Not much is certain in Christchurch these days. But one certainty is that in the coming years, the city will be radically different from what it was 18 months ago.

With so much of the central city wrecked by the recent earthquakes, the old English heritage is rapidly disappearing and leaving a blank canvas. The city council vision now is for a smaller, shorter and more green central business district.

Suburban Christchurch will also see drastic change, with some red-zoned riverside eastern suburbs like Bexley and Avonside virtually disappearing from the landscape.

Abandoned housing and commercial buildings are to be cleared from these suburbs where the land is considered too costly to repair, with only parks and grassland likely to be left in their place.


Although this immense change is bringing a sense of loss for many Christchurch people, it also presents huge opportunities. Many who have chosen to stay after the quakes cite as a reason the rare opportunity to be part of the creation of a new city.

Some prominent overseas observers have already taken note of the exciting possibilities that lie ahead.

Influential United States magazine Foreign Policy has ranked Christchurch alongside New York and Singapore as one of the world's top 10 cities to watch.

Christchurch came in at number nine, with Harvard University economist Edward Glaeser saying: "A massive rebuilding effort following [last] year's New Zealand earthquake is a unique opportunity to rethink urban form."

Internationally renowned publisher Lonely Planet recently said Christchurch was re-emerging as one of New Zealand's "most exciting cities".

The Christchurch City Council draft plan for the central city lays out a $2 billion vision of a "safe, sustainable, high-tech, low-rise city in a garden". This plan is now in the hands of Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee for consideration.

It proposes a more compact CBD characterised by new low-rise buildings, no greater than six to seven storeys. Most of the deaths in the February quake were in multi-storey buildings.

"Our people have told us very clearly, 'we don't want to go into those tall buildings any more'," said Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker.

"They don't have a place in our city."

Engineers have found most of the land in the central city is safe to rebuild on, but liquefaction-prone areas closest to the Avon River - which runs through central Christchurch - will not be built on.

A proposed $406 million light rail system would connect the city centre to Canterbury University in the northwest suburbs.

In the suburbs, as some parts disappear, other parts will grow.

New residential land in the north and west of Christchurch is being fast-tracked for development to accommodate those forced to leave the red-zoned land.

The future, though, for some people living in eastern and hillside suburbs is still uncertain as they await further instruction on whether they can stay put.

Mr Parker boldly sees Christchurch's future as a "world-class city".

"We would all rather [the earthquakes] hadn't happened, but this is a chance to seize the moment. I don't think many cities around the world have ever had this opportunity."