It's easy to dismiss just how far Christchurch has come in five years, particularly given the ongoing stress residents face as they fight insurance companies and the Earthquake Commission over rebuilds.

The city is moving on, but people's attitude to the overall recovery is understandably influenced by progress on repairs to their home, local roads, and of course the latest round of violent aftershocks.

Given the city has lost so much, residents have learned to embrace and appreciate new civic facilities, festivals and attractions they probably didn't give two hoots about before the quakes, with record numbers attending various events.

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For example, the Isaac Theatre Royal opened its doors to the public at the beginning of March last year for the first time since the completion of the $40 million restoration.

Hundreds of residents turned out to show their support and offer additional donations to the theatre. It was a humbling experience being among the enthusiastic crowd. Many said it was their first time visiting the historic building and they were keen to return.

The quakes have left a lot of people disillusioned and angry, but that anger has been channelled in productive and positive ways, mobilising people to fight for what they believe in.

Take, for example, Victoria Square. It's one of the central city's only recognisable public spaces following the quakes. Last year, it was revealed that Government agency CCDU (Christchurch Central Development Unit) wanted to give the square a makeover to fit in with a new city design. It was produced without public consultation and residents felt the change was unnecessary.

Eventually, the agency backed down largely due to passionate people who created a social media storm, and extended their online contempt to real life by turning up to public meetings, talking on the radio and writing letters to the papers. The backdown was viewed largely as the first real win for Christchurch residents.

The rebuild is far from finished. It's not even halfway and there's an immense amount of work to do. We're fortunate to have dedicated local people who have ridden out the bad times and rebuilt their lives and businesses. Cafes and restaurants are slowly returning. But many owners I've spoken to remain frustrated by the lack of action on neighbouring buildings that still need to be demolished or bare land that requires a decent council clean-up.

I'm trying hard to see the positives in the slow rebuild, but my bubble is often burst.

You only need to drive near the fringes of red-zoned areas to feel like you're on a bad rollercoaster because of temporary patch jobs to bouncy roads, and there's nothing more heart-breaking than coming across one or two people who pretend to care about the plight of vulnerable people, only to see they're being taken for a ride financially.

Several months ago a friend from overseas jokingly described the central city as a giant car park. I felt embarrassed, and while he was just being cheeky, there was some truth in his statement. There were a lot temporary car parks. Owners of dusty land where buildings once stood employed Wilson Parking to supplement their income while they decided what to do with their land.

The city's most visible symbol of division has become the ill-fated ChristChurch Cathedral. It's unbelievable it remains in ruins, still, with an uncertain future. Heritage campaigners are convinced it can be saved.

A great deal are simply bored by the argument.

Still, you have to admire the tenacity of those fighting to restore it. Even most city leaders have given up discussing the building in the public arena.

Despite the Cathedral drama, there is a sense of learned hope in the city. Last year the Mayor coined the phrase, "It's happening". It was catchy. I just hope that optimism remains strong, and that we're not forced to rephrase the Mayor's once-favourite line to "It's happened".

Chris Lynch hosts Canterbury Mornings on Newstalk ZB's Canterbury frequencies from 8.30am to noon weekdays.