The Avon meanders through Christchurch.

The Avon meanders through Christchurch.

The Botanical Garden

The Botanical Garden

Empty space

Empty space

Parking lot

Parking lot

Cranes are busy on some building sites ...

Cranes are busy on some building sites …

... while others are filling with water.

… while others are filling with water.

A sign seen in front of many city buildings

A sign seen in front of many city buildings

This building waits for rebuilding or demolition.

This building waits for rebuilding or demolition.

Some chain link fences are decorated.

Some chain link fences are decorated.

This fence around a historic building has become a work of art.

This fence around a historic building has become a work of art.

The World War I memorial arch on the Bridge of Remembrance under repair

The World War I memorial arch on the Bridge of Remembrance under repair

The Cathedral facade is gone and with it the rose window.

The Cathedral facade is gone and with it the rose window.

Christchurch was founded by British colonists on land occupied by earlier Maori settlers.  The British drained swamps and laid out a city on a compass grid through which meanders the Avon River.   Christchurch was chartered as a city in 1856 and grew to become the largest city on the North Island.  Imposing stone and brick buildings from the Victorian era, fine green parks and a large botanical garden, punters on the Avon – an Englishman would have felt quite at home.

An earthquake of 7.1 magnitude rattled Christchurch on September 4, 2010, and a second one on February 22, 2011 that measured 6.3 on the Richter scale brought many weakened buildings tumbling down.  Hundreds of aftershocks large and small followed.

Few lives were lost compared to the death toll of Supertyphoon Yolanda/ Haiyan in the Philippines last November.  185 people died in the quakes, more than half of these in the collapse of the Canterbury Television Building.

However, the physical destruction was enormous, as the quake’s epicenter was only 10 km. from the center of the downtown and only a few kilometers under the surface.  The city center stands above unstable muddy ground that “liquefied”.   Thousands of buildings were damaged.  Some fell, others have been demolished and still others stand surrounded by chain link fence, awaiting a structural evaluation or a decision by the owners and the insurance companies whether they can be safely rebuilt to the stringent earthquake code.  Much of the downtown looks like a huge parking lot, even though rebuilding is moving ahead.

The most controversial issue is whether the neo-Gothic Anglican Cathedral will be demolished or restored.  Its front tower collapsed and the rose window façade crumbled, and though the rest of the cathedral stands, it has been badly damaged, “cracked like a plate”.  The Church has concluded that the cost to rebuild is too great, estimating it at $100 million NZ, and has declared its intention to have the building taken down.   Proponents of restoration claim the cathedral as the defining landmark of the old city center and put forward a figure of $60 million NZ, of which $40 million would come from insurance.

This is a painful controversy in a city which otherwise appears united around the theme of  “Rebuild” and “Re-Start”.  I will write more about this in my next post.

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