holding our breath, waiting for the body count

Slowly shock wears off, the numbness seeping into reality. The rubble is still there, the dead beneath. The city devastated. Months to clean the mess, years to rebuild? And nothing will be the same again.

So huge, too big to grasp, to get your head around the ramifications. The economy. Peoples lives. This event, and its effects, will be with us for many years. Everything changed in a minute. Plans and dreams, hopes and realities, redefined, shattered, gone.

Light in the darkness. Chatting to a friend in Lyttleton, who observed that without the horror, this would be great. People are working together, helping each other out. The suspension of normality allows something wonderful to bloom in the cracks. We shed our roles and rediscover ourselves.

What will we make of this tragedy? Our actions from here on will decide. As we rebuild our second largest city, we can ask ourselves, what is it we want to build here? How do we want to live? Will we just do our best to put things back the way they were, forgetting it is all impermanent? Are we defined by the buildings and the roles we played? Or can we dream something better into being, freshly armed with the shock of death and change, and the reawakened perspective of what is truly important to us: people.

Many buildings are yet to come down. Central Christchurch will be changed beyond recognition. How often do we get to consciously change the character of a major city? What is the most awesome change we can make?

4 Responses to “holding our breath, waiting for the body count”

  1.   Vince
    February 25th, 2011 | 3:22 pm

    “How often do we get to consciously change the character of a major city? ”

    Yeah… well… mmm… Not sure.

    There’s a city… well, more like a village, in Sicily called Gibellina. it was destroyed by earthquakes in the late 60s and it was re-designed from scratch by architects. And it’s very much a product of its time, to visit Gibellina is to visit a time capsule of what the future was going to be like, back in the 1960s.

    But the people, being people, have done their best to turn Gibellina into just another village in Sicily. Not consciously, but gradually, and inexorably.

    I can’t remember now if they hung the washing across the alleys like they do everywhere else, but you had the same butch youths on the same broken down vespas as anywhere else. The same rubbish, the same peeling notices on walls, the same shops, the same political posters, the same heavy-set old women in black dresses, the same guys in singlets, the usual chatter and noise and smells, the usual… humanity.

    I don’t know if you can re-design a city because people, like water and tide and wind slowly lick and erode the stones and the cement into whatever shape suits them.


  2.   Pearce
    February 28th, 2011 | 9:34 am

    I don’t want to sound callous, but the earthquake has driven home for me the idea that no matter how much we think we can divide up portions of land and “own” it, the planet itself doesn’t care at all about our presumptuousness.

    In a more positive light (perhaps) it is extremely heartening to know that after hearing and reading so many verbal beat-ups of our society’s most vulnerable in recent weeks, when hardship comes along in a way that people can easily understand there is no shortage of compassion and generosity.

  3.   billy
    February 28th, 2011 | 11:12 am

    Vince: I guess I was thinking more along the lines of a radical bright green eco-city designed to survive a relocalised post-oil world…

    Pearce: yup

  4.   Vince
    February 28th, 2011 | 11:53 am

    Billy: Yup. But my point still stands. People might get a radical bright green eco-city, but they’ll still want to hoon around in their boy racer cars, etc. etc. These mindset changes take time and I’m not sure that architecture is the complete answer.