Christchurch Earthquakes Part 3: The Long Road to Recovery

The ChristChurch Cathedral

Four years on, Christchurch city is still recovering. People say that it is going to take more than fifty years to get Christchurch back to the level it was before the earthquakes.

Immediately after the 2011 earthquake, the whole city’s infrastructure was down. Water and sewage pipes underground had been shifted and broken, roads and bridges were damaged and the central city or ‘red zone’ as it was called, was cordoned off from the public. There were landslides and falling cliffs in Sumner and Redcliffs and awful amounts of liquefaction in the east of the city.

A movement called ‘The Student Army’ was set up on Facebook by a Canterbury University student, who organised and sent out hundreds of students around the city to help with cleaning up liquefaction in the worst hit areas. My friends and I also volunteered to go and it was such a rewarding experience to help out the elderly by cleaning up their driveways and gardens. A lovely old lady even made us sausage rolls for lunch as a gesture of thanks.

A house hanging off a cliff in Sumner

Houses and land all over Canterbury had to be checked and evaluated as either ‘red zone’ or ‘green zone’ and dealt to accordingly. Thousands of people lost their homes in the ‘red zones’ and were not able to build on that land again. Some have had new houses built and most houses in the ‘green zones’ had to have repair jobs, like ours.

There have been nightmare situations with cowboy builders and huge, never ending battles with insurance companies and the EQC (Earthquake Commission) which are still going on, four years later.

The city is just a ghost of what it once was and there is still a long, long way to go.

The Christchurch Catholic Cathedral

But out of the wreckage and rubble, there has been a huge movement of colourful creativity throughout the city.

The Gap Filler Project has made sure that the empty lots left behind by buildings that have been knocked down and removed are filled once again with events, shops and people.

Re:Start Container Mall

The Re:Start Container Mall was created in the central city made out of, you guessed it, shipping containers! They are filled with all sorts of cafes and shops that helps to bring back a sense of liveliness and normality.

Street artists from all over the world were commissioned to create beautiful murals on huge, blank walls throughout the city to bring back some colour. Some are them are just amazing.

The Cardboard Transitional Cathedral

The Cardboard Cathedral was built (yes, some of it is made of cardboard!) to replace our symbolic ChristChurch Cathedral for the time being, while it is still in discussion about what will happen to it. The Cardboard Cathedral really doesn’t look all that great from the outside, but the inside is truly magnificent.

185 Empty Chairs

The most poignant of all however, was the art installation of 185 empty chairs in memory of the people that died in the earthquake. Each chair is different to symbolise every unique person that we lost and it really drives home the gravity of losing so many people. The baby carrier one breaks my heart a little every time I see it.


All of these things I have mentioned are only temporary though, even the Cardboard Cathedral, which is said to last about 20 years. I guess there is something fitting in being only temporary; maybe we appreciate things more when they are.

Every year on the 22nd of February there is a memorial service held for those lost in the earthquake. There is also an ongoing ritual on that day of flowers being put in the many traffic cones that are still all around the city. I think it is a beautiful gesture (so long as people are buying the flowers and not pulling them out of strangers’ gardens!).


Although recovery is slow and things are still taking a lot of time, I think we can be proud of how far Christchurch has come and really start looking forward to the future. There have already been design proposals of what the central city should look like when it is rebuilt and some of the ideas are really, really exciting. Christchurch has been battered and bruised but its heart is still beating as strong as ever.

The Garden City will flourish once more and it shall be glorious.