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Monday, March 16, 2015

a resilient spirit

Christchurch is so much more than the earthquake that destroyed it. That said, it is hard to talk about Christchurch and not talk about the earthquake too.

I will write other posts about Christchurch-- about its beautiful botanical garden, about its mouthwatering food, about its funky container box market, but ignoring the quake would do a disservice to the city because out of the rubble came a resilient spirit and something beautiful, and that beauty comes from people reclaiming their city. 

Never having experienced a natural disaster myself, it was hard for me to comprehend just how destructive this earthquake was. To give you an idea, one quarter of the city's buildings are expected to be demolished due to damage the earthquake caused. Four years after the quake, visitors can still see much of the destruction.  Walking down the street, I often had to stop to figure out if I was really seeing what I thought I was seeing.

Like a theater, but sure enough, from a block away, I could clearly see the rows and rows of chairs. Why could I see it from a block away? The entire front of the building had collapsed. Where the stage or screen would be was nothing, just open space. It was eerie how the rest of the theater seemed unaffected, except instead of people sitting in the chairs, huge chunks of the roof sat in the chairs.

This scene was repeated many times. 

It's not hard to understand why the city, four years later, is still in ruins. Current estimates put the cost of rebuilding at $40 billion. Further estimates predicate that recovery will take 50-100 years, but that doesn't mean that nothing has been done because it has.

The cardboard cathedral was opened two years after the quake, a temporary fix for the Christchurch Cathedral. The hotel we stayed at was in the middle of rebuilding. Construction is happening all day, every day, and then there is the artwork, my personal favorite. Artists have created beautiful pieces of artwork on walls left standings.

On one fence beside a mural, a sign read:

"Here's to repopulating a place that's been emptied and dramatically changed. Across our altered cityscape, portraits from Christchurch Art Gallery's collection have been selected to appear in vacant lots, on surviving buildings and newly exposed walls. Time to enjoy a bit of unexpected company while we bring this place back to life."

And that is what visitors should take away from their Christchurch experience. Yes, an earthquake happened. You can see the evidence almost everywhere, but what is even more more powerful and evident than that quake is the resilience of the city's people. 

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