Garden City – image put under the spotlight

A special issue of New Zealand Geographer considers how Christchurch’s colonial past continues to shape present day life in the city, often in disturbing ways that are unnoticed or denied by many visitors and residents.

Dr Julie Cupples of the University of Canterbury, who co-edited the special issue with UC colleague Dr Kevin Glynn, says Christchurch’s early settlers deliberately introduced many features of England into their new environment.

“This colonial version of Englishness has provided a powerful set of images which promoters have used to commend the city to tourists and investors. While this image may be appealing in some ways, it is also slanted in favour of particular social groups and doesn’t adequately capture Christchurch’s cultural diversity,” she says.

“It excludes Christchurch’s indigenous, immigrant, youth and working class identities, or it presents them in ways that we find to be distressing.”

The articles in the special issue of New Zealand Geographer are based on research by scholars in New Zealand, the UK and Canada into issues such as how the city has been shaped by its interactions with Maori, Asian and other cultural influences; how the city is depicted in local and global media; and why the city’s residents struggle amongst themselves over its competing architectural styles, the presentation of its suburbs, and the presence of native plants and trees in key areas.

“The articles look at some of the predominant meanings and images we associate with Christchurch and why,” says Dr Glynn. “They also consider how social groups who may feel unwelcome or excluded from certain parts of the city assert different understandings of the experience of living here.”

Dr Glynn adds: “What we wanted to do with the special issue was to examine important and sometimes controversial elements of Christchurch life in ways that will encourage people to think about them differently.”

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