Editorial: Rebuild city to rebuild people

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The people of Christchurch and the South Island, particularly those with any religious belief, must be wondering what they have done to deserve this.

First there was the out-of-the-blue earthquake in September last year, one which shook the bones, the spirit and left a city battered. It was followed by the Pike River Mine collapse, which took 29 lives. Now we have the most horrendous natural disaster to hit our country since the 1931 Hawke's Bay earthquake.

Already more than 100 lives have been confirmed lost in Christchurch and with the number of unidentified bodies piling up and an extensive missing list, it is likely the 256 who died in Napier and Hastings will be surpassed.

Naturally, the impact and the cost will hit record levels - 380,000 live in Christchurch compared to the 27,000 back in the Bay in the 1930s. More than 50,000 people down south still did not have power three days after the big shake. So much more expensive infrastructure has been bent out of shape and the cost of everything is magnified now many times over.

With the death toll seemingly sure to pass the 237 who perished in an Air New Zealand plane on Mt Erebus in 1979, this disaster will be the one that resonates most with the people of this era.

Can you name anyone who does not know someone who lives in Canterbury who has not been affected in even a minor way? How much different will that beautiful city look next time the rest of us visit?

Rightly, with so many bodies still in the mangled wrecks of the buildings the victims worked and lived in, the focus remains on the people. Until everyone is accounted for, until all the dead are laid to rest - and even after that as families grieve - no serious thought can be given about Christchurch's future.

It is safe to say, however, that a rebuild the residents can be proud of is paramount to their healing. Victim support personnel are thick on the ground and while they will be doing their best, normality, both short and long-term, are the keys here.

Rebuilding will be a challenge. Christchurch City Council says on its website that the Garden City "is generally regarded as having retained a larger proportion of heritage buildings than cities such as Auckland and Wellington".

That view is commonly held across the country. It has probably been less affected by development pressures, but city fathers there have been more diligent than others.

While watching the impressive television coverage of the disaster this week, how many beautiful buildings, in ruins, did each of us recognise? The Anglican ChristChurch Cathedral, with the downed spire that is believed to have killed more than 20 tourists, is prime among the losses.

But there are also the Provincial Chambers, Press Building, Arts Centre and Basilica. And a whole range of commercial buildings that simply looked period.

The Historic Places Trust says whether any can be saved will become clearer when emergency services declare the sites safe to enter. However, it does not take an architect to realise some serious rebuilding will be needed to save even the least damaged.

"These buildings are much-loved, iconic landmarks that helped to tell Christchurch's story and have made the city the special place that it is and what locals and visitors readily identify with," trust chief executive Bruce Chapman said on Friday. "There is no easy answer to whether Christchurch can rebuild its damaged historic buildings."

That is a significant statement. Even the greatest protector of the country's heritage is conceding some buildings will be lost forever.

Quite simply, we will not be able to afford to replace them all. That is a huge shame, but it is reality. As well, as Mayor Bob Parker has said, the city's residents must be safe in the future and new buildings will have to guarantee they can stand the ravages of a great shake.

Modern facades can hide or lessen the impact of new building styles and Parker and his council will have this top of mind.

As a prominent soft drink manufacturer says, however, you can't beat the real thing and that is the biggest challenge of all in the rebuild - identifying which structures must be rebuilt as close as possible to the original, no matter the cost.

Parker has said the church in Cathedral Square is one of them and, as he has been through so much of the past week, he is right again. It is the most iconic structure and the one that most people will want to see reinstated.

So do we at the Herald on Sunday. It's why we are today backing one of the fundraising initiatives. It will help rebuild the community of Christchurch - brick by brick.

The Anglican Archbishops and Bishops of New Zealand have launched an appeal to help the Diocese of Christchurch and Te Hui Amorangi Te Waipounamu provide care and support for all the people and communities affected by the earthquake.

You can support this appeal by "buying a brick" to help rebuild the community. Each community reconstruction brick is $10. All proceeds will go directly to the Bishops' Emergency Appeal fund, managed by the Anglican Diocese of Wellington on behalf of the province of Canterbury.

To find out how to donate, turn to p2 of our commemorative magazine, 100 Hours: A Tribute to Courage, A Call to Hope.

It's not a lot compared to what people are going through, but it is the best way we can think of to help them get back on their feet.

- Herald on Sunday

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