Editorial: Let's go back in Cathedral Square

NEW PLAN: The city council is planning temporary entertainment and gathering spaces in Cathedral Square.
NEW PLAN: The city council is planning temporary entertainment and gathering spaces in Cathedral Square.

The city council's push to open the Square to the public is welcome. Access to the city's heart would boost citizens' morale and their confidence in Christchurch's future.

In the scheme of things, entry to the Square might seem a minor issue. The Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) and householders have weighty things on their agendas - CBD demolitions so that the rebuild can start and uncertainty about suburban tenure, to name just two. But the city's recovery involves more than just material things; emotion also plays its part.

Christchurch people who went through the earthquakes learned painfully that survival requires food and water and also determination - a strength of spirit fundamentally important in coming through ordeals.

Each individual has had to gain that strength by resourcing the deep parts of their character, and some are still struggling to do so, but all of us have been helped by community action that gave hope.

The rapid gathering in Hagley Park after the February event, to honour the dead, the survivors and the heroes, was one such boost to the spirit. So was the selfless performance of the Farmy and Student armies, the articulate communication of Mayor Bob Parker, the comforting sight of Australian police walking the broken streets, the mass participation in Share an Idea.

Those, and 1000 other examples of outreach, were as important in making survivors feel better as was restoring things battered and broken.

Hugely important in that was the farewell to the cathedral - the brief and restricted opening of the Square, last March, for people to salute the building that most represented Christchurch and that had just been announced as doomed. More than 60,000 made the pilgrimage. It was an experience citizens will remember.

The council's present attempt to let people back into the Square is less emotionally pregnant but its success would enhance recovery - perhaps significantly - because it would lessen two problems.

First and most significant is the increasing dislocation of citizens from the CBD. The habit of shopping and doing business in the suburbs is becoming entrenched, to the point of many people seeing little importance in the city centre.

That was shown in letters to the editor - people saying the CBD and its rebuild was irrelevant to their lives.

If they were allowed open entry to the Square, the alienation would lessen as the old bond with the city centre would revive. The sense that this is Christchurch's defining space would begin to emerge from the rubble.

Also improved would be the sense of participation in the rebuild. Completion of the grand design is years away - 2017 is the Treasury's estimate - so citizens need to view the progress if their optimism is to be maintained.

The Square is the best place to take in the renaissance. Standing there, in the middle, provides a view and perspective unobtainable from driving or walking the few open nearby streets. Cera's caution about allowing entry is understandable. Safety rightly is one of its main concerns and some large buildings in the Square are still to be demolished, but those problems could be worked around.

A special commission is about to decide on entry. A positive verdict would be a splendid Christmas present for Christchurch.

The Press