Nature returns as city buildings vanish

Posted 19 Feb 2012 by MediaStuff Popular
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Daniel Tobin

The Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) opened Christchurch's red zone to media last week.

 
 

The absence of buildings in the centre of a city shocks as much as those still in various stages of collapse or demolition.Through the cordon, the centre of Christchurch is a wonderland. You wonder at what is there and what isn't.

Bare lots of dust and gravel have multiplied like a plague through the red zone.

One side of Gloucester St, east from Colombo St, is virtually barren for two blocks to Latimer Square. Only the new Press building, Cathedral Junction and the Rendezvous (formerly the Marque Hotel) interrupt the view.

There are oddities left standing – a gate to the outdoor dining area behind Winnie Bagoes pizza bar leads to nowhere.

The area around the intersection of Manchester, High, and Lichfield streets, where cafes, bars and fashion stores buzzed with life, is a wasteland.

Phil Price's wind sculpture Nucleus is at the centre of not much. Its four equal parts were designed to symbolise Christchurch's well-planned environment; now they slowly turn above destruction.

Shipping containers hold up a wall of the former Excelsior Hotel, like a movie set facade with an empty lot behind.

There are no ANZ chambers – the flat-iron building with the domed turret – and opposite, no Ruben Blades building which collapsed killing a mother and daughter on the footpath and two people in their cars.

Poplar Lane, where character brick buildings housed a thriving bar scene, has become Poplar Plain.

The quakes have torn down great chunks of the city's history, but have also exposed a little.

In Lichfield St, demolitions have revealed century-old advertisements on a brick wall. The NZ Candle Co Ltd urges consideration for brands such as Five Medal and British Sperm, and Nelson Moate & Co promotes Pure Teas.

Nearby a modern advertisement is equally frozen in time: Plush [Clothing] Summer Sale. Inside a jumble of white mannequins' arms and legs are strewn on the floor.

There are other still life studies. Dusty glasses knocked over on the white tablecloths at the Retour restaurant in the cracked Cambridge Tce rotunda.

Carlos Santana in heroic guitar pose outside the Christchurch Town Hall in a poster for his March 22, 2011 concert that never came.

Colonel Sanders still smiling out from a broken KFC store on Colombo St.

At the sites where 133 people lost their lives – the CTV and PGC buildings – you wonder what they will build, or whether they should.

A digger scoops up the last small pile of concrete and twisted reinforcing at PGC. There is a bouquet of faded roses inside the fence.

At CTV there is just the concrete pad and neatly packed gravel. At the corner of Cashel and Madras streets a bedraggled collection of tributes remain – a teddy bear slumped in a chair, a pair of sneakers, a bottle with Chinese characters on it.

Messages are also entwined in the fence. A child has drawn her auntie and her cat and says they are angels in heaven; a birthday card for a loved uncle says: "I miss your smile."

So much to see and not to see.In the year people have been away, nature has also returned to the central city. Knee-high weeds grow through cracks in footpaths. Pigeons fly from the black hole of the Christ Church Cathedral where the rose window used to be; long grass grows below the building's cracked south face.

After the initial shock of what is missing comes another feeling. You wonder if a central city with lots of open space would not be such a bad idea for a whole lot of reasons.

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