Even though things look pretty bad in Christchurch, it’s not all doom and gloom either. The city is coming back to life with real signs of hope and recovery. Businesses are reinventing and relocating themselves in various parts of the city. Places like the Re:Start shopping precinct, made of converted shipping containers on Cashel Street, opened in November 2011. There are twenty seven businesses that have opened up here.
While I was walking around Christchurch, I went over to the Re:Start shopping mall to have a look. It looks a bit strange with nearly all of the shops selling their goods from shipping containers but it looks good too. The good thing about these shipping containers is that they’re portable, so can be moved to different locations when necessary. The shopping area is bright and cheery and there’s a central area with cafes and food stalls, where people can sit and chat. When I was there, there was a band playing and there was a lovely buzz about the place.
I wanted to change some foreign currency, so I went into the ASB Bank, which is situated in a temporary container on the square. I got talking a bit to the woman who served me and I asked where she was working before. She said she was working on Hereford Street, in another department of the ASB bank. She said that if she goes back to look at Hereford Street, which is like a bomb hit it, she says she tries not to stand there too long and dwell on things because it brings tears to her eyes. But she said it was good to see the retail precinct up and running because it brings a sense of normality back to the place and the people of Christchurch like to see innovation in their city.
There are also smaller businesses reopening again. Local shop owners such as the “Banana Dairy” on Colombo Street opened up again fairly recently in a shipping container, next door to the site where they originally had the shop. Next to the Banana Dairy is a small place called Coffee Zone which also reopened. People admire that innovation and it shows a sense of continuity and determination. There are more and more festivals, restaurants and cafes opening up all the time. Gap Filler organizers have been temporarily transforming vacant sites created by demolished buildings. They’ve filled these sites with art, live music, dance, film, poetry readings etc to create community gathering places and keep the spirit of Christchurch alive.
Lesley and I decided we’d drive around the city so I could take photos and for myself, I just wanted to see the state of the devastation. We headed out to Sydenham, in the east part of town, which was pretty badly hit by the earthquake in February. Most of the eastern suburbs got the brunt of this quake. Lots of houses were “munted” meaning totally destroyed. The Hotel Chancellor, after the February quake, was leaning badly and they’ve decided to knock it down. They, being the Earthquake Commission. The EQC check every building after an earthquake to see how badly it’s damaged. The business or individual puts in a claim, if necessary and the EQC send in people to do the repairs. Because there were so many claims, especially after the quake in February, it’s taking a long time for repairs to be done.
To top it all, the main insurer in Christchurch has nearly gone bust because of the amount of claims that were submitted. So some people have had to wait nearly a year to get repairs done and others are still waiting. The problem then is that the EQC will pay up to 100,000 NZD but won’t renew insurance policies after a year. So people waiting for over a year to get repairs done, will have to pay for repairs themselves. People are very angry about this.