Christchurch’s international reputation for post-earthquake innovation may be waning.
The creativity that brought us projects like the Re:Start Container Mall, the pallet pavilion and a cycle-powered cinema could now be stymied in the face of big block developments and over-planning.
A Lincoln University research project has uncovered the need for a solid plan that will nurture creativity in the community, prolong the benefits of unconventional thinking and create economic advantages.
PhD candidate Trudi Cameron-Agnew researched what lay behind creative ideas in post-earthquake Christchurch.
She interviewed 45 people who were primary drivers of novel projects in the city since September, 2010. The creative ideas mostly involved social enterprise, as well as adapting commercial environments or creating community art projects.
Most participants expressed concern that the city would likely struggle to live up to the international reputation for creativity it had gained in the wake of the quakes.
“There seems little room for organic development and spaces for the magic to occur. This will be the opposite of motivating for many of these people,” says Ms Cameron-Agnew.
“Creative projects are important at any time, not just periods of transition, so ongoing planning is needed for encouraging the bold ideas that will add vibrancy to the city in the long term.”
She says the idea of the study was to find out if there were any similarities in the motivations of those who are prepared to put their novel ideas into action. She also wanted to discover how the post-disaster setting affected their actions.
Some participants described their projects as world firsts, while many were unique to New Zealand, but none had previously been attempted in Christchurch, especially in the post-quake environment.
Around 70 per cent said they were mainly motivated by social values or a desire to bring enjoyment to their quake-stricken community.
Less than 25 per cent expected to make money out of their projects, and of those, many were concerned only with financial sustainability.
“This is perhaps unsurprising because the earthquakes were a catalyst for people to act creatively and compassionately in an environment that was suddenly more embracing of less conventional ideas,” says Ms Cameron-Agnew.
“As the length of the transitional period could not have been predicted, it is not surprising that those driven by the heart weren’t thinking of long-term strategies.”
Learning from this could be worthwhile to prolong benefits and create economic advantages, she says.
Most participants said they felt supported when carrying out their projects. Sixty-four per cent received some form of funding, ranging from grants assisting them through the initial post-quake period to relatively large amounts of money designated for transitional projects. Other funds were awarded to bring life back to the central city and aid its recovery.
The majority of those who worked with the Christchurch City Council were happy with the assistance they received. Several participants said many councillors had campaigned and been elected during a period when they were aware of the challenges that lay ahead, which meant the resulting council was sympathetic to fresh ideas.
In March, Ms Cameron-Agnew will present her initial research findings in Florence, Italy at a conference entitled Creative society: Idea, Problems and Concepts, which she hopes will be of particular interest in the wake of the recent earthquakes experienced in that country.