Five years on from the catastrophic earthquake, some of Canterbury’s finest reveal how they’re planning to mark the occasion, and how optimistic they feel about the recovery.
At 12:51pm on February 22, 2011, Canterbury was changed forever, when a 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck. One hundred and eighty five people would lose their lives, with vast parts of central and suburban Christchurch – buildings, streets, homes – reduced to rubble.
On the fifth anniversary, the Spinoff has asked a bunch of Cantabrians two questions:
1. How are you planning to mark the fifth anniversary of the 2011 quake?*
2. How optimistic are you feeling at this point about the recovery?
Jim Anderton: best memorial is a vibrant city
As Co-chair of the Great Christchurch Building Trust, I’m working on the fund raising campaign for the restoration of the Christchurch Cathedral. As Chair of the temporary Christchurch Stadium Trust, I am preparing for the first Super 18 Crusaders game against the Chiefs on Saturday, February 25. And as a director of the Christchurch Branch of Habitat for Humanity, working on a new affordable housing project in Christchurch. In other words, business as usual, which I suppose is the way most Cantabrians have coped over the last five years.
I will remember those who died, the trauma suffered by so many and the hardship tens of thousands of people in the city have been through. But rebuilding a vibrant and supportive city environment is the best memorial we can leave.
I have always been optimistic that we will rebuild our city. But is has taken, and will take, a lot longer than many city leaders and insurance companies promised. That has been disappointing and frustrating for so many in Christchurch, but time estimates are now more realistic, and the new city is slowly taking shape. And we will take some of the old and much loved historic buildings with us into the future, including the Arts Centre and the two Cathedrals, (Anglican and Catholic).
The rest of New Zealand should listen and learn. You never know when and where the next one is coming, as last Sunday’s 5.9 should have reminded everyone!
Jim Anderton is a former MP, and many other things, see above …
Gerry Brownlee: I’m very optimistic
I’ll be in Christchurch, attending official engagements and visiting the offices of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority. How optimistic? Very.
Hon Gerry Brownlee is MP for Ilam and Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery
Eric Crampton: opening Red Zone Enigmas
On February 22 I’m going to open a bottle of beer.
It’s a special beer that I brought with me when I moved to Wellington from Christchurch. I bought it while shopping during a 5.3 aftershock in October 2011. The rattling bottles drew my attention to Twisted Hop’s Red Zone Enigma. Before it was bottled, that beer sat in a vat behind the army cordon, for months, at The Twisted Hop. Martin Bennett there hadn’t intended on producing a barley wine. But, several months in the vat when the army’s keeping you from getting to your plant can do that. I’ve been saving these beers and have only been drinking them on aftershocks of 5 or higher.
I have two Red Zone Enigmas left. And I’m going to drink one. I hope to drink the next one on the 10th anniversary, with no large Wellington quakes in the meantime encouraging me to open it earlier.
I was in Christchurch over Christmas. The new Margaret Mahy park is wonderful. The west side of town thrives. Downtown slowly rebuilds, but still heavily constrained by the planning gurus. When I was in Christchurch, in 2012, the hoteliers desperately wanted just to know whether and where a convention centre would be built so they could plan where they might rebuild. In 2016, we still do not know. And the east side of town, where I lived, fares very poorly: it is now miles farther away from employment centres.
I’m optimistic about the recovery over the next 15 to 25 years. But I am glad to be away.
Eric Crampton, formerly a senior lecturer in economics at the University of Canterbury, is head of research at The New Zealand Initiative
Lianne Dalziel: a city built on generosity
On February 22, 2011, I was sitting at a computer in my Christchurch East electorate office typing the finishing touches on my Earthquake Information Update no 12 – about the implications of repairing homes in Flood Management Areas without mitigating the increased risk to flooding by raising floor levels, alongside houses that were being rebuilt at the higher levels.
Little did I imagine that within three years I would be Mayor of Christchurch. On 22 February 2016 as Mayor of Christchurch I will attend the private commemoration held by bereaved family members at Avonhead and then I will participate in a civic commemoration at 12 noon – observing silence at 12.51pm in memory of our shared sense of loss.
When I think back on the time that followed the earthquakes I think of the incredible generosity of neighbours, of community groups, the Student Volunteer Army, the Farmy Army and people fundraising for Christchurch on the streets of our sister cities around the world. That’s who we are and what we do and that’s why I remain so optimistic for our 21st century Garden City.
Lianne Dalziel is the Mayor of Christchurch
James Dann: a dispiriting year
To be honest, I’ll probably just wander around aimlessly in town for the hour after lunch. I think I went to the 185 Chairs memorial on the first anniversary, but it made me too sad. I don’t think I’ll feel like being around people at 12:51. Otherwise, the rest of the day will be any other Monday; doing my radio show in the morning, heading off do my thesis after that.
I don’t think I’ve felt as down about the state of the city as I do right now. I’ve been very critical of the direction that things have been going, but I felt like it was constructive, that what we were saying needed to be said, and at least some of it would be listened to. The last year or so has been the most dispiriting – yeah, we’re finally seeing buildings open, roads getting fixed. But it just doesn’t feel like anyone cares any more.
I was in Auckland for four days around Laneway festival, and it was like being in a completely different country. I saw more people on Queen St in an hour than I do walking round central Christchurch every day for six months. The central city here – I can’t call it a CBD, there is no business to speak of – is a surreal ghost town. Still. Five years on. Actually, it’s not all to do with the quakes. The central city had been slowly dying for two decades before 2011 – the quakes just ripped the plaster off in one go. Suburbia and mega-malls have had an impact on Christchurch unmatched in any of New Zealand’s other cities. The buildings going up are engineered for maximum safety, meaning that both residential rents are over priced, and that the cheap and cheerful businesses that make living in a city interesting simply aren’t here. The creative and artistic energy, like that featured in Peter Young’s excellent Art of Recovery, has given way to tiredness. While there are clearly a few people making packets from the rebuild, and others who continue to look for only the positives, like the pathologically optimistic Christchurch Central MP Nicky Wagner, many more are reaching the end of their tether. The events of last week – the Valentine’s Day quake, followed by the cuts to mental health funding – felt like kicking us while we were down.
On the plus side, we’ve got a dope-ass playground.
James Dann hosts the breakfast show on RDU
Roger Dennis: a day for reflection, and cursing EQC
February 22 is a day that’s etched into the collective memory of Cantabrians. It’s a day our world changed, and I expect that, like me, people will mark the day both with a minute of silence and a lot of quiet reflection.
Also like me, I expect that thousands of people will spend considerably more than a minute cursing EQC and their insurance company. Friends outside of Christchurch cannot understand how an insurance claim could take so long to settle, but many of us have battled to find resolution every week for the last few years. It’s soul destroying, and I expect that there’s a business opportunity for someone that creates voodoo dolls with the letters E, Q and C etched alongside the name of their insurance company.
How optimistic? “I’ve just graduated from one of the world’s top universities, and I’m really attracted to Christchurch because it’s full of new concrete tilt-slab buildings,” said nobody, ever.
Roger Dennis is based in Christchurch and works around the world linking long term thinking to innovation. Previously he founded Sensing City, an initiative that aimed to position Christchurch as a world-leading example of how data can be used to create better cities.
Beck Eleven: our place to love and rage against
Even if I crossed my own palm with silver, I couldn’t predict how I will feel on the fifth anniversary of that shitty, ruinous quake. Perhaps I’ll feel morose. Perhaps I won’t give a flying rat’s. I’ve done both on various other anniversaries and either is just fine. I have fantasised that there will be a national minute of silence or that people will spontaneously gather at Peter Majendie’s 185 Chairs installation, filling each and every seat with life commemorating death. There’s every chance I’ll just wake up, think “that was a real shit of a day”, have a glance through social media and get on with beating missed deadlines.
If you drive down Durham St, you’d be amazed at the number of office blocks shooting up. You would wonder why anyone was complaining about the lack of progress. Still, 1km to the east, there is Manchester St and all its vacant spaces waiting for residential building to begin. There is a flag still hanging above an abandoned furniture business on Manchester St. For five years that flag has been subject to our warm nor’westers, rain,a few doses of snow, loads of frosty Canterbury mornings followed by days of searing sun. The flag is utterly ragged and that’s how some of us feel – but only some of the days.
Just around the corner from the weather-shredded flag sits the dome of a band rotunda. It is wrapped and will remain protected until someone decides what to do with it. So some days, like when we had that rough and unexpected earthquake on February 14, we get to feel like that too.A bit broken but somehow bandaged by our own community.
My neighbour popped her head over the fence with an “are you OK?” We texted our friends and checked in with family and strangers on social media. We discussed bitch-slapping anyone who said that particular quake proved Christchurch should be relocated and was no longer a viable city.
This is still our city. It is our place to love and rage against. We love people visiting and poking around the ruins and the new shops. It’s great when visitors cross our economy with pieces of silver, we just can’t use that silver to know how we will feel today, tomorrow. Or this time in 25 years.
Beck Eleven is a columnist and writer
Fiona Farrell: I am inspired, but also despairing
I’d still say that I am planning a quiet day. Work. A walk. A swim. A pause at 12.51, thinking about those who were killed or injured and those who mourn. But I won’t be going to anything official. I don’t want to stand in the company of smarmy politicians talking about “Cantabrian resilience” while they close schools, and plan to educate 300 little children in a single classroom, in a “super school” catering for 1,800 5 to 18 year olds. No. I won’t be doing that.
I feel such a mix of emotion. When I see what individuals here are making and doing, I am inspired as always by New Zealanders’ capacity for decency, creativity and smart thinking. When I look at the current state of the city and the province under the dictatorial regimes of CERA and the government’s appointees at ECAN, I feel despair. No swimmable rivers between Timaru and Kaikoura this summer. Rowers training amid raw sewage on the Avon. The desolate banality of CERA’s CBD, contrasted with the energy of the rebuilding outside its zone of control.
And then there is the pure hilarity of Fairfax Media “supporting the city rebuild” with a series of Noodle Nights in Hagley Park. It worked really well in – where else? – Melbourne. (Our city’s slogan: We Aim to Be a Bit Like Melbourne.) I am so looking forward to the BBC’s Big Burger Bash. Followed by Fox’s Felafel Fiesta. And who needs journalists when we live in HappyLand?
And now Sunday’s jolts have made everything feel slightly tentative once more.
Author Fiona Farrell’s works include The Broken Book, The Quake Year and The Villa at the Edge of the Empire
Jarrod Gilbert: I’m happy leaving it behind
I don’t plan to do anything at all. I may have a quiet pause but I’m happy leaving it all behind.
I’m certain the city will be a much better place than it was, and that’s exciting. But I’m unworried and largely unaffected by the quakes. They don’t trouble me in meaningful ways. My feelings go out to those who have shot nerves or are otherwise negatively affected – particularly by ongoing insurance hassles, which are a scandal of the highest order.
Jarrod Gilbert is a writer and sociologist at the University of Canterbury
Emma Hart: thank goodness for the cricket
The 22nd is the third day of the second cricket test against Australia, so with any luck I will be at gorgeous Hagley Oval. The commemoration will fall neatly into the lunch break. This would make it the first time I’ve spent a quake anniversary in public: normally I just sit on the floor by myself. The presence of cricket may, of course, make it even more depressing.
I live in the east, so every day is still a game of Which Roads are Open Today? The optimism comes not so much from any individual project as the way the dots are finally starting to join up – so New Regent St is no longer an oasis in a wasteland, but a short stroll from the Margaret Mahy playground. On the other hand, there are still things we see no sign of, like a rebuilt public library, or the return of my kids’ old school. I’m of the opinion that the best thing that could happen for the Central City rebuild is the abandonment of the convention centre project.
Things feel better as more buildings go up, but there’s a very long way to go yet.
Emma Hart is an author and blogger
Bronwyn Hayward: a new connection with the world
The fifth anniversary falls on the first day of the new academic year at the University of Canterbury. It’s always a day of new beginnings. The potential of new students, their enthusiasm, anxiety, and optimism, is always infectious and being around that is one of the enormous privileges of working at a university. Some of the students I teach now are facing tough situations, they do see real struggle around them and many have a sense of urgency about wanting to make a difference.
I also want to take some time out and slip down to join the River of Flowers ceremony for a short time, on the banks of the Avon at12.30 here on campus. I also have to write a piece about disaster and democracy and help colleagues who will be talking about their post-quake research so in that sense the quake recovery is also work. On the way home I’ll probably check out a tiny little temporary garden on a street which I’ve sort of adopted and top up a few road cones with flowers, hug my husband, text our kids and phone family and friends. “Only connect,” EM Forster would say.
I honestly think optimism is the wrong word to use when talking about the struggle of recovery through a disaster. In the years after the quakes, (especially during that time when we had 56 aftershocks over magnitude 5 in two years after 2011), I started reading the ideas of philosophers, artists and writers who had lived through dark times. Christchurch earthquakes are hardly on par with some of the worst of the events that have taken place in human history but the Canterbury earthquake sequence is still the biggest emergency this nation has ever faced and many people here have faced life and death situations and many are still struggling.
No one would have chosen this way to transform a city, but all the debates going on here are meaningful and the outcomes matter. Even when the frustrating (and frankly despair-making) tit for tat party political arguments break out, the underlying issues at stake are usually crucial. They are questions about what it means to live well, what kind of city and community are we becoming? I never thought for example, I’d have to defend why democracy is important in New Zealand, against arguments that it is overrated. But this debate we are having in our city is also a global challenge. In a world of changing climate and growing political tension, unexpected events will keep happening. We can’t keep suspending our democracies every time we have a major crisis. We have to find ways to maintain accountable, transparent and inclusive decision-making through disaster. There is also a sense that the debates happening here echo with other places far away. In a strange way, Christchurch now feels more outwardly connected to the world outside New Zealand than it ever did before and more open to the potential for new beginnings.
Bronwyn Hayward is associate professor and head of department in Political Science and International Relations, University of Canterbury
Rachael King: a city becoming interesting and vibrant
My kids’ school usually gathers together for a minute’s silence and then lunch, so I imagine I’ll be doing that again this time. It’s nice to be around a lot of people. I always think I’m going to be fine but once that moment’s silence happens I get quite choked up. My youngest son, 6, was just a baby when the February 22 quake happened, so he doesn’t remember it, and I worry a bit that the commemoration might trigger some anxiety for him. He has been the most disturbed in the family by the big shake we had recently, and is in the same emotional place that his older brother was five years ago.
Like everybody else, I was much more optimistic before the recent quake, because the recovery isn’t just about rebuilding the city: it’s a mental and emotional recovery, and a sense that the quakes are behind us. I am fine, but I do have friends who are quite upset. As for the physical recovery of the city, things seem to be escalating right now and it’s exciting. I think Christchurch is an interesting and vibrant place to be right now (others may disagree), and I think it will continue to be so. Being involved with the WORD Christchurch Festival makes me feel as though I am contributing to the cultural vibrancy and that is a good feeling. We still have challenges for the festival. Venues are an ongoing issue but things are improving. The opening of the Christchurch Art Gallery feels like a huge milestone, and the Margaret Mahy playground is bringing kids into the city which I think is just wonderful.
Rachael King is Literary Director of the WORD Christchurch Writers & Readers Festival
Philip Matthews: the power of improvised memorials
For me, the improvised local responses carried more weight than the bigger, official ones. I liked the river of flowers, in which people assembled on the banks of the Avon and Heathcote rivers on February 22 and threw flowers in. It was specific to our geography, just as the one in which we all stuck flowers into road cones seemed to grow out of the sense of humour we needed to endure the first few years after the earthquake. In a similar way, the cheap and quickly assembled 185 Chairs memorial by Pete Majendie will always seem more emotionally powerful to me than the official earthquake memorial, which isn’t finished in time for this anniversary anyway. But five years is major and requires an exposure to some pomp and ceremony so, for the first and probably last time, I’ll be at the Botanic Gardens for the solemn speeches and official silences.
I feel more optimistic than a year ago and less optimistic than I will feel in another year. Sorry to be so literal. But it’s hard to measure where we should be and you could argue that five years isn’t much time at all against the scale of this disaster (by which I mean not only the size of the earthquake, but the staggering number of demolitions, relocations and clearances). One of the problems in Christchurch is that we were over-promised early on, not just in the prime minister’s line that no one will be worse off, which was a reckless claim to make, but in the ambitious visions and impossible timelines described in the 2012 rebuild blueprint. But maybe we needed those big, comforting delusions.
Philip Matthews is a senior writer at the Press
Gary McCormick: we are nearing takeoff
My wife Katherine and I will NOT be marking the fifth anniversary of the 2011 quake in any way. Our Identical twin girls, Florence and Bridie, were born on 11/2/2011 and had it not been for the quick actions of mother-in-law Yvonne, they may have been injured. I’ve no wish to be reminded of it. (In general, I prefer to live in denial – of pretty well everything!)
The recovery of Christchurch reminds me of one of those old Bristol Freighter aircraft, lumbering down the runway. I think we are just about at takeoff. This year we should be up and flying.
Gary McCormick is a writer and broadcaster
Donna Robertson: half full of hope
Last year I walked with my daughter down our street and put some flowers in our neighbourhood road cones. I think we will do something small and quiet like that. It’s usually a day for a wee cry.
I get a strong sense of how much time has passed by looking at the people I love. My nephew will be starting school on February 22. He was born the day before the earthquake (in the car park at Christchurch Women’s hospital).
My daughter celebrated her second birthday on the Sunday before the quake, and we ate cake beside the wall that fell over, and that house is now a Wilson carpark. It’s the kids that make you realise what a long time five years is.
I am half-full of hope. It is slow and arduous. Good stuff is happening, but Christchurch still needs a lot of support and consideration from the rest of the country. It’s not just about infrastructure, buildings, and business confidence. Many of us are tender and tired. It’s a challenging place to be, but a lot of people here are ballsy, courageous, and funny, and I love them. We have something shared between us that is a massively connective bond.
Donna Robertson is a librarian and blogger
Gerard Smyth: we need to tell our own tales
Hopefully I will spend time with friends on Monday 22. Maybe we shall reflect on how we see our worlds five years on and how our “recovery” is so often perceived by those outside of Christchurch.
I wouldn’t be the first to make the call that telling our own tales is a basic building block for all of us to live healthy and optimistic lives. Many of us here shall feel more optimistic about our worlds when we do not have to rely on journalists from other cities to tell our stories. Ghastly alarmist headlines, assumed truths and little investigation into our daily lives, do little for our optimism.
When “quake stricken” (Stuff) residents have to rely on “It sounded like dynamite” (Stuff) headlines, we have difficulty convincing friends and family from other parts of the land that, most of the time, most of us are fine. Mostly we are enjoying a great summer. Crowded beaches just don’t make for news!
When journalists from other cities stop asking when we are leaving and instead report that the population of Greater Christchurch is actually larger than before the quakes, we shall feel more optimistic.
When RNZ runs a sizable newsroom out of this city, headlines shall go further than stories designed for northern audiences that shout “Storms lash the South Island” (last week). Replace with the word “North” if you are confused about my point. If a storm hit Wellington wouldn’t a headline “Storms lash North Island” confuse Aucklanders? Those storms lashing “the South Island” were in one corner – Nelson.
Gerard Smyth is a film-maker and director of When a City Falls
Lara Strongman: recovery is a relative concept
On previous quake anniversaries I’ve gone down to the stream at the boundary of our property. At 12:51pm I’ve thrown a bouquet of flowers picked from our garden into the water, and watched them slowly float off, out of sight, round the curve in the bank. The “river of flowers” is one of the new rituals of mourning that has developed in post-earthquake Christchurch. It’s a way for people to come together and create something beautiful, and to reflect on the people, and the way of life, that we lost in 2011. When a friend of mine died suddenly in 2012 and I couldn’t travel to Wellington for the funeral, I threw flowers into the river for him here.
This year, though, I’ll be at work, at Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu. We’re planning to screen Hinemoana Baker’s reading of her poem If I had to sing on the big screens in the gallery foyer at 12:51pm. We commissioned Hinemoana to write the poem for the gallery’s reopening in December. She writes about the histories of the land that the gallery stands on, and the way in which a spring feeds a river and the new flame is lit from the old. It’s one of the saddest, and most beautiful, and most hopeful works to come out of this period in the city’s history. I’ll stand there in a crowd of people listening to Hinemoana speak, and then I think I’ll want to go somewhere and be quiet for a bit.
One thing I’ve learned over the last five years is that recovery is a relative concept. Although everyone in the city went through the same event, we all experienced it differently. And for many people the aftermath of the earthquakes has been almost as big a disaster as the earthquakes themselves. I know from medical friends how fragile the city’s mental health is: “moving on”, or “getting over it”, isn’t a choice that many people can make. Other people are stuck financially. Despite countless visits from men with clipboards, our house remains unrepaired. It’s safe to live in, but needs a lot of work. It was only at the end of last year that EQC reversed their previous determinations about how to fix it, decided it was too big a job for them, and finally passed us on to our insurer. Five years later! I know dozens of people in the same situation as us. There are thousands across the city. I know comparatively few people whose houses have actually been adequately repaired.
What I do still have great faith in, though, is the culture of the city. I love this place, for all its oddities, and even in its damaged state. I love the recalcitrance and crankiness of local culture, the determination of Christchurch people to have their say about anything and everything, the black humour which defines the place. I’m enjoying seeing Ngāi Tahu culture becoming increasingly visible in the city. I’m enjoying hearing Irish and Filipino voices on the streets. I’m enjoying seeing families coming back into town, with the reopening of the gallery and the opening of the Margaret Mahy playground. I think we’re at a tipping point. It’s the end of the beginning of our recovery.
Collectively, we’ve taken a massive knock, and many of us will never be the same again. When I think about recovery now I think about the Japanese art of repair, kintsugi, where cracks are mended with gold leaf and the history of damage becomes part of the history of the object. Our brokenness is something to acknowledge rather than disguise.
Lara Strongman is senior curator at Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu
Moata Tamaira: a pass grade, but only just
I’ve never attended an official commemorative ceremony for the quakes and I probably won’t this year either. I’m not against them, or anything. I’m just not a joiner when it comes to that sort of thing.
With the fifth anniversary coming up and the recent aftershocks I’ve actually been thinking about the quakes a lot over the last couple of weeks, so on the day itself it will probably just be more of the same. But I’ll hug my kid a little tighter perhaps. I hope I remember to thank my partner for all the care and support he’s offered me over these last five years. I’ll probably reminisce with my colleagues a bit about what happened that day but I won’t do anything special.
On a lighter but no less serious note, I fully expect to experience multiple episodes of impotent tautology-fuelled rage over references to “the five year anniversary”, just to mix things up a bit. It keeps me young (no, it doesn’t).
How optimistic am I? It’s a difficult question to answer. There are aspects of Christchurch’s recovery that I am excited about and others that make me weep. We have not one, but two recently reopened art galleries in town. There are amazing, arty, cultural things going on around the place, and a lot of it’s free. I feel really engaged and interested by a lot of what’s being done at the moment. Cycling infrastructure is starting to take shape. In the city, the sounds of construction are a constant background noise.
But then the footpaths are still crap. We still don’t have a democratically elected regional council. One of my son’s Plunket friends lives in a house that leaks when it rains because his parents still can’t get any resolution between EQC and their insurance company about repairs. People are tired. I’m tired. And the recent aftershocks have made people feel upset and vulnerable again so, psychologically speaking, that feels like a big step backwards.
How optimistic am I? If I averaged some of those things out into a letter grade, I’d say a C+. A passing grade but not anything to be skiting about.
Moata Tamaira is a freelance writer, librarian, web editor, and cheesecake enthusiast
Peter Townsend: we’re closing in on the midway point
I will be marking the fifth anniversary by joining with others on The Archery Lawn in the Botanical Gardens at Midday and observing a minute’s silence at 12.51.
I am very optimistic at this point. We will pass the 50% mark in dollar terms of reconstruction sometime in 2016 and we are now seeing physical signs or regeneration which is giving us all a much clearer picture of how our city will look. That is positive and exciting.
Peter Townsend is CEO of the Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce
* To be honest we asked about the five-year anniversary but quietly changed it after reading Moata’s piece.
Donna Robertson has collated the various commemorative events at the Christchurch City Library blog here.
The Spinoff Daily gets you all the day's best reading in one handy package, fresh to your inbox Monday-Friday at 5pm.