Waiting in Christchurch


Artist impression may not match reality

On Saturday I took a good friend to Greenlane Hospital for some tests. Nothing major, no drama, she just needed someone to be able to drive her home again as she wouldn’t be able to see properly afterwards for a few hours. It was nice to be able to catch-up between the tests and in the car, as we are both busy people and don’t get to talk much. I spent a lot of time in waiting rooms 1, 3 and 6.

While I sat, and waited, I couldn’t help but think of Christchurch.

I’m not particularly familiar with Christchurch – I’d visited three times before the earthquakes, and not stayed long or seen much on any of those occasions. My abiding impressions from then was that the Garden City was flat, Pakeha, a bit chilly, and well-treed. There was a modest river running through it.

Two weekends ago I returned to Christchurch for a family wedding on the western outskirts of the city. I stayed close to Hagley Park, and spent some time in the area around the Re:Start mall. It’s good to see that well off Christchurchians can buy Trelise Cooper and designer jewellery, there or at Ballantynes, and I guess there is a morale boosting factor to having those things open, but I couldn’t help wondering where the Glassons was. Is the rebuild just for those with the money to stay and make themselves comfortable or will it really cater for those who are still there because they can’t afford to move away?

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I could not believe how little has been rebuilt, and how little has been demolished too. Buildings that are fenced off, standing seemingly as they were when the red zone was closed to my unpracticed eye, and with no indication of anything changing any time soon. Rubble, gravel (which is really just smaller rubble), and the forlorn sound of pointless pedestrian crossings near the wreck of the Cathedral. I remember Christchurch as being green, before, but now it all seems grey.

Efforts had clearly been made to brighten things up. We visited the Pallet Pavillion, played Gap Golf, saw some pretty cool and thought-provoking public art. But the greyness and the gravel overwhelmed it all. We didn’t have an opportunity to go into the east.

The sense of waiting was palpable. Waiting for someone to make a move, waiting for something to happen, waiting for the new normal to really begin, because the greyness isn’t enough. Community-led efforts, like Gap Filler, were noticeable and wonderful, but it’s not enough. Tagging was rife, and not just in the more desolate areas I went through. A sure sign that there are lots of young people with not much to do, and that “nice-to-haves” like graffiti eradication have had to go by the by.

Unlike the rooms at Greenlane, where those patiently waiting were quietly seen and free to go home again, I had no sense that there was anyone taking responsibility for moving things along.

And there should be. Central government and local government have roles, huge ones. The fact that there are people living in caravans and using portaloos two years later is unacceptable. This is the whole point of politicians (well one of them); when the chips are down we get things sorted so people have their basic necessities and we use the bulk and resources of the state, or the council, to get it done quickly and well. Yes sometimes we’ll make mistakes when we rush, and I’m not in favour of urgency that undermines democratic processes. There is room for a balance, and that doesn’t seem to have been found in Christchurch.

A final anecdote, that should make you angry I reckon. A relative moved to Christchurch between the first and second big quakes. They lived in Rangiora and in the second big round the granite kitchen bench got cracked. No troubles getting it fixed; sweet as. They’ve now sold that house and moved overseas. Yet people who can’t afford granite benches in the first place don’t have basic heating requirements for yet another winter.

We should be ashamed of this. I know I am.


  1. It still amazes how little people outside Christchurch understand what it is really happening (or not happening depending on how you look at it) and what the current status the city is in to date. There is a big disparity between how this government and it’s nominated authorities, CERA and it’s Minister in charge Gerry Brownlee, portray the situation as it really is. Using CERA, the very organization that is set up to assist in the process of rebuilding, the government has managed to paint a very different picture for the rest of the country. It does this with selective and targeted media bites and by feeding MSM information that it feels appropriate. In short, CERA has become a Propaganda Machine. The annoying aspect is, while it is spending copious amounts of time, and no doubt money, rolling out misleading information, CERA could be directing it’s finances and energies into directing the main issues most requiring attention. One of the biggest matters affecting people is the slow, if not no action on the Insurance Industry and EQC to settle claims in a timely matter. Thousands of households still have not had definite response from their insurers, and still have no idea when they will see any positive outcomes. Whenever this starts to become a news matter, insteps Brownlee backed by CERA to minimalize the situation plug the media hole with typical broard unsubstantiated statements like, ” we are very aware of the huge difficulties these people are facing, and have made significant inroads on the insurance claims matters.” Then nothing changes for these people. It’s like this month after month after month. Pretty artists renditions periodically get released to the local media about big projects, buildings of note, large planning schemes, then, nothing. Granted, such things need time to eventuate, but for the amount of talk to date of what is to happen compared to what is actually happening does not weigh up. So, consequently, when individuals, not just out of towners, actually get out and about and see for themselves, they are surprised, even stunned at the true nature of the situation. The whole matter was highlighted to me personally recently, when I went Auckland and was sitting in a restaurant at a table of curious locals querying me on how it really is. When I made a remark on the atrocious state that the roads are in over East side, and that you literally need a 4 x 4 to negotiate them, I was stunned into silence when one at the table replied, “I thought all of the roads have been fixed by now.” Since then, which was months ago, those same roads have become worse.

  2. Pretty incompetent eh. With my toddler, there is always a carrot and stick. Should be pretty easy to implement? “insurance companies with no answer/payments made by next month get interest charges plus penalties slapped on daily backdated to earthquake date” as a headline, and 95% of claims would be sorted in a fortnight.

  3. Thanks for the feedback. It’s good to see Campbell Live continuing to cover the issues, but I don’t get much sense any other media are. Nothing (new) to see here, move along. It should be big news of course, but the pictures aren’t pretty enough I guess?

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