Christchurch, A City Rebuilding

It is impossible to go to Christchurch and not be struck by the destruction that is all around. The earthquake happened over 3 years ago, February 2011, but the aftermath is still present throughout the city.

The City Center is a mixture of empty plots, collapsed buildings, construction sites, and, what seems like the smallest percentage, functioning buildings. The Cathedral remains half in ruins, a prominent reminder of what happened and how long the process can be to fix it; some people want it rebuilt like it was, others want it torn down and replaced, so it stands in limbo, surrounded by a decorated chain-link fence, awaiting its verdict. Part of the city has been zoned as condemned; it will be turned into green space because it is permanently unstable for buildings. After talking with Alana and Sarah about the process of trying to buy a house – if the house can be bought it often needs the foundation and cracked walls to be fixed before it can attain the proper insurance, a costly process – I realized just how widespread the damage goes, affecting what used to be normal decisions, and why so many people left Chch after it happened. It is easy to see why people who visit Chch leave with an impression of sadness.

The city is injured.

But the city is recovering.

I left Chch optimistic. The city has devised a plan to rebuild Chch. They have already successfully used alternative materials to make new structures: in the Re:Start Mall shipping containers house shops, cafes, and bathrooms; and Shigeru Ban created a temporary Cathedral out of cardboard tubes, timber, steel, polycarbon, and shipping containers. Interesting disaster relief architecture has sprung up in Chch. Public art is everywhere – murals on the sides of dilapidated buildings, sculptures commemorating the quake, artistic seating covered in grass and flowers, and the aforementioned decorated chain-link fences – turning destruction into beauty.

I spent half an hour in the Rebuild Christchurch office talking about the master plan for the city. (Probably an unprecedented amount of time. When I walked in one of the guys halfheartedly showed me a video, but once we got talking and they found out what I used to do they showed me the marketing materials and planning documents and we played with their high-powered Google Earth for a while. Interesting people.) They are turning an unfortunate incident into an opportunity to change Chch for the better. They’re implementing new zoning, new transportation and pedestrian plans, and adding more public amenities. It will still be a few years before it’s realized but it has begun. Aside from all of this rebuilding there is a reason Chch is called the Garden City: it still has great parks all around. I could have spent a day just wandering around the wonderful Botanical Gardens.

So yes, Christchurch is still hurting from the earthquake, but I chose to look beyond that destruction and see the vibrant city that is trying to come out of it. It’s still early but it’s happening. If you don’t like construction, don’t go there just yet, but I for one am very curious to see what it will be like in a few years. Christchurch, I’ve got my eye on you.



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