The political lives of temporary projects : infrastructure and participatory urbanism in post-earthquake Christchurch

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In early 2011 a violent earthquake struck the small city of Christchurch, in the South Island of New Zealand, leading to the death of 185 people and the demolition of 80% of the central city. In the months and years after this disaster hundreds of small and temporary urban projects emerged to support the city, to challenge aspects of the government’s leadership, and to raise concerns about long-term problems for the city. The temporary projects provided public amenity through the provision of venues, galleries, urban farms, gardens, restaurants, dance floors, games, and memorials. Over 80 essays and texts have been written about this collection of temporary projects, but despite the obvious political context the character of the temporary projects as political agents has not been seriously considered (Wesener 2015, p. 2). The research addresses this gap. It tracks the development of the temporary projects between the years 2011 and 2016 documenting them, as part of a reflective practice, through a survey of 180 projects, interviews with participants making the projects, and case studies of different typologies of projects. The research uses a theory of political action (Lippman 1925; Dewey 1927) that developed in the 1920s and has been more recently reintroduced into contemporary discussions by Bruno Latour (2005) and Noorjte Marres (2005). Through this process it became apparent that temporary projects were being created in response to problems of infrastructure. This reflects a trend articulated by urban scholars (Farías and Blok 2016) who argue that the most urgent problems of our time (transport, climate change, energy, food) are infrastructural in character and that controversies around infrastructure are thus an important site of political action. Using characteristics of infrastructure established by Susan Leigh Star (1996, 2009, 2010) the research interprets four types of temporary project that reflect their capacity to address both short- and long-term issues while also providing public amenity and developing new emergent public groups. The research concludes that the temporary projects demonstrated a form of infrastructural activism because they enabled the development of recursive publics (Jiménez 2014), this generated activity in relation to common concerns while also supporting alternative, and often more local, forms of infrastructure. This research produces a novel analysis of participatory urbanism that develops the scholarship about the temporary projects in post-disaster Christchurch, and contributes to contemporary discourses on activism, design, infrastructures, controversies, and temporary urbanism.
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