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Christchurch four years on

Written By: - Date published: 12:41 pm, February 22nd, 2015 - 42 comments
Categories: disaster - Tags: ,

It will soon be four years to the minute since the most destructive and deadly Canterbury / Christchurch earthquake. Condolences to the friends and families of the dead. Greetings to all who lived through it and remember.

As far as I know none of The Standard authors live in Christchurch, so instead you get me. I grew up there. We (my family) were there visiting my parents when the first 7.1 quake hit on the morning of Sept 4th 2010. I was not there for the February quake, but my wife and I arrived the next morning with a trailer full of water, roofing and building supplies. We spent the following week at my parents trying to clean up and make the damaged house secure, caring for my mother (who was injured and trapped under fallen furniture), living through the aftershocks, sleeping in the car, and crapping in a hole in the back garden. When we got back to Dunedin the world seemed utterly surreal.

Over the last four years we’ve been vicariously living through my parents’ struggles with insurance and EQC. I could write a very long, very angry post about that – the insanity and inefficiency the process. And yet, within it, a few wonderful individuals who are really trying to help (our thanks to them). My parents are nearing the end of this process, other relatives in Christchurch have yet to begin their repairs. The quakes have changed our lives forever.

There has been plenty written on the madness of the Christchurch rebuild. I follow the blog Rebuilding Christchurch, see for example The best and worst of the Rebuild in 2014:

In the last year, there have been a number of projects which have been celebrated as the “best thing to happen since the quakes”. The cricket oval and the Isaac Theatre Royal are two examples that spring to mind. These are good things, no doubt. But they also speak volumes about who the rebuild is serving. Cricket and opera are two of the most rich, white people pursuits on the face of the planet. Everyone living in Christchurch has had a rough time in the last few years, including the rich white people. If they feel like it’s time to put the rebuild behind them, to enjoy the cricket and the ballet, that’s great. But there’s a danger in forgetting that as the north and west of the city move into a post-rebuild phase, some parts of the city have barely been touched. If you go out to New Brighton, you’d be forgiven for thinking the quakes were 4 weeks ago, not 4 years ago. As we approach the anniversary, prepare for the government to tell us that we’re moving on, that the hard work has been done. Prepare for many, many people to agree with them. But also spare a thought for the people who rarely have a voice, the mute underclass of National’s burgeoning have-nots.

There are many other blogs and resources. Apparently the documentary When a City Falls is on Maori TV tonight at 8.30 (ht trp in comments).

Final word to someone who really was there – ex Press reporter Olivia Carville. The most moving thing I have read on the Christchurch quakes, it brought tears to my eyes. No extracts, go read the whole thing: Christchurch: My first quake anniversary away from home.

42 comments on “Christchurch four years on ”

  1. Visited my mates in Aranui/Shirley/New Brighton in January. Got lost because whole suburbs are missing (Avonside,Burwood) and roads cut off. It’s taken 4 years but finally Pages Road is getting fixed up (the main road to New Brighton).

    I’m glad about the Hagley cricket oval “good news”, but sad about the people left out of National’s glorious plans and left behind by CERA and insurance companies.

    • millsy 1.1

      …not to mention those who have been priced out of rental acommodation in Christchurch.

    • greywarshark 1.2

      I can remember there was some contention in Oz about housing around the 70’s and a spoof spokeswoman was named to be the butt of frustrated criticism by the name of Gloria Somes.

  2. cronezone 2

    It is always so easy to pick when a commentator doesn’t come from ChCh. I live there, I am living through this and we are making steady progress. Many of those still not sorted are the carpers and moaners that are demaanding their old broken down shacks are replaced with million dollar mansions. Our biggest handbrake is Lianne Dalziel. Everything must first go out to her consultant mates in Wellington before any decision is made. Everything has been put on hold since she got the Mayoralty.

    • r0b 2.1

      I am living through this and we are making steady progress.

      So happy for you.

    • Colonial Rawshark 2.2

      I notice that cronezone:

      1) Starts with comment that Christchurch is making “steady progress.”
      2) But follows with the comment – since Dalziel “everything has been put on hold.”
      3) Sidelines everyone else with “Many of those still not sorted are the carpers and moaners”

      In other words, no idea, no empathy and gives the National Government a big pass mark.

    • greywarshark 2.3

      oh cronezone
      That is very good satire. It’s just the sort of thing that some daft bugger talking down the real problems driving many people round the bend would write. That know it all, smug self satisfied tone is well done and so is the curling lip at those who persist on breaking through the safety tape around the bones of contention which are marked move along nothing to see here. If they don’t keep agitating, by the time they are granted an audience with somone who has some authority to expedite it will be their bones there.

      A group of six old women (I’m not being ageist, it is a factual description – for the benefit of Super-sensitive Woman) interviewed in March 2014 agreed that it seemed that EQC were ‘waiting for us to die’. They were all over 80 years and were waiting for something to be done for them hoping it would be soon as they had been assessed three years earlier, and then got advised that their homes would need to be reassessed again.

      It’s that sort of thing and delays that happened because contractors isolated and worked on one aspect of their duties in a block, instead of attempting to have a stream of finalised claims going through, that have stirred and shaken the residents long after the earthquake.

      You’ve got to accentuate the positive (by Johnny Mercer)
      Eliminate the negative
      And latch on to the affirmative
      Don’t mess with Mister In-Between (ie get through to EQC)

      And those bones of contention –


    • Paul 2.4

      Which part of Christchurch do you live in?
      Do you own rental properties?

      You don’t appear to have a lot of empathy for those whose houses were destroyed or badly damaged or have been waiting for the insurance companies to pay up.

    • Unicus 2.5

      I spent significant time in Christchurch after the quake – I also experienced it . Many letters were published in “The Press” an ugly theme soon developed emanating from writers from affluent western suburbs where damage to property was virtually non-existent . directed at the destroyed communities of their fellow citizens in eastern Christchurch . That correspondence vividly illustrated the repugnant recesses of the tory psyche – prejudice fear bigotry and classicism – the very instincts the National Party relies apron to remain in office

      That theme followed the same sickening drone evident in your post – That somehow the destroyed communities in eastern Christchurch got what they deserved . At the time I believed it was simply people reacting out of distress but it soon became clear that it was a pattern of prejudice widely held among residents west of the city . It was shameful at the time but four years on to express such a view is despicable .

      In the earthquake the people of eastern Christchurch not only lost their homes they lost their world . Work places schools clubs churches friends neighbors everything which provided their sense of belonging was destroyed . To then be the target of vitriol and insult from the self satisfied petty-bourgeoisie of Fendalton was devastating .

      In an almost instant response lightly damaged property west of the city was repaired first .Homes re- painted pools re-tiled and driveways re sealed mostly within two years . There is no doubt CERA – stacked as it is with National Party insiders – prioritised its response to National Party voters .

      When the story of Christchurch is finally told this governments cynical and cruel response to the needs of medium income people after the quake will be recognized as it should be – one of the darkest stains on our country’s history

      • ropata 2.5.1

        +1 very well said

        • greywarshark

          I noted that they seemed to be tackling the easier and often unimportant things first in Chch west, and that the hard job of the East proceeded more slowly because there were more complex problems and greater numbers overall. They needed 90$ of the funding and action but may have averaged out at 60% say.

  3. This song captures the positive vibe of people living through the rebuild. A nice counterpoint to the grim memories.
    Christchurch City (My Hometown)

  4. Rob 4

    Crone zone you are not the only person living in Christchurch
    I would say the recovery will take all of 25 or more years
    The forecasts of recovery have been so overrated
    That reality is slowly dawning
    However of $45B that may be spent our govt will collect at least $15B from that
    Think on it.

    • Paul 4.1

      Looks like crone zone was a hit and run commentator.

      • Puddleglum 4.1.1

        I found cronezone’s comment quite bizarre. It doesn’t relate to anything I’ve observed.

        Whiners who want shacks replaced with mansions? This is a very odd claim.

        And the outburst against the current Council is not remotely an objective assessment so far as I can tell.

  5. Thanks for the post Anthony.

    There are so many stories of drawn out hardship that will never be known beyond friends and family. There have been winners – many people I know, for example, have bought up very cheap TC3 houses (which are on the worst land classification) and rented them out at the current ‘market rate’. Those I know who are doing that are young to middle aged, middle class people with the wherewithal to take advantage of the opportunity.

    Others have rented out their existing rentals (e.g., very modest family homes in very ‘modest’ suburbs) to the rebuild workers on a room by room basis for higher rates than they would be able to get from any family. Tradies have done very well but all of those I’ve spoken to have mentioned the epidemic of cowboys doing shoddy work here.

    My sister finally received the EQC decision for her house just before Christmas. She was lucky to have a well known local businessman acting for her in the last year or so. EQC finally said her claim was ‘over cap’ which now means she starts the negotiations from scratch with her insurer. I don’t know how long that will take.

    The central city plan has been fraught with problems. Delays, changing goalposts, disappointing levels of investor interest have dogged it. Much of the centre remains utterly featureless – empty sections and the ubiquitous Wilson’s rough and ready car parks. I have no idea how much longer it will take to see anything approaching a contiguous central city emerging. Maybe a further 5-10 years?

    Roads remain sites of constant upheaval and many are extremely rough even after being dug up numerous times. They haven’t been ‘smoothed’ presumably because more underground work still needs doing.

    It is often said that humans are very adaptive. They are but what is usually not added to that observation is that adaptation to adverse events carries a physical and psychological cost. (There’s no such thing as a ‘free lunch’ even with the much vaunted capacity for ‘resilience’ and adaptability.) Levels of stress and mental ill health since the quakes are now higher than prequake levels.

    I’m not sure what picture of the ‘recovery’ is being presented to other New Zealanders but this has been a hard place to live in the last four years even for someone like me whose 100 year old little workers cottage just shook itself in February 2011 then stopped shaking without seeming to have been damaged. (It’s wooden, sits close to the ground and probably just has paint cans filled with concrete for piles – I can’t see under it .)

    That has meant I’ve had no EQC or insurers to deal with.

    • CERA had way too much power and precious heritage sites (and even boring old buildings) that were part of the fabric of the lovely old city were torn down with indecent haste, essentially looted by demo companies with dollar signs in their eyes. There are so many heart breaking stories of precious things that could have been retrieved with minimal risk. People lost their livelihoods and life’s work with no recourse to even rescue a few dregs. I hope there is an inquiry into CERA’s orgy of destruction that was worse than the original quakes.

      • Once was Tim 5.1.1

        But you might recall that was always Gerry’s intention (i.e. to completely level and start again)
        I’m not sure why in some instances, damaged structures could not have been taken down to a safe height, and then rebuilt (or not) using at least some of the structure in the rebuilds. (Rome has some attractive ruins – history is retained).
        We all know ChCH will never be the same but it’s no longer a place I can feel is home.

        I’m also still unclear as to why simple land swaps could not have been done . That is council/government land for land deemed unsuitable/unsafe to rebuild with insurance simply picking up the tab for rebuild/relocation of structure.
        All that shit about the inadequate compensation could have been avoided in many cases. Can anyone explain why not to me? (serious question – maybe I’m being naive but it just strikes me that after the Queensland floods, an entire town was relocated without all the insurance buggerisations that have gone on in ChCh)

        • Once was Tim

          ….. oh yes, then the missed opportunities – such as incorporating rail closer to the city. There are already corridors out north, south and west that could be made greater use of for the future. I understand some have recognised the potential somewhat belatedly (north to Rangiora, etc.) but it took a while. They should be thinking about City to airport (perhaps a loop); City to Lytteton; City to Rolleston (and beyond); etc.

          • ropata:rorschach

            After WW2 the Germans rebuilt many important buildings in Dresden back to their original splendour. But Christchurch wasn’t firebombed by a relentless war machine, it was ripped apart from within and King Gerry couldn’t be bothered trying to put it together again.

            • greywarshark

              King Gerry couldn’t be bothered trying to put it together again. Sounds like, looks like Humpty Dumpty.

        • Brendon Harre

          Re; “I’m also still unclear as to why simple land swaps could not have been done . That is council/government land for land deemed unsuitable/unsafe to rebuild with insurance simply picking up the tab for rebuild/relocation of structure.
          All that shit about the inadequate compensation could have been avoided in many cases. Can anyone explain why not to me?”

          There is no reason not to do this, the creation of a new urban area is 90% done by local or central government actions. I think the reason Brownlee and co didn’t do this is it would have exposed the neoliberal BS that free markets are the solution and governments are the problem. Also house and rents would not have gone up some much for all those NatZ voters.

        • Unicus

          First tenet of disaster capitalism – the big easy money is made cleaning up the mess . In New Orleans demo contractors were paid per sq cube of rubble – or anything else they and their bosses could get their grimy hands on – no room for salvage there .

          Given that Key didn’t have a clue how to deal with this situation its a fairly safe bet the Americans were immediately asked to “advise” on how to manage it . From the first day of military occupation till the last load of dust the Christchurch “clean up ” replicates New Orleans to the letter – including its unprecedented levels of corruption .

      • greywarshark 5.1.2

        @ ropata rorschach
        I feel for people who have lost irreplaceable things that could have been recovered. Houses abandoned because they had insurance payouts, where goods had to be left yet were not going to be used or wanted by anyone. A safety first approach that resulted in immobility being the order of the day, so no-one took charge and was given responsibility to co-ordinate recovery of wanted goods where possible.

        It has been an eye opener watching how corporate-think operates when people lose their autonomy and are just pawns in the maw of a machine that ignores them and looks over their heads to distant plans and opportunities.

    • r0b 5.2

      Cheers Puddleglum. Glad to hear about your place, and best of luck to your sister.

      adaptation to adverse events carries a physical and psychological cost

      Yes, perfectly put. That cost will never be known or acknowledged.

  6. Here’s an article by one “John McCrone” that asserts that CERA and the CCDU should have just forced the Christchurch council to comply with directives from the Beehive. I am guessing he doesn’t pay rates???

    Some people don’t believe in democracy.

    • Paul 6.1

      Maybe the same ‘crone zone.’

    • I think Mc crone is a good journalist.

      He has done numerous features in the Mainland section of the Weekend Press over the past few years. He always presents a thoughtful analysis that goes beyond the usual reporting on an issue.

      I first came across his writing when I was in the UK in 1997. I read a popular science book by him that laid out the, then, new approach to the mind as a social, neurologically embedded process. He used the work of people like Rom Harre of Oxford University (from Auckland originally and, I think, relative of Laila and Nikki Harre).

      What impressed me was that he seemed to really understand the approach and ‘get’ the inherent sociality of the mind that it assumes.

      I remembered his name from that book and then was surprised to find him writing feature articles in my local newspaper. (And, yes, it’s the same person.)

      While I have no idea what his politics are I’d be very surprised if he was an unreconstructed neoliberal.

  7. Venezia 7

    Have just watched “When a city falls” again on Maori TV. Gerard Smythe who made it, points out that people from the wealthier suburbs who were able to leave the city soon after the 22 February quake did so in large numbers. Those in the hardest hit lower income eastern suburbs did not have that choice and have had to ride it out as best they can. My own observations four years down the track are similar to the points made in this article. There is still significant stress for those who may be called resilient, but have had few choices in the rebuild/repair/ recovery process. If you can afford to engage lawyers to advance your claims, you get the outcome you want. The poorer majority have to wait and hope. The government focus has been on helping the business community to get the CBD back on its feet and the developers of the new housing suburbs to fasttrack their interests. The residential rebuild/repair is far from satisfactory for many, and there will be books written about the antics of the EQC and insurance companies blocking and delaying and denying residents their rightful compensation which they did after all pay for over many years through their insurance. Vested interests have had a field day on the backs of ordinary citizens of Christchurch.

    • Do a search for “disaster capitalism in Christchurch“; there are tons of results.

      Books have already been written; see “The Christchurch Fiasco” by Sarah Miles.

      The slow and confused recovery phase led me to examine the insurance industry, locally and globally. This has revealed a clear pattern of corporate greed at the expense of citizens and has shown that the profit-driven model of private insurance can, and very often does, fail those who have paid-up policies based on “good faith” responses that are their due. This is not a book about idealistic sociological concepts, but a revelation of actual Government administrative failure and financial risk-taking, in concert with corporate malfeasance.

      The opportunistic behaviour of the insurance companies together with the lack of transparency and integrity within these corporations, is compounded by the failure of corporate watch-dogs, such as government, the legal system and regulators, all of whom have failed to protect the public interest after the recent events. In the background, behind closed doors, are the strategic alliances and the networked relationships between Government, corporates, professionals and other major stakeholders with the object of profit.

      Endorsed by Garry Moore, Lianne Dalziel, and other luminaries.

    • Some stories on Christchurch Voices
      https://vimeo.com/55396555 Rev. Mike Coleman on Sarah Miles’ hard-hitting book
      https://vimeo.com/50825539 Garry Moore on CERA
      https://vimeo.com/91353214 Adrian Cowie on cheapo repairs and skinflint insurers

  8. Some excellent blog posts from the quake anniversary:

    James Dann is most eloquent in “No City to Love“:

    None of the positive connotations we associate with a metropolis – vibrancy, change, bustle, convenience, choice, innovation – can be found here at the moment. While in the time after the quakes, cities such as Melbourne were frequently mentioned as to what Christchurch could be; those sort of calls aren’t heard any more. Sadly, future Christchurch is more likely to look like a Turbo Timaru or a Hefty Hamilton – a rural service town on steroids. It’s not what the people asked for in Share an Idea, but it’s what we’re getting. While the central city is bogged down with grand government visions (and their nonsensical attempt to prop-up property prices), the suburbs haven’t looked backwards.

    A couple of months after the big quake, there was a daft “Love Christchurch” advertising campaign. Four years on and sadly, there is no city to love. Christchurch is a collection of a mega malls and their feeder suburbs, with a better-than-average rugby team. There is no better symbol for the neglect the government has paid to the central city than their treatment of the Cathedral and the Town Hall – buildings of religious and civic togetherness respectively, which the authorities would happily see wiped off the street maps of any future city. I’d love to see a vibrant, bustling, liveable central city – but after 4 years, it has become clear that that won’t be happening in this city under this government.

  9. Paul 9

    The Herald says we should plug the gap in Insurance…after 4 years
    Better still nationalise the insurance industry
    And deal to the media in this country.


  10. Dorothy 10

    to @cronezone
    Disingenuous comment.
    Why did you say I live there ? instead of I live here in Christchurch,
    was it a slip up ? I think you are a troll.

  11. exStatic 11

    As a Christchurch resident I have something to say on this……
    “Insurance is a bloody good industry – until there’s a claim!”

  12. Brendon Harre 12

    As someone who fortunately missed the earthquakes but has lived inside the 4 Aves and is currently living in North Canterbury and commutes to work in a Christchurch hospital I would say the mistake that Brownlee, Key, CERA and co made is they have no clear concept of where the public sphere ends and private sphere starts.

    The paucity of neoliberal theory has given them no conceptual idea of how to plan a mixed economy of public and private enterprise. So when the earthquakes destroyed the Christchurch ‘market’ they didn’t know what to do. This resulted in some instinctive authoritarian National party DNA reasserting itself, something that would not be out of place in the 1950s or Muldoon’s period.

    National needed someone like Bertaud (former head planner for the World Bank who did a speaking tour of NZ last year) giving clear advice on the importance of planning without mission creep.

    The government should have concentrated on getting the publicly provided networks up and running -the roads, the public transport systems and the underground horizontal infrastructure -the three waters -sewerage, fresh and storm. Plus repairing or replacing damaged government buildings, maybe assisting in getting a few key historic/cultural buildings repaired like the Cathedral.

    They should have left everything else to the owners and the marketplace. They should have taken their regulatory role between the insurance companies and claimants more seriously. CERA should have been an agency that instead of adding another hurdle between the private sphere getting on with it, should have simplified the regulatory requirements between CCC and the CBD developers.

    All this BS about anchor projects being needed to give confidence and attract business/people back has been proven WRONG.

    Where are the anchor projects in fast growing Addington and Victoria St? These areas are booming because they are outside of CERA’s control and despite lacking government provided convention centres, stadiums… not because of them.

    New Zealand needs to realise that on both sides of our political spectrum we are dominated by conservative authoritarian politicians who instinctively want to take control. What we actually need is humble politicians who know their place, at the end of the day, after they have put in place institutions and rules they need to realise when to hand power over to us -the people.

  13. greywarshark 13

    @ Brendan Harre
    Yep. This bit resonates with me
    New Zealand needs to realise that on both sides of our political spectrum we are dominated by conservative authoritarian politicians who instinctively want to take control. What we actually need is humble politicians who know their place, at the end of the day, after they have put in place institutions and rules they need to realise when to hand power over to us – the people.

  14. greywarshark 14

    Politicians job is to fund things they might like to do. Rekindle is an example of what some of the people can do using their skills when they get fired up with an idea and not greatly tied to external philanthropy.
    Originally started in Christchurch to use the lovely rimu etc. being piled on rubbish tips, they are still strongly there but have also branched out with an Auckland initiative as well. This is a pop-up shop in a shipping container in auckland near the waterfront on Te Wero Island.

    Initially focused on diverting timber from waste within residential demolition in postearthquake Christchurch, Rekindle’s work has now expanded beyond timber to a much wider scope of undervalued materials, including construction and industrial waste. Rekindle sees design as the tool that unlocks the qualities of resources which are so often ignored when viewed as waste. Rekindle also works to create a market for these products. As a social enterprise the majority of profits are dedicated to furthering development of this work….

    The time has come where the first range of limited edition products we’ve been lovingly making here in Christchurch has sadly come to and end. We’ve found over the last while the supply of material has changed as demolition practices have changed. Working with waste as our supply means we have to be ready to change tack and respond to what is available or needs to be addressed, and so it is time to look at new waste streams, and that means new materials and designs….we’ll be waiting for the new collection of products to appear from the Christchurch workshop, and we’re very excited about that.

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