The Signs they are A-Changing
The signs around Christchurch have changed. They used to urge us to “stay strong” or proclaim stoically that “We Will Rebuild.” Driving back up from Dunedin this week, I got a somewhat different sense from the billboard asking that I “Don’t Give Up.” There’s nothing that makes you want to give up as much as being told not to.
Something clearly had to change. The claim that we will rebuild was a powerful rallying call in the days after the quakes. Now that claim is farcical. The demolition of the city’s ruins is not yet complete, but Chairman Brownlee is using his almost-total powers to begin demolition of buildings that are not damaged. Worse still, some buildings threatened by the city plan were damaged and have since been repaired.
The Ng Building on Madras Street was damaged in the September 2010 earthquake and repaired and strengthened in time for the February 2011 earthquake. It’s a Canterbury Heritage Award winner and is home to nine businesses including two galleries. It is an oasis of business, culture, and hope in an area that otherwise looks like Hiroshima. CERA will bulldoze it to make way for a stadium that will be desolate 99% of the time.
The message is not “We will rebuild” but the more sinister “We will rebuild”.
There are no signs saying “We will rebuild” on the approaches to Dunedin. Dunedin has done more than enough building to impoverish itself for decades. There’s a moment that every returning Dunedinite relishes: as you come down off the last hill on the Waitati Highway, the road curves down around Pine Hill and in a single moment the foothills part to reveal the city ahead.
Nowadays that view is dominated by the arched steel back of a vast white elephant, the Forsyth Barr Stadium (or FuBar Stadium to some locals). The Otago Daily Times is also dominated by the stadium: Why did it cost so much to build? Why does it cost so much to run? How did nobody predict this would happen? (Ahem.)
The Dunedin public has recently had the opportunity to make submissions to the Council on the topic, “How the fuck do we make the stadium a less staggering abortion?” The place is basically a great big stack of scaffolding with 440 kilowatts of lighting, all wrapped in plastic. The only way the place will ever make money is by growing cannabis.
Dunedin City councillor Lee Vandervis has advice for Christchurch: “If you want to spend a lot of money and get nothing in return, a stadium would be the best way to go.”
For this pointless monstrosity—a white elephant stadium, costing twice what Dunedin’s did, a vast block of dead space in the middle of the city—the Ng Building and other restored heritage buildings in the same block, housing viable businesses, will be destroyed. Stolen by CERA and bulldozed.
Someone will rebuild. Sharon Ng and Roland Logan repaired their building under their own steam and are fighting the theft of their building. Zac Cassels has moved his CBD Bar into the hundred-year-old building next door, knowing that CERA wants to knock it down. These are the people who will rebuild Christchurch.
Don’t give up. The piteous little sign is right. Don’t give up because, if we do, it will give CERA all the room it needs to lay waste to what little remains of central Christchurch.
Read Bernard Darnton’s column every week here at NOT PC. Except when you can’t.