I spent some time last week in my old home town Christchurch and was staying right in the middle of town, which has been badly damaged by the earthquake which happened nearly five years ago.
When you don't live in Christchurch, I think it's quite easy to stay a little distant from the impact; in fact even if you visit, but don't venture into central city (which I did a couple of weeks prior), you can almost feel that things are getting back to normal.
But there's no escaping the massive changes when you are in town. The view from my hotel room was simply construction sites and dusty carparks and if you are familiar with the 'old' Christchurch, you would have a hard time getting your bearings in places.
I took the picture above in Oxford Terrace. My first ever job out of university, was working for a recruitment company in the Clarendon Towers, which used to stand where the gap is between the two buildings (the building to the left is the Rydges Hotel, which I also used to work at, and remains eerily standing, even with the neon sign for one of the restaurants still on).
How do Christchurch residents feel about the old and the new?
I was feeling pretty nostalgic after my visit, and in a way, didn't even want to acknowledge all the cool developments that are happening in the city. Knowing that I will never again enjoy the experience of Christchurch as it was, is at some level heartbreaking. But what about those who are not only living through that kind of loss, but still putting up with unsettled claims, bumpy roads and terrible traffic?
It really does come down to resilience and the residents I spoke with (both those I know and those who I met while down there) all have their own story of how the earthquake has impacted them, but they are all simply 'getting on'. Personally, I think if you were considering where to hold your next conference, and managing change or resilience was a key theme you wanted to focus on, then Christchurch would be a perfect place to hold it. It's strange seeing tourists taking pictures of rubble, whereas previously they might have focused more on the Avon River, but at some level it is a deeply touching experience; I wondered if there was such a thing as 'disaster tourism', googled it, and sure enough there is.
The new developments are definitely exciting, and I get that at some level, this is a brilliant opportunity for a city to reinvent itself. When the cityscape is SO unrecognisable, then maybe it's just better to start from scratch and create new colour, texture and design. But our identity as a city is so important to who we are, and I am thrilled that one Christchurch icon has been impeccably restored to an outstanding level.
The Isaac Theatre Royal is a spectacular building and I remember attending various shows there when I was living in Christchurch (and totally bitten by the theatre bug). It was a total privilege to attend a gala dinner there last week, and marvel at the total recreation of this building in all it's splendour. This was no mean feat, the extraordinary dome in the ceiling had to be removed, restored, then put back in its place, and if you look at this video, then you will learn about the various challenges, for example about the dome itself not being a perfect half sphere, simply because at time of original construction, that was impossible!
I know that the Christchurch residents are thrilled to have their 'grand old lady' back and it is testimony to what's possible that it reopened after being almost fully rebuilt less than four years after the earthquake. Sometimes we need to be unreasonable, and fight for the old to be preserved, and this has been a timely reminder for me. As someone who is guilty of constantly looking for the 'next bright shiny object', I also like to reflect on those parts of my life, and my business which have been around for a while now, and celebrate them too.