Christchurch is still recovering from the two earthquakes that struck in 2011 and the numerous aftershocks that shook the city in the months and years afterwards. When we visited in July of last year we got see the two sides of the after effects – the damage and the recovery.
We spent two days wandering the city centre. A lot of our initial reactions and photos focused on the negative. We’d read a lot about the aftermath of the earthquakes and the recovery and although I loved seeing the new city rising from the ashes in photos, as a tourist the damage is more immediately obvious. At least to begin with. Also, having not been there earlier we had no context as to what was where before or how bad things were after.
It was a while before we could really take in the enormity of what we were seeing. For a long time the damaged areas looked more like typical run down lots you get in any city. But there were more of them. And it was the former central business district we were in… But the more damaged areas we saw and the relentless stream of empty areas and “run down” spots meant it did eventually sink in.
And it was very affecting once it did. And that’s for very “Western” reasons I think – when we see many other places hit by earthquakes it’s obviously very sad, and we feel for the people involved. But we’re also very removed from it, heartbreaking though it may be. Christchurch on the other hand is a city of the type we already knew even though we’d never been there before. It’s a lot like Dublin in many ways, and like many cities we know, and it feels familiar so it hits home more than more “alien” places. It’s just human nature, what we recognise we relate to more.
Re-work is still on-going of course. And the old Canterbury Brewery was still being worked on as we walked past. It served as a stark reminder of the damage done when we came across the back-side and realised what we previously thought was a good example of a (mostly) non-damaged building was in fact the last remains of something much bigger.
While our first day wasn’t all negative, our second day was still considerably more positive. We went back in to the city centre on a beautiful bright sunny morning which naturally lifted the mood but, more than that, we delighted in seeing the colourful changes to the area around the cathedral and RE:Start mall.
Then it was on to the RE:Start mall, the epitomy of the Canterbury spirit post-quakes in my opinion. Taking their lead from the shipping containers used as barriers through the city and surrounding areas, local businesses are using colourful containers for book shops, music stores, fashion outlets and cafes etc. Looks class, in any context – funky, bright, and wouldn’t look out of place anywhere. Very, very cool.
The positive spirit of the people and the bright shoots throughout the city were the abiding memory I took away from our visit. It’s an amazing place going through a tough transition, but coming back strong.