Sunday, April 15, 2012


A few days ago I was taken to ex-Cathedral square in Christchurch.  Feeling slightly fraudulent in a bright yellow overjacket and bright orange hard hat I was guided through the wasteland that was High St to what used to be the square.  I was accompanied by two young men who are working to re-establish c1, a cafe that was an integral part of the CBD until February 2011. That they are undertaking this at all, given the devastation that surrounds them, is both remarkable and admirable.

In a prime position in the square is a hamburger and soft drink cart. This was our goal.  The women serving were full of good humour and the men surrounding the cart, in their colourful jackets and hard hats seemed oblivious to where they were.  The mildly scatalogical jokes and general piss-taking at first seemed exactly appropriate to the surroundings.

With dripping hamburgers and cans of soft drink we sat in a line on some concrete slabs.  Ahead of us was what remains of the cathedral, stained glass replaced by timber and spire replaced by sky. It looks not unlike the much older remnants of churches carefully preserved in English county towns. It perhaps should stay like this and provide a poignant memorial to the pre-earthquake city.

In all directions beyond the cathedral are large buildings.  For a while our conversation consisted of me asking whether or not particular buildings were due for demolition, to be told that they were, for the most part.  In the background were the constant grating thuds coming from what seemed like a crane that had been modified to wield an enormous hammer.  It was thumping and grinding away at the last few floors of the Crown Plaza.  If these buildings are that difficult to demolish why did they have to be demolished at all? This might be a question that relies on a thorough-going ignorance of engineering, but it is still a question.

On our way back through what was the central part of Manchester Street, I was told that last week men had been seen with new brooms, sweeping a bit of street that was otherwise piled high with debris.  Being surrounded by dereliction for the first time takes people in different ways.  They have to sort out new ways of being.  Sweeping seems an odd way to go though.

The overwhelming sense of dereliction in central Christchurch is hard to bear. It is a sad place that will take a long time to become enlivened once more. The humour that can be heard from those who are working in its midst sounds just a little hollow, but it is better than nothing.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 New Zealand License.