Sunday, December 11, 2011

Christchurch: Rebuilding after the earthquake

We started telling people we were going to New Zealand right about the time of the first Christchurch earthquake.   This understandably made friends and family nervous.  Then they had the second devastating earthquake, and we started having people ask us if we were still planning to go there.  Even a few days before we had someone tell us not to bother because it was depressing and they were still occasionally feeling aftershocks.  I still stubbornly refused to alter our plans, and I was glad we didn’t.

It has been nearly a year since the second big earthquake, and the city center of Christchurch is still closed to both traffic and pedestrians.  Much of downtown is punctuated with areas like this:

While a lot of the rubble has been cleared away, they are just now starting the process of demolishing a lot of the buildings downtown that are unsafe.  However, in October they opened a walkway through a part of downtown and to the Cathedral in the center of town, so the people of Christchurch could get a last look before demolition starts in January. Before then, it had not been safe to pass through anywhere.  Even so, they asked you to keep your ID on your person and not in a purse as you walked through, and every person in and out was counted.  To our parents:  We made it through with no problems, so don’t worry through the rest of this description. 

The Cathedral at Christchurch was the city’s grand centre.  It had a beautiful stained glass rose window.  This is what is left of the Cathedral:

Depressing—definitely.  So why am I glad we went?  Because the people of Christchurch are amazingly resilient, and my visit downtown might have shown me these disheartening sights, but it also afforded surprisingly hopeful ones.  Daniel read that they have plans to build the Cathedral again twice.  Once out of cardboard (yes, a full scale cardboard cathedral), so that people can still gather there for the 5-10 years it will take to rebuild a permanent one.

We also came across sites like this:

It’s a community project to replant trees and flowers downtown called “Greening the Rubble.”  They seemed to be very active already as we saw a profusion of spring flowers in the areas they have started to rebuild, and even a small patch of sunflowers.

They even have built one of the coolest shopping areas I’ve ever seen out of shipping containers.  There was one large department store downtown that survived.  Around it they have built a temporary mall that I thought was amazing:

They even had shipping container bathrooms:

Their food court was food trucks and picnic tables, which added a decidedly festive air.  There was even the Salvation Army Band playing Christmas Carols while people did their Christmas shopping:

This billboard in the background seemed to sum up what the atmosphere of the city was:

It says, “The Christchurch we love is still here.” 

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