Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again
Luckily Christchurch New Zealand is proving to be no Humpty Dumpty.
On February 22, 2011, this city of 362,000 was hit by an earthquake that measured 6.3 on the Richter scale. Up to 100,000 buildings were damaged, and 10,000 were or needed to be demolished. Especially hard hit was the city center, or business district, of this second largest city in New Zealand.
The people of Christchurch are everywhere putting New Zealand’s second largest city together again. It’s just that it is taking a good deal of time.
When we walked from our house to downtown, we had to detour around temporary fences and orange cones. Braces held up sagging walls on houses. Construction vans were parked in front of buildings with new windows still stickered. And cranes! Everywhere along the skyline were cranes and the sound of thumping while pilings were being driven into the ground.
The quake caught the residents of Christchurch off guard. They didn’t know they were on a fault line, and were unprepared. Now, in the rebuilding, strict earthquake-construction codes are enforced. In many ways this is an exciting time in Christchurch. Creative architecture is everywhere filling in the spaces around quake survivors.
One of the quickest ways to get people back to work and under roof was to use shipping containers. Right in the center of the city there is a whole shopping mall made out of them. Appropriately named the ReStart Mall it is quite clever and surprisingly attractive. We even walked past a new high school that looks like it incorporated shipping containers although I’m sure there are more than metal walls to protect students from another quake.
While there is lots of hopeful energy in the city it was sad to see the old Christ Church Cathedral fenced and decaying. (video of Cathedral Square seconds after the earthquake)This heart of the city had lots of hopeful banners and postings around it, but there it sat with weeds growing and boarded up windows and its front gone. The debate goes on: should the Cathedral have a very expensive repair or be torn down and rebuilt to look much like the original.
Nearby, however, the restored Isaac Theatre Royal had reopened and was hosting Elmo’s World Tour. Nearby streets were jammed with youngsters and their parents stepping out of the way to the historic Christchurch Tram that takes tourists on a tour of the city center. A short walk along the Avon River took us to the Boat Sheds where a young man punted me upriver and back for a half hour so I could go on a solo punting float down the Avon River. The Botanical Gardens and the lovely roses and old trees survived wonderfully. The Canterbury Museum was open even though the outside was getting a facelift. Both it and the Gardens are free.
When we walked back after returning our car, we saw a different, more commercial side of Christchurch. Here the city certainly did look like a recovering war zone. Earth mover trucks, drain installers, and construction vehicles of every sort shut down entire streets. The temporary Cardboard Cathedral stood next to all this. There was no doubt about the direction of the city. People have faith in the future.
In many ways, Christchurch reminded us of New Orleans after Katrina. Both still showed the scars of a major natural event, but Christchurch, after only four years, knows that people will come back to this youthful, growing city while New Orleans has shrunk in size.
It seemed to me a perfect way to end our journey of this youthful, vibrant, exciting, and beautiful country. It looks like this Humpty Dumpty will be put back together again.