City's rebuild has to sidestep icon nostalgia

How well I remember the sense of elation I felt during my first visit to the Ferrymead Heritage Park located near Heathcote and in close proximity to Mt Pleasant.

The early 1900s Edwardian village with its quaint houses, picture theatre, post office, lawyer's office, jail and printers all located on a main street transported me back to a past I felt sure I would have been only too happy to be a participant in.

That brief total immersion experience into an era where man had not become the irritant overbearing species on the planet he is today strengthened in me a perception that this was a golden time before humanity plundered and polluted its resources and put it all horribly out of whack.

When I look back on the early weeks after the February 22 quake, spending the days without power and easy access to water, it gave me some idea of what it might have been like to be an early pioneer.

Everything took so much longer to do and had to be done before nightfall with the days bringing with them a sense of real achievement, an understanding of neighbourhood and a connection with the community.

Over the last few years I've noticed a real preoccupation for nostalgia, particularly in issues of glossy magazines and lifestyle television shows where all manner of things Kiwiana are revived for inspection and celebrated as "iconic".

I'm all for olden and golden and would love a bach or a crib to shove it all in, except for the hideous designs and brash colours of the seventies with its oranges, lime greens and hard-edged florals.

One man's meat is another's poison I suppose, but I know I wouldn't be able to last five minutes in a seventies retro environment with its penchant for things plastic.

Pre-earthquakes I would have admitted in a heart-beat to being a nostalgia freak always on the side of those in the heritage camp wanting to preserve and protect fine old buildings from the filthy desires of property developers, but lately I have had to rethink that position.

I will never be on the side of craven property developers but I have begun to think of heritage people as slightly barmy sentimentalists unable to accept hard realities.

For months now the No 1 theme in the letters to the editor in The Press has been, not the Tony Marryatt pay rise - he's so last year, and yes, quite a lot on the scrapping of the one way transport system, but top of the pops is a swag of letters pleading for a halt to the demolition of the Christ Church Cathedral and for it to be restored to its former neo-Gothic grandeur.

It seems that there are a large number of Cantabrians who have their identity so wrapped up in the cathedral that they can't see any alternative pin-up boy for the picture post card, and want to bring back from the dead its present Post Card from the Edge status to save it, literally at all costs.

When they are told by overseas architects that the building can be strengthened for $20 million, they clutch at that straw figure when everyone knows that a quote, especially a building quote and a highly specialised building quote, plus the passage of time and inflation, usually blows it out to at least three times the original amount.

Then there is the hard fact that everyone who's still prepared to live here doesn't want to talk about anymore, which is that it doesn't matter how much you remediate the land, how up to a 100 per cent code you rebuild, the history of nature after radical disturbance is one of massive dislocation.

We cannot believe in a fairytale that somewhere in nature there is a balance where we can achieve or be divinely granted that peaceful plateau.

We have to accept, already know, deep in our bones that we live in a dynamic world where ecology is in a constant state of chaos.

There's good reason after devastation why the animals flee but the humans dare to remain.

Ever since the shocking disturbance on that September morning back in 2010 the region has been undergoing profound change, so where is the wisdom, to use casino lingo, in indulging in the fantasy that you can ever beat the house.

Do we really need to risk money and precious time on a rebuild of a cathedral from the past that, to be cruel, didn't stand the test of time, only to have our hearts broken all over again when it falls down?

I'm not saying it's a piece of madness to stay in Christchurch because the rebuild of the city has to take place here as it would be too cost prohibitive to build an entire infrastructure elsewhere, and it needs to be close to the water.

The new buildings have to go with the flow, taking into full account the new knowledge of our devastation and strive to be beautiful and celebrate the modern.

Nostalgia, like the Ferrymead Heritage Park, is a nice place to visit, but you can't afford to live there.

The Press