My first encounter to Christchurch was fellow kiwis telling me it was a building site and that they had cafes and shops in shipping containers. I thought this was New Zealand laughing at the second biggest city for not getting themselves back on track as after all it has been three years.
I was always looking forward to ChCh, the English city as it was known. Streets named after towns and counties in the UK. As I arrived along state highway one, pass the airport I encountered roadworks which at the time I thought was normal for a large city. I would later find out that they were having to rebuild the roads with large foundations due to liquefaction. If you don’t know what I’m talking about look it up, or remember back to your earthquake lesson in geography.
As I approached the city the true state of devastation grew. Roads closed, which again I would find out would change daily. It was like a bomb had gone off, large areas of ground with moulds of rumble, diggers, cranes, hi-viz jackets everywhere. Why had it taken so long, surly they could have rebuilt by now.
The following day with my camera in hand I set about ready to become a post quake tourist. Snapping waste ground, after waste ground. Looking at buildings that only have there front being propped up with shipping containers. Streets fenced off, roads only suitable for walkers. Buildings that had laid vacant for 3 years which nature had started to reclaim with bushes and trees where windows and chimneys use to be, every so often would be a functioning building.
It had only been a couple of weeks before that they had reopened the red zone, the main area which suffered the worse damage. I find out that the reason the rebuild is taking so long is paperwork. Insurance not want to pay, landlords wanting to sell, people not wanting to buy the land. Half the buildings still standing need to be demolished, even those that survived the quake like the town hall and art gallery will need to go due to the fact the ground underneath is not safe. Some buildings like the world famous cathedral could be saved, but the city and residents have decided against due to the reconstruction cost over €150,000,000 and taking up to 30 years to bring it back to its picturesque wonder.
So the building site was correct, but what about the shipping containers. Sure as I have said I have seen the containers stacked 5 stories high against buildings to stop them falling, but as I wandered off Manchester street onto Cashell street I was confronted with container city. Shipping containers, with glass sides, stacked in zigzag formations housing shops, bistros, coffee houses. Smaller ones being used to hold toilets, or cash machines and temporary art displays that has used the quake and post quake as stimulus, including an exhibition of the quake and aftermath.
I decided to have a look around the quake experience to fully understand the days events and the weeks after the 6.5 quake. Videos of people reliving the nightmare. Those stuck in rumble, or running into the city to find there kids school only to fear the worse. Stories of being reunited, people walking through dust clouds as their city collapsed around them. This was evoked by a piece of public art I saw on the way into the city. 185 white chairs opposite the once CTV building that tumbled during the quake and aftershocks. Each chair representing a life that was lost on that day.
As I stood looking, reading the description inviting me to sit in a chair I was was surrounded by empty plots of land some that had been cleared others that still had concrete blocks with steel poles that were twisted and doubled back on themselves. As I sat watching the Christchurch traffic flow by on Hereford street the thought that this city looked like the quake had only happened last week, but the reality that the strong will of the citizens to get themselves back up and carry on as normal is a true sign to the determination and shows the love that these people hold for there city. Business, culture, shopping, entertainment and day to day living is happening as if nothing happened.
You wouldn’t think that people had to dig holes in the garden for toilets, and had to rebuild there homes, burial there loved ones and rebuild there business’s and lives.
The idea for the rebirth is too have several areas, and to open the city up. Some of the old buildings will remain but the majority will be a new Christchurch for a new start. As I walked around and talked to people, the true horror of being in a quake with the stunned aftermath of surviving when you thought the world was coming to the end came through, but even stronger was survival and can do attitude. The state of emergency in the ten weeks following the quake helped to kick start the inspiration and adrenalin of this city into the re-start that is continuing and will carry on even when the last cranes have been removed.
The rebuild has consulted everyone on what the new Christchurch should look like and contain. After 3 years they have a long way to go, but they are on the path to recovery and I look forward to seeing it when complete.
By the end of my time, I had stopped taking photos and the backdrop of building sites, of a desolate barren post apocalypse landscape had transformed into just a very unique town getting on with it life.