Previously weakened by “shakers,” the world watched on February 22, 2011, as Christchurch was reduced to rubble. The damage extended beyond the city center and the fall of the steeple of the Christ Church Cathedral. Every resident felt constant fear; a nightmare that lasted three years, while aftershocks continued. Delayed rebuilding was not a decision, it was a necessity. There were 2,000 aftershocks and mild shakers, then another earthquake.
Nature is in discriminant when it destroys. Historic nineteenth century Gothic Christchurch and recent glass boxes were commingled in the bits of prior life. The September earthquake 2010 was a warning.
On February 22, the Canterbury Television building, a six-story steel and glass structure, became an inferno, which claimed the lives of 115 people. Other multiple level buildings, which were reoccupied after September, claimed additional lives when floors collapsed. Falling masonry struck a passing bus, killing eight people. Forty more people died from falling debris in and around the central city.
Compounding visible damage above ground as a result of the September earthquake, was the effects of liquefaction occurring in the subsurface, sandy soils. Liquefaction, a term used by engineers of soil mechanics, is now a commonly understood term in Christchurch. Essentially, it is the process by which otherwise stable, sandy soil, containing moisture, is turned into quick sand by the effects of ground-shaking activity on a massive scale. When the ground stops shaking, earth flows in a torrent of sand. As surface soil moisture evaporates, it turns to stone.
In the midst of rubble, with the town icon church in ruins, 185 people dead and half the town homeless, the people did not give up their sense of community. Sense of place ran deeper than buildings, which defined the core environment. The sense of community was unshakable.
There are cruise guests who enjoyed the city scape of Christchurch prior to 2010 and 2011, who refuse to leave the ship, when it docks at the lovely harbor in Akaroa. Akaroa remains charming, as though nothing world-altering has happened. The residents of Christchurch prefer a different attitude. They welcome visitors to vote with their feet in support of rebuilding efforts. This is the story of Christchurch rising. It is a reflection on the spirit of the people of Christchurch.
After five years of effort, Christchurch is still a work in progress. The decision was made to recreate the historic street scape and reject a glass box option. Clever designs in glass and steel are popping up in harmony with restored buildings. The rising Christchurch has spunk.
Signs are still propped on buildings awaiting action. The signs ask the question – how shall this building be used? Rebuilding Christchurch is a community involved process.
Do not put off visiting Christchurch. Every visitor is a vote in support of the rising effort. Sit on over sized sofas, covered in artificial grass upholstery and view the flower bouquet sculpture on Cathedral Square, still the cultural hub of the city. Wander down restored Regent Street
The cathedral, although a public icon, is private property. A decision was issued by the Anglican Church in September 2017, in favor of rebuilding Christchurch Cathedral to the original basic design. The effort is expected to be a ten-year, $100 million program, in which public and private funds will be part of the commitment. To be determined is the look of basic design conformance.
In 2012, the restored iron clock tower was unveiled. At a cost of NZ$700,000, it was important to the city that an icon of Christchurch be visible as soon as possible. The clock no longer advances. The time is perpetually 12:51, the time of the fatal quake. The clock tower is now an icon of resilience.
The former Canterbury Television building space is now filled with white pebbles in memory of those who were lost in the building in February 2011. Other spaces in the central business area, cleared of buildings and debris, are green spaces waiting new projects. The original city entrance arch on the Avon River now sits in landscaped space that leads into open areas, filled with art.
As road repair and anchor building projects advance, Christchurch has not forgotten the human element in the disaster of 2011. The effects of trauma are not easily cleared or repaired as are the home lots where lives were once lived. Resold and improperly repaired homes aggravate the healing process. Resident mental health is a primary concern receiving council attention.
Although issues remain, the message that Christchurch transmits is faith, healing and an upbeat spirit. Every building that can support a retail shop is making an effort to survive. New Regent Street, with its quirky shops is full of people on any sunny day. The city with its hometown Wizard has magic on its side. Join in the spirit of healing. Enjoy Christchurch as it rises.
Enjoy all the stories of New Zealand in Cruise through History, Itinerary XIV, coming soon.
 Ian Brackenbury Channell, born 1932, London, is the official Wizard of New Zealand. Until 2011 he could be found on Cathedral Square. His usual post-earthquake podium is on New Regent Street, the 1930’s era pedestrian shopping street, which reopened in 2013.