I am standing in the centre of Christchurch, New Zealand. It is my first visit since a series of devastating quakes shook the city to pieces. The most violent, in February 2011, killed 185 people, two-thirds of them in the collapse of a single building. And I am stunned at the destruction, even two years on.
The Christchurch I knew is gone. The centre city is a wasteland of shingled and empty lots, ruined buildings and demolition trucks. Surviving tower blocks lean with tired abandon, like rows of crooked teeth. Most are due to come down.
Beyond, houses lie empty. Just two years ago they were proud symbols of domestic prosperity. Today they are abandoned, their walls cracked, shingled roofs askew, grass growing tall through cracks in the driveway. Grey silt, the dried remnants of liquefaction, lies unexpectedly here and there. Cars bibble over rippled tarmac; bridges that were once smooth are arched.In the seaside suburbs, houses teeter on the edges of new cliffs, rubble still piled below. Walls of shipping containers shield roads and houses from fresh falls.It is a city devastated.
And yet it is also a city with hope. Everywhere, Council trucks and diggers are working to renew sewerage, water, gas and electricity lines. Some buildings are swathed in scaffolding. The Arts Centre – the former Canterbury University buildings, where Ernest Rutherford worked – is being repaired. Near the old Cashel Mall – where masonry tumbled into the streets, crushing people – there is a mall of shipping containers. It is abuzz with sound; singers perform on a stage, people sit drinking coffee and enjoying the sun.
There is a spirit here which speaks of hope, of life, of a brighter future. It is inspiring.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013