In My Opinion

Dita De Boni is a Herald business columnist

Dita De Boni: Empty space at a city's heart

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Restoration, not demolition, is what Christchurch landmark deserves

Illustration / Anna Crichton
Illustration / Anna Crichton

We are told there is a lot happening in Christchurch; that the Crown has pulled out all the stops to fund the recovery and rebuild, and the once-vibrant southern economy is spluttering into life once more.

Householders might not be feeling it, but the Canterbury Chamber of Commerce says the economy is growing at 6.8 per cent and the business community is in "good heart". How long these optimistic feelings will endure once the Government's capital injection runs out is unknown.

What isn't in "good heart" - at least in the opinion of this infrequent visitor - is the "heart" of Christchurch city itself. Bad enough that the entire central business district feels more like a giant, vacant carpark, or a half-finished building site. There are few places to stay or to eat in the once-bustling commercial centre, and even less lighting, so you are now (informally) warned to stay indoors after dark.

But the real tragedy is Cathedral Square: littered with the crumbling remains of a once-great Anglican house of worship, it has lost its soul.

And this week we hear that the rebuilding of ChristChurch Cathedral in its original style has been quashed by the Supreme Court, which has ruled that its owner - the Anglican Church - has no obligation to recreate the original design and can proceed apace with a new, modern version.

A new, modern, cheaper version, that is. How many times in New Zealand do we bemoan the lack of truly historic buildings and complain about the ugly modern replacements, only to sit by and watch a genuinely important heritage building being demolished in favour of a pale plasterboard imitation?

The old cathedral is worth keeping, if only because it anchored the region's tourism. A city that has lost so much, including about 60 per cent of its tourist accommodation, needs the incentive to visit that a historically important rebuild would provide.

With Christchurch also the tourist gateway to the rest of the South Island, you would think this matter supersedes the wishes of (perhaps) a few thousand parishioners and the management of the Anglican Church, and rightfully belongs to the city council, and then the Government.

You might even have hoped the Government would see the importance of protecting such a critical landmark. You know, like other governments do? Dresden in Germany, to cite just one well-known example, had the forethought to recreate the city's famous Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) brick-by-brick long after it was reduced to rubble in the 1945 bombing of the city. Apparently, Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who led Germany when the project was taking shape, had a personal desire to see it rebuilt and called in favours from some of the largest companies.

How nice it would have been if Prime Minister John Key, ex of Christchurch, had leant on some of his well-heeled supporters and spearheaded a rebuild of the city's best-known landmark. He could even have made it a PPP (private public partnership) if that made him happier. He could have basked in the glory of making it happen.

Instead, the beautiful building is finally consigned to dust and with it, the hopes of preserving one of the most awesome elements of the city's past.

- NZ Herald

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