Alongside the stories of the pain and destruction from Christchurch – and there remain many families who are still seeking compensation and others who are still living in temporary accommodation, there were frequent tales that brought hope and showed the spirit that has come to galvanise the area.
The shipping containers – ever visible in the city, and now forever associated with the area have been incorporated into a new shopping precinct. Similarly, external spaces are being harnessed to showcase art exhibits and murals – many which seek to reinforce the vision of community spirit that people are passionate about here.
New businesses in the CBD are also gradually starting up – some in a specific centre that brings governmental support, but also individual entrepreneurs recognising how they need to adapt to this new environment. I chatted with Makimo, originally from Japan, who works in a new café trying to establish itself amongst the new downtown. As you will see from the photo, like many places in Christchurch it is a mixture of a temporary structure trying to integrate itself semi-permanently into the concrete world – it even has its own garden.
‘Yes, some people are very angry about the money [compensation] but better relationships have come from it. I am also always nervous about earthquakes in Japan now because of my family there.’
There is also a new Quake Exhibition, which, seeks to inform visitors of the Christchurch story. I was particularly struck by both the clear sense of collective community action that has occurred in the area as well as again the longevity of the quake’s impact – many Christchurch residents did not have access to flushing toilets for over a year, instead everyone had to create long-drop toilets in their gardens.
Gaining notable international acclaim was the Student Volunteer Army – a student volunteer group that grew massively in the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake, and at its peak had over 13,000 students volunteering with it each week. This group, whose founder, 21-year-old Sam Johnson was named Young New Zealander of the Year 2012 for his efforts, grew quickly through social media and has now influenced youth programmes far beyond the shores of New Zealand.
As I departed the Quake exhibition I spoke to a couple of the staff there, one of whom outlined that she had been a student around the time of the quakes and who had been involved in the Student Volunteer Army.
‘We see it as an opportunity to rebuild our city. Communities are so much stronger than they ever were before. I was a part of the Student Army – it is the best thing I’ve ever done. Yes people kind of assume it’s all sorted now but that’s the same as us thinking about the Philippines and war torn countries. Changes take time. We want people to come here to learn about it.’