Sunday, September 14, 2014

26 Ways to Say Christchurch City Rebuild

I keep hearing about the amazing progress that's taking place in the Christchurch city rebuild following the earthquakes of 2010-13. As a Christchurch resident, I  keep wondering where this magical place is. Perhaps I'm just jaded after too many trips into the residential red zones.

Lately though, I've been watching the Knox Presbyterian Church 'rebuild' on the corner of Victoria Street and Bealey Avenue with some interest. It's  been a beacon of ruin for almost four years and now, suddenly, it's taking on a new life as a shiny, coppery facade is 'nailed' into place. Perhaps buoyed  by this pretty sight - or perhaps a little heady and over-excited by the onset of spring - I went walking earlier, to spot some of this new inner city building action.
Here are a few photographs snapped in the key pockets of building action. And it's important to note that 'pockets' is the key word here. There is still a LONG way to go before we have a functioning inner city, before we fill all those ugly gaps.

I'm not always excited by the new buildings sprouting in our broken city but I am often excited by some of the architectural details, the small, intimate pieces that make up the whole. I like the 'half-sketched,' skeletal nature of a building taking shape. By the time it is completed, I've often lost interest in it completely. I haven't been singularly impressed by anything yet. Let's hope that changes as the rebuild progresses over the coming years.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

In the Suburbs - Four Years On.

There was a wild nor'west wind blowing this morning when I set out for North New Brighton and Bexley to see what's become of these two earthquake-ruined suburbs over the last six months. I've visited these areas - and many others - regularly over the last four years, since the first earthquakes, and it's been both intriguing and deeply saddening to watch their decline.

As shocking as the earthquake damage seemed in the beginning, it wasn't until much later that for me, the real impacts hit home. When roads flooded on a regular basis, when people moved out, when the first homes started to be demolished - that's when it struck home that the Christchurch earthquakes had had impacts that would set this city back decades.

These streets in North New Brighton and Bexley show the grimness of the residential aftermath. Yet to be fully wiped clean of ruined houses, yet to be graded smooth and planted over with fresh grass seed, these red zones have a desolation and a loneliness that is difficult to describe. You can't capture the devastation fully on camera but you can certainly 'feel' it and see it, as you drive through.

My own home is currently being repaired by EQC and because of that I think, I have become a little blase, a little complacent. It's not that I've forgotten these ruined places or the former residents whose lives have been turned upside down; but with long-awaited house repairs comes a singular joy - a sense of disbelief actually, that you're finally on the road to recovery and with each fresh coat of paint, it's easy to be side-tracked from others' grim reality. 

Today these suburban places lifted me out of my complacency.
They slapped me in the face with the toughest of emotions - loss, grief, anger, abandonment, loneliness, despair - their vast tracts of mud, broken roads and skeletal trees all the sadder in midwinter.

There are new habitats here now.
The ducks, the bossy plovers and the proud pukeko - they all stride across the gouged-out roads with a new confidence, with a sense of territorial ownership that brings you up short. It's odd and unexpected and charming all at once.

In many places, the roads - if they can still be called that - are barely recognisable. They're deeply rutted, often flooded and a trap in waiting for the under-carriage of cars travelling too fast. Not that you see many of those in these areas now either. There may be an occasional sightseer, or perhaps a former resident returning to their old neighbourhood. 
It's hard to know what turmoil of emotions must be confronting them as they drive through these abandoned, creepy streets. With rotting rolls of carpet and abandoned furniture strewn along street edges,  and graffiti rampant, there's no longer a sense of residential safety here. It's ghostly almost, eerie.

The ruin is heartbreaking, the sense of loneliness palpable.
The overgrown, fenced of children's playground, the single brown velvet chair at the end of a culdesac with its stuffing torn open - both metaphors for the rupture of suburban comforts.

Now permanently flooded roads - nothing really to do with rainfall; a few remaining boarded up windows, broken fences; sagging, disconnected, broken power lines; shattered glass and stolen supermarket trolleys stranded in mud and puddles, torn net curtains - almost more powerful and visually jarring now, almost four years after the first earthquakes, than they were in the beginning.

I sit here now, in the comfort of my temporary EQC accommodation in the heart of Merivale knowing that my own house further east is on the mend. I should be happy but I feel the deep and indescribable sadness - that sadness that descends so often and so unexpectedly on so many Christchurch people; and I realise at last, that it may never go away.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Four Houses, Four Families, Four Stories

I have hundreds of photographs of abandoned red zone houses in Christchurch.
I only have forty or so recorded stories from some of the earthquake-battered people who once lived in them - people who then, in the thick of thousands of after-shocks, were only too willing to talk about one of the most shattering and damaging experiences of their lives.
I often wonder now, as I walk or cycle through these sad, sad abandoned residential areas, what has become of all of the people - not only the ones I interviewed but all the others too. The thousands who have made off to other places.  I wonder what they have taken with them - what memories, what dreams and aspirations, what physical treasures that were too important to leave behind
With every passing week, more and more of these abandoned red-zoned homes are being demolished.
What were once busy suburban communities filled with spinning clothes lines, screaming kids, yelling parents, loud stereos and idling cars, have been reduced to flat, barren tracts of land scraped bare of their suburban histories. Every gone. The few saved trees and the freshly sown grass no replacement for family life.
It's a good thing that so many people have gathered these family stories.
Because before long, we will need to be reminded of them - reminded of the families who once made up the once-vibrant communities of east Christchurch; reminded of the merciless power of Nature to wreck and reshape the human spirit.


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