Leandra here with the next instalment of life downunder...
Melissa and I were pretty much inseparable at uni, we had been great friends at school in Christchurch, forms 2-5 (12-15 yrs), then I left to do my 6th form years in Mt Maunganui, Bay of Plenty. In 1986 I returned to Christchurch to start my degree at Canterbury university, and Melissa and I became best of friends once more, and from then did literally everything together. She in general was far more sensible than I, and I'm sure she got me out of many a sticky situation. What happened at varsity stays at varsity!
Today it was great to see her, her husband and gorgeous daughter, and catch up on who was doing what these days. She hasn't changed a single bit!
After a long and lovely lunch, we went for a long walk around the city.
We started out from the Arts centre, always a hub of weekend activity, in the past it housed plenty of arts and craft businesses and a weekend market with handmade goods and foos for sale. This being a collection of old stone buildings, it has been permanently closed, and so there was no activity today, just another propped up building awaiting a decision on its future. Every old stone church is propped up like this, unused, and waiting for restoration or demolition.
Next, heading towards the river Avon, we crossed to see this old visitor centre, again, propped up.
Alongside the river there used to be many restaurants buzzing with Sunday brunching people, again, destroyed buildings fenced off and closed, and more cleared sections awaiting new development. This one below used to house a wagamama, but now awaits demolition.
The most consistent survivors seem to be wooden building that coped well with the quake, there are some gorgeous wooden houses that are now commercial, residential, retail or B&B's, as below.
This site used to house the Clarendon hotel. An elegant hotel in its day. I worked there as a Saturday cleaner when I was 15, (not a nice job when dealing with the public bar men's toilets!) It was also where the Queen and Prince Phillip stayed when they visited in the 50's prior to her inauguration, and immediately next door was a cinema and beyond that the main town square. All those buildings have gone. In the distance on the square the remains of the cathedral can be seen.
This is Ridges hotel, now emptying 4 years, and uninhabitable
Temporary Banks In containers in Cashel street shopping area.
And shops in containers, this is Cashel street, the pedestrianised area always brimming with people, today, just a few shoppers by late afternoon, despite all being open
Containers turned into a coffeehouse cafe, who knew containers could be so versatile!
They have the containers arranged as small arcades.
It's resourceful, but sad.
The beautiful Anglican cathedral, where our school went for many special services that is to be demolished despite looking in pretty good shape, the roofline is perfect, it's just the front that looks bad, the rest seems salvageable. But apparently not. The catholic cathedral is in a far worse state, but they are repairing that. Logic does not seem to follow as to which buildings are being saved and which are not.
And here is it's temporary cathedral replacement, made from cardboard.
Opposite the temporary cathedral is the site of the CTV building that collapsed, layer upon layer. It was here that most lives were lost in February 4 years ago, and here are the chairs as a reminder of each of the lives lost.
If you walk a block either side of Cashel street, this is what you see, empty lot after empty lot...
Old building facades propped up by containers waiting for a new building to be constructed behind.
Closed off streets and buildings waiting for demolition
And then you come across weird things like this designed to cheer people up, perhaps a reminder of how small we are and how giant the task ahead. I found a munchkin!
As I said, Cashel Street is the only retail area open in the entire CBD, the blocks around it that used to bustle with alternative arcades, malls, shops, restaurants and pubs are all empty, devoid of any activity, just rubble.
There is another street, New Regent Street, that has been given a quaint makeover. However, sadly already many of the shops down here have quickly closed as there is little foot traffic to keep them open.
The last sad sight I saw was another old building on High Street, called Smiths, this was always an old fashioned store, and I remember working in here for a few weeks as a holiday job. It was a redecorating store with paint, wallpaper etc, and flipping freezing as I remember. To the street on the left were more older brick buildings, and there was no access, the entire block is destroyed, and still waiting demolition.
As I said, the main quake happened a few years back, but there have been thousands and thousands of aftershocks since, and this entire area we walked, shown in these pictures (apart from Cashel street) has only been re-opened for public access 3 months ago. Hotels, cinemas, shops, banks, post office, town hall, courts, pubs, restaurants and hundreds and hundreds of retail businesses are all gone, closed. The heart of the city is not beating. Imagine your high street with 95% of the shops shut, and then multiply that by an area of 20 centre city blocks, and you might get of sense of the area affected here in the Christchurch CBD. There are only a few tall building left in the skyline, where shadows once fell from many.
There is a significant redevelopment plan underway, and in 10-15 years Christchurch will have a new city, but for now, there is nothing except a small handful of shops struggling to survive.
Business has moved to the suburbs. The buds of renewal can be seen in the city centre and on the CBD edges. We went to a few pubs that have recently opened, where 12 months ago there was only one temporary bar made from2 buses and a temporary roof. Wounds take time to heal. I hope Christchurch can regenerate, and I hope the thousands of people whose lives and livelihoods were deeply affected can also see the light at the end of the tunnel. The kiwi spirit is to overcome and be strong. It will happen.
It's so hard to observe, but so much harder for those who have lived through it all and have still many hurdles to overcome. Strength to them all.