The 7.1 magnitude earthquake that hit Christchurch on September 4, 2010 marked the start of a series of tectonic events – including some 2500 aftershocks within a year – that would have a dramatic, deadly effect on the city, changing it irrevocably. The aftershock of February 22, 2011 killed 185 people and badly damaged or destroyed many buildings in the city centre, while one more person died in the June 14, 2011 aftershock. Still reeling from the devastation, the city was struck again on December 23, 2011, this time by 5.8 and 6 magnitude quakes.
At the time of writing, parts of the city centre within the Four Avenues – Moorhouse, Fitzgerald, Bealey and Deans – were still cordoned off. Some will remain inaccessible to the general public until structural safety has been ascertained and it’s known which buildings require demolition, and the timeframe during which this will happen. Christchurch’s iconic neo-Gothic buildings fared particularly badly, including its landmark cathedral, the geographic and, for many, spiritual heart of the city. In early 2012 it was announced that the cathedral could not be saved and will be demolished. Authorities are considering installing a temporary “cardboard cathedral” – check wchristchurchcathedral.co.nz for updates. The Port Hills were also roadblocked at the time of writing, and parts of the beachside suburb of Sumner were stacked with shipping containers to protect against further land slippage. For residents, it remains an uncertain time as they await news of insurance and authorities’ plans for rebuilding the city, while contending with ongoing seismic activity.
But there is good news: as plans for rebuilding unfold, some businesses remain or have since reopened, and others have relocated or are intending to do so, either temporarily or permanently, to unaffected suburbs. These suburbs have experienced a renaissance as people who once frequented the city centre are seeking out eating, drinking and entertainment venues further afield. And spirited locals are creating pop-up bars, shops, restaurants and cafés (many housed in shipping containers) as well as new long-term establishments, while working to repair and reopen businesses where possible.