As we approach the 6th Anniversary of what I call Black Tuesday, 22 February 2011, Christchurch is a city alive with reconstruction of the Central Business District. Office workers are moving back into the city in large numbers, giving spaces and places that were dead a couple of years ago new life. Large businesses such as Kathmandu are establishing corporate offices and call centres in new buildings. The seat of regional Government has now taken up residence in Tuam Street.
Out in the suburbs it is still a case of West Christchurch and East Christchurch, divided by a margin of slowly worsening road conditions, increasing numbers of randomly empty sections and roads and drive ways that go nowhere. The urban red zone has ceased to exist as the condemned houses have now been demolished and their owners/tenants have moved on. Endless road works, road closures and a lack of amenities in the eastern suburbs have also made parts of Avonside, Dallington and New Brighton off putting to visit. And despite the time passed, there are still houses being randomly pulled down in western Christchurch because the owners have finally settled with their insurance company and decided to rebuild.
Christchurch on the whole has come a long way in the last year or so, with parts of the Arts Centre now reopening, and looking absolutely magnificent. The Art Gallery is doing well and the annual World Buskers Festival is on right now, attracting buskers from all parts of the planet. And in the last few days, the Sign of the Kiwi, a well known turn of the 20th Century cafeteria at the top of Dyers Pass has reopened.
But whilst most of Christchurch is making progress, there is one part that is not. The Anglican Cathedral that gives Cathedral Square its name is crumbling slowly before everybody’s eyes whilst the Anglican Church dithers over the most famous building in Christchurch. The Church had wanted to demolish the Cathedral, but were aware of the potential for a massive and possibly ugly backlash if that happened. The dithering, it should be noted is not about a lack of money as the Anglican Church has huge financial reserves it can draw upon. The dithering is because, wanting to demolish the Cathedral is politically and socially very unpopular. An attempt at compromising by drawing up three options does not seem to have found much support (I favoured Option 2, but would not have said no to Option 3 if some use for the bells from the collapsed tower could be found).
Because of the haggling around the Cathedral, not much effort is being put into redeveloping the Cathedral Square precinct. And as a consequence, the area is quite sad and barren with no reason at all to linger at night time, and not much more even in day time. The unknown person who said that it might take 10-15 years before the C.B.D. is fully functional again, was not joking!
It is sad. There is a Catholic Basilica on Barbadoes Street that is significantly larger than the Cathedral and in some respects possibly grander to look at. Its owners have, to their credit announced firm plans to restore the Basilica to its former glory. Like the Anglican Church, the Catholic Church in New Zealand has access to significant financial reserves.
So, Christchurch will just have to continue waiting and hope that the Anglican Church takes a hint from the Catholic Church and gets moving with a long term solution to the issue of what to do with Christchurch Cathedral. Until such a time comes, the precinct will continue to look barren and dead.