Shift back to yet another strange patch

20:45, May 27 2012
Martin van Beynen
Martin van Beynen

Those at The Press who think the move back to the city centre will be different are right, but it will be even more different than they think.

About 15 months after the February earthquake and many makeshift homes since, The Press is moving back into a ravaged town.

Our new building on the site of our former printing works is ready after a number of earthquake setbacks and we are finally on our way. Home to history, a friend calls it. The move should be happening as you read this - barring another major seismic event, a possibility which we have all learned not to discount.

We are leaving behind a portacom village near the airport, of which time has not made us any fonder. It hasn't been all bad, however. Watching the comings and goings at Christchurch Airport added a feeling of dynamism to our daily lives although there was always a sense someone was having much more fun than us. The glamour of air travel has not entirely palled.

Another nice thing about our own stalag was the proximity of our printing works that contains the clever people and the heroic machinery on which we depend. A trip to the sick bay or to get a coffee from the cafeteria brought you face to face with hundreds of metres of conveyor belt and other complicated mechanisms. The engineer's workshop, a handyman's dream, was on the way to the toilet and, through another doorway, was the three- storey high printing plant, which in full flight inspires awe.

Being packed into portacoms was conducive to egalitarianism, with editors and managers getting no more space than someone who counts the petty cash. We all got to know each other a little better, building up a familiarity which we hope will lead to more co-operation than contempt. The cramped conditions were necessary, unavoidable, endurable and everybody made the best of a bad job with tremendous stoicism. Like any compound in which people find themselves marooned, plenty of fun and games were invented to make life a little more interesting but we all looked forward to the day when it would end.


With a headstart on the rest of the staff, having worked in town for the last four weeks right on the edge of the no-man's land, I've had a taste of what it is like working in a slowly disappearing city centre. Those that think it will be different are right, but it will be even more different than they think.

To say the landscape has changed is no revelation. At first it can be quite disorientating. Many familiar landmarks have gone and demolished buildings have made way, not only for large bleak areas of gravel, but for new vistas in the distance.

The pioneer businesses heading into the red zone will feel like isolated outposts in alien territory. A walk to work is dominated by cranes, diggers, fences, cones, barriers, heritage buildings held up with props and parkland looking sad and neglected. Whole streets are nothing but demolition sites marked by bird nests of reinforcing steel smashed out of their concrete casings.

The noises are varied but the machinegun like pounding of the jack hammer is most prominent.

Being close to the city makes you realise how much more needs to come down and how constant disruption will surround operating buildings for many months and perhaps years to come. Once the demolition phase is over, construction, if we are lucky, will begin, presenting a whole new level of noise and inconvenience.

Lament should not be the only feeling, however. Coming back to the city makes you realise how the earthquake has been the death knell for so many ugly buildings and, in that respect, has done us a great favour. It has wiped the board of many unfortunate mistakes including the Westpac building and Clarendon Towers, and shows why we should never let developers and property entrepreneurs indulge their aesthetic preferences again.

Such mistakes remind you that before the earthquakes, the city's designers were preoccupied with trying to ameliorate the shocking mistakes of the past. Now we have a brilliant opportunity - and no matter how many times it is said, it needs to be said again.

Being back at the centre of the city, particularly around the courts and Arts Centre precinct, is a reminder of the scale of the damage and the huge cost of reconstruction. However, it is also a reminder of the wonderful features of the city that make its rebirth such an intriguing and opportunity-rich prospect.

Camped out in the west, it's easy to forget about the beauty of the Avon, the trees on its banks and the mass of autumn leaves. It's easy to forget about Victoria Square, the expanse of it, and parks like Cranmer Square. It's easy to forget about the accessibility of the Botanic Gardens and Hagley Park and the views to the Port Hills.

It's easy to forget about the buildings still standing and what is going on in the red zone. It's even easier to forget the city has a future and it could be a pretty good one.

The Press