Cashel Street was munted, as New Zealanders say, a victim of the February 2011 quake that was expected to hit Wellington. It ripped the heart out of an unprepared Christchurch in just eight seconds leaving a trail of horrifying destruction.
Christchurch Rebuild and Reinvent
Fast forward to 2012 and Christchurch rebuild and reinvent has started. Lonely Planet voted Christchurch their “Must See” city of 2013, citing its inventiveness, resilience and creativity as reasons to go. New projects create a sense of energy, they say, that rubs off on those who visit. I book my ticket.
A City with a Sense of Humour
Fast forward to 2013. The street’s thronging with shoppers, but they’re making do inside shipping containers masquerading as retail spaces with racks and shelves that don’t fool anyone. Despite the chill air, I watch them chatter over lattes at tables laid out in open-sided containers, as if it’s the most normal thing in the world. Recycled church bells in baby blue and pink, planted with flowers, add a defiant splash of daintiness, softening this brutal, temporary cityscape. Photos on the Quake City museum’s toilet door immortalise the “Show us your long drop” competition. Ingenious residents improvised with garden chair and plastic bucket commodes – even a blue “Turdis” police box. I can’t help but chuckle, irreverently, given I’m sitting so close to mementoes of tragedy in this Christchurch rebuild.
A “Must See” City
Fast forward to 2014. The New York Times wakes up to Christchurch’s tourist potential, voting the city in at Number 2 on its list of 52 Places to Go. It’s a city that does things differently – a cathedral made of cardboard is surely unique? Gapfiller has its work cut out: a grassroots organisation that makes the best of the spaces that are temporarily opening up in the city as demolition occurs. They’ve already taken down a pavilion made from pallets, but now there’s Gap Golf, a mini golf pop-up right on the High Street. As redevelopment and regeneration take hold of the Christchurch rebuild, parts of the central city open up to visitors once more; they try out the CBD Rebuild Tour on a bicycle or explore by Segway. In the sunshine, they punt on the River Avon again, just like they did before.
Christchurch’s residents are resilient, adaptable, their sense of humour lighting a path through the darkest of times. This quake, small in magnitude but devastatingly shallow, claimed 185 souls, but not that of the city. They want to show you their city. Fast forward to 2015. Are you going to come and see what’s changed?