Monday, January 2, 2012
Locksley Avenue - A Portrait of a Street
It’s January 2nd, 2012 and as I write this at 11am, there have already been close to a dozen aftershocks, the largest, mag.5.5 at around 5.45am. This is not what most Cantabrians would have wanted after the last 15 months. Most were hoping for a fresh, much more stable start.
But as I lay awake in bed at 6am, I was just grateful to have a bed and house – albeit a cracked and creaking one – to lie in. Many Cantabrians have lost all that – a fact that was once again brought home to me yesterday, when I went for an early morning bike ride along Locksley Avenue, which runs along the banks of the Avon River in the Christchurch suburb of Dallington. I cycled the length of the street. These are the photographs I took on New Year’s Day.
I’ve seen many abandoned houses over the last few months but cycling down Locksley Avenue - in the heart of the Red Zone residential area - was an eye-opener. House after house after house has been abandoned. Of the dozens I passed, there were perhaps six that still appeared to be lived in. The rest sit empty, with once neatly mown lawns now long and shaggy, tickling the windowsills.
White picket fences are ‘losing ground’ against the weeds, sweet lavender bushes and climbing roses have reverted to wild, uncontrollable behaviour and hydrangeas and sweet peas have taken command of once quiet, orderly garden corners. One or two abandoned homes sport recently mown lawns – it’s as if the owners can’t let go, can’t watch as the homes they’ve owned, sometimes for decades, sink further and further into a state of neglect and dishevelment.
Animal tracks run through the long grass of front lawns, Portaloos sit dormant on the street and driveways and pathways are ruptured by giant cracks and pitted with fresh mounds of liquefaction.
Gulls screech into the lonely air and disconnected power lines sag across the abandoned properties. Baby starlings chatter in ‘luxury nests’ made by winged parents eager to maximise the opportunities afforded by abandoned real estate and an absence of humans. It’s a salutary reminder of just how fast Mother Nature reclaims her spoils if we happen to turn our backs for too long.
There are houses on a lean, rooms tilting at odd angles. Others have sunk into the once trusty soil. Garden walls have fallen, windows are broken and front doors swing, open and askew. Tarpaulins flap in the wind and sheets of plywood protect interiors from the elements.
It’s those anonymous plywood ‘faces’ I find the most disconcerting. It's as if the 'soul of the house' has been erased, its history overwritten. Some have been marked with numbers – the number of the property I assume; a number that once meant home. A number that now reads as ‘statistic.’ I often speak of my own home in terms of its number – “my little old 149 is still standing tall,” I might say. It’s a term of endearment for the old ruin I call home. It may not be perfect – and let’s be honest, it was a work in progress even before the earthquakes – but it is my safe haven, my retreat, my security. The people of Locksley Avenue no longer have that.
And Locksley Avenue is just one street among hundreds in Christchurch where this same scenario is playing out right now. It’s a sobering thought - a reminder that no matter how annoying the aftershocks may be, most of us have much to be grateful for.