>>>Christchurch: the improvised city
Photo: alarico / Shutterstock.com

Christchurch: the improvised city

Five years ago an earthquake devastated New Zealand's second largest city. But there's something it didn't destroy: the fighting character of its residents.
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n Christchurch the cathedral is made of cardboard. Services and concerts are held there. All that’s left of the original is a ruin. It was the first cathedral built by settlers in New Zealand but the 2011 earthquake caused severe damage. The cardboard one is a transitional cathedral located in Latimer Square. It will stand until a permanent cathedral has been built.
It’s written Christchurch and pronounced with optimism. As Winston Churchill said “An optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty”. The inhabitants of Christchurch are definitely optimists, as after the earthquake devastated half the city, they have managed to get it to rise from its ashes, literally. It all happened five years ago and the damage can still be seen. The city centre doesn’t exist any more. Clocks have stopped at 12:51. Wherever you look there’s building work going on. Fifteen years will be needed to get the city fully back on its feet again. A third of that time has now elapsed and Christchurch is working with its best tool: creativity.
Re:START currently has around 50 businesses.
Photo: MJ Prototype / Shutterstock.com
Restaurants have reopened to customers, although they need generators to produce electricity. Some of them have even opted to reinvent themselves with black humour. This is the case of the former bar Goodbye Blue Monday. After the earthquake it was renamed Smash Palace. In an old recycled and colourfully painted bus they prepare a wide range of burgers, although their speciality is local beer. People flock there to raise a glass and dance beneath its strings of coloured light bulbs.
 
Cardboard Cathedral was built with 98 cardboard tubes. It was then covered with a coloured glass panel.
Photo: christchurchnz.com

Where the city breathes

The calm in the Botanic Gardens contrasts with the work underway in the rest of the city. The earthquake didn't affect this 21-hectare area. This is home to 120-year-old trees and an enormous variety of flowers. It's crossed by the river Avon, which you can travel along by gondola.

What was once a shopping mecca is now Re:START. From the outside it’s a shopping centre built with shipping containers placed on top of each other. Inside it’s the living image of new opportunities. Bakers is a leading menswear brand in New Zealand. The front of their container reads “Don’t be afraid of looking good. Be afraid of not”. It’s more than just a slogan; it’s the Christchurch philosophy. Lululemon is a sportswear store, but it also holds workshops and yoga sessions. Greek food stall Dimitris is bursting at the seams at lunchtime. The aroma of sophisticated Hummingbird coffee permeates everything. There are bookshops, gift shops, even a hairdresser if you want to change your image. They’re experts at that in Christchurch.
The Christchurch Botanic Gardens were founded more than 140 years ago.
Photo: christchurchnz.com
Hapa is a gift and craft shop. Owner Maureen Taane says she plans to stay at Re:START for as long as possible: “It’s a symbol of the city’s rebirth. It would be so sad for customers if it disappeared”. But it does have an expiry date: January 2017. It’s hoped that by then, most of the new buildings in the city centre will have been rebuilt. It will be a fresh start for Christchurch. A fresh chance to do what it does best: reinvent itself.

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