Before you start reading this, be warned. If your tastes do not extend to a middle aged man, reminiscing over how much has changed in the city of his birth, you might be better going somewhere else. However, if you think you can stomach it, please, read on.
The city really is now a place of two halves. If I had flown in yesterday, went to my meeting at the Cavendish Industrial Park and then back to the airport I would not have even been able to tell this place has been rocked by some huge earthquakes and experienced such devastation. The North and West of the city certainly does seem to have escaped. However, as you come into the centre of town you start to see a different story.
My taxi driver took me in as close he could get me and dropped off by the casino. The casino looks untouched, 20-30 metres away, the old Park Royal Hotel (now Crowne Plaza) sits deserted and derelict. The windows of the penthouse suite smashed, its curtains flapping out the openings in the breeze. I turned around to start walking and was faced with a building with half its side gone. I can’t quite remember what it was. I will experience a lot of this on my wander.
Walking through Cramner Square, the crumbled edge of the old Normal School a reminder of how older buildings were wrecked. Chateau Blanc a newer building, lies abandoned, broken windows a reminder of what has occurred. The old Marac Finance building lies abandoned too. Ruined beyond repair apparently. The leaves piled up in the entrance to its carpark a reminder of how long these places have lain empty.
The old Provincial Chambers was my first high profile shock. Shattered, I cannot but think of that amazing woodwork inside and how wonderful it was. Did I appreciate it enough when I lived in Christchurch? No, but then, who does until things are lost? Standing on the bridge over the river at Gloucester Street, looking at the Central Library, you would not know anything was wrong apart from the two soldiers standing guard at the cordon. The streets beyond deserted. No more late night kebabs on the way home from the vendor in Chancery Lane.
Looking up and down Worcester Street to what you can see of the Cathedral, it really starts to sink in what has been lost. The dome from the old Regent Theatre sitting in the middle of the square like some monument to February, boarded windows, rubbish in the street. The Bridge of Remembrance and the view down Cashel Street, jaw dropping to anyone who lived in this city and walked up and down the mall on afternoons after school and Friday nights.
Canterbury University feels pretty much like it always did, just more quiet. The scaffolding on the outside of the James Height tower, a reminder of the serious work that needs to be done there. Yet, some positive things have happened here too. The old bicycle parking area under the James Height Library, which was a cold, dark, wind swept place, now an inviting warm cafe seating area. The seating is great and of course, Wi-Fi is everywhere! A walk outsider again across rthe river, the Student Union closed and quiet, the gardens and riverbanks more overgrown than I remember them. I suspect other things matter more at the moment.
My views, are of course colored by the fact that I have not lived in this city for 10 years. My memories far more distant and perhaps nostalgic than my peers who have continued to live there. I have a sense that the people who live here have been changed forever by this and that I am no longer like them. We all still come from Christchurch, but their Christchurch, their experience of what it means to live in and be from Christchurch is now quite different. In many ways I am lucky not to have had that same experience but it still feels kind of odd.