Transition

On 4th September 2010, a magnitude 7.1 earthquake erupted on the South Island, west of Christchurch, New Zealand’s second largest city. The earthquake caused significant damage both in the city and across the Canterbury region. Fortunately, there were no fatalities.

Five months later, on 22nd February 2011, a 10 second, 6.3 aftershock erupted closer to Christchurch. Its vicinity to the city centre, combined with the damage caused by the previous earthquake and aftershocks, resulted in a catastrophic disaster that collapsed buildings and claimed 185 lives. The event was declared a national emergency and the news was reported around the globe.

Christchurch’s vibrant city life ground to a halt overnight. Four years later, much of the city centre is a designated red zone, with buildings abandoned or razed to the ground ahead of the mammoth reconstruction task. 50% of roads and 70% of buildings in the centre need to be repaired or replaced. The estimated cost of rebuilding the city keeps climbing, currently standing at around $40 billion (~£20 billion), while some economists predict it could take the New Zealand economy up to 100 years to completely recover.

After the earthquake, the population of the city dropped, as people moved on to rebuild their lives and careers. The construction industry boomed, but there was little else to stay for. My manager in Kaikoura remembers leaving her house the day after the earthquake. She describes the scenes as post-apocalyptic, with crumbling buildings and empty streets. Most of all, she remembers the silence. With the power gone and no transport running, the atmosphere was eerily calm. The air lacked even the sound of birdsong: the birds had fled the city. Soon after, she left too.

The atmosphere in Christchurch is still quiet but defiantly optimistic. The city continues to host cultural events and art fills the streets, much of it connected to the disaster. Christchurch believes it can be great again: even greater, perhaps, as it takes the opportunity to rebuild itself as a truly modern city. For now, it’s a community in transition.

Christchurch cathedral.

Christchurch Cathedral.

The inside of the temporary 'Cardboard Cathedral'. Designed by a Japanese architect, and constructed from steel and, yes, cardboard.

The inside of the temporary ‘Cardboard Cathedral’. Designed by a Japanese architect, and constructed from steel and, yes, cardboard.

Plenty of buildings still haven't been demolished.

Plenty of buildings still haven’t been demolished.

Signs in shop windows refer to 2011 in the future tense.

Signs in shop windows refer to 2011 in the future tense.

Construction is everywhere.

Construction is everywhere.

The emptiness of the city centre is unique and somewhat beguiling.

The emptiness of the city centre is unique and somewhat beguiling.

Nowhere is the line between art and graffiti more blurred.

In a broken city, the line between art and graffiti is even more blurred.

185 empty chairs commemorate the 185 lives lost during the February earthquake.

185 empty chairs commemorate the 185 lives lost during the February earthquake.

IMG_3963

The Re:START mall in the city centre operates out of containers. It’s surrounded by looming cranes and the unceasing sound of machinery.

In the middle of the Re:START mall, the exhibit Quake City - run by the Canterbury Museum - tells the story of the earthquakes. There are poignant video testimonies of people trapped or desperately trying to fight their way through the city to find their children.

In the middle of the Re:START mall, the exhibit Quake City – run by the Canterbury Museum – tells the story of the earthquakes. There are poignant video testimonies of people trapped or desperately trying to fight their way through the city to find their children.

The city's cultural heart continues to beat. Here's an evening performance at the World Busking Festival.

The city’s cultural heart continues to beat. Here’s an evening performance at the World Buskers Festival.

Christchurch stretches all the way to the sea. Here's a view back to shore from New Brighton's pier. Apparently New Brighton is named after a suburb in Merseyside called New Brighton.

Christchurch stretches all the way to the sea. Here’s a view back to shore from New Brighton’s pier. Apparently New Brighton is named after a suburb in Merseyside called New Brighton.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s