Friday, August 12, 2011

Heart, Torn


I live in my favorite city on Earth. At least, I used to.

Christchurch is big enough for culture, entertainment and the arts, small enough to stay clean and friendly and easy to get around. We've got a hell of a lot of green spaces, and they're woven into the fabric of the city, not tacked onto the ass-end of some new housing tract like an afterthought.

I love our city center. Coming from the States, I've seen too many commercially-driven purgatories, concrete canyons that empty out at 5pm. Or flat-out ghost towns, boarded-up shop fronts and For Rent signs gathering dust after people abandoned their towns for shopping malls and box stores out in the burbs.

In Christchurch the city center is vital, alive. People come here to shop and work, yes. But they also come to meet friends, hang out, see and be seen. Thousands come from all over the world to gape at our lovely, historical, beautiful city, and we love them for it. Yeah, we have shopping malls in the suburbs and that rubbish, but 'town' is our center of gravity. It's the first place you think of when you want to get something done, find some unusual item, enjoy a great meal. Ask anyone from late teens to middle age what they're doing for the weekend and the answer is likely to be 'just go into town, ae.'

This city has a heart, vital and beating and alive.

At least, it used to.

Way back in September (funny to think it's not quite a year yet-- it seems decades), we were all so grateful that so much was spared. Some really great stuff was lost, but for a shake that size, every damn one of us knew we'd gotten off light.

Boxing Day hammered us pretty hard, but it also left the bones of our city unscathed. No major buildings fell, no loss of life. It seemed like this was how it was going to be: scary, but doable.

February changed everything. Forever.

The quake itself was bad. The hours and days immediately after were horrible. The damage, the loss of life, the sewage-mud and flooding, not having food, water, sanitation, power. It was a bad time, but humans are built to weather bad luck and trouble.

Where I struggle is with the loss of my city. Simply put, town is gone. The beautiful heritage buildings I loved are in ruins. Our iconic cathedral is destroyed, along with most of the city's shopping, nightclubs and restaurants. We had a square, a real public square in the center of the city where people actually gathered. Now it's the center of the red zone. Our CBD lies behind barbed wire. The only ones allowed in are demolition crews. Every time I stop in front of the fences, I can see a few blocks further, piles of rubble and and bare land where my city once stood.

They say the rebuild might take twenty years.

Christchurch still has plenty of people in it. They still go about their days, only now in the suburbs. Businesses (including my beloved Scorpio Books) have relocated, and people are getting used to the 'new normal'. There's still plenty of activity in my city, but the heart's been torn out of it.

When I look at my city, I see my reflection.



15 comments:

liz fenwick said...

Beautiful painful post.
lx

Charles Gramlich said...

Oh wow, man. I didn't realize the extent of the damage. That's heart rending even to me, and it must be so much more for those of you who lived and loved there. I'm so sorry to hear that.

Steve Malley said...

Thank you, Liz.

Charles, the sheer scope of devastation was nowhere near as bad as New Orleans. For me, it's the weird dislocation, as though the French Quarter and Garden District had been shut down and everything in them either gone forever or shunted out to Slidell and Metarie and Chalmette. It's just... strange.

Kiwicraig said...

Nice post Steve. Have pointed to it on Crime Watch.

I drove around the outskirts of the cordoned area with Paul Cleave, Neil Cross, and Vanda Symon on Sunday. Just devastating.

Shauna Roberts said...

This is so horrible to hear. I'm sorry for your city, sorry for you, sorry for all the people who loved their town and its businesses. I'm not so sure New Orleans was worse. At least we kept much of the historic heart of the city and most of the cultural amenities. But Christchurch—how can the city center ever be the same again? People will get used to going to the suburbs to work and shop and may eventually move there. Some idiot will suggest getting rid of the town square and making downtown more like a shopping mall. Some idiots will suggest tearing down all the old buildings and replacing them with new ones. You'll all have a fight on your hands to get a new downtown that can replace the old one.

Anonymous said...

How totally awful. Thank you for sharing this. I was hoping somehow, some way, that all could be reconstructed as it once was. When I first heard it I had hoped it would be only the suburbs and newer, replaceable buildings.

Rick said...

That is incredible, Steve. Especially your last line.

Steve Malley said...

Craig, thanks for the point-to, I appreciate it. ANd yeah, having lived here yourself you know what I mean...

Shauna, that's the hard thing: nothing ever CAN be the same. Not ever again. It's just... gone.

And Anonymous, we lost plenty of new stuff too- shopping malls and hotels and office buildings and brand new subdivisions. Everybody's lost something here...

cs harris said...

So how did I not know it was this bad? I'm so sorry.

And I agree with Shauna. So much of what made New Orleans special--namely the French Quarter and Garden District--survived relatively untouched. The human toll--both in terms of the number of deaths and the wear and tear on the hundreds of thousands who had their homes destroyed or severely damaged--was hideous. But the core of the city, most of the beautiful old buildings, are still there. This is heartrending to read; I can't imagine watching it.

Steve Malley said...

Hey Rick, glad you liked it! :)

Candy, I'm so grateful I've got y'all from New Orleans reading this-- you guys know, in that intimate way that words can't touch, how powerful this loss can be.

And yeah, our recovery doesn't get much news-play. The unspeakable horror in Japan took the spotlight away (and rightly so), and there's not much that's exciting or dramatic about 'yeah, it still sucks'. I'll write more about it soon.

Kate Sterling said...

{{sending Steve hugs}}

It's all I can do.

Steve Malley said...

Aw, Kate, your hugs are plenty. :)

AvDB said...

What Charles said. The extent of the damage wasn't well reported over here. I'm sorry to finally learn of what you all went through.

Drizel said...

Ahhhhh I haven't been on your blog for a bit. I am sooooo sorry, no words can make it better.....Good luck :(

Steve Malley said...

Avery, Drizel, thank you. My few forays out of town, it's funny how quick you get used to civilization. Then the drive back, the cracked roads and pylons, the emergency tape and the rubble begin again and my heart sinks. :-/