Whenever I come back to Christchurch, I seem to have forgotten the carnage the city still suffers as a result of the devastating earthquakes in 2010 -2011. I’m not talking about the obvious; like the city centre having numerous empty sections because the buildings that use to be there are now gone or the Christchurch Cathedral, that has lain shattered and broken since February 2011. But I’m talking about everyday life.
Driving from Christchurch International Airport in the North West of the city towards my mums place in the East, you could be forgiven for thinking that Christchurch is recovering nicely and that things aren’t as bad as you’ve heard or remember. But then you pass over the invisible boundary between the rest of the city and the Eastside. There, things aren’t so peachy.
On the Eastside you feel like you’ve accidentally driven onto a rally car course. After a couple of hours you can avoid the ever present potholes like a pro. Traffic cones seem to out number lamp posts. Shipping containers might look fancy in town with their upmarket shops and cafes but over here they hold up hills and act as a barrier for rock falls. You travel an hour of your way because the shop you need to go to is just over the river, but all the bridges are closed so you have to go via Kaiapoi!
You can go from 50km to 30km back to 50km in the space of 30 seconds. There are so many detours that you travel down streets you never knew existed despite living in Christchurch your entire life. You actually wonder if there are any traffic cones and road signs left anywhere else in the world because you are pretty sure they are all in this city and on this side of town. Some suburbs have been completely levelled, if you didn’t know it you wouldn’t think any houses had been there at all. The part of the street I lived on as a kid no longer has any houses on it. Memories are now all I have of the home I spent most of my first 30 years in. All that is left are weeds and wild flowers.
You wonder how people still live with all this going on and I guess the easy answer is because you have to. It would be an easy solution to just pack up and go somewhere else but A) where would you go and B) How would you pay for it?!?!?
It’s been just over four years since that first earthquake on 4th September 2010, and that wasn’t even the worse one! Some people are still in living in limbo with cracks in their walls and no end in sight in their legal battles to get things fixed. You feel sorry for those people but also grateful that your mum had the damage to her house fixed long ago.
But this city can surprise you too. Some days are so bright and sunny that you honestly don’t think there is a care in the world. You go down to the beach and see people surfing, running and flying kites. You go for a drive around the Port HIlls (or as much around the Port Hills as you can), take in the sights of Lyttleton Harbour and actually think that life is pretty perfect.
The city itself has some wonderful innovative and interactive ways to get people back here; including the World Buskers Festival each January (now in it’s 21st year!), and ‘gap-fillers‘ – creative and fun things like old roadworks and road signs in a place where you can make music with them. Their latest thing is Christchurch Stands Tall where colourful fibre-glass giraffes have been placed around the city – there’s even a map you can use to find them all 99 of them.
The Christchurch I remember as a kid is mostly gone. In its place is an almost blank canvas. There is still a lot to do and it is going to take years, if not decades. But this is also an exciting time for Christchurch, a chance to develop into something amazing. Christchurch will forever and always be my home. I am proud to be from this city and it will always be in my heart. I, for one, can’t wait to see what this city becomes.