Building life is like building a city after a disaster


Building life is like building a city after a disaster

On my 5-month journey as a digital nomad in Southeast Asia and mainly Australia and New Zealand, one place touched me the most that was Christchurch. It touched my sense of sadness and hope.

My first look at Christchurch was after a breathtaking ride with TransAlpine from Greymounth through the New Zealand Alps to Christchurch. One beauty after the other beauty comes by. Your senses are spoiled with all the beautiful things and then you are suddenly in Christchurch. A city with literally empty spaces now (2014) still after the earthquake of 2011. How greater can the contrast and shock be on your senses?

As a urban geographer I was immediately fascinated and I immediately wondered why after 3 years (was 2014 when I was there) the city has not been cleared up and reconstruction was not in full swing? Why is the city so empty? And by empty I mean literally it was a city of 380,000 people before the earthquake (comparable in size to Utrecht), but many people have left so the city feels empty.


I fell from surprise to surprise. I love to get up early in a new city and then wander around the center looking for a place to have breakfast, but mostly to see and feel how commuters and rush hour works, I have seen this before New York, Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and Wellington done to name a few. I always look with surprise and interest at the phenomenon of rush hour. The streams of people, all in a different direction with almost collisions. Small detail that almost causes collisions by me, because I look fascinated at how the rush hour process looks like conveyor belt work in a factory.

But in Christchurch it was different. I was one of the only ones in the morning around rush hour on the street along with a stray commuter and wanderers. No busy traffic, no opening stores and employees on their way to work. What I did find densely carpeted shops, half buildings and buildings that were renovated. It was like a ghost town!

This made me even more fascinated by the city and went to investigate to find out more about the reconstruction of the city.


In the reconstruction I found hope, but also frustration. Historical buildings about which it was staggered whether they should be demolished or preserved. There was even a real action center in a newly built shopping center where protests were made for the preservation of historic buildings and people were helped in their lawsuit about rebuilding their home or claiming compensation.

Can you imagine after 3 years people were still not allowed in their house, danger of collapse. But there was also no compensation due to delays and haggling with insurers, which prevented them from continuing. I wanted to know more about this, so I went to the museum to look specifically at the earthquake and the consequences of the Quakebox movie (the website is not working optimally). Not really a film, but a collection of short stories of survivors about how they experienced the earthquake and the moment after. So far, the Quakebox consists of more than 700 stories. I had to shed some tears and looking around me I was not the only one. I thought it was nice that the museum gave place to the mourning of the inhabitants of the city, but the museum was not the only place.

But the museum wasn’t the only thing there was. Everywhere in the city there were monuments to commemorate and give people space for their feelings. Some made for the government and others made spontaneously by the residents of the city. Such as a small park in the center where benches, plants and a vegetable garden were set up. Residents come to work on the vegetable garden, talk to each other and make music.

I became fascinated by Christchurch experience and wondered if this also happens in the same way after a disaster in other disaster areas / cities. In New York I had not experienced that in the 9/11 area.

At least the city of Christchurch grabbed me. Perhaps also because I understood the struggle of the city in search of hope and reconstruction after a disaster / misfortune.

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