• Laura Moir

Pre-Quake Christchurch: Street View Time Capsule

Updated: Sep 2, 2020


While I moved to Christchurch in 2017, I've spent most of my life in Dunedin. At 15, my experience of the earthquakes was just watching the news, following the devastation along with the rest of the nation. My experience of the city has been one of renewal and constant change.

Around March I started working for UC on the QuakeBox Take 2 project. Listening to the stories, I couldn't relate it to my few memories of pre-quake Christchurch nor my recent experience of Christchurch. Like with everything else, I turned to the internet to improve my understanding of the change and growth of the city.

Google Maps street view was by far my favourite tool for conceptualising this change. The street view photos have been taken sporadically around New Zealand since at least 2007. With the Time Machine feature, you can view the same spot in different years.

Below are static screenshots from the panorama pictures of Colombo Street facing the Cathedral and Tūranga over the last 10 years. I have no idea what the building that used to be there was, and I think that proves my point.

Here are the interactive maps are embedded - first 2008, then 2019.

With the ability to move down the streets, this is a perfect tool to conceptualise the city's change. Have a wander down Colombo street, using the mouse to move around the image and the arrows to navigate the streets. What a neat time capsule!

There's an issue with this process. If you choose an adjacent spot that wasn't captured on that year's run, it reverts to the next-oldest Street View image. This makes it hard to have a full immersive 'pre-quake' stroll. As various parts of the city (especially the CBD) have been blocked from traffic across the years, the areas that the street view fleet captured are patchy. One click you'll be in 2007 on Cashel street, the next 2015, then 2010, and then it can be impossible to find the original 2007 images. Often you know that an old panorama exists on a street but have trouble finding the right stream.

This had me thinking. How much of the city was photographed before 2011? Would it be possible to create a version of the Street View environment that only shows you pre-quake Street View photos? Google has promised to keep all of the imagery from before the earthquakes. From the API documentation I can read, it looks possible. That's my way of saying, if you are reading this and know how to develop using Maps API, please help me.


My other odd job is in a youth tech centre. We are lucky enough to have a VR headset, which is a great draw for teens and also a fantastic foray into interactive tech for the young at heart. We love showing people the Google Earth VR experience. It's Google Earth 'on steroids'. Here you can explore the earth by moving it with your hands, fly across digital mountains, have a interactive experiences of historical and cultural landmarks. What's great and relevant here, is the ability to zoom in to street level and enter the 360˚ view, which is essentially an enhanced street view experience.

In this video, a user demonstrates the Google Earth VR app and its ease of navigation. To move, you just point the controller and move in the street view environment.

What if... we combined them?

What would it mean to people, to be able to stroll the streets of pre-earthquake Christchurch in VR? For long-time residents and new arrivals alike, I believe this could be a wonderful, rare opportunity to experience the city that once was.

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I've written previous blog posts on my passion project of sharing pre-quake Street View imagery of Christchurch. See here and here! Some months ago (took me that long to make a write-up, thanks life!)


©2019 by LauraMoir