The challenge for post-earthquake leaders is working out "how do you get the old heart of Christchurch to beat inside its new skin", and to help residents and visitors re-establish an emotional connection to the new city, a leaders forum heard on Monday.
The Christchurch City Leaders Forum, the first in a series of invitation-only discussions, has been designed for key city leaders to address how the recovering city maintains its "social and economic momentum" started by the multi-billion dollar rebuild.
A panel that included business leaders and innovators, along with Minister Supporting Greater Christchurch Regeneration Nicky Wagner and Mayor Lianne Dalziel, discussed whether the city needed a vision or theme for its recovery.
The inhabitants of a city require an emotional connection to the place where they live, said Malcolm Johns, chief executive of Christchurch International Airport.
"The leadership challenge here is how do you get the old heart of Christchurch to beat inside its new skin? And until you can do that, people won't emotionally connect to the city," Johns said, prompting applause from the audience.
Prominent central city developer Richard Peebles said the central city anchor projects, once completed, will bring the heart back to the quake-decimated city.
"We're the Garden City, maybe we should be again," he said.
Christchurch tech entrepreneur Wil McLellan and Lauren Bliss Merritt, "chief awesome officer" of the Ministry of Awesome, both felt there had been missed opportunities during the rebuild, but felt optimistic about the city's future.
Wagner liked the fact that the city has "turned around" and now faced the Avon River.
She wanted people-friendly spaces from Hagley Park to the sea, and opportunities for people to get out and enjoy green spaces on their doorsteps.
Robyn Wallace, chief executive of He Oranga Pounamu, said having an emotional connection tied people to their land and space.
Wagner was asked by a member of the audience whether the city should be bound to the city's rebuild blueprint - created in just 100 days in the still shaky days after the February 22, 2011 disaster.
She believed the city should be as it was designed, as a plan for people to make their plans around.
"It may not be perfect but at least it's something - we know where we are going."
Johns said anchor projects included in the blueprint, like the convention centre, metro sports centre, and new stadium, were all "critical" to the CBD's recovery.