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The wrecked Christ Church Cathedral – now in a chronic state of deterioration, a future rebuild is still far from certain

Editorial – June / July’18

While progress has been made in Christchurch following the earthquakes, seven years on the central city still looks derelict and unloved. That’s a harsh comment, but it was the overriding impression I was left with after a visit to the city in May.

Perhaps it was the gloomy weather or the freezing temperatures, but I left Christchurch feeling really disheartened. We spent a day as tourists in the city centre, riding the tram, calling into shops and cafés to warm up, and visiting the sights. Looking at the city through a tourist’s eyes, I was appalled that so much of the CBD still lies vacant.

Cathedral Square is a disgrace. Dominated by the wreck that is Christ Church Cathedral and bounded on two sides by hoardings, only a handful of tourists were puttering about. Most didn’t linger due to a very unpleasant man who was holding forth with his repugnant views on religion, sexuality and any other comments he cared to fling at passersby. “I hate your coat, lady,” he shouted at me. “That’s the most *expletive* awful thing I’ve seen today.” (I was wearing a black pea jacket – hardly something that would cause a stir.)

I can recall spending a whole day in Cathedral Square when I first visited New Zealand on a working holiday 25 years ago. I did the tour of the cathedral and climbed the steps inside the spire for the wonderful views over the city and surrounds, and afterwards I joined the crowds listening to the Wizard on his step ladder. How very different it was this time.

Last year, the city council released a list of the central city sites that they considered to be a barrier to the regeneration of the city centre. Dubbed the ‘dirty thirty’, these are the buildings that have been left unoccupied and have fallen into disrepair, or they remain cordoned off because they are considered structurally unsafe and a potential risk to the public. Often these cordons – including rusting containers and long-since-forgotten temporary fencing – encroach onto public roads and footpaths.

News in April this year that only eight of these sites remain in the central city is promising, and just recently Regenerate Christchurch released its vision for Cathedral Square, emphasising that a return to its original purpose – as a gathering place for local people and visitors – must be front and centre. The imagery includes a fully restored cathedral, but that is far from a certain thing.

Unfortunately, it’s the images of the unloved abandoned buildings and the water-filled vacant sites that linger in the mind after the visit is over, rather than the wonderful redevelopment on Oxford Terrace along the banks of the Avon River, the fabulous restoration of the Christchurch Arts Centre, or the vibrant new retail precinct along High Street anchored by Ballantynes department store. Christchurch still has a long road ahead.

Until next time …
Lynne Richardson, editor

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