Monday, September 17, 2012

A "war zone" or a unique opportunity?

There's an interesting opinion-piece in the Dominion-Post this morning from a woman by the name of Lorraine North. It's about Christchurch, and it begins thus:

Christchurch feels like a city under attack.
So much of its central business district has been demolished that its streets are unrecognisable, even to those of us who have spent most of our lives here.
The inner-city area within the Four Avenues is described by locals increasingly in terms of a war zone. Comparisons with Kabul or Baghdad abound.
Citizens are in a state of shock and many avoid the CBD altogether, grief-stricken at how much of their city has been destroyed - not by earthquakes, but by order of the Canterbury Earthquakes Recovery Authority (Cera).
According to Warwick Isaacs, Chief Executive of the Central City Development Unit (CCDU) who is backed by Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee, the demolitions will not cease until 20 per cent of the original CBD remains. 

Now this is a rather alarmist piece. So we skipped down to the bottom to see who Lorraine North is, and discovered this:

Lorraine North is Chair of Canterbury Arts and Heritage Trust.

With due respect to Ms North, she's hardly a neutral observer, and her opinion-piece needs to be read with that context applied.

As chance would have it, we visited Christchurch at the weekend, and when we had a bit of free time, we drove into what had formerly been red zoned streets in the CBD. Sure, there are vast tracts of cleared land, and demolitions are ongoing. But it's not all doom and gloom. 

As we stopped on one corner where a church used to stand, the silence was interrupted by the constant banging of a pile-driver as construction of a new building begins. The Ibis Hotel has reopened and Rydge's Hotel has been refurbished. As soon as the demolition across the road has finished, Rydges' reopening will be scheduled.

There are plenty of cranes on the Christchurch skyline; they're doing a mix of demolition and reconstruction. Sure; some buildings with significant heritage value have been damaged beyond repair, but others are being saved. And over by Latimer Square, the siteworks have already begun for the Cardboard Cathedral. Further on, the giant rugby ball used to promote RWC 2011 is being erected on a corner site in the CBD, destined we understand to become a restaurant.

Christchurch still faces enormous challenges. But people are getting stuck in and making the best of their lot. Huge investment is going to be required to build the new and modern Christchurch, and whilst the Government will fund a significant part, it is going to be private investment that is crucial. 

Apocalyptic predictions such as this one from Ms North do nothing to give investors confidence. But what we saw at the weekend, and what we gathered from people we talked to suggested strongly that the Lorraine Norths are a small but vocal minority.

Christchurch is open for business, and things can only get better.


Quintin Hogg said...

Is she one of the people Gerry was talking about?

Ice Man said...

Great Post, I completely agree. I've lived in Chch my whole life and while it is by no means the same as it once was, almost two years after the earthquake there is a sense of optimism at the rebuild and the fact that we can build a new city and have effectively locked in an economic boom for an generation through the rebuild.

Edward the Confessor said...

Pollyanna vs Cassandra. Truth's probably in the middle. Why do you think the government is closing all of those schools? Because there are so many young families moving to Christchurch?

bsprout said...

KS, I find it difficult to accept that someone who has vested interest in a particular subject should have the value of their comments questioned.

I have had the same accusations made about myself when I have made public comments about education. Some have felt that because I am a teacher and an active member of a union it should disqualify me from holding a view. I often voice opinions or write letters as a private individual and not as a spokesperson of the union or representing all teachers. I do not necessarily declare my involvement with either when I do so, but as the information around my background is easily sourced, I do not see an issue with this. I have found, however, that rather than address my particular concerns (that I do have evidence for) that I am dismissed as having a conflict of interest and therefore don't deserve a proper response.

An example:

The fact that Lorraine North was quickly identified in by yourself as having a leadership role in culture and heritage surely means that she had made no effort to hide her background but was voicing an opinion as an individual. Someone like herself has probably more knowledge about the ramifications of the demolition and rebuild with regard to issues around history than most. I can also appreciate why she may also hold strong views.

In reading the section of Lorainne's opinion-piece it appears to be mainly factual and probably reflects what a lot of Christchurch people actually think. You don't actually state what was factually innacurate.

I am aware that there are possible two schools of thought in regards to the rebuild. The first is the one probably being followed at present, that holds the view that the quicker damaged buildings can be demolished, the faster the rebuild can occur and normal business can resume. This means that even marginally damaged buildings should be demolished to save time and possible expense.

The other view, and possibly Ms North's one, is that the speed of demolition was unnecessarily hasty and much of the history and recognizable character of the city is being lost. I can imagine the grief being felt by those for whom history and connections to the past have some value. The huge support to save the Cathedral by those outside of the church is a good example of the breadth of support this view may have.

Some notable and respected engineers have also voiced concern at the lack of interest in saving and restoring existing buildings when this could be done cost effectively in many cases. This wasn't explored to any large degree.

No one can truly be a neutral observer and while the job of the rebuild is not an easy task and most involved will by operating with the best of intentions, it surely must be recognized that not all will agree with the approach being followed. I didn't see Ms North as being an alarmist nor did i think she intended to mislead the reader as you seemed to imply. I felt her views deserved more respect than your dismissive post.