Erica Austin is typical of a large section of the young business population in Ōtautahi Christchurch. She works from a co-working space, often bikes the short distance to work, and talks at length about her positive relationship with the city.
“I’m a person who looks for a career that fulfills my multiple passions,” Austin said – something she found in Christchurch. She classifies herself as a multi-potentialite, inspired by Emilie Wapnick’s TEDx Talk on those with more than one true calling.
After completing her Masters of Architecture at the University of Auckland, Austin did a full-year Masters thesis on the rebuild of Christchurch. Her many trips south, and conversations with a diverse southern population, convinced her to cancel the return ticket and explore the opportnity in a new city.
Austin, 29, now runs EA Curation, a company “curating meaningful experiences” including education programmes, entrepreneurial challenges, physical spaces and city-making movements.
She also helps deliver TEDxChristchurch, which recently held its tenth annual event at the newly reopened Christchurch Town Hall, and is helping to develop Learning City Christchurch, a global movement to create learning ecosystems in and out of school.
“I am originally from Guangzhou in China. Our family moved to New Zealand in 1997 when I was seven, and I grew up in Auckland,” she said.
“We lived out east and taking the bus to town took over an hour each way. It became pretty frustrating when you think about spending nearly three hours on transport each day, time that could be used meaningfully.”Erica Austin
“We lived out east and taking the bus to town took over an hour each way. It became pretty frustrating when you think about spending nearly three hours on transport each day, time that could be used meaningfully.”
Shorter commutes are the norm in Christchurch, an attractive bonus to living in an accessible city. The average commute is 19 minutes, and the city is easily navigated. Austin said she will often have a meeting at the University of Canterbury in the morning, a lunchtime meeting at Sumner beach, and be back in town for an afternoon catch up – all before a 5pm finish to get home.
Expecting a baby in February, Austin said her and her husband were “so excited about the stage Christchurch is at”. They were particularly excited about the recently opened Ao Tawhiti Unlimited Discovery school in the CBD.
“We think it’s going to be so cool to bring up a child and have a family life here. I work at Biz Dojo in the middle of town, and my husband works at the Boxed Quarter, and we’d love our baby to grow up in this urban environment and develop a good relationship with the city,” she said.
Ōtautahi Christchurch has flourished in recent years into a progressive and disruptive urban centre. It is retaining more of its young people, attracting Kiwis and migrants who are ready to challenge the staus quo, and the working demographic has shifted.
Co-working spaces are abundant across the city. The CBD is home to more than a dozen, and the concept has spread to beachside suburbs New Brighton and Sumner, and more urban areas like Addington and Waltham. The largest is Biz Dojo, running over multiple floors in the SALT District.
“When we lived in Guangzhou, living in apartment spaces, I felt quite insignificant. Moving to Auckland was my parents’ choice, but Christchurch is where I choose to be my home,"Erica Austin
“When we lived in Guangzhou, living in apartment spaces, I felt quite insignificant. Moving to Auckland was my parents’ choice, but Christchurch is where I choose to be my home,” she said.
“I feel committed to the community and am actively participating in lots of different aspects of this community, and that’s something I didn’t feel in Auckland.”