A day in the life of future Christchurch

Last updated 16:32 17/02/2012
THE FUTURE:In the year since the February 22 earthquake Christchurch has changed almost beyond recognition.

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The Future

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In the year since the February 22 earthquake Christchurch has changed almost beyond recognition. In another year, the transformation could be equally as dramatic as the city picks itself up and rebuilds. Ben Heather visits a day in the life of Christchurch, February, 2013.

A commuter steps from a bus and into the bustle of the Lichfield St exchange.

Food and coffee stalls are clustered around the edge of the exchange, enticing the throng of office workers trudging into the city.

She pushes passed two backpackers, who have stopped to photograph a Thai takeaway operating out of a bright blue shipping container, and through a lane into City Mall and onto Oxford Tce.

As she walks along the Strip, she passes workers in fluoro jackets, pulling up pavements and planting native trees along the banks of the Avon River. Lining the terrace is a row of makeshift restaurants and bars, some look like elaborate tents while others are a hodge-podge of shipping containers and recycled wood.

It is 8.51am and the bars are empty and dark. In nine hours time, they will be over-spilling with young men  most of them out-of-town construction workers relaxing after a long day in the suburbs.

When she reaches Worcester St, she squeezes passed the cordon around the Clarendon Tower. The 17-storey building is now a rapidly shrinking stump and within months it will be another carpark, one of the dozens scattered throughout the Christchurch CBD.

Heading into the Square, she quickly glances at remnants of the Christ Church Cathedral. There is very little left of the church but it is still attracting a steady stream of curious tourists, spilling from the nearby Heritage and Millennium hotels.

Reaching her building a modern glass affair that has shaken off the ongoing quakes she takes the lift to her seventh floor office.

The view below is of a city in convulsion.

The remnants of a few straggling high-rise buildings remain encased in scaffolding, their top floors already removed.

Amid the large empty lots which once housed buildings, carparks have sprung up but also gardens, parks and small stages.

A few new buildings are huddled amidst the desolation. There are mostly squat glass and boxes, the tallest is about five storeys, with plenty of parking.

She looks south towards Colombo St, where a steady stream of people scuttle between cafes, shops and offices on their morning commute.

The brightly-coloured City Mall Re:Start shopping precinct is still there and has grown, jumping over Colombo St and spilling into High St.

To the north, New Regent St is again bustling with eateries and cafes, supported by a few surviving office blocks.

But many streets are quieter than even a year ago. Most demolition crews have left and only a few builders have arrived. In some city blocks, there is nothing but dust, discarded concrete and twisted metal.

The above story is, of course, fictional.

We don't know what Christchurch will look like in a year's time. Another large earthquake could knock the city back to square one or insurers may refuse to loosen their purse strings, leaving the rebuild in limbo.

However, plans for Christchurch's recovery are taking shape and city's leaders are hazarding a guess as to where we could be in a year's time.

If the various plans, deadlines and projections are to believed the CBD red zone will have disappeared and some new buildings will have sprung up.

Some of the gaps - and there will be plenty - will be filled with greenery and performance spaces and work would have started on beautification of the Avon River.

The Sol Square bars should be open and busy again, as will some big inner-city hotels.

While the central city will be slowly recovering, emerging suburban hubs such as Addington and Woolston will still be humming, with continuing conversion of old industrial sites into trendy bars and cafes.

In eastern Christchurch, most of 6500 or more red zone homes will be empty  the keys in the hands of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority. Roughly 2000 will have been demolished and more will pulled down every day.

The remaining red zone residents will have less than three months to accept the Government's buy-out offer.

In other parts of the city, the residential rebuild will be in full swing, with the Earthquake Commission's Fletcher-managed repair scheme fixing about 2700 homes a month.

The private insurers will also have joined the party, setting up their own hubs to rebuild and repair homes, although many of the worst-hit will still be waiting.

The Selwyn and Waimakariri district will be well on the way to recovery ahead of the city and in the grips of a new housing boom, as developers rush through new subdivisions to met the demand from thousands leaving the red zones.

They will also be roughly 30,000 new people, who have migrated to Christchurch to assist in the rebuild. They will be competing with established residents for homes, spending money at local businesses and looking for entertainment.

Coupled with red zone exodus, this could lead to a severe housing shortage, placing pressure on the Government to set up new temporary housing villages.

Canterbury Employers Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend says in a year's time, we can expect Christchurch to be a very different beast, physically, economically and socially.

"There is a perception that we are going back to where we come from. We are not."

In the central city, they will still be large empty areas but a much more definitive picture about what will fill the gaps.

Locations and designs for big public inner-city projects  such as a multi-sport complex and convention centre  will be locked in, giving the private sector more confidence to start pouring its own money into the rebuild.

"It will be organic. It will start with small nuclei, like it did with Ballantynes (department store) and spread out."

While the central city will still be stirring from its slumber, the suburban rebuild will already be roaring, bring with it a whole new group of people who will alter the economical and social make-up of the city.

"In my sillier moments I've describe it as gold rush mentality but it's not going to be far off it."

Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority operations general manager Warwick Isaacs says in a year's time the central city will still be in transition, with demolition and construction side by side.

Several buildings, such as Clarendon Tower and the Price Waterhouse Cooper building, will be in the final throes of demolition while others will still be in limbo, fenced-off as owners and insurer ponder whether it is cheaper to repair or rebuild.

"There will be very few cordons left. Some residual building sites, maybe half a dozen."

However, alongside demolitions, new office blocks will be popping up, generating hubs of renewed activity.

"You talk about nodes of almost normal, there will be some of that."

The central city has been the subject of intense planning and public consultation but the future of the rest of Christchurch, particularly the quake-hit east, is far more vague.

Most of the residential red zone is expected to be vacated by early 2013 but the Government still doesn't know how it will respond if people refuse to leave.

What will happen to the large swathes of vacated land also remains a mystery, with the Government toying with eventually fixing it and creating new subdivisions. Some eastern Christchurch residents are lobbying to turn the red zone around the Avon River into a reserve.

Christchurch East Labour MP Lianne Dalziel says there were still too many unknowns to say anything definitive about the future of the east.

"It totally depends on whether the Government and the council decide to work collaboratively ," she said.

However, there are likely to be some people still holding out in the red zone in a year's time, particularly in Brookland where residents are already gearing up for a fight, said Dalziel.

While some new residential sections should come online in the east by early 2013, many former residents will have already moved west.

"There will be a drift to the west."

It is 6.03pm and the woman shuts-off her computer and says good-bye to her colleagues. On the way to Lichfield St bus exchange, she passes the Oxford Tce bars and restaurants again, now packed with people.

The bus ride home to Rolleston is slow, taking almost a hour through heavy commuter traffic. There are growing calls to fast-track a light rail link to the city but the plans remain years away.

Getting off the bus, she walks the final 100 metres to her front door, passing carefully manicured lawns and kit-set houses.

At home, she finds an invitation to a reunion party in her old street in Avondale next Friday. She left the old house nine months ago, returning briefly just before Christmas to watch it being demolished.

She will have to bring her own chair and maybe a table, the invitation suggests. There is nothing left on the street now but a dirty clearing and a few lingering trees.

- The Press


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