Feasting in the broken city
While there are positive signs of life emerging in Christchurch, the sad truth is that the city isn’t really working. As part of my post-graduate research I’ve been studying the city since the quakes, and I think it’s fair to say its progress is mixed at best. The ‘new city’ is now half built but suffers from many of the same problems as the old one: there are not enough people living in the central city and there is an associated lack of economic activity, there is a widespread sense of exclusion from the political decision-making, transport systems remain unpopular and under-funded, and many of the much vaunted ‘anchor projects’ are still far from being finished. Culturally the city seems unsure of its identity: British city or new post-colonial urbanism? Garden city or city of gardening? Economic farming hub or creative and cultural centre? Suburban lifestyle or urban living?
It’s easy to call for big sweeping changes … As the city experienced with CERA, so-called big moves often just lead to big delays.
And how do the residents of Christchurch address these issues? How do residents of any city make meaningful changes to the places they live? It’s easy to call for big sweeping changes. But cities are complex systems and one of the confounding difficulties with cities is that any change inevitably produces unintended consequences. As the city experienced with CERA, so-called big moves often just lead to big delays. So how do residents address the problems of a city while also supporting and protecting the aspects of the city that are working? How does a city build towards long-term change while still addressing more immediate problems?
FESTA 2013's headline event, Canterbury Tales, produced in collaboration with Free Theatre.
One answer to this question can be found in Christchurch’s post-quake Festival of Transitional Architecture (FESTA). FESTA emerged in 2012 in response to closure of the central city and the associated exclusion of its residents from the city’s planning and reimagining. This Labour Weekend will see its fifth iteration. Each of the festivals is themed around a central problem for the city. In the past, these have included physical and political exclusion from the city, a fear of the cultural erasure of its history, a desire for more density and activity, and provoking discussions on waste and material care in the recovery. This year’s event looks at the relationship between food and the city.
FESTA as a whole can be understood as being a kind of activist experiment in city-making.
Each FESTA has two parts: the first is a major event on Saturday night that features installations from hundreds of architecture students from around Australia and New Zealand. These students use their resourceful skills and creative powers to create spectacular installations that collectively address the central issue of each festival; the second is a field of activities that community organisations and individuals present over the four days of Labour Weekend – a smorgasbord of performance, workshops, family events, art, public talks, tours, dance, film and more.
FESTA as a whole can be understood as being a kind of activist experiment in city-making. Each of the festivals, and each of the events and installations at the festival, is trying to bring people into the city to have a positive experience, and to create interactions and engagements that might provoke thought and reflections about the city at the same time.
This is achieved in two ways – which can be explained through the planning for this year’s event. Firstly, the major event provides pleasurable, entertaining and salubrious experiences for crowds of people – something still relatively rare for the half-built central city. This year the headline event is called FEASTA!. It celebrates local food cultures and brings people to one of the new public spaces in Christchurch’s South Frame. It’s going to be an extravaganza of performance, food and design, exploring themes from The Future of Food through to Public Feasting, and featuring things like a children’s parade of wearable art made from food packaging, a demonstration station and speakers’ corner for all things food, games and activities, a Little Asia food market, a bar of the future and much more.
The festival is a kind of careful activism. It promotes new ways of thinking about the city and new ways of experiencing the city.
Secondly, the wider programme is designed to give space for thinking and talking about the theme or issue being addressed. This year’s programme includes mahinga kai tours and workshops; the mapping of food commons and food memories; bike tours of edible and pollinator friendly spaces; a symposium hosted by Simon Wilson at the new central library, which explores some of the challenges and issues involved in the growing and making of our food; outdoor film screenings complete with movies snacks prepared from food grown in community gardens. These and other activities give form to the problems and potentials of food and the city.
Collectively, the festival is a kind of careful activism. It promotes new ways of thinking about the city and new ways of experiencing the city. It’s not about browbeating people into changing their minds but about supporting and promoting those great local activists and businesses who are brave enough to push for change. To promote the city and to show that change can be exciting, joyful and caring. That activism can be as simple as a bike ride into town and participating in a meal with friends or strangers.
So, as the Creative Director of this year’s major event, FEASTA!, I encourage you to come along, join the fun, and participate in the making of your new city. If you support FESTA and this approach to making cities please help us with our public fundraising campaign. We love making FESTA but its increasingly hard to secure funding and sponsorship so we need your public support to keep this careful activism going.
Written by Barnaby Bennett
Barnaby Bennett is FESTA 2018's Creative Director. He is a designer, publisher and teacher, who is currently completing a PhD at UTS, Sydney, examining the political characteristics of temporary projects in post-quake Christchurch.
Pipe Dreaming, a collaboration between Massey College of Creative Arts and Julia Morison at FESTA 2016's headline event, Lean Means. Image by Peanut Productions Photography