Van Beynen: 'We all have our bad days'

MARTIN VAN BEYNEN
Last updated 07:20 22/03/2014

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Martin van Beynen

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OPINION: Surveys should always be approached with scepticism.

Generally speaking their samples are too small and their questions leading and simplistic.

So what are we to make of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority's (Cera) latest wellbeing survey which questioned 2476 people between August and October last year?

Given the appalling state of the central city, deserted east, lack of public facilities and roadworks on every artery, it's truly amazing 73 per cent of those surveyed rated the quality of their life as good or extremely good. Only 23 per cent said their quality of life deteriorated compared to 12 months ago.

Perhaps the survey results can be explained by the adaptability and positivism of the Christchurch resident and the human species as a whole.

But we all have our bad days. As I was walking down Manchester St on a dark day recently, I was suddenly struck by the appalling state of the city. It was as though the veil formed from the need to adapt was lifted momentarily.

It would not have been a good day to survey me.

It could be the morale of the city has been boosted by the various Gap Filler and art projects around the city but I remain unconvinced.

We should laud the efforts to cheer things up but I wonder if all they have done is highlighted how bleak and broken the rest of the city looks.

The pallet pavilion, for instance. Why did anyone think piling a heap of pallets on top of each other in a blank space was a mood enhancer? And no matter how hard I try, I cannot find solace, excitement or pleasure in Julie Morison's spiky sculpture on the corner of Colombo and Gloucester streets.

The Christchurch Art Gallery's attempt at installation art on St Asaph and Madras streets is also bizarre and hard to fathom and many of Gap Filler's attempts to lighten the mood look like half- arsed attempts by well-meaning amateurs.

However, the wall art is great and perhaps the best art project has been Cera's effort to plant grass on the demolition sites. All we need now is some animals.

It's easy to be wise in hindsight but, in my view, we have missed some golden opportunities to make the best of a bad situation and counter depression.

Many of the houses in the red zone could have been made habitable after the earthquakes and used as rentals. Instead of being demolished or left abandoned they could have relieved the tight rental market that has developed in Christchurch.

Some of the houses were of much better quality than a lot of the wrecks landlords rent out to the hard pressed.

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Makeshift water and electricity services to the area would have been perfectly acceptable for the four of five years the houses would be needed.

This brings me to the Christ Church Cathedral. It seems to me the Anglican Church has never grasped the importance of the building to the city.

As I have said before, the building is the city's most well- known structure in the most central part of the city. No building in the city links the past to the present as well as the cathedral or means so much to generations of Christchurch people.

You can put a flash new building in its place but it would be a lie. It would perpetuate the fiction the Anglican Church is still a power in the city and that it requires a huge facility for a supposedly thriving congregation. The truth is the church is fading quickly and most of its parishioners are dying.

The present cathedral was built at a time when Christchurch could genuinely call itself an Anglican city. Eventually it became more important to the city as a building than a place of worship.

After the earthquakes the church could have been a powerful force for improving morale and building community feeling. Imagine if it had expressed a determination to rebuild and called for volunteers. I for one would have prepared to give up Saturdays to push a wheelbarrow and pass blocks of stone to other willing and more expert hands.

I know this is unrealistic given the careful work needed to strengthen the building but you get the picture.

Instead the church has turned the cathedral into a point of division and rancour.

There is still time, however, for the church to see the error of its way and fulfil its duty to enhance the wellbeing of the people.

- The Press

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