Just over 4 years ago Christchurch was hit with two major earthquakes, Sept 4 2010 and Feb 22 2011. The first quake was a wakeup call (literally – was around 4.30am) but luckily there was only lots of building damage.
185 people were killed in the second quake, two multistory buildings collapsed completely, and nearly all buildings in the CBD suffered damage of some kind. Roads broke up and the central city area was cordoned off behind a Red Zone that lasted over 2 years.
A few of my earthquake images are online – for a long time I was too shattered to go out with my camera.
All the pictures above were taken 2-3 years ago. The good news is they fixed the road above about 2 years ago, I drive over it to work every day.
The bad news is the rebuild is going really really slowly. Many buildings are yet to be demolished, asbestos is a problem now. Arguments with insurance companies and government departments mean people whose houses were damaged so badly they have been demolished are STILL waiting for things to be finalised and are struggling by living in rentals or with relatives. Or they have reached the rebuild process and having major issues because things are now much more expensive (especially foundations) and holdups are common.
Everyone has a story to tell, some are lucky, some are lucky to be alive, some are in a living hell and in the meantime we all have to live in a city where the central business area is gutted and damn near nothing is there – literally. Imagine for a moment, that the center of your city just vanished overnight along with ALL the businesses and services they used to provide. Your favourite coffee shop or cafe, all the department stores, libraries, banks, council offices. Everything completely gone and unable to be accessed. Thats what we had to deal with from Feb 22 and we still are.
I went out with my camera yesterday and recorded the center of the city as it is now.
But before you think this post is all “Woe is me, its all horrible and sad and broken”, well it’s true, it IS like that here. Yet the people and through them, the city itself endures. There is a certain grimness and gritting of teeth as you navigate yet another road closure on the way to work that wasn’t there yesterday, as you inquire of your friends and workmates where to find a place that does X or Y because many businesses shut and never reopened, and if they did open, you have to find them.
Its hard and tiring and wears you down, tempers are short, and we dread it when it rains (the roads flood really badly now cos the water table is higher), and its so much hassle to go across town to get to the places you need to, and the traffic is awful all the time cos of road closures.
But there are glimmerings of hope, construction is happening all over the city, and in the suburbs random buildings are going up as quick as they can make them, and there are some parts of the city that have been rebuilt – New Regent Street was a heritage area and fortunately survived the quakes well enough that it was fixed up and partially reopened about a year ago.
People are making an attempt to soften the harshness of the demolition sites, bringing vibrant art to available walls – we had some international graffiti artists do their thing, and its AMAZING
FESTA brings all sorts of art to Christchurch, Lux City was a light show last year, and this year it was CityUps – installations from architect students showing their vision of a Future Christchurch – I was there watching as they were putting everything together. The energy and enthusiasm and sheer sillyness of some of the creations was entertaining.
I I didn’t go to the night light show because when I went to Lux City it was HEAVING with people. We are starved for positive stimuli and entertainment here and it is heartening to see people out enjoying these events, but not necessarily ideal to be out in the dark trying to take photos 🙂
By now the chilly easterly had sent me off in search of somewhere to sit down and have a snack, so I headed to the new heart of shopping in town, The Colombo, where they built the new Belgian Beer Cafe in the carpark! Not kidding, thats how desperate we are for suitable space and how creative we have to be now.
The first instance of this was our Re:Start Container Mall, where a group of business owners got together and imported a whole heap of containers and set them up as shops on the land that their buildings used to be. They were a huge success, so much so that instead of removing them when the sites are being rebuilt, the Council agreed to move them to a smaller site, so they could continue to trade and provide services (and photo opportunities) to the public and tourists.
Its that kind of crazy that is holding Christchurch together, the random Gap Filler events (pianos on empty lots, sowing wild flowers, DanceOMat), Festa events and the sheer endurance of all the people who live in our damaged city. All the workers who came from overseas to do their bit and work in construction, funding the pubs and food trucks, all the business people who search long and hard to find new premises and work so hard to start over, the delight when you find a new hairdresser (don’t laugh, they were a major casualty of lost businesses!), all the new restaurants that have opened up (OMG Mexicano’s caramel popcorn icecream!)
Its hard, and its every day. And its frustrating because the rest of the country is like “are you *still* going on about it, that was years ago!” which is true. But its not fixed and probably won’t be for years.
We endure, and through us the city goes on. We embrace the artists and creative minds that care enough to want to help lighten our day in some way, we stop and smile for a moment at the absurdity of plastic ducks in a water logged construction sit, and we take the opportunity to try out a new place to eat, to sit in the sun and forget our hassles for a moment.
Its not really talked about every day, because we all know that the slog is still ahead of us, but we are a stoic bunch, us Mainlanders, and we don’t hope too hard, because we don’t want to lose even the faintest grasp on it.
There is hope, a fragile and precious thing right now. As time goes on maybe it will get a chance to grow and flourish, along with the city that so desperately needs it.
Why do I think there is hope? Well I found this in The Colombo as I walked in, it is a scale model of the Christchurch Cathedral, very badly damaged in the Feb 22 quake, and more so by the people who should be caring for and restoring it. Ongoing debate still rages about what should be done, while it stands there in ruins, testament to everything that has gone wrong since the quakes.
Yet this glorious creation was built by inmates at the local prison. One guy, frustrated at being inside and unable to assist post quake started building this out of copper. More and more guys joined him and this absolutely astounding thing of beauty was the result.
If prison inmates can envision and create such a thing, I think there is hope for the rest of us too.
Thanks for reading and have a great day 🙂