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Published: November 2nd 2011
As Far as the Eye Can See
It was tough to grasp seeing so much emptiness in what should be a busy section of downtown.
- Matt Hogel
As this blog did not exist when Liza first arrived in Christchurch, I figured that I would make a solo contribution offering the perspective of someone arriving in the city for the first time. It took me two weeks of living in Christchurch before venturing downtown. From the impressions I had been given from people living here longer than I, people don’t go into the city anymore. The downtown is closed off and people speak of the city in the past tense. Liza lives in a suburb of Christchurch called Ilam in a rowhouse-style apartment adjacent to the University of Canterbury. Ilam is 7 km from downtown and is similar to what Nepean is to Ottawa, or Bedford is to Halifax; city the entire way, but not walking distance. I have no comparison for Toronto. Sorry. The point of the comparisons is that travelling downtown takes effort, and for the effort required there is not much point. Like most human beings, I had to see things with my own two eyes before believing what so many people had reiterated, so Liza and I made the trip downtown to make our own judgement on the state of affairs.
Keeping it Together
Steel girders hold the building face standing next to one of many cranes that pepper the skyline.
As anyone could have predicted, reality was not very different from the images that had been provided by others. Regardless, it was an interesting experience and one that I am glad we had. It was something unique to see a city that is no longer a city. The juxtaposition between what you expect from a city and what we witnessed resonated. You expect a city to have crowded sidewalks, but the smattering of people wandering the busiest of downtown streets seemed to be, just like us, trying to gain some kind of perspective. The silence was far louder than the noise that is generally taken for granted in a busy downtown core. We stood at fences marking the boundaries of areas off limits to civilians and stared for blocks and blocks. Every so often a worker in a neon vests would wander out of a construction area into the street, shaking the thought that it all couldn’t possibly be real. We saw steel girders standing diagonally, rooted in the street, the only thing keeping the brick facades of buildings from crumbling. The most lasting image for me was the spray paint on the windows of all the buildings. I didn’t
The markings on the door of a once upscale restaurant indicate that all people have been cleared from the building.
know what it meant. Liza informed me that it indicated that the building had been cleared of people following the earthquake. The messiness of the markings reflects the panic in the days following the disaster. The fact that the markings remain is an indication that this city stopped being a city on February 22, 2011.
This experience isn’t about living in a new city and experiencing new surroundings. There isn’t much to be said about Ilam. You can probably paint a fairly accurate picture of it in your own mind knowing that it is a suburb of a big city. Our Christchurch experience is coloured by the people surrounding us. Liza shares her five-bedroom apartment with her schoolmates Caryn, Dayna, Jason and Jenna. They are all Canadian, from central/southern Ontario. Everyone in the house is wonderful, as are all of Liza’s other friends that I have come to know. Chris, Ashley, Derek, Lui, and Colin are Canadians and Jared, Pete, and Russ are native Kiwis that Liza has met through teacher’s college. Every adventure we have had and will have while living in Christchurch is born from, and executed by this group of people. I have only known them
In an effort to temporarily revive life in the city, a pedestrian mall has been opened in downtown Christchurch using containers from cargo ships as retail space.
for a few weeks, but those weeks have provided enough of a preview to know that they are all fantastic people and whether individually or in combination, they are all willing and able to initiate or accelerate great experiences. Although Christchurch may not have much to offer as a city at this moment in time, the circle of friends that Liza has developed will ensure that our Christchurch experience will be a memorable one.
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