In my last post, I talked about the earthquake itself and the general attitude toward the rebuild. In this post, I’ll focus on the community, artistic, and entrepreneurial elements of post-quake Christchurch that make it so unique.
What Christchurch lacks in physical infrastructure, it makes up for in community events and programs. Events range from fundraising campaigns for local charities to night markets featuring the beloved Christchurch Food Trucks (also giving me a little taste of home). I see the supportive community up close at through my internship at Ministry of Awesome, a social enterprise start-up that works to connect and empower people with ideas for the rebuild or social justice ventures. There is a real sense that everyone is picking each other up and dusting each other off in the wake of the earthquake.
Although it’s the second largest city in New Zealand after Auckland, Christchurch has a hometown feel when it comes to community events. Anyone can make an event happen, and the same local businesses sponsor their ideas. People know each other. People do not take advantage of each other. After a few weeks here, I would never even entertain the idea of doing homework in a coffee shop without buying something, whereas in the U.S. I’d have no scruples. Things are just starting to find their footing here, and everyone pitches in however they can. My purchase of a coffee (or, more likely, tea) means more than meets the eye. Plus, in addition to Ministry of Awesome, there are a ton of other cool organizations that are worth a Google search, like Greening the Rubble and Gap Filler.
Post-earthquake Christchurch is a blank canvas for local artists. The city is full of murals, some commissioned, some added by graffiti artists or other painters. Regardless, all help brighten the city. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves:
Christchurch also has a lot of cool public sculptures, both in very deconstructed areas and in the famous Hagley Park and Christchurch Botanical Gardens. My favorite sculpture is a group of 185 white chairs, a tribute to the earthquake victims. Each chair is different, and was chosen by the victim’s family.
The re-use of buildings (or, more often, building parts) is also a cool aspect of life in Christchurch. C1, a central coffee shop that partners with a lot of those aforementioned community events, is housed in the old post office. Smash Palace, one of the most unique bars I’ve been in, exists in the still-intact half of a dilapidated brick building. Settings like these add to the character and the artsy feel of the city.
In the words of a coworker at my internship, Christchurch is a “hotbed for entrepreneurs.” The rest of the world hasn’t necessarily noticed this yet, but Christchurch appeals to a lot of people with big ideas, both from New Zealand and from other areas of the world. Post-earthquake, the historically British Christchurch is becoming more diverse.
The post-earthquake landscape also creates a blank canvas for business ventures and ideas. Christchurch is a great place to test out start-ups, work in co-working environments, and succeed with the support of the community. Recently, Christchurch was chosen as one of 8 cities worldwide to host an Unreasonable Lab, sponsored by a social-enterprise start-up called Unreasonable Institute based in Boulder, CO. Unreasonable Lab is a week-long conference that functions as an accelerated test-stage for local entrepreneurs. Participants will test their product, meet with mentors, design a business strategy, and interact with the local ChCh community. Ministry of Awesome is organizing the event for Christchurch, and hoping the conference will help spread the word about the opportunities in Christchurch for entrepreneurs and new ventures. (If you’re curious, check it out here: http://unreasonablelabs.org/. Scroll down to find New Zealand).
Between all of these elements, Christchurch is quite a place to live. However, I cannot stress enough how optimistic and idealistic I myself am about the rebuild. Beneath the promising surface, there is a lot of bureaucracy, lags in progress, and frustration. I have the luxury of exploring the cool parts and leaving when things get boring; I also never lived in pre-earthquake Christchurch, and don’t see ghosts of places when I walk down the street. Understandably, people have conflicted attitudes about the rebuild, and the descriptions in this post are certainly subjects of rose-colored glasses. I get strange looks sometimes when I talk about how much I’m enjoying my time in ChCh, often accompanied by a, “But there’s nothing here,” or a, “Why?”
However, “everything is going to be alright,” and I hope to return to Christchurch in the future and see how it’s doing. Before the earthquake, Christchurch was more physically whole but less of the community and innovative hub that it is today. I’m sure the city that at first disappointed me will exceed my expectations.