Patterns of economic recovery after the quakes

Supported by funding from the National Hazards Research Platform, WSP Opus Research has embarked on a long-term research project to identify patterns of economic recovery following the Christchurch earthquakes.

Rebuilding Christchurch’s CBD is tipped to take up to 20 years. Our research into the economic activity after the earthquakes is helping to inform the rebuilding process. With funding from the Natural Hazards Research Platform, WSP Opus’ Central Labs is working on a long-term research project to identify patterns of economic recovery.

Since the February 2011 earthquake, the CBD has been largely cordoned off and businesses originally located there have moved to other parts of the city or country, or closed down. At the same time, identification of earthquake-prone buildings in the suburbs has also forced some non-CBD businesses to look for new premises.

As a result, the city’s suburbs have experienced a large influx of office-based businesses taking on previously under-utilised commercial properties. Other less mobile industries such as hospitality, however, have seen significant reductions in employment within the city.

For the first stage of the project, we analysed secondary data sources relating to business relocations, economic activity and business demographics, using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to map the spatial patterns before and after the earthquakes started in September 2010.

So far, the evidence has shown a significant shift away from the CBD as well as the eastern and southern sides of the city in favour of the suburban centres west of Colombo Street. The next stage will focus on learning from business owner-managers about the reasons behind these shifts and their likely implications for the rebuild.

In the short term, understanding these spatial patterns of economic activity could help identify potential problems within the rebuilding process that can then be quickly addressed through policy interventions. Longer term, in a country such as New Zealand that has population centres at risk from a range of hazard events, knowledge of the wider economic impacts could help enhance recovery and mitigation planning.

Our research team is working closely with the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority and the Christchurch City Council throughout the project and will continue to scrutinise secondary data sources as the city’s recovery progresses.