On the fifth anniversary of the Canterbury Earthquakes in 2010 and 2011, it pays to look at both the rhetoric of various organizations and what they’re not saying about how people in Christchurch are recovering from the destruction of their city, physically, mentally, and economically.
Less than two weeks ago, on 14 February 2016, a 5.7 earthquake rocked Christchurch and brought up old scars for many residents. Images of the falling cliffs in Sumner made it onto news stations around the world, so the University of Canterbury took little time in reassuring returning students via email that the university was still operating as usual. Also, in spite of the fact that how residents experienced the earthquake depended on where they lived, the email downplayed the harrowing experience by saying that the earthquake was “felt by people in Christchurch as a short, sharp jolt followed by a brief wobbling motion”. Brevity must be in the eye of the beholder. The email also neglected to mention the dozens of aftershocks re-traumatizing residents.
The subliminal message is that yes, students need to attend a university whose city is still subject to natural disasters and whose buildings have to be evacuated and rechecked, because the University of Canterbury is still struggling to recover its student numbers to become financially stable. There are only a few more years before the loans and government support run out and it has to stand on its own merit. It literally cannot afford for students to be scared off again.
A week later on 21 February 2016, about 1000 homeowners gathered in Cathedral Square to protest the lack of progress made on their insurance claims for their earthquake-damaged houses. They complained of homeowners having to deal with failed or shoddy repairs, delays in settlements, or cash settlements that didn’t cover what they were supposed to. They felt taken advantage of by the system, insurance companies, and politicians, and left behind by the continual refrain that everyone has moved on and is recovering.
A new magazine called Canterbury Kids has even been launched, presumably to help encourage parents trying to make it in the city-in-transition. An article in the first issue profiles “The ChCh Under 5s Collective”. It sets up a gloomy scenario but then counters with optimism about all of the fresh things parents can do every day in their city:
If you’re a Christchurch native, the city looks remarkably different to the one you remember growing up in. The bright yellow daffodils in Hagley Park now decorate the sidewalks along with bright orange road cones. The greenery of the Garden City is riddled with concrete and half demolished buildings – something out of a doomsday Hollywood flick.
Five years on from the Canterbury quakes and you’ve got yourself thinking, do I really want to raise my family here? The answer, yes.
Residents desperately want Christchurch to stop being a broken city. But with mental health continuing to be an issue for adults and children, funding cut back for services, and the recent earthquake and aftershocks jarring everyone’s memories, it remains to be seen how long it will take for the city to recover, despite the official line.
Daniels, Chelsea. 2015 December/2016 January. “The Under 5s Collective.” Canterbury Kids.
Kenny, Katie. 2016 February 14. “Christchurch quake: At Sumner and Taylor’s Mistake.” The Press.
Stewart, Ashleigh. 2016 February 16. “Canterbury’s mental health funding to be cut.” The Press.
Stylianou, Georgina. 2016 February 21. “Hundreds protest outstanding EQC and insurance claims in Cathedral Square.” The Press.