The sight of overhead cranes.
The clang of jackhammers.
The constant rumble of dump trucks filled with debris.
The dust clouds surrounding sites slated for demolition or new buildings under construction.
After four earthquakes since 2010, over half of the buildings in Christchurch’s Central Business District (CBD) were destroyed or have been condemned; the number I got from informal conversations was 70 to 80 percent. The expected cost to the local economy and for reconstruction will be in the billions of dollars. These are staggering numbers. Before reconstruction can begin, there are buildings to take down, and mountains of rubble to take away.
There’s a certain hustle and bustle by day inside the fenced no-go red-zone, but at night, there’s an eerie stillness where there should be activity befitting the central downtown area. The oldest parts of town suffered the most severe damage. The truth is somewhere between a film set and a war zone – few in Christchurch were left untouched by the seismic activity.
It’s hard to find fault if anyone wants to leave the city or area, nervous by the presence of frequent tremors or the threat of another large quake. However, I met people who decided to stay. They remain optimistic, and they want to be involved in the long reconstruction process which will take at least the next ten years.
I felt a little guilty coming into town to see how things were like. But I wanted to see the reality of it, and to talk to locals about it. I was interested in what was happening now, and how people were trying to get back to their lives.
To draw people back into the CBD, the Re:START Container Mall on Cashel Street is a collection of shops, food stands, and coffee shops, housed in refurbished shipping containers. I was encouraged by the large weekend crowds. When I told staff at a coffee shop or the Kiwi-Greek family at their gyro stand I was visiting from Canada, they were pleased I was spending some coin with them, and they also seemed happy I had come to visit.
On 30 July 2012, the Christchurch Central Development Unit or CCDU announced plans for the complete reconstruction and revitalization of the CBD; see also the story here. But serious problems remain for existing homeowners in the outer suburbs, with some still waiting on insurance claims and definitive aid from the national authorities.
The no-go red zone is shrinking and changing, as the process turns eventually from clearing to reconstruction.
UPDATE: At the end of June 2013, the cordons around the CBD have been removed, reconstruction in full activity, and responsibility returned by the national government to the local city authorities.
I took the photos above on 15 and 17 July 2012. This post is posted initially on Fotoeins Fotopress at fotoeins.com.