I never expected to cry while standing in the square at Christchurch. The ugly jagged scar of the earthquake four years ago in February 2011, when 185 people died, was so apparent that it took my breath away and I wept. This is a city which has experienced an intense trauma, and its everywhere you look.
I’d followed the news reports when the earthquake happened. As a New Zealander I was concerned but if I’m truthful I really didn’t take the time to understand the scale of the disaster. Even when I spoke to my friend, who had been home visiting, and driving in the city of Christchurch at the time of the quake, I still didn’t get the enormity of the devastation.
As a child in Wellington I’d lived through minor earthquakes and knew the school drills which had us standing in door frames or hiding under desks. While living in Lae, Papua New Guinea I watched roads roll and the water in swimming pools become waves during earthquakes. I thought that I had an understanding of what being in a serious earthquake would be like. I was delusional.
Somehow I thought that Christchurch would be back to normal, but it’s not. There are multistorey buildings which have been standing empty for four years; apparently it’s undecided as to whether they should be demolished or repaired. Some have been gutted but others stand with curtains drooping. There are huge gaps in the street scape, where people worked in shops, restaurants and offices, the buildings now demolished and the rubble cleared.
The Christchurch Cathedral, once the focal point of the city, stands behind a fence as if abandoned, with the rubble of its spire and tower hopefully awaiting a rebuild. It’s open to the weather and there is a plea for an extra $20 million, beyond the insurance payout, required to rebuild it to its former condition.
Yet Christchurch is clawing its way back and becoming a vibrant city. Restaurants have opened, quirky, brightly painted pop up shops in containers have revitalised the CBD and remarkable street art softens the scar. There are some stunning new buildings.
Jan from Christchurch City Bike Tours showed us her city on a fabulous two hour tour. She shared the beautiful parks and green spaces which she visited frequently to find solace in the aftermath of the trauma. She said that it’s still hard for the community to bring large groups of people together, such as for a wedding, as all the hotels and wedding reception venues were destroyed. She’s angry at the insurance companies who are contesting payouts and recognises that the delay in demolition and rebuilding exacerbates the trauma that the people of this city experience. She is hopeful that the rebuild, where most buildings will be no higher than four storeys, will eventually create a beautiful well planned city….with bike paths.