It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair."

- Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities.

• Scroll down to see before and after photos

Five years after a shallow, savage earthquake flattened Christchurch, the story of its central business district is a "tale of two cities".

Christchurch Cathedral was badly damaged by the Christchurch earthquake on 22 February 2011. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Christchurch Cathedral was badly damaged by the Christchurch earthquake on 22 February 2011. Photo / Mark Mitchell

A staggering 1300 buildings within The Garden City's four avenues have since been either fully or partially demolished.

Around 1,100 building consents, worth $1.76 billion, have been issued.


A world-class cricket oval has been built, along with new bus station, construction on the vast one-stop Justice and Emergency Services Precinct is ploughing ahead, while the shiny new Innovation Precinct is flourishing with Vodafone, Kathmandu, Callaghan Innovation all returning to the rebuilding city centre.

While many private developers rushed ahead to build with more certainty outside the CBD, in Victoria St, Lincoln Rd, and Show Place, others have completed impressive inner city developments.

Every week, it feels like more empty lots are being filled and joining together with other buildings. It's still a struggle to remember what was there before.

Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) Acting Chief Executive John Ombler says progress is "going gangbusters".

Before and after photos of the deadly 2011 Christchurch quake.

"If you asked me 12 months ago, I would've been a bit disappointed," he said.

"But now, after the incredible amount of work over the last year, everybody across Christchurch can hold their heads pretty high."

But despite the progress - last September the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) estimated that 49 per cent of recovery construction has been completed - it's still far from a functioning city.

Several of the Crown-led anchor projects heralded with such fanfare in the July 2012 launch of its rebuild "blueprint", devised in just 100 days, haven't even started.

It's not clear when construction will begin on the strategically-critical new convention centre. No work has started on the Metro Sports Complex, new central city library, sports stadium, or East Frame residential development.

Read more:
How the children of the quake survived and thrived
Eerie images of city's red-zone, five years on
Back in the saddle: A personal journey of rediscovery
Chris Lynch: Quake rebuild needs to look at its priorities
The Christchurch earthquake dilemma: Should we go or stay put?

"There's been little or no information coming forward about those and there's no doubt it's held back projects," says city property developer Ernest Duval, who is also chair of advocacy group City Owners Rebuild Entity (Core).

"The business community needs some certainty around these major projects so they can plan around them."

Five years on, Christchurch CBD is "like a tale of two cities", Mr Duval said.

The dividing line comes at Hereford S.

Looking south, there has been intense retail and office development, and both private and government projects.

But north of Hereford, you quickly hit the fenced-off rubble remains of the once-landmark Christ Church Cathedral and then "acres and acres of largely Crown-controlled wasteland", Mr Duval says.

"The private sector is going gangbusters but the Crown really needs to get on with this area north of Hereford," he said.

"When I travel to a city like Auckland, where I own buildings, I'm like a guy who's come into town on a pile of wood. I marvel at the smooth roads and footpaths, tall buildings, and whole infrastructure and fabric of a city where not every second person is wearing a fluro vest.

"We are five years on. A 16-year-old boy is now a 21-year-old man. We need to get things moving."