The Transformation of Christchurch, New Zealand

cardboard cathedral

Christchurch’s innovative Cardboard Cathedral

It’s now been over three years since Mother Nature shook the stuffing out of Christchurch, New Zealand’s second largest city, taking its residents on a roller coaster ride of thousands of earthquakes and aftershocks.

As a result, there are plenty of empty spaces in the central city, as more and more buildings, irreversibly damaged in the earthquakes, have been demolished.

empty lots

Many of these vacant lots still sit empty, except for the occasional cluster of wildflowers, weeds, and broken bricks, while owners work through red tape in an effort to re-build.

In Cathedral Square, next to the ruins of the Christchurch Cathedral, newly empty spaces have turned into parking lots.

paved parking lot

 “…don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone. They paved paradise and put up a parking lot”

Big Yellow Taxi, Joni Mitchell

But, as The New York Times points out when it rated Christchurch number 2 in it’s recently released list of  ’52 Places to Go in 2014’,

 “…the city is experiencing a rebirth with creativity and wit — thanks to the ingenuity of its hardy residents — and is welcoming tourists back again. Though much of the central city has yet to be rebuilt, entrepreneurs and volunteers are finding surprising ways to make temporary use of empty lots and bring life back to the downtown.”

 I’m probably biased given that Christchurch is my hometown, but I couldn’t agree more.

And here’s why.

Despite the ruins, the rubble, and empty spaces that ensure even residents aren’t sure where they are when they visit the city center, there’s something fascinating and compelling about watching a city in transition. There’s always something new to discover.

pallet bar

 The Pallet Pavilion, an empty land ‘activation’ created by community group Gap Filler, on the corner of Victoria, Durham, and Kilmore Streets.

 shipping containers

 Shipping containers holding up the façade of the iconic Theater Royal in the hope that it can be restored and integrated into any new building on site.


 Next door, the colorful Spanish Mission style New Regent Street, the forerunner to New Zealand’s first shopping mall, hosts the newly re-activated Christchurch Tram.


Crosstown at the Re:Start mall, shining new shipping containers have been converted into shops and cafes.


Quirky art projects appear out of nowhere as if by magic.

street art

Normally grey and boring concrete walls turn technocolor.

Christchurch is truly a city transforming itself, day by day, week by week, and month by month.

What’s here today might not be tomorrow.

(photos @Liz Lewis 2013)


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