I live in Christchurch, South Island, New Zealand. It’s a city that three years ago was struck by a series of devastating earthquakes; the most serious on 22 February, when 185 people died. Our central business district and several outlying suburbs where reduced to rubble.
Three years on, Christchurch has been named the world’s second-best place to visit in 2014 by the New York Times. Living here, it’s hard to understand why; I mean the place is a mess! Of course, one-in-100-year rain events are not helping either, for a city with a compromised storm water infrastructure…
As part of its feature “52 places to visit in 2014” the New York Times called Christchurch a “city in transformation”, experiencing a “rebirth with creativity and wit”.
Institutions like the Christchurch Art Gallery have looked for alternatives while doors remain closed – using blank walls and spaces to create “outer space” exhibitions. And with a lot of our heritage buildings reduced to rubble, there has been an increased interest in documenting and sharing heritage resources online.
Some of the positive, interpretative outcomes of tragedy – both live and digital – that have grown from the rubble over the last three years include:
Cool online maps
Quakemap – this became the go-to website for all Cantabrians, with people flocking to Quakemap after every aftershock. This animated map shows where rumbles are centred, their depth and magnitude with a series of colour-coded spots. You can look back and watch series of shakes by timeframes of your choice. Conceived and developed by Paul Nicholls of the University of Canterbury’s Digital Media Group (Christchurch).
More recently, Google map-based resouces help tourists find the ‘Neat Places’ in Christchurch, to make the most of a visit to our torn-up town.
Strengthening communities and individuals
Neighbours who may have never spoken before turned to help each other post-earthquake. Many of these communities continue to support each other through the rebuild, via neighbourhood forums and events. The Rebuild Christchurch website offers a tool for people to build an online community, based on their neighbourhood.
The internationally acclaimed Student Volunteer Army was a social media movement that mobilised over 11,000 students to assist in the clean-up of Christchurch. It began with one young man starting a Facebook page to generate and guide volunteers amongst his peers. The group is still active, and were out in force this week cleaning up after the latest storm. In 2012 Sam Johnson was named “Young New Zealander of the Year” and Prinz communicator of the year and is a compelling speaker on using technology for social change.
Digital archives – sharing the stories
The collective experiences of a crumbled city are being collated via several portals, several under the auspice of the University of Canterbury’s CEISMIC Canterbury Earthquake Digital Archive project.
Quake Studies is CEISMIC’s formal digital archive to document the Canterbury earthquakes by collecting reports, documents, stories, photos and film to be available to researchers in perpetuity, access-controlled.
Quake stories is for more personal stories, memories, experiences and photos of the Canterbury earthquakes and how they affected people, including the aftermath and ongoing story of the rebuilding. It’s described as a living memorial.
When my home shook is also personal accounts, but aimed specifically at school children, years 5-12, as a part of the recovery process.
Kete Christchurch is a creative commons digital archive compiled by Christchurch City Libraries, and includes several kete or “baskets” of knowledge, including the Christchurch earthquakes.
History these days is told via multiple voices.
New apps and innovations
CityViewAR is a mobile Augmented Reality application that allows people to see how the city was before the earthquakes and building demolitions. Using an Android mobile phone people can walk around the city and see life-sized virtual models of what the buildings looked like on site before they were demolished.
HitLab have taken this even further and used CityView AR to test their ‘Googleglasses’ – the first truly wearable computer for the masses. CityViewAR on Glass also shows panorama images taken after the earthquake, allowing people to look around them and use the head-tracking capability of Glass to see a full 360-degree photo of the city damage.
High Street Stories – NZ Historic Places Trust collaborated with HitLab and NV Interactive to create ‘High Street Stories’ website and a smartphone application, with over 100 stories of the central Christchurch street’s past. Users can wander around the area using an android phone or mobile device and see images of the now demolished heritage buildings and the precinct as it was before the quakes whilst listening to history and anecdotes about life in the area.
Creation of new groups, trusts and organisations
The response of many individuals after the earthquakes was to do something creatively positive and gather in the energies of others. And because the projects were all temporary by nature, it was a license to ignore the fear of failure – it was just about having a go!
Gap Filler – temporarily activates vacant sites within Christchurch with creative projects for community benefit, to make for a more interesting, dynamic and vibrant city. Wall murals, poetry, sound garden, pallet pavilion (an open air events venue) and Dance-o-mat are some of the groovy projects, with the latest join the portfolio – the Inconvenience Store – selling things like ‘eyes in the back of your head’!
Greening the Rubble – sticking true to Christchurch’s soul as The Garden City, Greening the Rubble was a grassroots movement to create temporary gardens and public green spaces in vacant sites. Hero projects include the Sydenham Street Coffee Zone, Sound Garden, Nature Play Park, and Pod Oasis.
Ministry of Awesome – watering the seeds of awesome in Christchurch, Sam Johnson and others created this organisation to gather ideas and inspiration, and create events to provide opportunities to see some of those seeds take root.
Yes life has changed since the earthquakes of 22 February 2011. I still have to drive a long way to buy milk as our dairy and supermarket have gone. I can get lost in my home town as every street corner looks the same and there are road works at every turn.
But there’s a ‘new’ creative Christchurch amidst the rubble and vacant spaces. It’s a blank page and we’re colouring flat out, without worrying about going over the lines.
I live in Christchurch, South Island, New Zealand. Come visit.