In planning its rebuilding, we need to remember that Christchurch has long been the nerve centre of New Zealand’s tourism industry.
And I would suggest that it is so, not only because of its location in the scenic South Island, but also because its cosy Old World appearance, complete with tram, seems reassuring to European and Asian tourists far from home and about to embark on a slightly scary wilderness adventure.
This makes it a natural base, in the manner of the Chateau Tongariro and the Rotorua Bath House. And this quality of reassuring solidity, of cosiness, is simply going to become all the more important after the quake.
Christchurch needs to be rebuilt in a style that retains or even amplifies as much of its formerly cosy, reassuring character as possible, for the sake of the tourism industry. Not necessarily as a ‘museum city’, but in the same spirit.
If Christchurch is rebuilt in a bland, alienating American corporate style, resembling Albany, let’s say (the nerve centre of the Hollow Men) then it will lose this quality of reassurance.
I think we can then say goodbye to a certain proportion of our tourist industry if that happens. The combination of negative publicity about the earthquakes, spooky wilderness and an uninviting future Christchurch will scare them away.
A ‘reassuring rebuild’ needs to be done for the well-being of the people of Christchurch, as well. For the people of Christchurch need a city that will soothe and reassure them in the future.
And even more than that, we need to do so because Christchurch is of cultural importance.
The Anglo-German architectural guru Nikolaus Pevsner once called Chstchurch and Dunedin both “examples … in some ways, of Victorian planning at its most remarkable.” (‘The ingratiating chaos’, Listener (UK) 20 November 1958). We can’t simply throw that away.
It is the city of Rutherford, among other noteworthies.
Unfortunately all this was, literally, history after a couple of nights in World War II.
Many other German cities were modernised in the course of rebuilding. But, perhaps because of its cultural and tourism importance, Freiburg was rebuilt in a deliberately old-fashioned and eccentric style. Nearly everything you see today is a post-1945 reconstruction.
Christchurch, I would argue, needs to be thought of as the Freiburg-im-Breisgau of New Zealand in the forthcoming reconstruction. We can’t risk an Albany. It has to be like the pre-quake city, only better.
Food for thought. Though I fear that those who need to think these thoughts, won’t.