Tag Archives: Cashel Village

Christchurch Resurgent [8].

Thursday 22 December 2011.

Activity continues relentlessly inside the Red Zone cordon, some of it constructive but most of it destructive, to judge from what can be seen from the barriers at the end of Cashel Street. A pile of rubble is building up across from Colombo Street, where Kivers Lane used to be. The grand old DIC building is rapidly being reduced to a series of truck-loads of rubbish. I can only hope that the fine stained glass windows that used to adorn the stairwells have been saved. Looted or salvaged, it hardly matters so long as they have been removed unharmed and are in a safe place. I imagine that they might appear soon on E-bay; a very large quantity of ‘salvaged’ items has been put up for sale on the internet. In this way items do not have to be put on public display and no-one but the ‘salvors’ need see the piles of loot, which are kept from the prying eyes of the rightful owners.

At ninety degrees to that said sad site, on the south-west corner of the Colombo Street – Hereford Street intersection, there is further destruction. There was a camera shop on that corner, with Dimitri’s Souvlaki shop on the Colombo Street side and the optician’s on the Hereford Street side. Upstairs there was a jeweller’s shop where Ruth got bits and pieces repaired from time to time. No more.

Diametrically opposite that corner lies the monolithic bulk of the Bank of New Zealand, whose demolition began a few days ago. Cera [the Christchurch Earthquake Remediation Authority] had permitted people to enter the Square for the past few weekends to allow them to view the ruination, but, ominously, signs at the entry point advise that this is not public space but ‘Cera Space’, a firm reminder that Cera is not answerable to anyone, and all things now are done only by grace of the Authority. Nowhere does the word ‘please’ appear on the notices; autocracy does not request, it requires. The signs warn those who would enter that it is Very Dangerous, and in the event of an earthquake they might be Seriously Injured, or even that they Might Not Survive. Wear stout shoes, and carry identification, presumably to save Cera the trouble and expense of having to carry out tedious and time-consuming identification from dental records. The wording has that slightly hysterical undertone that is so common in official pronouncements these days. People are terrified that if something goes wrong they Might Get the Blame, so instead of trying to manage risk they attempt the impossible task of eliminating it entirely.

The culture of risk aversion runs deep and strong, and it is strangling recovery. The Cordon, that most visible manifestation of the risk aversion syndrome, is the garrotte that is strangling the life out of the City. “Ubi solitudinem faciunt pacem appellant”, said Tacitus. He was writing about the destruction wrought on native societies by Roman imperialism, but the words might well sit under Cera’s escutcheon; “Where they make a desert, they call it peace.”

By denying access to the central City, Cera is destroying the heart of the community. The longer it maintains that exclusion, the more certain the destruction, but Cera seems to be unaware that a City is more than a collection of buildings, more than the sum of its parts, and it needs to have people in it. But no-one permitted inside the City and Cera will not admit anyone except the demolition crews. Ergo, all the businesses that employed tens of thousands, that were the City’s lifeblood, have gone; bankrupted, working from garages at home, relocated to the malls and the suburbs.

All these people have set themselves up at Riccarton or Hornby or Northlands. The airport end of Waimairi Road, around the intersection of Roydvale Avenue, is humming with activity. In this process business houses and professional people have set up shop, signing five and ten year leases, and spending a lot of money getting the new premises up to scratch. As time goes on they will become more and more entrenched. Their clients will become accustomed to the new positions, all of which will be thankfully low-rise and have ample free parking. Service providers, retailers, cafés and bars will spring up around them, new communities will coalesce. In five or ten years time, when the leases are up for renewal and expensive premises again become available in the City, will they pull up stakes and head back to Cathedral square?

I don’t think so.


Christchurch Resurgent [4]

Wednesday 2nd November 2011.

The traffic was difficult along St Asaph Street, most of its length between Madras and Montreal Streets reduced to one lane. But all streets, it seems, are difficult to negotiate these days, sometimes wide open, sometimes down to one or two lanes, sometimes closed entirely, and changing from day to day. Salisbury Street, which is now the main west-east route, has been like a slalom course these last couple of weeks, and Edgeware Road is still closed at the Barbadoes Street end. I managed to get a car park in the Wilson’s park on the corner of Cashel Mall and Oxford Terrace, despite the streams of traffic. This was because I was there by 1000am. Another half an hour and it was full up.

Simply New Zealand's pop-up shop, Cashel Mall.

Looking around, I tried to work out where I was parked; I think that I was over what had been the toilets of The Bog, the very popular Irish Bar at the bottom of Cashel Mall. What sort of an idiot would call his pub The Bog, I ask you? “I’m going for a couple of pints at The Bog” is like saying “I’m off for beer in The Kharzi”, or “I’m off for a drink in The Dunny.” It did not seem to put people off, however. People must be getting more and more desensitised to the finer feelings.

Not that people were being put of from coming to the Mall, it seems, despite the weather. After several days of warm spring sunshine and balmy breezes we had rain over night, with more impending, and a cold southerly breeze was blowing by the time I got to the Mall. Not only that, according to the Press, the conditions were right for a tornado! A tornado, if you please! Earthquakes! Snow storms! Now a tornado! Whatever next? Do you ever get the feeling that Someone is pissed off with you? Not that it happened, of course, the weather man being wrong again, as usual, and the weather picked up as midday approached. It was not that busy when I arrived, and people were walking purposefully, not dawdling, but by noon it was warm and sunny, people were thronging in and it was smiles all round. The shops were busy, the cafes doing a roaring trade.

Lavender plants enjoying the sun.

Even the plants seemed to be cheerful. The Horticultural Society had organised planter boxes up and down the Mall, and along Oxford and Cambridge Terraces, bring colour to a once-drab area. The lavender is looking particularly healthy, and the bedding plants that a couple of days ago were lying down, collapsing in the heat, had stiffened up, leaves firm and happily absorbing the warm sun. Thanks to the overnight rain, the new flower beds were well soaked. These have been dug out at a number of spots around what we now think of as Cashel Village, and there is something deeply symbolic in the sprouting of little plants in such sere and forgotten soil.

Cashel Street was the first City street in Christchurch to be fully built-up. By 1860, its course from the River to Tattersall’s Hotel [about where the Cashel Street Car Park building is now] being completely covered with shops, offices, pubs and the like. The flowers now springing up in beds on ground once occupied by Whitcoulls [formerly Whitcombe and Tombs] on one side and the Guthrey Centre on the other are in soil that has not seen the sun for over one and a half centuries. Life returns anew, despite everything outside forces do to suppress it. Everything seems positive and dynamic, and wandering around the Village, one’s spirits lift into the warm spring sunshine. But at the ends, things are still as they were; debris and destruction, and long stretches of eerie nothingness.

Visions of solid progress and returning vitality are inspiring, but the occasional glance beyond the

Manchester Street looking north from St Asaph Street.

ever-present barrier fences serves to remind us that we have a very long way to go yet. Gloucester Street, Hereford Street, Armagh Street, Litchfield Street, all visible along their stretches from the Mall or Cambridge Terrace, extend into the distance, devoid of any life except the occasional figure in reflective jacket and yellow hat, and the grinding and grumpling of the machines that devour the carcases of the buildings on either side. Whatever is coming, it is going to be a very long time before it arrives, but one virtue that Cantabrians are cultivating is that of patience.

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