Christchurch After the Earthquakes: A Story of Resilience

At the last minute I emailed Emma Healey of Money Can Buy Me Happiness to see if we could meet while Todd and I were visiting Christchurch. I knew her from the Blog Brilliantly group on Facebook, but it’s always nicer to talk to someone in person.

Earthquake Damage in Christchurch’s Eastern Suburbs

She was gracious enough to drive us around the city on a Saturday to show us damage from the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes. Most lives were lost when buildings collapsed downtown, but near the estuary on the eastern side of Chch, entire suburbs were ruined by liquefaction. The earthquakes and their many aftershocks propelled water up through the ground, covering everything in a layer of silt and sewage. The government divided the area near the estuary into a green zone where residents could continue to live and a red zone where nothing could be rebuilt.

Emma’s parents lived in the red zone right near the border, and she said they could have fought to have their house included in the green zone, but they were tired of fixing the damage.

We drove through suburbs along the Avon River, which had everything that you would expect in a residential area—paved roads, street lights, electrical wires—except houses.

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Driveways ended in vacant lots.

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At first I thought this was a park, but then I realized that the trees looked odd. They weren’t spaced the way they would be in a park but instead had enough room between them to fit a house.

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Some streets were partially blocked off, and there were lots of potholes. What’s the point of maintaining the roads?

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There’s been some controversy about what to do with the land in the residential red zone. The government has cleaned up and restored the river through the central business district, which has been good for the birds and fish that live there, but the part of the river that runs through the eastern suburbs still needs to be cleaned up. The Avon-Otakaro Network wants these former suburbs to be turned into a reserve, and the government has begun to pay attention to the idea.

The Red Zone Downtown

Todd and I also spent a couple of afternoons walking around downtown, and at first we didn’t know what to think. Even accounting for all the earthquake damage and construction sites, the city center didn’t seem very dense. We were staying near Victoria Street, which has a lot of restaurants and coffee shops, but the neighborhood was quiet, not at all like our neighborhood in Wellington. If I go back to Christchurch in the future, I think I’ll get an AirB&B around Woolston village, one of the eastern suburbs; Ferry Road runs through it and was pretty lively.

There was certainly a sense of loss in this area. Who couldn’t be affected by the damage to this cathedral, or the irony that the steel structure on the right designed to protect the rose window after the first earthquake actually damaged the building further during the second?

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But four years after the earthquakes, what I noticed most was resilience. Cranes and scaffolding dominate the horizon now.

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Until all that construction becomes new homes and offices, there are lovely sites like the Commons, where we got our dinner and dessert one Friday night from food trucks.

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A community space located where the Crowne Plaza Hotel used to stand, the Commons is managed by Gap Filler, an organization that fosters community spirit by putting up temporary developments on vacant land. The Arcades Project built the archways, and the Commons curves around the Retro Sports Facility. We sat on the berm and watched children run and play and listened to the music.

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Go a few blocks farther south and you’ll find ReStart Mall, where restaurants and boutiques occupy shipping containers.

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Greening the Rubble has made its mark in both locations.

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Both locations also include references to That Time You Helped, a way to remember the many kindnesses that helped people get on their feet after the earthquakes.

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Mentioned in This Post

Avon-Otakaro Network

Blog Brilliantly

The Commons

Gap Filler

Money Can Buy Me Happiness

The clearest map of the residential red zone