Transitional City Programme

Icons target



Icons use case study city info



Icons use case study main actors

Main actors

City Government, Private Sector, Community / Citizen Group

Icons use case study project area

Project area

Whole City/Administrative Region

Icons use case study duration


Ongoing since 2010

A transitional city programme includes support for recovery after earthquakes in three key areas: social, sense of place and business. The programme also contains elements for long-term recovery such as testing new ideas, enhancing community resilience and creating a new identity for the city.

From 2010, a series of earthquakes and aftershocks caused loss of life and extensive damage to Christchurch. The damage included destruction of 1,200 commercial building and damage of 90% of residential properties. The city is using the recovery process to rebuild the social fabric as well as to enhance resilience. Extensive engagement with citizens was launched through the "share an idea" campaigns. From the thousands of responses received, the community's vision of a livable, vibrant and prosperous city began to take shape.

To date hundreds of community activities have been organized and vacant spaces in the city have been activated with creative projects. The private sector has contributed significant financial and inkind support while 10,000 hours of voluntary work has been given by the community. An indication that Christchurch is on the way to recovery is the fact that it is once more being listed as a tourist destination worth recommending.

Sustainable Development Goals

Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels

Guangzhou Award

This project was awarded the 'Guangzhou Award' in 2014.

Christchurch, New Zealand

Size and population development
New Zealand's third most-populous urban area (second largest city). Estimated resident population (as of 2013): 366,000

Population composition
Ethnic profile of Christchurch's population (2013 census): European 83.9; Asian 9.4; Maori 8.5; Pacific Island 3.1

Main functions
Largest city in the South Island of New Zealand and the seat of the Canterbury Region.

Main industries / business
Sector development in: Technology, Health, High Value-Added Manufacturing, International Education, Professional Services and AgriTech (Source: Christchurch economic development strategy 2014)

Political structure
Christchurch is runned by the City Council, comprising the Mayor of Christchurch, and 13 councillors elected in seven wards

Following the Canterbury earthquakes, Christchurch City Council launched the Share an Idea community engagement process, in which the public submitted over 106,000 ideas for the Christchurch rebuild. The community’s vision was for a liveable, vibrant, green and prosperous city. This public feedback formed the basis of the Christchurch Central Recovery Plan which included A Transitional City Programme, to be led by the Christchurch City Council. 

The Transitional City Programme includes support for recovery in three areas – social, sense of place, and business. The timeframe is ongoing, as the recovery is expected to take 20 years. To support the recovery in both the immediate and longer-term timeframes, the programme aims to achieve the following outcomes:

  • Support social / community recovery: 

· Through early recovery: by enhancing healing and wellbeing, encouraging participation in the recovery and creating new positive memories.

· Through long-term recovery: by enhancing community resilience, fostering volunteering, and testing new ideas for long-term adoption. 

  • Support recovery of sense of place:

· Through early recovery: by creating a safer, more welcoming city for all, with temporary greening, more fun, and greater activity choice.

· Through long-term recovery: by encouraging and enabling creative exploration of identity in the public realm, to create a new identity for the city.

  • Support recovery of business

· Through early recovery:

- by mitigating the 'island effect' as businesses recover.

- through wayfinding, activity, streetscapes which use temporary, relocatable and adaptable materials and approaches.

· Through long-term recovery: by fostering entrepreneurship, innovation, creative industries, and developing new local and international tourism markets.

The Transitional City Programme is based on Community Innovation and organizations supporting community-initiated actions.

- Life in Vacant Spaces ( - Established and co-funded by the Council

A not for profit trust delivers vacant space brokerage services that provides a single point of contact for anyone wanting to lead a temporary project, test an enterprise idea, or offer space rent-free while it’s not needed. LiVS lowers risks, matching projects to suitable spaces. LiVS can umbrella others in its public liability insurance policy, and offers simple legal access agreements. Purpose-built for Christchurch, LiVS is supported by local government, utility and pro bono partners, and a cross-sector advisory group. LiVS aims to become a permanent part of the urban fabric of the new city.    

- Gap Filler ( - co-funded by the Council

A not for profit trust delivers temporary community-initiated installations, art and creative/social activity on vacant spaces. Gap Filler aims to encourage a wide range of positive community interactions, making the city more vibrant and fun.    

- Greening the Rubble ( - co-funded by the Council

A not for profit trust delivers temporary community-initiated landscaping and ecology projects in vacant sites, with native plants, pocket parks, green roofs, and food-producing community gardens. Greening the Rubble aims to increase biodiversity and voluntary participation in local initiatives.  

Business Innovation:    

- Re:START Mall ( - temporary retail supported by Council and CERA 

The Re:START temporary container mall was established by the Central City Property and Building Owners to breathe new life into Christchurch’s central city. Re:START now hosts 50 businesses and includes regular market stalls, street performers and buskers.    

- EPIC ( - temporary office development on Council land

EPIC (Enterprise Precinct and Innovation Campus) is a two-stage development to create a world class innovation campus and hub for local technology companies. Stage 1, called Sanctuary, is a temporary building housing 20 companies and 300 staff which opened in September 2012.

Two new funds have played a key role in financially supporting projets which contribute to Christchurch's recovery.

This fund encourages and enables temporary projects in vacant spaces which support recovery. To lower barriers, the fund runs short cycles, enabling projects to develop quickly. Normal funding requirements were relaxed, enabling individuals and businesses to apply. The Transitional City Projects Fund supports up to 50% of project value, which encourages partnership. To recognise volunteering, pro-bono and in-kind contributions, a budget tool was developed which values non-cash contributions in monetary equivalents.

This fund aims to retain and strengthen our creative talent as the city recovers. The fund supports entrepreneurship, social enterprise models, increased collaboration and financially viable partnerships across the creative industry. This approach has been recognised as an innovative arts recovery and urban regeneration tool. Creative NZ ( recently adopted this model to deliver the new Community Arts Development Fund across New Zealand.  

Strategic outcomes have been achieved in the three dimensions of the Transitional City Programme.

Outcomes for community recovery:

- At least 325 community events have been organised since 2010.

- Over 10,000 hours of volunteer hours have been given by the community.

- The community continues to test new ideas for the future.

- Numerous positive media articles and supportive responses have been received.

Outcomes for recovery of ‘sense of place’

- Nearly 100 vacant sites have been activated 450 times with over 150 creative projects.

- Transitional city projects are now recognised by the community and visitors as symbols of hope and recovery.

- Ever Evolving City connects people to spaces and businesses throughout the city.

Outcomes for business recovery:

- 70 new businesses have established in the city (see

- Increasing visitation, including 20,000 visitors attending a single event (see www. 

- Projects have been focused on supporting business clusters and community hot-spots.

- High levels of corporate sponsorship and in-kind support have been received.

- Pop-up retail is now included in private tenancy agreements.

- 25 new business models, products and services have been established from pop-up spaces.

- Artists and entrepreneurs are choosing to move to Christchurch for the opportunity to participate in the creative spirit.

International travel guide Lonely Planet in 2013, and New York Times in 2014, highlighted Christchurch as one of the best places to visit. Both specifically mentioned the transitional city projects.

The multi-layered and integrated framework adopted by Christchurch is replicable to other cities. Supportive leadership of the Council is critical to adopt new ways of working, test new ideas and to take risks. The Council employs a Transitional Projects Advisor to build internal capacity for this programme and to build relationships with delivery partners.

The success of the Transitional City Programme is built on innovation in following areas:

  • Governance: collaborative approaches used to align partners around a new concept for the city including local Maori, property owners, businesses, tourism, event organisers, the arts community and local universities. Supporting the establishment of new not for profit trusts (with broad community representation) to activate vacant sites with landscaping and social activity. 
  • Strategy: urban regeneration and recovery planning including Council and community-led transitional architecture and temporary activities for the city. 
  • Administration: derisking the use of public and private spaces for temporary activation through the creation of a broker organisation (Life in Vacant Spaces) and relaxing planning regulations for approvals. 
  • Financing: adopting a cofunding approach for community grants (Transitional City Projects Fund) and boosting the local creative industries (Creative Industries Support Fund).
  • Community: many projects and events delivered by the community.
  • Business: local entrepreneurs testing new goods or services in a low cost, low risk environment, embracing new transitional business opportunities and partnerships. 

- Christchurch,New Zealand:Our Ever Evolving City, Guangzhou Award for Urban innovation (accessed 27 January 2016)

- Our Ever Evolving City, Urban innovation database (accessed 27 January 2016)

On the Map

Map placeholder

Want to know more about this project?

Guangzhou International Award for Urban Innovation
Guangzhou, China

Guangzhou International Award for Urban Innovation

Institution | Urban Award

Photo gallery

Related case studies

Participatory Development Programme in Urban Areas (PDP)
Cairo, Egypt

Participatory Development Programme in Urban Ar...

This project advises concepts and methods of participatory community development and grass roots based waste management in informal urban areas.

Zagreb For Me - revitalisation of public spaces in Zagreb
Zagreb, Croatia

Zagreb For Me - revitalisation of public spaces...

Through the introduction of innovative methods, the city of Zagreb is revitalising existing public spaces and improving recreation, leisure and social cohesion for citizens.

City of Mexico Resilience Strategy
Mexico City, Mexico

City of Mexico Resilience Strategy

The Resilience Strategy is a response by the City of Mexico (CDMX) to foster public policies that contribute to strengthening the city's adaptive capacity.