Christchurch, some 4 years after the quakes

I had been to visit Christchurch about 9 or 10 years ago, before Anne Marie ever moved there and remember the city to be a vibrant one with lots of older stone buildings like in Ireland, something not really plentiful in the city of Vancouver.  Roll on to 2014 and it is a different story.  

The first quake was Sept 4th, 2010 and although did some damage, it happened in the middle of the night so not many people were injured.  The February 2011 and subsequent aftershocks caused some real damage and unfortunately 185 fatalities.  A second severe quake so soon after the first was the clincher.  Today, walking through the same downtown is a bit shocking after the quakes – mostly empty lots where buildings once were.  Many of the buildings that needed to come down have been demolished, leaving only the buildings left standing which need quake repair and strengthening.  

For those of us living in Vancouver and other earthquake zones, it might be timely to remind ourselves of what we should do during and after a quake, and how we should prepare ourselves in the event of one.  Who knows when we will get a quake, but there is clearly some shifting of the plates over the past while just off the west coast of Vancouver Island.

The Municipal Council is taking the opportunity to upgrade all sewage & water mains piping underground, and to re-plan the city centre to increase the number of urban dwellers in the downtown core ensuring they are provided with the services they need.  Not many cities get that kind of opportunity! 

You see these signs or something similar everywhere you go

You see these signs or something similar everywhere you go

This is the downtown, no buildings to speak of, many empty lots

This is the downtown, no buildings to speak of, many empty lots

The Catholic church where you can see, the two towers at the front and rotunda at the back are no longer.  This building will likely be demolished.

The Catholic church where you can see, the two towers at the front and rotunda at the back are no longer. This building will likely be demolished.

The old Christchurch Library slowly being demolished

The old Christchurch Library slowly being demolished

The beautiful Anglican cathedral, for so long an integral part of Christchurch's centre, badly damaged.  Whether to demolish/replace or repair/rebuild is a contentious issue in the city.

The beautiful Anglican cathedral, for so long an integral part of Christchurch’s centre, badly damaged. Whether to demolish/replace or repair/rebuild is a contentious issue in the city.

This is the Transitional Church, in place of the Anglican cathedral above - really beautiful inside

This is the Transitional Church, in place of the Anglican cathedral above – really beautiful inside

It’s also referred to as the Cardboard Church, primarily because of the materials used in building it.  Although initially thought to be a temporary building, there is now talk it may remain on the Christchurch skyline.

In the Feb 2011 quake, 185 people died, most were in the CTV building.  There is talk now of charging those involved in the design & construction of the CTV building with manslaughter as a result of it’s collapse during the quake.  An Inquiry has already found the building to be defective …. shocking really. Their memory has been immortalized in an art installation named 185 Chairs – a lovely idea.   The installation has been maintained over the past few years by the citizens of Christchurch – they will never be forgotten.

For me, my heart melted at the sight of so many chairs, the baby carrier and the wheelchair.

For me, my heart melted at the sight of so many chairs, the baby carrier and the wheelchair.

I liked this poem posted on a board close to the chairs.

I liked this poem posted on a board close to the chairs.  Double click to enlarge it.

Despite all this loss and destruction, I felt there is a definite feeling of hope for the future in Christchurch.  Immediately after the quakes, over 10,000 people left the city but most have since returned and the city is alive and well.  They have used innovative ways in which to keep the city centre going.  Take the ReStart Mall as an example.  A shopping precinct has been established along a street raised to the ground by the quake.  The shops, cafes and restaurants are made up of shipping containers and complete with funky designs – it feels to me a hip place to be.

This would be neat as a long-term thing!

Restart Mall.  This would be neat as a long-term thing!

Art is being used across the city to fill the blank walls and lots, and I think it genuinely makes a big difference to the mood of the place.

Example of an installation under the Big Walls exhibition that still exists today on the back wall of the Isaac Theatre (currently closed due to repair work)

Example of an installation under the 2013 Big Walls exhibition.  The piece still exists today on the back wall of the Isaac Theatre (currently closed due to repair work)

Another program is Greening Rubble, which as the name suggests, adds some plants for colour and texture to otherwise vacant lots.

Another program is Greening Rubble, which as the name suggests, adds some plants for colour and texture to otherwise vacant lots.

P1050441 (1024x768)

P1050442 (1024x768)

I loved the detail on this chain link fence surrounded a badly damaged building in the main square.

I loved the detail on this chain link fence surrounded a badly damaged building in the main square.

The tram line was badly damaged in the quake, and as the streets are slowly being upgraded, the tram lines are also being renovated.  Currently the tram line is only 7 stops but will be expanded to it’s former glory over time.

Tram stop near New Regent Street

Tram stop near New Regent Street

The recently renovated New Regent Street, home to boutique shops and many cafes, bars and restaurants.

The recently renovated New Regent Street, home to boutique shops and many cafes, bars and restaurants.

During the week, I was lucky enough to be here as Word Christchurch was underway.  Anne Marie and I got tickets to the sold-out Friday night gala event which saw 7 of international authors speak, read and perform on the topic of Brightness – a poignant topic for the city of Christchurch.  We thoroughly enjoyed it, and I also liked the MC – John Campbell – a New Zealand investigative journalist with huge enthusiasm and passion for any topic it seems!  While Anne Marie and Lyndon were at work, I got to go to two other events – all sold out too.  In fact the festival was a huge success, brought back to the pre-quake attendance.  Great stuff!

Referred to as the Garden City with it’s many parks and trees, rugby pitches and cricket grounds galore, it makes Christchurch a very livable city.  I liked the place.   I liked that there’s not so much traffic and the public transit system is pretty good.  Cycling around the city is a bit dangerous though, I think (but am not sure) the City are including bike lanes in their new and improved plans for Christchurch.  I liked how I found random people to be very friendly as I walked the city and it’s parks.  I liked the general feeling of hope amongst the people of Christchurch.  In fairness that is not to say people are hurting.  

Almost every house in Christchurch needed some kind of work as a result of the quakes.  Insurance companies being insurance companies, it’s hard to make a successful claim.   And when the claim eventually gets approved, there are delays in the City’s Planning Dept which prolongs the agony.  Once approved, try to find a builder.  So 4 years on, many people are still living in temporary accommodation, waiting for the rebuild.  Frustrating for sure.

Hot topics for New Zealand these days are the Dirty Politics – a book describing how dirty politics in New Zealand is poisoning the political environment there.  The General Election is set for Sept 20, 2014 and it is felt this discussion is detracting from each party’s platforms.  Kiwis follow every conceivable sport that their fellow countrymen are involved in and this week alone featured Kiwis (mostly winning) in international competitions in rowing, show jumping, tennis, basketball, triathlon and of course rugby with the infamous All Blacks.  This country is rugby mad and will go off the rails for next year’s Rugby World Cup 2015.

Tomorrow I leave Anne Marie and family in Christchurch, it’s just been wonderful spending time with Anne Marie and hang out with the family in all their day to day things.  It’s been just brilliant – thank you!  

I am heading to London and also Cork for a quick visit, before meeting up with Grace and Joe in Spain on Sept 9th – they have already started their Camino and so far so good! 

About Kate Coffey

After 25+ years in the investment management industry, I packed in my job and spent 2014 living and working in Nepal and Bangladesh, and visited some other places in between. It took me on a journey I did not expect, had me fall in love with Nepal and it's people, and become inspired at the work of Spinal Injury Rehabilitation Centre (SIRC) located 2 hours east of Kathmandu in the Sanga foothills. Since 2014, I have continued my warm relationship with SIRC and worked closely with my friends there in the aftermath of the 2015 earthquakes to date. This blog initially started out as a travelogue of sorts to keep friends and family worldwide updated while I was off on my travels in 2014. Since then it has morphed into a life story of the many places I have lived and worked and of the wonderful people I have met along the way. I hope you enjoy.
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One Response to Christchurch, some 4 years after the quakes

  1. Heather says:

    Kate thanks so much for your photos and observations. Loved Christchurch 20 odd years ago and good to see the rebuilding efforts. Good luck on the el camino and hi to all in Ireland. Heather

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