My recent trip to Christchurch was a remarkable one. This city on South Island in NZ was badly damaged during 2011 earthquake. 185 people lost their lives, more than 20000 houses collapsed or were torn down and the city centre was basically wiped out.
For a little while, the city and its residents retracted and assessed the damage. But very soon the clearing works started, rubble was removed, unsafe houses demolished and residents relocated.
Many people were shocked by this disaster. If they did not encounter the loss of relatives or property damage themselves, then their friends or colleagues were affected. This earthquake really pulled community closer together. People mourned together, worked on cleaning the city together and went through the recovery together.
Unfortunately, the evidence of the recent disaster is still very obvious, but the recovery process is undeniable. And people have started to heal and have hope for the future.
Some buildings in the city centre were totally unsafe, so they were completely removed. But to the joy the locals, there were two very new building erected. Here is one of them Deloitte Castle: modern, beautiful and proud. It’s triangle shape reminds me of the flagman ship, which takes the whole city to the brighter future.
Next to it, the construction of another new building has already started. I would like to point out the size of heavy metal support frame – Christchurch architects aren’t taking any more chances now.
Literally across the road from this construction site is a totally different sight: an old church had to be heavily reinforced from outside to keep it from collapsing. I saw quite a few buildings like this. This is because their fate has not been decided yet – to be repaired or demolished.
In front of a few buildings, these shipping containers were installed to support the facades from collapsing towards the street. These buildings will be removed later.
The huge area right smack in the middle of the city is empty. I mean EMPTY. I heard different ideas regarding this space, but at the moment its future is undecided.
Some houses were found to be unsafe and red crosses on the front doors tell their sad stories.
Interestingly, it is sometimes just one random house which was red marked, while the surrounding houses are fine.
However, more often than not, the whole street had to be demolished and residents relocated.
The problem is that Christchurch was built on unstable ground and the underground water is very close to the surface.
The houses on the cliff just simply slid down with the crumbling Earth. From the other side it looks like a clean cut with a very sharp knife.
Roads and underground infrastructure were badly damaged. The recovery stared from repairs to water and sewerage pipes. That was priority number 1 in order to prevent outbreak of infection diseases. The roads and houses were next.
Now, 4 years down the track the city looks cheerful. Still hurt, still wounded, but cheerful. I spoke to the locals on a few occasions. Not necessarily about the earthquake, but different topics and they were laughing, smiling, joking. The people who stayed look forward to the future. The residents who could not deal with this stress had already moved out. (Here is a very moving story).
Under these dreadful circumstances, the locals found some unique solutions. Like, for example, moving shops and small businesses into shipping containers. They fixed and modified them, and now the city has a new RE:START shopping mall.
Even the Westpac ATM has its own container.
One christian cathedral in Latimer Square was damaged beyond repair, so a new temporary church was built from cardboard drums and aluminium beams.
Even the cross was made from cardboard.
My hotel was nearby and I could see this church from my balcony. It literally glowed in the dark with coloured glass panels and looked fantastic.
Local artists put some bright graffiti on the bare brick walls around the city, which without would have looked very depressing. Slowly but surely, it became street art and the local council decided to keep it.
Now they advertise it as one of the Christchurch attractions in the tourist guides. Unfortunately I did not have enough time to find all of them, but here are a few.
And this one is a very interesting image painted onto the ruins of these stairs.
Another interesting thing was camouflaging safety fences with decorative designs, using plastic pieces. Results are beyond all expectations.
Here is another way of covering depressing places with live plants, growing in plastic containers on safety fences.
Among the increasing sense of confidence and hope in Christchurch, there is still a great sadness due to the loss of life of its residents. A temporary art installation of 185 white chairs is a reminder of the lost lives following the earthquake. This simple concept is very powerful and touching. I visited this place in the evening and the white chairs resembled the souls of the deceased.
But looking past the chairs, in the background you can see the construction site and working cranes. I found it symbolic and very encouraging. Life is continuing.
Where there is life, there is hope!
Music: Epic Emotional | Audiomachine – The World Is Safe