Shocked city still so battered and broken

01:22, Mar 07 2014
Christchurch CBDf
BOMB SITE: This picture of the Theatre Royal in Gloucester St, taken in July 2013, shows large tracts of empty land remain in the city centre.

I was staying in the Christchurch CBD, visiting from Dunedin, the weekend before the February 2011 earthquake. I had been there off and on following September 2010 and had the experience of a few high-level shakes, including one towards the top of the Grand Chancellor.

Despite a few offers I have since resisted the voyeuristic desire to view the destruction first-hand so it has only been since the hotels have started operating in the city centre that I have had a chance to see what is there and where things are at.

I have to say that when I had my first visit just before Christmas last year I was really surprised at what hadn't happened.

I am reasonably well-qualified to make observations on the city's CBD having worked in Hereford St for several years, lived in apartments in Durham St and Park Terrace, as well as frequented the Square when teenagers still braved places like the United Services, Warner's and had late-night feeds at the Doghouse.

In the 1980s the Square was an amazing spectacle for country kids like my Te Kaihanga Hostel colleagues and me.

The menagerie of gang members, bible-bashers, street kids and weird personalities made it the place to be on a Friday night even though it felt a little like you were taking your life in to your own hands as you walked from one side of the Square to another. I recall being acutely aware the different criminal factions and the self-imposed segregation they had imposed upon themselves.


There were simply places one didn't stray.

Unfortunately, one weekend I found myself in the back of my mate's Austin sound asleep after a big night out.

When I woke up I had been dragged half way out of the car, my wallet was gone and so was my greenstone pendant.

Still, in those days it could have been much worse.

During the late 1970s and the early 80s there were a number of murders that occurred within that small piece of urban real estate.

No doubt as a result of dedicated efforts from the police and local authorities the next 10 years saw a major clean up.

The police kiosk was introduced, the suburban malls took on a life of their own, drawing people away from town, and eventually the entire character of the city centre was transformed.

It became something like a little Queenstown with duty free shops and sheepskin stores dominating whilst the council had a strategy of increasing inner city living.

The Strip and Manchester St ensured that some inner city personality was retained but it had certainly been somewhat sanitised.

But living right in town as a DINKY couple, it was geared up well for us.

Work and home were very close, great dining, plenty of entertainment options and dozens of reasons to go for a stroll on a sunny Saturday.

So when I made my first post-quake visit I was a little shocked at what a bomb site it still appears to be.

There were a few developments under way or completed but it looked like there was such a long way to go.

I have followed the redevelopment proposals and I can see that there are some really clever and exciting options on the table, but I clearly underestimated how long it was going to take.

I know, for a fact, that I am not the only on who had assumed that things would have moved much quicker than they have.

Rather than leap on the internet for my answers I simply had to enter the back seat of a cab and I had access to my very own 'taxipeida' - a veritable font of advice from taxi drivers who were able to give me all manner of insight in to a myriad of earthquake matters.

They could remind me of what building was where, tell me what they thought about the current proposals, discuss the apparent bureaucratic stalemate between CCC and Cera, but most of all they shared their frustration at the lack of urgency in rebuilding the heart of their city.

They had ideas, no doubt aided by a thousand conversations with people like me. From the layman's perspective I could see their ideas held as much merit as anyone else's and I suppose they have had the same avenues as all other citizens to contribute to the process.

In the face of an extraordinary series of events it clear to us all that the people of Christchurch have grown resilience, patience and tolerance which was, no doubt, stretched even further after this week's weather event.

And even though I know that this is one thing the affected citizens of Christchurch have not asked for I couldn't help feeling some sympathy for a city whose heart still looks battered and broken.

The Press