WSP Opus Research is identifying patterns of economic recovery following the quake

Rebuilding Christchurch’s CBD is estimated to take up to 20 years. Understanding the spatial dynamics of economic activity in the wake of the earthquakes will help inform the rebuilding process in the short term, as well as have an impact on risk analyses

Since the February 2011 earthquake, the Christchurch 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 suburban 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, researchers analysed secondary data sources relating to business relocations, economic activity and business demographics, using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to map the spatial patterns prior to and since the earthquakes.

Understanding spatial patterns

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 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 researchers are 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.