The tribes that bind Christchurch

UNTOUCHED: Cheryl Colley has experienced "survivor guilt" after coming through the earthquakes unscathed on the property front.
1 of 4Dean Kozanic/Fairfax NZ
UNTOUCHED: Cheryl Colley has experienced "survivor guilt" after coming through the earthquakes unscathed on the property front.
HOPEFUL: Architecture graduate Erica Austin, 23, moved to Christchurch because she felt inspired by the rebuild.
2 of 4Dean Kozanic/Fairfax NZ
HOPEFUL: Architecture graduate Erica Austin, 23, moved to Christchurch because she felt inspired by the rebuild.
DISILLUSIONED: Jaimee Newton suffered minimal damage in the quakes but has been left feeling disheartened with what is happening in her city.
3 of 4Kirk Hargreaves/Fairfax NZ
DISILLUSIONED: Jaimee Newton suffered minimal damage in the quakes but has been left feeling disheartened with what is happening in her city.
ANGRY: Toni Elliott, 46, is still consumed by anger over the damage done to her Kaiapoi home.
4 of 4Joseph Johnson/Fairfax NZ
ANGRY: Toni Elliott, 46, is still consumed by anger over the damage done to her Kaiapoi home.

Three years on from the September 2010 earthquake, we are a city divided.

Three years ago a spate of earthquakes rippled across our land and set the tides in motion for our disunity.

Over the past week, The Press has canvassed the views of the community to gauge the state of the city's social recovery. Widespread post-disaster reports described Christchurch as a tale of two cities, but it appears the division is now a little more complicated than just the quake-ravaged east and the less-affected west.

From discussions with psychiatrists, sociologists, community leaders and academics, The Press has found we are a fractured city.

The four tribes of Christchurch have been identified as: the angry, the disillusioned, the untouched and the hopeful.

The angry are those who lost the most in the quakes and who feel frustrated at the uncertainties they still face.

A perceived loss of democracy and slow process around the rebuild have left another group - the disillusioned - feeling anxious and powerless.

The untouched are the Cantabrians whose homes were largely undamaged in the quakes, causing them to harbour a sense of guilt at the plight of the city's less fortunate.

Another sector of Christchurch's community - the hopeful - see the quakes as a unique opportunity.

The Press acknowledges these groups are fluid, and do not include every Cantabrian. But they do highlight the diverse emotions with which our city battles.

Canterbury District Health Board specialist mental health services psychiatrist Dr Caroline Bell said everyone in the city had gone through a different experience in the past three years.

If you were to place Cantabrians on a spectrum it would span from "those people were weren't affected, who have moved on and feel absolutely fine" to those who have lost everything, she said.

"There is a huge variation in what people have been exposed to.

"People in the east who lost more would feel that they are poles apart from someone who lived in the west, who had no damage," Bell said.

The recognition of the four tribes has sparked calls for authorities to reunite the city and to shift the focus from the economic recovery to a social one.

 
AL NISBET/Fairfax NZ
 

Divisions breaking apart once united city

Since September 2010, our world has changed irrevocably and our identity has been reinvented.

In the early post-quake weeks we were united by our adversity. We were Cantabrians: stoic, resilient, strong.

But as the days wore on, a tale of two cities began to emerge from the dust - the winners and the losers, the haves and the have-nots, the east and west.

Christchurch's fissure did not end there.

Over the past three years our community has endured many more body blows, from the reduction of democracy to the controversial schools shake-up. Contentious decisions polarised people while insurance and Earthquake Commission woes, traffic jams, sky-rocketing rental prices and antisocial behaviour further widened the divide.

The four tribes of Christchurch - the hopeful, the untouched, the disillusioned and the angry - are fluid. People shift from one to another at any given moment. They reveal only some of the complexities our region faces.

The four tribes' existence has been acknowledged by sociologists, psychologists, politicians, community groups and leaders.

University of Canterbury professor of sociology Greg Newbold said the stratification of post-disaster Christchurch was "inevitable".

The city is now layered with newcomers, residents who were unaffected by quakes, those who suffered minimal damage and others "whose entire lives have been wrecked", he said.

"Of course the community was going to divide."

Bell said some residents felt guilty that others had been through worse than them, while others felt anxiety and a loss of control over what had happened.

Those still struggling with authorities were suffering the most, but many ordinary people across the city were also feeling less tolerant or easily irritated, Bell said.

For Labour earthquake recovery spokeswoman Ruth Dyson, Christchurch is now "a city of quarters".

"I have seen distinct groups of people emerging within our region. It's because the impact of the quakes, the personal situation and the engagement with officialdom vary between people."

Christchurch mayoral candidate and Labour MP Lianne Dalziel said the four tribes were "real" but variable.

Some may be in one group but have the attitude of another, she said.

"Now it depends on where you live, the damage you have suffered, whether you've been zoned, whether you have an agreed repair strategy or been rebuilt, whether you're happy with what has been done, whether you are a winner or a loser, and whether you have confidence in the future."

The isolation and frustration simmering across Christchurch is particularly clear when you talk to those working at the coal face.

The city's welfare agencies have fielded unprecedented demand in the past three years. Aviva (formerly Women's Refuge Christchurch) has sustained a 50 per cent rise in calls to its crisis line and police are reporting an increase in the severity of family violence incidents.

Christchurch has the highest anti-depressant prescription rate in the country, mental health referrals are at an all-time high and experts are concerned with the number of children wetting their beds.

Protesters have hit the streets more than 30 times since the quakes, with some protests attracting crowds of up to 4000, to rail against a loss of democracy, school closures, council salaries and the powers of earthquake agencies.

Yet, a survey commissioned by The Press in July this year tried to gauge the feelings of 400 Cantabrians and found almost 70 per cent agreed life was getting better in the Garden City.

It is undeniable that the past three years have left some residents hopeful for the future, with others disillusioned by the past.

The angry

Those who lost the most find it easy to voice their angst.

The Press asked quake-ravaged residents how they were faring three years on and the response was largely united: "Cheated. Trampled on. Shafted. Betrayed. Deceived."

It appears the aggression shows no signs of abating.

Many residents have spent three winters in broken homes and are still awaiting answers. They can no longer see light at the end of the tunnel.

Across the city, huge signs hung on houses express the frustrations of their owners: "Not Sorted, Not Happy, Not Going Away"; "Why are we still waiting"; "This was once a loved home."

It is hard to find exact figures on how many individuals would fall into the angry group. Some suggest a "silent majority" of people is suffering, while others insist it is only a "small, but vocal" part of the community.

Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) chief executive Roger Sutton said the quakes had caused anger and frustration for most people, but that "over the past three years that has lessened for some and not for others".

The most obviously angry people in Christchurch are high-profile community groups such as the TC3 Residents, Quake Outcasts and the Port Hills community, who have taken their quake wars public.

Port Hills homeowner Andrea Newman said feelings of frustration and anger among the residents were "definitely getting worse with time".

"There's not a lot of hope left. We feel abandoned by the Government."

WeCan spokesman Mike Coleman said those still battling were "shattered".

The "heartlessness and lack of basic ethics" shown by the authorities would leave a "level of cynicism in this city for decades to come".

An angry: Toni Elliott

The last three years has done nothing to douse Toni Elliott's burning anger.

"I'm not even just angry anymore. I am furious. I am a wild child."

Sometimes the fury wakes the 46-year-old in the night, or causes her to break down to the point where she does not want to leave the house.

"It does weigh on me during my whole day. The anger over my home and my situation is always on my mind no matter what I'm doing."

Elliott's Kaiapoi home received about $20,000 worth of damage in the September 4 earthquake, but that's not what is causing her rage.

When contractors started repairs to her home in February 2011, they scraped back the ceilings in several rooms.

The process, which was not even included under the scope of works, unleashed a contamination of asbestos.

For the last two years she has been living in her broken home, fighting to have it "properly decontaminated".

Her house has been cleaned, and an independent assessor found the house satisfactory to live in, but identified areas "that need to be addressed". These include the bedroom carpet, which needed to be "disposed of in an asbestos manner".

"I haven't made any progress at all since September 4," she said.

"They haven't even owned up to what they have done or apologised. It's just an ongoing cycle of bullying and lies where nothing is achieved."

Elliott has unleashed torrents of anger at EQC and Fletcher staff - shouting and screaming at them on the phone - but to no avail.

"No-one will listen. They tell you they understand but they don't really. It's unbelievably frustrating".

The anger has impacted on her entire life, disrupting her mental health, her work and her relationships.

"My friends say to me that they are worried about me because of the anger I still have over this whole thing, but I can't let it go. This is my asset and it has not been resolved," she said.

The disillusioned

Rising anxiety at a loss of democracy and social inequality has left many Cantabrians disillusioned.

These are the middle-income families who were only inconvenienced in the quakes. The damage to their homes was largely repairable, but the impact on their values has been more permanent.

This group feels frustrated for the little guy and fears top-down authoritarian control in Christchurch.

The quakes picked the scab off Canterbury's social landscape, University of Canterbury political science lecturer Bronwyn Hayward says. With the community left bare, it quickly became obvious that "we are not all equal".

A broad cross-section of society felt disillusioned because "this is not what we would expect in New Zealand", she said.

These people believe New Zealand's core values, such as fairness and equality, have been discarded in the disaster's aftermath.

"The quakes ripped the infrastructure off the city and what was striking for a lot of people was [to realise] that we are not an equal society," Hayward said.

"The quakes mixed us all up and made us look at one another and realise there is inequality."

The disillusioned have lost their trust in authorities and feel those who lost the most in the quakes had been abandoned.

Newbold placed himself in the disillusioned tribe and said he was sick and tired of the mixed messages coming from authorities.

"People like me think Christchurch is a bloody mess and a lot of this mess is because the people making the decisions are changing their minds all the time. They keep shifting the goalposts while some people are really struggling out there."

A disillusioned: Jaimee Newton

Despite suffering minimal damage in the quakes, Jaimee Newton is disheartened, depressed and disillusioned.

She feels frustrated for those still battling authorities and guilt at "being one of the lucky ones" .

Newton's Belfast home was green-zoned and sustained a few cosmetic cracks, sticky doors and wonky chimneys.

Her repairs have all been completed, except for one damaged chimney.

A scaffolding was erected around the chimney in early July but workers did not return to start repairs until last week.

"I know friends with young kids living in houses boarded up and they [authorities] are just throwing money away by having a scaffolding sitting at my front door for two months," she said.

"How many thousands and thousands of dollars have been lost due to this? It is a thought that plays heavily on my mind, knowing so many families living in cold, wet, broken homes are still awaiting even approval for repairs to start."

Newton feels guilty when she sees the horror conditions some of her friends are living in.

"It just makes me want to cry. I want to stand up for this group but it's not really my place to get really angry. I just hope it gets better and that the authorities pull their heads in," she said.

Before the quakes, Newton, 29, had never voted and had no interest in politics.

Now she keeps up to date with all the big announcements, she is an avid reader of anything political and has even made submissions to the council.

She feels the past three years have not been managed correctly and says she no longer trusts authorities.

"They lie, they change things around all the time, they seem to have their own opinion and they don't want to listen to what the people are trying to say. We all want to move forward and get our city back but they are just messing everyone around."

The untouched

Every Cantabrian was scarred in some way by the earthquakes, but it is undeniable that there have been winners and losers.

Shortly after the disaster, some residents were wading out of broken homes carrying their belongings while others were pruning the roses and mowing the lawns.

The untouched suffered little more than a few hairline cracks above the windows and many were able to return to a semblance of normality fairly quickly.

While they don't feel the anger of their less-fortunate neighbours, it appears they have been harbouring a sense of "survivor guilt".

Bell said some Cantabrians "feel guilty that others have been through much more than them".

Fendalton-Waimairi community board chairwoman Val Carter said abouthalf the residents covered by her ward were "barely touched" in the quake.

But many felt sympathetic to the plight of those in the east, she said.

"They keep hearing about the devastation of people's lives and how people are still living three years on, and they are not experiencing that."

Carter was aware of residents who had "quietly" gone to the east to help support those who are struggling.

However, she said some residents from her ward, including herself, actually lost their homes in the quakes but didn't feel comfortable talking about it "because we are on the west".

"I think the Fendalton community has been really, really quiet and even those who have lost their homes don't want to talk about it because they are sympathetic to the east."

An untouched: Cheryl Colley

Cheryl Colley's sense of survivor guilt was so strong that she found herself wishing parts of her unscathed home had actually been damaged in the earthquakes.

Colley was one of the lucky ones.

The September 2010 quake left tiny cosmetic cracks around her windows, while February 2011 left no mark at all.

Looking out the window of her Northwood home, Colley said the quakes had left no visible scar on her community.

"People drive out to my place from the other side of the city and say it is such a different world out here. They ask: 'What earthquake?'."

Colley's home was hardly touched, yet her sister's Bexley property was written off.

"I have seen what the people on the east have gone through and then seeing what didn't happen to me, my goodness, sometimes you almost feel as though you want something to have happened, like you need to be able to feel some kind of link with what the other people are going through."

Colley has been torn between "feeling absolutely blessed" and being wracked with "survivor guilt".

Her house is unharmed but "emotionally it's a completely different story for me".

The common misperception, fuelled by "somewhat one-sided media coverage", was that people on the west were not affected by the quakes, she said.

"I can totally understand how people have come to the perception that the west was not affected because so many over this side who were affected have been quiet about their situations because they do not feel their story is worth telling in comparison to the horror stories from the east."

Regardless of how much damage one person's property may have sustained over another, she believed every Cantabrian was affected by the earthquakes.

The hopeful

One sector of Cantabrians has turned devastation into an opportunity.

Rather than dwell on what is lost, they are excited and engaged about the prospect of rebuilding a new city.

Gap Filler spokeswoman Coralie Winn has seen the emergence of a passionate group of people who are committed to building a better Christchurch.

"It's a grass-roots recovery - an alternative recovery to the Government's one - with a lot more creativity and forward thinking."

Those involved were from a broad cross-section of society, Winn said.

"We've got youth, older people, Cantabrians, new migrants, business leaders, builders, architects, artists. They're very excited about the opportunity the quake has given us for our city."

Ministry of Awesome co-founder Kaila Colbin said the groups consisted of "ordinary people" who had an "urge to contribute".

"The power and enthusiasm of this group is incredible - their contribution to Christchurch is incredible."

Swelling the ranks of passionate locals is a surge in migrants arriving to the city with new languages and fresh ideas.

The "New to Canterbury Club" is a group of business leaders new to the city who have banded together to share ideas.

"We all want to be part of rebuilding the city and have a lot of positivity and ideas to throw around," member Shaun Hubbard said.

"It's about building relationships between similar people who are new here so we can work effectively together."

Hubbard moved to Christchurch last July to take up a new role and believed Christchurch was attracting "social entrepreneurs" post-quake.

"There's a good community of people out there who have just arrived here and are really excited about it."

A hopeful: Erica Austin

Erica Austin is plagued by constant queries from her North Island friends about "when she's going to leave Christchurch", but she is not going anywhere in a hurry.

"Christchurch is one of the most unique places in the world right now. It's an opportunity that I don't want to miss out on so I won't be leaving anytime soon."

After graduating with a degree in architecture from Auckland University last year, Austin could have chosen to take her skills anywhere.

But she picked Christchurch.

"I did my thesis on the architecture of the rebuild and it really got me wanting to come down and get involved with the stuff I was writing about. It sounded like a really exciting place to be in terms of architecture."

Since arriving in the city, the 23-year-old has fully immersed herself in Christchurch's underground rebuild culture.

Austin volunteered for Gapfiller, worked for TEDx and is a co-ordinator for Studio Christchurch - a design platform for architecture, who created a giant model of the Green Frame earlier this year.

She's made a group of new friends, ranging from German fashion designers to fellow architecture buffs and believed there were a lot of creative people converging in Christchurch.

"I have found that there are many like-minded people down here who have some really interesting things to contribute to the rebuild."

Currently, Austin is working as front of house for the Christchurch Arts Festival and is busy organising a festival on transitional architecture on the side.

"There's a lot of creative stuff going on down here. I'm trying to be a part of as much of it as possible," she said.

"The quakes have given the city such an opportunity to explore so many new ideas and ways of thinking that wouldn't be possible otherwise. We have to take full advantage of that."

The Press