Has Christchurch taken too long to build a permanent quake memorial?
OPINION: Perspective this week features a series of reflections in the lead-up to the third anniversary of the February 22 earthquake. Today, DAVID KILLICK pleads for a dignified, simple quake memorial.
A few passers-by pause to snap photos. A minibus with Japanese visitors and a film crew arrives. A tour bus stops for a closer look.
And what do people see? A high wire fence. Behind it, a patch of browning lawn, gravel and lengths of timber.
Tacked to the fence are a couple of photocopied notices. Some tatty flowers. A burnt-out remote control.
A poem, by D David Cohen, of New York: "Your children are our children. We'll look for them, care for them. This is a worldwide crisis occurring in a distant little corner of the earth."
A heart-shaped tribute consists of a toy turtle, plastic flowers and a ribbon. It also has a faded photo and the words "In loving memory of Saori Kikuda", together with a handwritten note pleading "Please leave this on the fence for people to remember Saori. Thanks."
A blue-painted stone has a yellow sunflower and a name, Teresa McLean, plus the words "mother, daughter, wife, sister, friend".
These mementoes, and others like them, for nearly three years have been all there was to greet families who lost loved ones when the CTV building collapsed in the February 22, 2011 earthquake.
Saori and Teresa were among the 115 people who died in the building. They included TV people, language students and health professionals from Iraq, Serbia, the Philippines, China, Japan, Malaysia, Thailand, Taiwan, South Korea and Britain.
For years the site was scruffy and covered with weeds.
Taggers defaced a Christchurch City Council notice saying "Please respect this site".
A new sign says the council is working with Canterbury Museum "to preserve aspects of our remembering. Tributes may be left at this site. Older tributes will be removed for archiving . . . Organic materials will be composted and used in the city's gardens."
The lack of action to properly clean up the CTV site and create a memorial has been disgraceful. It's an embarrassment.
What should Christchurch create as a permanent memorial to the 185 who died in the earthquake? Email email@example.com
New Mayor Lianne Dalziel, at the end of last year, agreed that something needed to be done. While I also agree with Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee that we need more than temporary installations, at least now action is finally happening.
When I visited last week, there was a notice tacked to the fence from Cera: "Plans are being developed for the future of this site. Those plans will reflect what happened here and respect those who were affected by the tragedy." It gave no details.
Cera says in its newsletter that the site will become a "temporary memorial garden". A sign will recognise "the significance of the site."
Cera hoped to have the garden completed in time for the third anniversary of the earthquake this Saturday.
Why only temporary? Surely we have enough empty sites in the city already that the compact CTV site can be preserved as a place of sanctuary and reflection.
A memorial does not have to be grandiose or expensive. It can be clear and simple. Just a large piece of stone inscribed with names and details of the tragedy.
Cera also says that another earthquake memorial is being planned for a separate site, but does not say where. Perhaps artists and designers could submit concepts.
How many do we need? We have other memorials already: Just opposite the CTV site is artist Peter Majendie's memorial, consisting of 185 white chairs, one each for the lives lost in the quake. That, too, got vandalised, but has been repaired.
Along from that, architect Shigeru Ban's "cardboard cathedral" has already proven to be a fitting place for many special functions, providing much needed salve and solace. It is a shame that discord is preventing any progress with Christ Church Cathedral.
A sculpture by Neil Dawson called Spires is being erected in Latimer Square, where emergency relief teams gathered in the initial aftermath of the quake. The main memorial service will take place in Hagley Park.
Other plaques commemorating victims have been laid in Cashel St in what is now the Re:START Mall.
Where else could we look for inspiration?
Last year when I visited the parts of Japan hit by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, in which 20,000 to 30,000 people were killed, I found sites had been scrupulously cleared up.
There was some debate whether a few ruined buildings should be preserved as permanent reminders of the disaster.
Towns had built memorials - sombre, simple but moving.
I recall many striking memorials in Washington, DC. In New York City, a new memorial called "Reflecting Absence" on the former World Trade Center site honours the victims of the September 11 attacks.
It's time Christchurch built a proper earthquake memorial too.
Perhaps the best lasting legacy will be to ensure no repeat of the CTV building and to make our cities as safe and resilient as possible.
Cera's deputy chief executive, social and cultural recovery, Michelle Mitchel said in an email sent to The Press ahead of this column:
"Although we want to move as quickly as possible, if we rush this process then we will fail in our shared desire to provide a fitting and lasting memorial to those who we lost and to the enormous shared experience that our community has been through since the 4th September 2010."
- The Press