The Opportunities Christchurch Faces

For those of you not in the know, Christchurch and the greater Canterbury region was rocked by several larger earthquakes over the past two years and two months.

It all started with the September 2010 Canterbury earthquake, 40 kilometers west of Christchurch.  Being further out from Christchurch, the damage to the city itself was not as severe as the extremely close February 2011 Christchurch earthquake, which severely damaged the city, killed 185 people and injured at least 2,000 people.  As if that wasn’t enough for our battered city, the June 2011 Christchurch earthquakes and December 2011 Christchurch earthquakes rattled the city with a few good blows.  Throw in 11,000+ aftershocks into the mix, and we’ve really been rattled good.

Strands Arcade after the February 2011 Quakes
Strange’s Building after the February 2011 Quakes – Our hairdresser’s salon was located in this building. He wasn’t there at the time, but luckily his worker heeded his advice and stayed inside during the quake. – Taken by BeckerFraser Photos (Ross Becker and Moira Fraser)

After the February 2011 quake, the city (between the “Four Avenues”) was shut down with a cordon enforced by the Police and Armed Forces, including those from other countries such as Australia and Singapore.  Over the following months, the cordon was reduced, but there is still a Red Zone (including most of the city centre) where massive deconstruction and repairs are taking place.  The latest I have heard is that approximately 80% of the buildings in Christchurch’s CBD have been or will be demolished.  It evokes in me of what living in post-World War II Europe must’ve been like for my grandparents and family.

I’ve talked with people overseas, who seemingly can’t comprehend what we have gone through and are going through here.  A recent visitor from Australia said to me that he understood there had been damage and destruction, but until he saw the scale and magnitude of it for himself, he hadn’t realised how badly we’d been hit.  Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, summed it up well when he said, “The only thing I’ve seen like this [the destruction of Christchurch’s CBD] really is when I was in Beirut a few years ago. But somebody was saying to me just now, ‘there are no bomb craters, there’s no enemy. You can’t hate somebody out there, it’s just something that’s happened’. And in some ways that’s even harder to come to terms with I think.”

The Christchurch Cathedral, minutes after the February 2011 quake
The Christchurch Cathedral, minutes after the February 2011 quake – Taken by Andrew Panckhurst

But out of every disaster comes an opportunity, and we in Christchurch have the opportunity to build a better, modern, greener city for later generations to live in and enjoy from the near-blank slate we are now faced within the city itself.

In the “Share an Idea”, we citizens had the opportunity to share ideas and thoughts on how the future Christchurch should look.  I participated in that campaign and am fortunate enough to have my idea of tree-lined streets — as a nod to the cathedral-ceiling look large elm trees created when I was a child growing up in Mount Prospect — shared on page 59 of the Christchurch Central Recovery Plan.

As a community, we’ve been having discussions, and one of them today led me to this blog entry you’re reading now.  You see, Christchurch is a city of around 400,000 people.  It’s the second largest city in New Zealand by population, and we have acted as a gateway to the South Island.

When I arrived in Christchurch in February 1996, all I could say was, “Wow… it’s so White!” in reference to the lack of multiculturalism compared to my native Chicago.  And, over the years as more and more non-European groups move to Christchurch, this has changed.

So, when the Press reported today that support is growing for an international hub (think Chinatown, Little Italy, and all those wonderfully culturally-rich and -diverse areas of big cities like New York or Chicago or Sydney rolled into one), I personally thought it was a great idea because it gives those non-New Zealand workers and those not originally from New Zealand a place to get a little slice of home, while giving those people who are not fortunate enough to travel, or even those of us who have and are pining for another taste of that culture we long to be reunited with, an opportunity to experience it (for the first time or once again).

On Facebook’s CHCH EQ Photos page, though, some people felt this was “segregating” or that Christchurch was too small of a city to need this (despite me arguing that smaller cities, such as Madison, Wisconsin, do have a Chinatown).

The problem is that some quarters of Christchurch residents are very good at moaning about every little progressive thing anyone wants to do to the city.  The story I always hear from my partner Noel is about how the Sky Tower was originally supposed to be built in Christchurch, but there was such a hue and cry about it, that the project was moved to Auckland, causing more hues and cries from some quarters of Christchurch residents that the Sky Tower’s backers had abandoned the city.

A Look at the Future Christchurch
A Look at the Future Christchurch – from

Post-quakes, Christchurch city faces new opportunities.  Nature has handed the city these opportunities to truly build a leading edge, world-class city that can become a jewel in the South Pacific’s crown.  This new Christchurch could be a destination for many people, and we could lead the way in showing the rest of the world how a city can recover from disaster, bigger and better than before.  We should provide attractions and opportunities for tourists to want to visit us, opportunities and advantages for immigrants from other parts of the country and from other countries to come and live, work and play here.

The new blueprint for the city is big and bold, and it does leave a few questions of “Who’s going to pay for it?” and “Really? A stadium / convention centre / etc. there?”  Overall, though, it is a great vision of what this city can recover to and evolve beyond.  A green space along the Avon River — one of the areas hit hardest by the quakes and subsequent lateral land spreading — is a brilliant idea, reminiscent of a newer area of Sydney’s Darling Harbour.  We need a wonderful “playground” area, incorporating nature mixing into the edges of the city, blurring the lines between cafes and wide footpaths and shopping with a lovely green area with a relaxing river meandering by.

Some of the Changes to Christchurch in the Recovery Plan
Some of the Changes to Christchurch in the Recovery Plan –

We have the opportunity to plan the city for the future, to encourage green technologies, to create our own architectural style that acknowledges our English architectural heritage.  Christchurch can become distinctive, leading-edge, contemporary while embracing the past.

Around every corner, I see opportunities for us to rebuild this city into something wonderful.  We can create something so great from a chain of events that have caused a lot of us pain, suffering and heartache (“This too shall pass”).  Christchurch can be rebuilt to honour our founders, those who have positively impacted the city over the years and those residents who were greatly impacted or died in the quakes.

The world is our oyster, so we should use our sword to find the pearl inside.  And what a pearl it could be!

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