OPINION: John Robert Godley, his statue, face down on the hard grey stone. Canterbury's founder felled by some evil blow.
Behind him, the shattered tower of Christ Church Cathedral looking like a bomb had hit. Behind that, The Press building, its top floor collapsed.
I had no wish to linger or look back. I felt an overwhelming urge to get out quickly, to keep moving southwest, to get home - joining the throngs, past the damaged and collapsed buildings, past the clouds of dust, through streets where mud and water bubbled to the surface. Sirens and alarms wailed; so did children as aftershocks kept on coming. People looked dazed.
Two years on, we honour the victims and acknowledge the courage and sacrifices of many. Yes, some things could have been done better - pre and post-quake - and of course we can learn from the past. But our main gaze must be always forwards, our focus on building a better future.
Godley's toppled statue spelled out a message: Old Christchurch has gone forever. What aspects will we miss? What won't we miss? What can we welcome in a New Christchurch and how can we shape it? People want to know that out of all the grief they have endured, something good comes out of it; that they feel involved and listened to.
Fragments remain: some heritage buildings (they haven't all been destroyed), familiar places, and memories. The spirit of Canterbury remains, tempered through adversity. The words of Alfred, Lord Tennyson, hold true: "Though much is taken, much abides."
I believe we care more for communities and each other. I also hope that we have become more bolshie and less willing to put up with BS in that polite, restrained Canterbury way.
If the shape of Old Christchurch has changed, then the old ways of doing things must change, too. That includes structures and organisations. We need to preserve the best qualities of the past. But perhaps it is time for new people with new ideas to assert themselves.
A tour of the Christchurch red zone last week with Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee, Cera CEO Roger Sutton, and CCDU head Warwick Isaac sheeted home what progress has been made - and just how much remains to be done.
It is now officially the rebuild zone. Although scores of buildings still have to come down, buildings are now finally going up. We are not seeing only demolition cranes on the skyline but construction cranes, too.
Fiercely combative he may be, but there is no doubting Brownlee's energy and resolve, his no-nonsense approach, and his determination to get things done.
Brownlee said 2012 had been particularly challenging, but his hope was that in five years "the event that defines the lives of this generation of Cantabrians [will be] not so much the earthquakes, but being part of creating a magnificent new Christchurch".
He said with more than 70 per cent of buildings in the CBD demolished, we must build a 21st-century city, "not a replica of the past. It has to be a city that is attractive to live, work, and play in. We now have a bold vision for our city centre, one that is not constrained by the grid layout drafted in London in the 1840s".
Brownlee looks forward to a pedestrian and cycle-friendly city (a goal also tirelessly supported by cycle-mad Roger Sutton), "founded on the best of today's urban design principles".
Christchurch would also remain a "leafy, green, garden city . . . Any suggestion that sustainability has been overlooked is not only ill-informed, it's also ridiculous".
Words, however, must be matched by action. In the rebuild zone we saw several projects under way or nearing completion, we heard about a competition for an "amazing" children's playground, and in Oxford Tce we met the ebullient Antony Gough, brimming with enthusiasm over plans for a new entertainment zone.
Other business leaders are also positive. We need that energy. But the CBD is only part of the future.
As well as a vibrant city centre, New Christchurch also needs attractive suburbs and neighbourhoods.
The city and all of Canterbury need to be well connected, not just by better roads but also by better public transport.
Housing of the 21st century needs to be affordable and energy efficient, not a repeat of 1950s style suburban sprawl. Buildings must be designed to last; preferably they should be exciting and not bland or mediocre, or else why go there?
We also need local and regional government in which we have confidence - that makes prudent decisions with our money - and communities where everybody feels they have a role to play.
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- © Fairfax NZ News
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