Tuesday, March 8, 2011

New Town

I’ve been thinking about the future of Christchurch since the earthquake on the 22nd. There is no doubt that Christchurch is going to be different now. But will it be good different or bad different? Either way I’m not sure I want to hang around for too long. Sure, I miss my friends now and am looking forward to Saturday when I get to go back, but I definitely don’t see myself living there permanently; I see my return as merely a kind of sojourn until maybe next year, when I get my degree and can continue studying somewhere else. In saying that however, I seem to identify way more avidly as a ‘Cantabrian’. Pretty hypocritical, I think. I mean, I’m not sure if that’s just me taking advantage of the whole thing and sort of victimizing myself or if I feel super connected to the community now for having ‘shared’ that particular experience when other people like my family and friends in Auckland, haven’t. It makes me nervous to tell people I am from Christchurch now though like I’m a fish and there’s a net hanging above me and if someone asks me where I’m from and I say “Christchurch” then the net drops and I get tangled and trapped in all this earthquake talk, questions and repetition.

I was excited about the BEFORE AFTER discussions for the rebuild of the city after the September earthquake. Joe and I went to the Art Gallery when he was in Christchurch last to see the introductory exhibition. I was afraid of getting kicked out as I had no shoes on because I had all these cuts on my feet that made it sore to wear them. The gallery staff had no qualms about my barefeet but took away my backpack to be kept behind the counter. The suggestions were exhibited on boards in the foyer. It was interesting to see what ideas were being offered. There were lots of pictures of pedestrians in the Netherlands and people riding bikes in Germany. There seemed to be a strong focus on making the city more ‘people-friendly’. A lot of emphasis was also placed on ‘centralizing’ the city. I had a feeling that it was sort of ‘Wellington inspired’. When I met Joseph we talked about how much better Christchurch would be if it was more like Wellington and less like Auckland as we drove around The Palms shopping centre and close to my parents house on the long way home back to my old flat. We talked about how there is this intimidating ring of suburban shopping malls sort of sucking the life out of Christchurch and discouraging people from venturing into the inner city to do normal ‘daily stuff’, not like ‘going out’ or whatever. I actually used to work in the mall (jeez, massive hypocrite huh?), although I went into town to mail things, get out dvds, grocery shopping, library etc because it was a way nicer atmosphere and I enjoyed the bike ride. Then I got a job in town and never saw the mall again. Now The Palms is pretty fucked and will likely get demolished. I think this is a good thing. 
There are mixed views about the future of Christchurch. The common view I think is that the inner city is going to suck heaps because it’s too poor and vacillating. The other view is that everything is going to be sweet and the intentions outlined in that Before After thing will hopefully maybe pull through. Honestly, I don’t know but I feel kind of optimistic. I’m not very optimistic about anything but I am about this. I feel like this could be some kind of personal revolution. Nah, not really. Maybe the optimism refers to the possibility that Christchurch could be real sweet. Joe mentioned how cool would it be if all the architects from Wellington came down to Christchurch and we just let them take over. Mainly it’s confidence that has to be restored in the city. I don’t think buildings should be restored, I think they should be demolished and built strong and quake-proof from scratch. But not grim-as-and-grey low-rise buildings and car parks. The total opposite. I mean, Christchurch is a hella hot city, give it some attractive architecture. Now is the chance. As for the Cathedral, I think it should remain untouched in honor of old+new. Redoing it seems kind of insulting.

I think though, there is this entirely new ground to cover in relation to Christchurch’s psychogeography, an idea defined by Guy Debord in 1955 which is basically about how the physical environment of a community shapes the behavior/emotions/opinions of its occupants. This has kind of been passively interesting me for a while now since watching My Winnipeg by Guy Maddin. Also I was curious of the terminology one would apply to the analysis of the ‘types of people’ who live in particular places. Perhaps it is too soon to tell how the people of Christchurch have changed ‘psychogeographically’, but I think the earthquake has definitely had effect. More importantly it is how the rebuilding/recreating of the city is treated will continue to affect Cantabrians for years to come. Will the city be treated as a financial burden that has to be fixed as soon as possible or is it  a chance for Christchurch to become significantly more prosperous?  I just hope it gets done right, conservative financial factors aside. I think that the shared collective experience of this tragedy will force everyone’s thoughts to be heard; so maybe the authority does not wholly incline towards businesses as some may think, but residents too. Sounds real blithe, but everyone (mainly) can relate to Feb 22 as a resident, while not everyone can as a business owner. I dunno. Comes down to faith, mainly.

Oh yeah and more people should get on their bikes. Christchurch is flat as. And really pretty. I mean, the Botanic Gardens still exists right? What a better way to  reestablish Christchurch than bike everywhere and enjoy this pretty rare thing we've got going on in the central city. 

Mainly though, the worst thing (albeit entirely possible) would be Christchurch becoming some kind of Blenheim-esque dystopia. Oh dear, no.  

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