By Bridget Gourlay
If I could relive a moment, it would be one from September 3. It was a rainy day, but the promise of spring was in the air. The blossom and daffodils had come out after a long winter. The temperature was creeping upwards. Coats were still needed, but not hats or gloves.
That lunchtime, I walked from the Academy newsroom on Colombo Street to an appointment across town. As I wandered along the bustling footpaths of the inner city, I admired the place. The historic facades, the green spots, the corner shops and enticing restaurants. The life of a CBD on its lunchbreak.
Little did I know that the next day, the city would be damaged and six months later, destroyed.
If I could have that walk back I would have drunk with my eyes. I would have stopped in the square and gazed at the Cathedral. I would have listened to the Wizard. I would have said my goodbyes.
Fact is, our city was changed after the September 4 quake, and now after February 22, will never be the same again. Family members and friends were killed. Prized buildings came crumbling down.
The trauma for anyone who was in the quake-stuck areas was just that — trauma. The dead bodies, trapped people and hundreds of crying workers gazing with disbelief at the collapsed cathedral spire.
Where to now for Christchurch?
Our precious centre has been destroyed. Our office buildings are locked away. Where will people work? Where will people play? Who will come and visit us?
In this piece, I spoke to Christchurch’s movers and shakers about our future. How will business recover and grow? How will tourism be affected? What opportunities can we take from this tragedy?
Lessons from the past
We’re not the first to have large parts of our city destroyed. San Francisco was hit by a ferocious earthquake in 1906, where buildings collapsed and intense fires raged, killing an estimated 3000 people.
The city was hit again in 1989, when haunting footage of collapsed motorways was beamed across the world.
New Zealand’s own Napier was hit in 1931. Their CBD, like ours, collapsed, taking 256 lives with it.
In 1976, the Friulian region in Northern Italy was hit by a 6.9 quake and more than 1000 were killed.
All of these cities rebuilt themselves enthusiastically and with style.
Vibrant San Francisco, with its architecture, culture and history, is a mecca for tourists.
Napier rebuilt itself in the Art Deco style and is world-renowned by architects.
Some Friulian town centres kept their medieval charm and were rebuilt exactly as they were — narrow streets, cobblestones and all.
Any Kiwi who has done their OE around Europe will tell you how amazing Munich, Prague and London are. These cities, like many others, were bombed extensively during World War 2.
But the Marshall Pact (serious reconstruction money from the USA), and a gritty resolve meant the cities rebuilt themselves.
Medieval walls and historic churches were put back together, stone by stone. Sixty years on from unimaginable chaos and destruction, these cities in Europe thrive.
There’s no reason why we can’t be the same. But how is this going to happen?
Christchurch’s CBD was possibly the worst affected by the quake. The approximate 52,000 office workers within the four avenues were barred from entry for the first two weeks. Many businesses that operate in the red zone are shut out indefinitely.
Cantabrians used their Kiwi ingenuity and found premises elsewhere. Some moved into offices in suburban centres such as Papanui, Bishopdale and Rolleston. Some worked from home. Some made makeshift offices and manufacturing lines in garages. I’m writing this from a temporary newsroom set up in my mother’s living room in Bryndwr.
Christchurch is a vital economic hub. Our port, our international airport, and our crucial infrastructure which supports the primary sector make our recovery interchangeable with the future success of the country.
“Christchurch won’t be the same again,” Chamber of Commerce CEO Peter Townsend says. “In the long term, there are opportunities for the business community to take advantage of. Thirty billion dollars is coming into this community.”
Right now, Townsend says the challenge is the “survival phase”; supporting businesses while there isn’t any business and helping them get access to their buildings and files where possible.
In the long term, he says a challenge is that people don’t want to live here. “That’s understandable at this time. But when the ground settles — literally — and they see how much we have to offer, they’ll be back.”
BusinessNZ chief executive Phil O’Reilly says companies across New Zealand are committed to helping Christchurch prosper again. He met with 50 CEOs a few days after the quake and that feeling was unanimous.
“In the midst of this unfolding tragedy we have seen the courage and resilience of Christchurch people and the genuine desire for businesses to help. Industry associations will help coordinate those efforts and promote the fact that Christchurch is open for business,” O’Reilly says.
“The Affiliated Industries Group believes the quickest way to help Christchurch get back to normality is to buy things from there.
“People and enterprises elsewhere can help greatly simply by doing business with Christchurch firms.”
O’Reilly says the manufacturing sector has been relatively unaffected, as most large companies are located outside the CBD and got back into production within a few days of the quake.
“Putting it into context, Christchurch manufacturing makes up around 13 percent of Canterbury’s total GDP and employs around 15 percent of all Canterbury employees.
“Those manufacturers that are exporting have customers overseas, unaffected by what is happening in Christchurch, so the demand is still there. The Port of Lyttelton reports it is back to 100 percent of operation capacity, with imports and exports of all trades flowing well. The only change is a temporary suspension of cruise ship activity.”
O’Reilly says tourism, retail and education businesses are likely to be harder hit than manufacturers, particularly if they were based in the CBD.
“In the service sector, ICT-based businesses will be more mobile and faster to return to normal operations, while those without offsite back up records will find the going harder.
“In the wider Canterbury region the agricultural sector is largely business as usual. Large Canterbury employers and exporters such as ANZCO Foods — which contributes around $300 million annually to the local economy — report minor logistical problems only, which have been worked around.”
And there will be a huge construction boom in Christchurch from now onwards. While that will be felt economically next year, there is a short-term crisis.
Master Builders CEO Warwick Quinn says the construction sector is continuing to contract due to a lack of activity and investment in buildings. “We are losing capability and skills as trades people leave the sector. Yet we can see within 12-18 months we may have more work than we can cope with, given the rebuilding required in Canterbury and the 20,000 leaky homes that the Government expects to fund through the financial assistance package.
“Resources will be in short supply so homeowners have a window now to capitalise on lower finance costs and access quality builders to upgrade or build that new home.”
Tourism is a huge industry for New Zealand, with it contributing to one in every ten jobs. Christchurch’s international airport means that we are not only a city that is a tourist attraction in its own right, but a gateway to the country. Visitors fly into Christchurch to begin trips down to Queenstown or up the coast to ferry across to Wellington.
Tourism New Zealand CEO Kevin Bowler says the company adjusted its current marketing campaigns immediately after the earthquake.
“The needs of future travellers are still recognised and we have been preparing PR and campaign responses. We are planning subsequent campaign activity with a strong destination message delivered across a wide variety of media channels.
“The window of opportunity for this communication is being worked through.
“We are also intending to strengthen all of the New Zealand 100% Pure You activity being undertaken in Australia and this will include stage two of the ski campaigns (stage one included earlybird ski offers).
“While our approach in Australia is important, we are equally focused on our activity in our other offshore markets. Our New Zealand 100% Pure You campaign launched globally and is building momentum in each of the main visitor markets and airline developments provide great opportunities.”
Bowler says he is “acutely aware” of the challenges the tourism sector — not just in Christchurch — is experiencing throughout the country as a consequence of the earthquake.
“We are focused on doing everything we can, as quickly as we can, and as sensitively as we can to support the industry.”
Tourists, as well as locals, love Christchurch for its heritage. Canterbury Earthquake Heritage Building Trust Board chairperson Anna Crighton says we must keep as much of our heritage as possible. She wants to follow established international protocol, where a conservation architect, an architectural historian and a structural engineer, along with the owner, make a decision about demolishing a red-stickered heritage building. Building owners can apply to her trust for a grant to pay for the repairs if extra money is needed on top of the insurance payout.
Crighton wants to save not only stand alone heritage buildings such as Mona Vale, but also historical precincts. For example, the historic brick warehouses which now make up SOL Square and Poplar Lane, was originally where goods from the Lyttleton port were traded. Before the quake they were shops, restaurants and nightclubs. She is adamant much can be rebuilt or repaired.
“When I was in Berlin in 2000, they were reconstructing a house on the main street which had been damaged in the war more than 50 years ago. In Edinburgh I saw a building which looked 1000 years old but was actually 50. It was just built in stone sympathetically with the original and those around it.”
From this tragedy, opportunities arise. Christchurch will be rebuilt, and everyone is curious to see how it will be done.
InternetNZ and the New Zealand Council for Infrastructure Development (NZCID) have jointly called for leadership in building a new vibrant Christchurch, underpinned by world class broadband infrastructure.
Vikram Kumar, chief executive of InternetNZ says our aim should be a Christchurch that’s a vibrant, attractive city. “The challenge is not merely rebuilding but a co-ordinated and sustained effort to build a new Christchurch that becomes an engine for New Zealand’s growth and innovation. The future of our second largest city is also the future of New Zealand. This future needs to be supported by world class infrastructure, including fibre delivering ultra fast broadband.
“As we build the new Christchurch, we must take the opportunity to put in fibre everywhere. This is the leadership challenge for Government and the City Council,” Kumar says. “Hard times call for smart decisions. For example, one path forward is to treat Christchurch in the Government’s UFB (Ultra Fast Broadband) initiative as a special case and include it in the wider recovery efforts. That way the fibre rollout can be co-ordinated with other aspects of building a new Christchurch.”
Sustainable Business Network CEO Rachel Brown says she is hopeful that the rebuild will become a model of how to address New Zealand’s problems, such as power inefficient buildings and over-reliance on cars. “Let’s make Christchurch the most sustainable city in the world. We can make sure all new buildings are water and power efficient. We’ve always designed streets for cars, so let’s recognise peak oil and get people on their feet. This is an opportunity for the city to rethink how it wants to be.”
A month on from the earthquake, it sometimes feels like normal life is a goal we’ll never reach. We have all lost something — our loved ones, our houses, our jobs, our schools, our city centre. But it’s important to remember that we will be rebuilt, as other cities have been.
The day after the quake, John Key addressed the nation. “It will be a difficult journey, but progress is certain, things will get better, Christchurch will rise again. On behalf of the Government, let me be clear that no one will be left to walk this journey alone.
“New Zealand will walk this journey with you. We will be there every step of the way. Christchurch; this is not your test, this is New Zealand’s test. I promise we will meet this test.”
In their words…
“The needs of future travellers are still recognised and we have been preparing PR and campaign responses. We are planning subsequent campaign activity with a strong destination message delivered across a wide variety of media channels. The window of opportunity for this communication is being worked through. Our New Zealand 100% Pure You campaign launched globally and is building momentum in each of the main visitor markets and airline developments provide great opportunities.”
Kevin Bowler, CEO Tourism NZ Business
In the midst of this unfolding tragedy we have seen the courage and resilience of Christchurch people and the genuine desire for businesses to help. Industry associations will help coordinate those efforts and promote the fact that Christchurch is open for business. The Affiliated Industries Group believes the quickest way to help Christchurch get back to normality is to buy things from there. People and enterprises elsewhere can help greatly simply by doing business with Christchurch firms.”
Phil O’Reilly, BusinessNZ chief executive Construction
“We are losing capability and skills as trades people leave the sector. Yet we can see within 12-18 months we may have more work than we can cope with given the rebuilding required in Canterbury and the 20,000 leaky homes that the Government expects to fund through the financial assistance package.”
Warwick Quinn, Master Builders CEO Agriculture
“In the wider Canterbury region the agricultural sector is largely business as usual. Large Canterbury employers and exporters such as ANZCO Foods – which contributes around $300 million annually to the local economy – report minor logistical problems only, which have been worked around.”
Phil O’Reilly, BusinessNZ chief executive Opportunities
“Let’s make Christchurch the most sustainable city in the world. We can make sure all new buildings are water and power efficient. We’ve always designed streets for cars, so let’s recognise peak oil and get people on their feet. This is an opportunity for the city to rethink how it wants to be.”
Rachel Brown, CEO Sustainable Business Network
“In the long term, there are opportunities for the business community to take advantage of. Thirty billion dollars is coming.”
Peter Townsend, Canterbury Chamber of Commerce CEO