Thursday, January 4, 2018

Christchurch: part 2

With my mom and grandpa on the interisland ferry in 2012
After getting everything arranged at the Antarctic Centre yesterday, we had the afternoon off. I was eager to see downtown Christchurch, so two of my fellow trainees and I borrowed bikes from the hotel and set off toward the city center.

The last time I was in Christchurch was in 2012, on a trip with my mom and grandpa. I had been at a conference in Wellington and met up with them afterwards for a short vacation. Together, we took the interisland ferry from Wellington and explored New Zealand's south island. I have a lot of great memories from that trip.

Christchurch suffered a massive earthquake in 2011, and I remember when we visited it in 2012, most of the city center was still destroyed. The shopping district was shut down except for a few stores that had been set up in shipping containers. There was a makeshift outdoor dance club with speakers run by a modified coin-operated washing machine. There were large areas fenced off and marked as dangerous, and the famous Christchurch Cathedral was severely damaged.

Christchurch Cathedral is largely unchanged
At the time, we marveled at how little the city had recovered from the earthquake in the preceding two years, and we stopped a New Zealander on the street to ask why. The man explained that those in charge of the recovery efforts had decided to rebuild using any materials they could salvage from the old buildings, rather than leveling the city center and starting over. It would save some money but cost loads and loads of time.

The "Cardboard Cathedral"
I was very curious to see what downtown Christchurch looked like, since it's now been 7 years since the earthquake struck. As my classmates and I walked through the city center, I have to admit, I was surprised at how little had changed. The shopping district is back up and running, with about a 5-block area of fully functional, renovated buildings. Just outside the renovated area, though, is a ring of buildings that are still in various states of destruction. The famous Christchurch Cathedral looked sadly exactly the same as in 2012, though the square surrounding it had been re-vamped and opened again to the public. There is progress, but the recovery is taking a long time.

Christchurch Container Mall
Just a few blocks away from the still-destroyed cathedral, we stumbled on what's called the "Cardboard Cathedral," a transitional structure made largely of cardboard where church parishioners have been meeting. I don't remember the Cardboard Cathedral from 2012, so it must have been erected since then. I was impressed at how much the transitional structure looked like a real church and kind of wished I would be in town on a Sunday to attend. Even with recovery taking as long as it has, the people of Christchurch have found ways to continue with life and fill the gaps.

The Dance-O-Mat
To my great amusement, both the Dance-O-Mat and the Container Mall were still there! We actually saw a couple using the Mat for ballroom dance practice. In my personal opinion, it would be very cool for Christchurch to keep landmarks like these around. They would serve as reminders of the earthquake recovery period and become attractions themselves.

Despite the still-rampant destruction in downtown, I must admit, there was a lot more life in Christchurch than I remember seeing in 2012. People were out and about in the streets, ducking into stores and stopping at food trucks. Many of the public spaces and squares that had been closed off in 2012 were not only open but filled with public artworks. There was a sculpture that looked like trees but which children could play in; there was a set of giant armchairs covered in astroturf for people to sit on; there was a life-size chess set in Cathedral Square.

Slowly but surely, Christchurch is coming back. I was glad for the opportunity to see the city again.

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