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Pledging to make Christchurch a brave new city

Christchurch social entrepreneur Michael Reynolds was living in the CBD at the time of the Christchurch earthquakes in 2010 and lost his job in the aftermath. Now he’s taking to crowdfunding site PledgeMe in a bid to revitalise Christchurch as a creative city.

How did you come up with the Brave New City concept?

A Brave New City was borne as an idea at the end of 2013, mostly from a place of frustration at the lack of foresight being shown by the leaders of the redevelopment of our city. I hate the word rebuild. It implies replacing a city that, before the earthquakes, was functioning at a high level. It wasn’t. It was a nice place to live, but what was our physical environment adding to our sense of well being? A Brave New City is putting the human experience and well being at the centre of building a new city for the people of Christchurch. Asking people to be inspired and to inspire others through using our imaginations and hearts to dream about the possibilities that lay in front of us. Introducing a modicum of democracy to our city through a process of encouraging input and then refining peoples visions of our shared future. All of this does have an end goal. It is to facilitate a change of the underlying reasons as to what is driving the building of our new city and to gather communities to co-create community infrastructure, thus allowing communities to act in a more direct democratic way and have influence of their own futures.

What avenues have you used to get the public involved?

I adopted a project based in San Francisco called the Neighborhood Postcard Project – it is a project that invites people to share stories of living in a place. The stories are then mailed out to random addresses within that neighborhood to foster community. I thought that it could be a good and fun way for people to share in a positive way & shift the focus, even for a short time, from now to the future. I have been popping up at farmers markets and presenting at a few community events around Christchurch since the launch at the Pallet Pavilion at the end of March this year. And of course, there is social media. I have been using this as a tool to find ideas and things that challenge peoples visions of the present and future. Inviting comment and encouraging people to share what it is that should be driving Christchurch into the next 100 years.

How many billboards will you have and where will they be – what sort of questions will be on the billboards?

Ideally I would like to have 20. My target of $1200 will get me up to 10. I have been extremely lucky to find an old friend, Amber Moke, that is a graphic designer and passionately behind my cause. Amber is designing my posters and billboards free of charge. The questions will all relate to the infrastructure of the city and how we live our lives. What is the energy future for our city? What public spaces would you like to see in your community? What is the future of local food production in our city? What is the future of public transport in Christchurch? What role can education play in the future of our city? Where will natural environments fit in within our city scape in a future for Christchurch? What emotional response do you want our physical environment to create in the future version of Christchurch? The questions have to be broad, so as to not guide the responses. I am not here to create a justification for my own ideals, I want to provide a space for people to emote about their future in Christchurch.

What will you do with all the ideas and feedback and what are your ultimate goals from this?

The ultimate goal is to find ways to create community initiated and supported projects to influence the infrastructure of the city. Civic improvements by the citizens, for the citizens. It is for the people of this city to create our own future.

What did you do before starting the Brave New City initiative?

I was working in the CBD at the time of the earthquakes as a manager of a retail store. I have a Bachelors Degree in Marketing and Diploma of Event Management. My work history has allowed me to develop an ability to relate to people and people are usually quite comfortable to converse and share with me. I started working on my first social enterprise, One Man Revolt, that I started with the help of a friend, Ben Cullen. We were passionate about the failings of the capitalist political and financial culture that had become entrenched in our society. One Man Revolt was a vehicle to break that down, challenge people, and to seek to inform and inspire people of changes that they could make in their own lives to affect social change. It was hugely ambitious and hasn’t really worked. It is on the back burner for now, as I seek a way to redevelop it.

What was your experience of the Christchurch earthquake?

My wife Rose and I were living in the CBD at the time of the earthquakes, not far from both the PGC and CTV buildings. We had a 10 month old baby at the time, our now 4 year old daughter Sienna. My wife was made redundant on the day of the earthquakes and I was made redundant not long after. We were living inside the army cordon zone and had to carry passports and proof of address every time we wanted to leave the CBD. We were renting, so we didn’t have the added complication of EQC to deal with, but at the same time we were increasingly at the mercy of a housing market that was out of control. Rents were rising with every six month lease, even though we were living in a decimated neighborhood. Every reason we had for choosing to live in the CBD had long gone. Rose found a job quicker than I did, so I was a stay at home dad for 12 months until we became pregnant with our second daughter, Soren. By that time we had moved out of the CBD and into the suburbs. Living in the CBD was both depressing and inspiring at the same time. It was during the time living in the CBD that we contemplated leaving New Zealand and relocating to US (where my wife was born), but we grew too attached to Christchurch and what we saw as the huge opportunity that lay in front of us as a city. I am stay at home dad again, with a couple of days a week to devote to A Brave New City. I work casually in the evenings and weekends, between two and four times a week. It is a commitment that is shared within our family. Rose and I feel passionate about being part of creating a vibrant, human focused and creative city for our daughters to grow up and prosper in.

How can people contribute to this initiative?

Share with me. Be open to pushing the boundaries of what is possible and then help find ways of creating a well being focused city. They can also support my Pledgeme campaign. There are some worthwhile rewards on there and it is a fantastic way for people outside of Christchurch to support positive action on the ground down here. All support is wholeheartedly appreciated and motivates me to keep finding ways to create inspiration in the city.

?What will the PledgeMe funds be used for?

I have been engaging at farmers markets and community events. I feel now it is time to make the next step and create a forum to facilitate people inspiring each other. The Pledgeme funds will firstly go towards a series of billboards that pose questions about what lies ahead for Christchurch and then provides space for people to write/share. I am hoping to create a dense forest of billboards on vacant land in the CBD, and possibly locate some in outlying suburbs. How many I can build will be determined by how successful the campaign is. My $1200 target is a bare minimum to create up to 10 billboards, I would love to do more.

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