Much has changed between my occasional visits to Christchurch in the last four and a half years.
On my first post-earthquakes visit I was awed by wrecked buildings, broken roads, tell-tale see pages that told of cracked water-pipes, portable toilets in the streets, tangles of steel reinforcing on what looked like bomb-sites, barricades, soldiers, and silence in a city echoing sorrow.
With energies devoted to survival, nothing seemed to change for a long, long time. As a visitor I looked in hope for renewal, for the sound of concrete being poured, the smell of new wood on building frames, but the hammers were busy on urgent housing repairs, diggers were occupied making roads negotiable again, and the trucks were all engaged removing rubble. In this once vibrant city it was hard to find a cafe in working order.
Now, even as road-works continue, it’s not hard to find somewhere to sit and drink coffee. While many damaged, abandoned buildings have yet to be torn down, the place is no longer looking so shattered.. But it’s odd to see cleared city blocks, some as smooth and green as playing fields, in the middle of a city.
Big, new building are under construction all over town but I suspect the outcome will not be the people’s city many dreamed of; dreams and profit rarely talk to each other, but one peculiar development spawned by the upheaval is slowly turning a natural disaster into a unique asset beyond the reach of human motives.
Avonside, where the Avon River is becoming home to more and more varieties of wild-life, used to be a desirable residential area. Then the earthquakes exposed its wobbly understructure and it was designated red-zone. (see photo, courtesy of Avonsideblog.org )
The houses, many of them achingly appealing, emptied. Even those without apparent damage were doomed. Leaving their dreams behind them, the owners moved on. Life moved on, leaving an atmosphere of eerie uninhabited despondency.
Gradually the houses (those that were not demolished) were also moved on. Fences were cleared away along with garages, sheds and sealed drives. But still the rectangular shapes created by shrubs and trees were a reminder of what had been. The years since the disaster have seen hedges, finally released from the clippers, stretch out in all directions and untrimmed shrubs blur property lines. Trees embraced the open grassland.
And what a mix of trees. So many varieties of Camillia in bloom (before spring has arrived) suggests why this tree is so popular in Christchurch. But why were so many Yew trees planted by past generations? Reflecting the individual tastes of long-gone residents, all kinds of trees and other plants grow in this new and exciting parkland; marigolds, pansies and other great survivors like silver beat and Chinese cabbage linger.
I came across a part of a garden that appears to be tended still, a previous resident perhaps not yet ready to walk away from years of nurturing. I discovered a children’s’ playground that had once been part of a small reserve providing for families who lived on the street.
Now the houses are gone the reserve has been adopted by this new, unexpected, unplanned but wonderfully intriguing parkland. It is a fanciful notion but I can’t help thinking it’s a legacy from Gods of the underworld, who have a conscience after all.