Is there an elephant in the room? Christchurch, New Zealand

 

As part of my upcoming series of blogs about Christchurch let’s first talk about the elephant in the room. In other words, the earthquakes that shook my city in 2010 – 2011.

I left Christchurch some eight weeks after the September 2010 quake, not because of the 7.3 quake or its many aftershocks, but a decision that had been made in May that year. Since then, I have returned to Christchurch on dozens of occasions so, although I have not lived through the many but normal aftershocks, I have closely seen the devastation wrought on my city.

My roots are deep in this wonderful city: my Cornish maternal roots arrived here in 1862, while my Scottish paternal roots arrived in 1873 – and there they remained, planted and flourishing on the stony plains and peninsula ever since. During this series of blogs, I will be talking about Christchurch as it is post-quake, as well as linking it to my past.

My frequent trips down from Wellington, and usually staying in the city centre, means I’ve watched the continuing journey as a new city emerges. Let’s not pull any punches, Christchurch will never be the old Christchurch again. While I mourn this loss I also celebrate the new – as it is emerging. Those seismic shocks have and are certainly changing the face of the city.

An air of creativity and innovation flows through the city but unfortunately it seems many locals are not aware of this, and say they don’t come into the city as there is nothing to do. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Tourists, and those working in the city centre, are well aware of many things to do. Some of it involves quake tourism of course, for others it’s checking out the huge artworks around the CBD, taking their kids to the magnificent Margaret Mahy playground, promenading, dining and shopping along New Regent Street, which I believe, is now Christchurch’s oldest retail area.

One thing I became very aware of during my last visit (February 2016) is how many tourists still find the devastation hard to handle and often only stay a night or two. One of the difficulties for them seems to be they are unsure what is actual ‘quake damage’ and what has been demolished ‘because of’ the quake. (NOTE: I again suggest the council or some other such body create a historic plaque to state “This building is a quake survivor’ for building owners to use).

It also seems that many find the city-wide building sites noisy and annoying, whereas I see them as a sign of vitality of the city and positive growth. Unfortunately, it seems travellers many arrive at the airport grab their campervan or rental car and take off, heading south or west. Many I spoke to said they’d been told by people in other parts of New Zealand ‘there is nothing to see down there.’ Most said they were thrilled they had ignored the ill informed advice.

Nice curves on one of the new buildings
Nice curves on one of the new buildings

To learn about the quake, I can absolutely recommend Quake City, a Canterbury Museum project, on Cashel Mall. Our city centre lost 80% of its buildings, not because they fell down, but because they had to be demolished as being unsafe, this means Christchurch has had much of its history erased.

The sad deaths, from the February 2011 6.3 quake, occurred mostly in two relatively modern buildings which did collapse. The artwork of white chairs as a memorial to them is  on the site of my old church: St Paul’s Trinity Pacific, which growing up as a city kid, was the church I attended, and married in, and in those days was just called St Paul’s: it too was a quake casualty.

So, whether you live in Christchurch, or are visiting for a few days, make sure you see the real city centre and learn our history, not just the oft-repeated, lazy writing about Christchurch, as being conservative, just like England, or other such nonsense, this is a new city, developing new roots, and growing on top of our old foundations.

As well is reading some of the many books, stories, and poems that have sprung up post-quake you can also follow my blogs about Christchurch, so I can introduce you to the new as well is the old. Don’t forget many of our buildings (20% remember) survived, albeit most needing repairs, some major, some minor, but we still have many of our wonderful Gothic buildings in use.

So yes the ‘elephant in the room’, our seismic shakes, have jolted us, have left many traumatised, homes and businesses are gone, but a new, hopefully greener, city is emerging, and despite, or because of, my deep roots in Christchurch I celebrate that new city and feel excited every time something old reopens, or something new opens. Of course I am sad that much of my personal history is gone,  however, looking over my shoulder at something no longer there is wasting time and energy that I prefer to use positively.

Despite now living in Wellington, I’m a Cantabrian through and through, one-eyed, wearing red and black, and cheering on our sports teams, and the rebuild!  However, this does not mean I wear pink coloured glasses when writing about the city. At times I have been and will be critical, especially at locals who voice many opinions about the inner city, despite not having visited the CBD for months, or even years; a heavy-handed government making decisions they have no right to make, or delay; and the Anglican church for the damage their wrecking ball inflicted on the cathedral, and the continuing damage they are allowing by not closing the building to the elements. I believe they caused more damage than the quakes did.

Next week: our gothic buildings.

Thank-you to Breakfree On Cashel for hosting me during part of my stay in the city.

Detail of the Chalice - public art in'the square'
Detail of the Chalice – public art in the square

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Good to see Christchurch reviving .. more and more open

Pre quake New regent Street
Pre quake New Regent Street

It’s great to see Christchurch, New Zealand,  reviving with more and more of the post-quake city open.

1932 was a big year in Christchurch – Captain Cook’s statue was unveiled; there was a bitter train strike; the McDougal Art Gallery was opened; and New Regent Street opened – a double row of Spanish Mission style shops that were a huge change from the usual Gothic Revival and Queen Anne styles that most of the earlier inner city buildings had been built in.

Now, post quakes,(2010/11) Captain Cook’s statue is still standing in Victoria Square, the McDougal is still open in the Botanic Gardens, there are no strikes , and fabulously, New Regent Street has re-opened.

As New Zealand’s only street built at one time, in one style, it was considered a theatrical oddity among the staid buildings that surrounded it. Now, those buildings are mostly gone but this colourful street is once again open and although not all shops are open, yet, this is once again a tourist, and locals, destination hotspot.

One shop that opens this Saturday (27th April) is also a quake survivor – BEADZ UNLIMITED – formerly at the Arts Centre which is closed for quake strengthening and  repairs and, appropriately, one of their many products are the commemorative series which includes the original, the “broken cathedral,” and now also features the Basilica, the Arts Centre and other Christchurch favourites.

Rowena Watson started Beadz many years ago and it has grown from a market stall to being New Zealand’s first bead shop. A talented designer, she also designs many of her original beads and creates beautiful jewellery. So whether you want to make your own souvenir of Christchurch, New Zealand, or buy a gift, tourists and locals will always find something here.

BEADZ upstairs windows are original 1931
BEADZ upstairs windows are original 1931

See here for other shops open (or opening) in colourful New Regent Street and use this map to find out what’s open  in Christchurch.

Paver repairs nearly completed early April
Paver repairs nearly completed early April
Rendezvous Hotel at the md of New Regent Street open too.
Rendezvous Hotel at the end of New Regent Street opens too.
Captain Cook shares Victoria Square with Queen Vic ... of course:  2 min's walk from New Regent St
Captain Cook shares Victoria Square with Queen Vic … of course. Only  2 min’s walk from New Regent St
Site of Beadz in the Arts Centre
Site of the old Beadz in Christchurch’s  Arts Centre
Meet you for a coffee?
Meet you for a coffee?

Christchurch has lots to offer

On one of my regular trips to Christchurch last week – using my preferred rental car company New Zealand Rent a Car – it was good to see even more progress in the city.

Every time I’m there I’m happy to see the cordon has been reduced and the the city full of people.

One of the exciting new developments is to see New Regent Street is on the verge of re-opening. This pleases me as this historic will be the first shopping precinct to RE-OPEN in the city centre.

Existing Businesses Reopening ( So, welcome home to you all)

Moko Cafe

Young’s Jewellers

Cafe Stir

Coffee Lovers

Hot Damn! Lingerie

NEW Businesses to the Street ( Welcome to the city centre)

Beadz Unlimited (relocating from the quake damaged Arts Centre)

The Last Word

Prestige Fudge

MC for Nails

Polished Diamonds

Mrs Higgins Cookies

Caffeine Laboratory

Hairdresser (not yet named)  

My next blog will be about New Regent Street in detail but wanted to give all locals and travellers a "heads up" about this exciting news. This is me checking out the progress!

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The owner of Beadz Unlimited discusses the signs for her double width shop

While  in Christchurch I recommend you use this online map  – What’s Open provides the most comprehensive guide to What’s Open in Christchurch, NZ. Very handy!