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.