Kurt Bayer

Kurt Bayer is an NZME. News Service reporter based in Christchurch.

Christchurch 2012: Rebuilding a shattered city

After two traumatic years, the resilient residents of the Garden City can legitimately, finally look forward to a year of rebuilding. Photo / APN
After two traumatic years, the resilient residents of the Garden City can legitimately, finally look forward to a year of rebuilding. Photo / APN

The aftershocks have all but stopped, but few in Christchurch dare mention the easing of the earth's fury.

"We're all desperately trying not to invoke the potential for another disaster," says Mayor Bob Parker.

Instead, after two traumatic years, the resilient residents of the Garden City can legitimately, finally look forward to a year of rebuilding.

Before work on new buildings could start in earnest, preparations had to be made; cracked and creaking buildings had to be bowled, insurance and Government payouts to be decided.

And so jackhammers and diggers provided the soundtrack to 2012.

The Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) says 1399 buildings in the CBD and suburbs have been, or are in the process of, being knocked down.

The cordon around the area most damaged by the killer quake on February 22, 2011 has shrunk from 387 hectares to just 38 hectares.

Soon it will be reduced to isolated cordons around buildings still in limbo, like the crippled Christ Church Cathedral, now likely be saved in some shape or form after a year of protests and a High Court challenge.

Cera has started buying up land in compulsory purchases to pave the way for developments that form part of the Christchurch Central Development Unit's blueprint, launched to much fanfare in July.

A rebuilt city will include a massive new convention centre, covered sports stadium, health and justice precincts, inner city transport hub, all in a leafy, green frame.

And it will be built to higher building regulation standards while being "funkier and zanier" than before, according to Cera chief executive Roger Sutton.

"Some big investors are already bidding for work and really wanting to invest," he says.

"There's been tremendous progress and the rebuild has started. I'm no longer stopped in the supermarket by builders saying, 'Roger, I haven't got any work, when is this rebuild going to happen?"'

Mr Sutton does, however, accept people have been frustrated by delays, especially those battling insurers and dealing with the Earthquake Commission (EQC).

For it's not been a year of plain sailing.

Through a harsh winter, the city council was frostily divided.

There were widespread protests, with an array of placards waved against council chief executive Tony Marryatt's pay rise, land zoning decisions, a lack of democracy, and the Ministry of Education's botched schools shake-up.

While some have dusted themselves off to rebuild their lives, others were on hold while the Canterbury Earthquake Royal Commission held hearings throughout the year.

The commission's final reports were released this month (December), including its conclusions into the CTV Building collapse, which claimed 115 lives.

While some family members are still considering further legal action against those potentially responsible for the tragedy, others found some finality through the reports.

Quake Families spokesman Brian Kennedy, whose wife Faye was killed, says it's time to move on.

It's been a big year, which has allowed the shaken city to rise again.

Visitors are slowly returning. Travel guide Lonely Planet included Christchurch in its list of Top 10 Cities for 2013, putting it alongside Amsterdam and Montreal.

Cantabs are venturing outside again, patronising trendy bars and cafes which have popped up in old buses, or flattened street corners where a once-proud office, shop or house once stood.

It's all helping the local economy to recover.

Fears that thousands would flee the post-disaster city haven't transpired, insurers buoyed by the tailing off of aftershocks are returning, and there's even a lack of qualified baristas which Mr Parker believes is a sure sign that things are on the up.

"We're heading towards full employment next year and that will ripple through to every level of the economy, not just construction industry."

There'll be "a lot less pulling down and a lot more putting up", the mayor says.

Let's hope the earth below agrees.

- NZ Herald

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