Editorial: Shaken city a marvel in its resilience

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Christchurch residents have endured a lot since the earthquake. Photo / Simon Baker
Christchurch residents have endured a lot since the earthquake. Photo / Simon Baker

Everyone in Christchurch will remember exactly where they were a year ago today. Many in the rest of New Zealand will also recall what they were doing when the news came through. This time Christchurch had not dodged the bullet as it had the previous September when hitherto unknown faults under Canterbury began to rupture. This one had hit in daylight. Buildings had fallen with people inside and many more in the streets. It had been a sunny summer lunch hour.

It seems much more than a year ago. The city has endured thousands of aftershocks since and it is steeled for more. This, geologists assure us, is entirely normal. Haiti and Japan are still having aftershocks, Sumatra still has them from the quake that caused the Boxing Day tsunami eight years ago.

Christchurch comes to the first anniversary of its devastation in a mood of mounting frustration. There is nothing its people can do about the continuing shakes and not much rebuilding can be done until international insurance networks have assessed their risk.

Public inquiries are under way into buildings that collapsed last February 22 and, as always, hindsight is wise.

It is perhaps to vent their frustration that citizens have turned on Mayor Bob Parker and the City Council, seizing on the routine hefty pay increase the council awarded its chief executive and despairing that divisions occur among its elected members. Yet the council is not the crucial agency for Christchurch's revival. That task was taken over by the Government long ago and delegated to a Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera).

Cera and its chief executive Roger Sutton have yet to live up to the high hopes invested in them. Water pipes and sewerage have been fully repaired but roads are still waiting for attention. A corner of the inner city has been re-opened and shops and bars set up in shipping containers. But the rest of the city's heart remains a cordoned-off demolition yard and debate continues about whether the iconic cathedral can, or should, be restored.

The inner city presents a blank canvas of planners' dreams. Visions of low-rise, solar-powered sustainable precincts separated by green swards and linked by light rail excite some people. Meanwhile, city business has quietly relocated to suburban centres and one or two of the older districts are now filling the city's need for entertainment and night life.

The Christchurch that rises from the rubble eventually will not be as it was a year ago but it will probably not conform to civic designs either. It will be rebuilt as and where people want. The only certainty in residents' minds is that it will survive.

The city's favourite son, Richie McCaw, speaks for a vast majority of Cantabrians when he says he has never for a moment considered leaving. The rest of us marvel at their resilience. In the year since February 22 they have endured two more magnitude 6 earthquakes, the latest in a swarm before Christmas. The terror when they happen gets no easier to endure, but by and large the homes and services that were intact after February 22 are intact still.

After the latest big one, the mayor demanded geologists tell the city how long its ordeal might go on. GNS Science said diminishing aftershocks might recur for 30 years. The people now know what they face, and it seems they can.

One day, when the aftershocks are no more than a shiver in the ground and Christchurch has a new shape, those who lived through it all will have a heritage of shared experience better than the finest buildings they have lost. That day will come but maybe not for a few anniversaries yet.

- NZ Herald

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