(research.) I had the good fortune to be invited to Christchurch, New Zealand to participate in a series of conversations supporting the re-imagination of the city’s residential red zone – a vast, 1,320-acre, (535-ha), swath of land flowing alongside the Ōtakaro Avon River from the city center to the Pacific Ocean. Once home to thousands of families, this suburban residential territory was rendered unbuildable by liquefaction of the soil during the earthquake and aftershocks that devastated Christchurch in February 2011. Residents of the red zone had to resettle in other areas of town. Their damaged houses were removed, leaving behind only patches of grass, broken streets, sidewalks, driveway aprons, power poles, and memories. Little compositions of trees and garden plants hint at stories of the families who once planted them.
The future of the red zone remains one of the biggest questions for Christchurch, which is still mid-stride in rebuilding its downtown, most of which was also wrecked by the earthquake. Obvious ideas like recreational parks and wildlife habitat are complicated by the cost of the buy-out. Regenerate Christchurch was formed as a joint effort between the city and federal governments to develop an answer – or answers – for the red zone. I met with them and several partner organizations like Te Pūtahi, a center for architecture and city-making in Christchurch. I also spoke to university students participating in a weekend “Design Jam” organized by the Ministry of Awesome to generate new, inspiring, regenerative ideas for the future of this sensitive and unintentional, but truly unparalleled opportunity. >> Ryan Gravel