Last week in The Press, there was a photo taken over eastern Christchurch. To a person not aware of Christchurch’s recent past, it would have been a photo needing some explanation. It was of streets and empty properties that are in the civilian red zone, taken over Burwood and showing a solitary house with no evidence of other human life in sight.
It was a strangely beautiful photo in some respects. But to know the (perverse(?)) beauty of it is to know the events that were responsible for it, which started in September 2010 and culminated on this day five years ago. To know it is to know of 7,000 households that have had to move, huge social disruption, scraps with insurance companies, the authorities. To know of its beauty is to know about possibly the worst day in New Zealand’s peace time history.
But out of the misery, the 400,000 tons of liquefaction that erupted like volcanoes out of weaknesses left behind by 12-15 seconds of some of the most intense ground shaking ever recorded on modern instruments and the bureaucratic wrangling, there is hope. I saw in the photo the potential for land that had been built on and which people thought was forever gone to be turned in farmland or orchards, in some respects restoring bits of the greenbelt around Christchurch. It would be appropriate recognition of land that perhaps was never meant to have urban density housing on it. In it I also saw the first sign that the end of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority is approaching with one of its key tasks only a couple of demolitions away from completion.
Soon C.E.R.A. will dissolve. To some this will be a momentous occasion, being able to see the back of an agency whose role has been as difficult as it has been controversial. This agency formed as a result of controversial legislation being rushed through Parliament under urgency with no party on the Opposition bench having the bravery to force a debate. Its powers were considered an attack on democracy. To others, particularly those in Government with uncertainty about whether the City of Christchurch or the private sector is ready for the Government involvement to end, this could be a tense time. When it does, the civilian red zone will either disappear or responsibility be handed over to the Christchurch City Council and Environment Canterbury.
For some, today will be about looking forward. It will be about exciting challenges and opportunities ahead, particularly for those who have settled with the Earthquake Commission and their insurance companies. For others the agony, the horror and the sounds, sights and smells of this day in history will live on forever. For them this will be a somber, sobering day where tears may well flow and certainly be near the surface. And then there are those for whom it will be another day of frustration, fighting bureaucrats and seemingly faceless individuals with no connection to Christchurch wondering what it will take to get a decent settlement.
For me it is about the future. I am optimistic because I see progress, and although I also see plenty of delays, hopefully they are things we can work around. But at 1251 today, like many others, I will stop to remember and reflect.