Christchurch East since 2011 earthquake 'a place of hope and beauty'

11:37 am on 18 February 2021

As we approach the 10 year anniversary of the Christchurch earthquake, the impact of that day continues to be felt differently depending on which part of the city people live in.

In the first of a two-part story, RNZ takes a look at the city's east: an area which bore the brunt of the damage and which continues to lag behind the rest of Christchurch in its recovery.

A house in Avonside, damaged in the 22 February Canterbury earthquake, 2011.

A house in Avonside that was damaged in the Christchurch earthquake on 22 February 2011. Photo: 123RF

While most of the attention had been on the city's CBD and the huge numbers of lives lost there, the quake's impact on the lives of those living in the east deserves retelling.

There were 6500 homes demolished, and the land was deemed uneconomic to rebuild on.

Those who had raised their children there or who had grown up there themselves were paid out by the government and moved away forever, whole communities disappearing in the process.

Some say these were the lucky ones, able to move on with their lives.

Not so for those who ended up with botched repairs or undiagnosed damage.

Reverend Mike Coleman, who accepted the government offer on his property, spent years advocating for people in the east, who he said were steamrolled by the government.

"It's really sad. I just think it's sad ... just they weren't treated I think in a fair kind of way to enable them to move on."

Coleman said there were two main reasons the eastern suburbs had been left behind.

"It's hard to get a place like that up to speed as quickly because there's so much infrastructure that needed to be sorted. And ... they just don't have the level of advocacy and litigation that some other parts of our city do to get things sorted."

Hekia Parata

Former education minister Hekia Parata. Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

Not wanting to let a good crisis go to waste, just 19 months after the quakes, then education minister Hekia Parata merged or closed 31 schools in a move that had a disproportionate impact on the east.

Central New Brighton School, which opened in 1889, was amongst those forced to close.

Then principal Toni Burnside said it was like being hit with another earthquake.

"We'd been through the earthquakes and that was shattering. But there was hope and the community had come together and it was this really lovely feeling.

"Often out of natural disasters, good things do happen and there was a real sense of community and people pulling together and it had pulled the staff together. And then that was just going to be whipped away from under us."

The former dean of Christchurch and fellow east sider, Peter Beck, said while government agencies failed people in their hour of need, what didn't fall away was the willingness of people to help out their neighbours.

"It was a cul de sac, a mate of mine lived there. And they'd lost all their power of course. And there was one guy who lived there, he was a chef and he had a big freezer and they got a generator and put lots of stuff in there and he began to cook for the cul de sac. They would gather together and they discovered, hey, we rather like this. And when, you know, the power came back on again, they decided to keep doing that once a week."

Beck is excited about plans to redevelop the red zone along the Avon River.

"A place of great dismay and dissolution and destruction has become a place of hope and beauty. That's what it's about."

Burnside is now the principal of Banks Avenue School, on the very edge of the red zone.

Seven years after they were promised their quake-damaged classrooms would be replaced, they were still having to put up with broken buildings and leaking sewage pipes.

Despite it all she said their roll now exceeded where it was pre-quake and the community spirit was stronger than ever.

"People are strong, you know communities are strong and I certainly feel that here at school.

"I never get anybody ever whinging about the conditions that we've got. Staff don't whinge [nor] complain, the children certainly don't, the parents don't, people just get on with it."

Burnside said her school would mark the anniversary with a low key ceremony on Monday night.

And three days later they would turn the first sod on their new school which was finally due to open next year.

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