Yesterday we came home passing through Christchurch.
Since the devastating earthquake on 22 February, 2011, 1,616 days have passed. Human expectations vary, but for those who don’t live there, it comes as a shock to see how much, and how little has been done to restore this beautiful city. Perhaps the most telling thing, to me, is the number of empty spaces where fine buildings once stood. True that there are a lot of construction sites, a lot of cranes, a lot of fenced off areas where work is happening. My memory goes back to the time I spend in Osnabruck, Germany as a child in the early fifties, when bomb sites were still common, seven years after the war. Among the earliest defiant beacons of hope for recovery in Christchurch was the Restart Mall in the area adjacent to Oxford Terrace between Cashel and Lichfield Streets. It was constructed using 40 foot shipping containers as the structural basis. Bright colours and varied food outlets defy the misery that might follow the disaster.
Across the road to the South between Lichfield and Tuam Streets the block has been cleared and new tower blocks are going up, and I would wager the structural integrity of these buildings will be the highest in the world.
Next, we parked on Manchester Street and went back round the corner to High Street where at least one older building survives, though its near neighbours did less well.
Looking back down High Street to the South East, I was delighted to see the tourist tram rumbling towards us. It was knocked out in the September 2010 earthquake, and they got it up and running again before the big one in February 2011. And here it is again, making its jaunty way around the tourist loop from Cathedral Square down Oxford Tce and Cashel St, then back up High St to the square.
Cranes are everywhere. This block to the west of High Street between Hereford and Cashel has two tower cranes, three large mobile cranes and a pile driver. It’s going to be a long haul.
I saw the cranes as a symbol of hope, and noticed one reflected in surviving windows of the old BNZ building on the corner of Hereford and Colombo streets.
Cathedral Square was almost deserted on a bright Winter Sunday morning. The old Post Office building looks remarkably intact, though the safety fence around it suggests that it is unsafe. It is still a fine looking building and I would like to see it preserved.
John Robert Godley still maintains his watch over the city, as he has done since 1850. Sadly, the plinth on which he stands is shaky, and steel barriers keep the public at a distance.
Of course no visit to the square is complete without viewing the cathedral. Heartbreak and hope combine in this most Cantabrian building of all. Opinions are many on the replacement or restoration question. I have no stake in that battle except to say that I think the people who should decide are the members of the Cathedral parish of the Anglican diocese in Christchurch.
Kia kaha, stay strong, good people of Christchurch.