To me, Christchurch is one very interesting city. Walk around it for a day, and the city speaks untold stories. The CBD Red Zone attracts visitors all the time, there to see the remnants of what it once was. Not many people go for a wander through the suburbs, where if they did, they’d see some pretty interesting things, and some unspoken tales of heartbreak. In the last 17 days, I have traveled many parts of this city, in both the day time and the night. from St Albans to Cashmere, from Edgeware to Cashmere, Sumner, Sydenham, the CBD. Here is some of what I saw.
Before I left the city, Sydenham was an area I called home. It was old, and a bit slow, but now it seems to have woken up post-quake. Now cutely dubbed ‘SYDM.’ or Sydenham Quarter, the title suggests something it is really not. When I think of Sydenham Quarter, I am immediately reminded of the french Quarter in New Orleans. Let me assure you it’s nothing of the sort. I wish it was. However SYDM is much more alive than it was pre-quake. THE COLOMBO, a new and improved shopping centre in the precinct has many great things to attract you. If you’re after a great burger, Burgers and Beers is on the Colombo St side of the building. The Honey Pot Cafe is across the road, although I have been informed that it is not on par with its former establishment that was on Litchfield st. Gap filler once occupied Sydenham, a collection of events, businesses and activities that filled in empty spaces where buildings once stood.
Blue Jean Cuisine, which used to be the old post office building, has been replaced by an empty void of cracked concrete, and tyres filled with potted flowers. There are many building ‘graveyards’ in Sydenham, but these have been prettied up as best as possible.
Another gap filler project I noticed was a wooden, recycled coffee shop called Coffee-Zone. This was part of a project known as ‘Greening the Rubble’. These places use recycled rubble to construct businesses and activities throughout the city.
What could be mistaken for down-town Belgrade, is merely infact, Sydenham…
CBD Red Zone
When walking through the CBD in the day time, it appears to be coming back to some degree of life. People wander in and out of metal barriers and gates, and stare through plastic windows trying to get a glimpse of the famed Anglican Cathedral. The photo above was the closest I have been to it since it’s demise two years ago. The Re-Start container mall is coming along nicely, with many of the pre-quake businesses taking up residence here. New and interesting bars and restaurants dot the outskirts, such as The Monday Room on the corner of Madras and Moorhouse, and the CBD bar on Madras Street. The Barbados Street Cemetery is a sad sight. Fallen gravestones of people who have passed so long ago that there is nobody left to tend to them are forlornly scattered throughout. I have been told that this graveyard is haunted and that the gravestones bleed sometimes. It is an old folk tale of the city that I have heard since I was a child.
The roads on the outskirt suburbs are very badly damaged. There are deserted houses everywhere. One house I walked past in the middle of the night had smashed windows, graffiti covering it and a kitchen sink and bench hanging precariously out the front window. It is true that the suburbs have been forgotten. Building ‘graveyards’ are everywhere in the suburbs. Empty overgrown allotments where homes and businesses once stood.
At night time, the CBD is another story all together. Crane lights dot the skyline, and the CBD’s virtual desertion is actually extremely creepy. If you walk along the outskirts of town, particularly on a windy night, you can hear old fences and awnings creaking in the breeze. One thing I don’t recommend is to find yourself unwittingly in Latimer Square at half past midnight on a deserted, windy Sunday night. Your heart will jump out of your chest. I’m not even sure if this is still a dodgy part of town anymore, but combine its reputation with the site of the CTV building collapse, and it will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.
There are still many buildings that to tourists, are an interesting photo opportunity, but to locals, make our hearts hurt a little bit when we see them. For me, the building that I love to photograph the most, and that breaks my heart the most also, is the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, on Barbados Street. Designed by Francis William Petre, and blessed and opened on 12th February 1905, it is regarded as one of the finest examples of church architecture in Australasia. The earthquakes have ravaged this fine building, bringing its big green domes to the ground. The sides of it are now being propped up by shipping containers. This was the first badly damaged building I saw on the day of the February earthquakes, it was the first sign that I knew something was really wrong. It still makes my breath catch in my throat when I see it.
Just like the Gap Filler projects in Sydenham, the CBD has seen much of this type of thing. The Re-Start container mall is one, and there is also the Pallet Pavilion, an events venue available to be hired for a donation. It is constructed out of over 3000 wooden pallets, and is located on the corner of Kilmore and Durham Street. For more information on the Pallet Pavilion, or Gap Filler, visit this site: http://www.gapfiller.org.nz/summer-pallet-pavilion/
The seaside suburbs of Sumner and Redcliffs have really made a comeback since the quakes had their way with them only two years ago. In Sumner you get the mix of a great view and complete devastation all in one go. On one side of the road you have beautiful ocean views, on the other, cliff-face is being held up by shipping containers and a house hangs precariously off the edge of it.
If you aren’t too lazy, I highly recommend getting out there in Christchurch on foot, you see much more that you would probably miss with any other mode of transport. Yesterday I walked 15kms in total and saw more of the city than I ever have in the entire time i have lived in Christchurch. It was a mix of disbelief, humour, hope, sadness, anger, and reminiscence that can only come from being a local. I don’t think anyone from outside this city could truly appreciate a pilgrimage such as the one above. but if you are a tourist, then take this article into account when you visit my fine city, and try to view it from a local’s perspective.
- Christchurch turns to retail therapy (stuff.co.nz)
- Remembering heroes from Christchurch earthquakes… (peter-petterson.blogspot.com)
- Photographic tribute to port brigade (stuff.co.nz)
- N.Z. quake city puts faith in cardboard cathedral (familysurvivalprotocol.com)
- Town Hall up with best in the world (stuff.co.nz)
- Post Quake Christchurch (gorentals.co.nz)
- Explore the Port Hills of Christchurch (gorentals.co.nz)
- Demolition of Christchurch CBD resumes (radionz.co.nz)
- Earthquake proof cardboard cathedral being constructed in Christchurch, New Zealand (sott.net)
- Red zone cordon back in place (stuff.co.nz)