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Published: December 8th 2015
When you think of Christchurch what comes to mind? Most people know little about the city, if they know it exists at all, except for the fact it suffered extreme damage in an earthquake a few years ago. This was all I really knew.
To find out about the city we took a walking tour.
The dozens of square miles of flat car parks eloquently tell of the devastation wreaked by the intense and unprecedented seismic event experienced by the city... in large parts the city was literally flattened. In the centre, where the tour started, we saw the Cathedral. This tragic neo-gothic structure was half demolished and had a colony of birds living in what used to be its bell tower.
Our next stop was the Re:Start Mall. On the surface this looks like a sad collection of shipping containers. Inside though it is a collection of high-end shops and a thriving business community. Shipping containers are the first stage of rebuilding the city and offer the hope that for the survivors life can go on, almost as usual. The mall has shops selling books, clothes and gifts as well as numerous cafés and coffee shops. It
is a vibrant and bustling area which is well worth a visit. I really hope it stays after the rebuild because it is unique and a great place to hang out.
We left Re:Start and walked down the banks of the crystal clear Avon River. Not far from the shipping containers we had to pick our way past bulldozers to get to the Bridge of Remembrance. Christchurch's memorial to their fallen of World War One was prioritised for rebuilding in time for the Anzac commemorations this year but was not completed in time. It is almost ready now and is likely to be complete for next year's remembrance.
We continued on down the Avon, past an ugly Anthony Gormley statue and into the Botanic Gardens. We only saw the edge of the gardens but they looked pretty, if a little light on flowers. Outside the gardens, built in the same style as the cathedral, are the Museum and Arts Centre. These two buildings demonstrate the arbitrary nature of earthquakes. Two neighbouring buildings, built at the same time and in the same way - the Museum emerged from the quake completely unscathed and the Arts Centre suffered $180 million
We followed the street back towards the Cathedral and saw the beautiful old trams winding their way through the city. Near the cathedral we turned off onto Regent's Street, a parade of shops and cafés which have been rebuilt in their original style, showing what the city once looked like.
Walking on, through a small shopping centre, we came out to the most damaged part of the city. Here hardly a building was standing. We saw the ruins of a church which had almost been rebuilt following the first quake and was then hit by a second quake. Sadly, the only building still standing was a strip club with a grotesque mural on its walls. This was now made outstanding (in the worst possible way) by the wasteland that surrounded it. Not far from here, we were shown something more optimistic - the city's people have got together and donated time and materials to "Green the Rubble"; they are constructing gardens amidst the devastation.
Across the rubble we came to a new structure, shaped like a giant, gleaming aluminium tent. This is the city's new Cathedral which is made mainly from cardboard tubing. I really
loved the architecture. The front displays large plastic windows with pictures from the original stained glass of the old cathedral. Inside is bright, light and airy - completely unlike any other cathedral I've been to. We went to a service later that evening and it was an uplifting experience. The cathedral was built to be a temporary structure but I hope it endures.
Our next stop was the former Canterbury TV building. This building accounted for 115 of the 185 deaths in the earthquake and was completely devastated. Now, all that remains is a permanent memorial to the victims. Here our guide stopped to read from a book published by one of the survivors. It was a poignant passage showing life interrupted, and for some curtailed, by an event that was beyond anyone's power to predict, let alone control. Across the road was another memorial - one hundred and eighty five chairs, one for each of the victims, arrayed across a city block. I was shocked to see baby seats and school chairs - strangely it had never occurred to me that children were victims too.
Our tour was moving to its conclusion now and our guide took
us to a large area where new buildings are being constructed. There is such bustling building activity going on and the energy is almost tangible. I got the feeling we were witnessing the birth of a new, vibrant, global city. Out of the rubble is emerging something truly great, which no one could have envisioned before years of development were destroyed in an instant. Our guide expressed it well when he said, "you are witnessing just a moment of time, a temporary state and a city in transition." The earthquake was devastating and the city and it's people are still battling with its consequences. The pain of loss should not be minimised but it is important to recognise that Christchurch is being rebuilt and it feels like it will be better than before. There is a new community spirit and plans for a truly great, world-class city are already starting to be realised. It is an exciting time. I hope to visit again in a few year's time to see how this stage of the city's growth has transformed Christchurch.
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