The first earthquake was early in the morning of September 4, 2010, magnitude 7.1, centered beneath farmland on the Canterbury Plains. It caused considerable damage in the city but no loss of life. Collectively, Cantabrians believed they had been spared. But not so. At lunchtime, on February 22, 2011, a magnitude 6.3 aftershock, centered almost directly beneath the city, caused massive damage, injured several thousand people, and resulted in the loss of 185 lives. Many of the city’s heritage buildings crumbled, suburban streets were swamped with liquefaction (a black silty deposit from underground), and even modern, inner-city buildings rocked and rolled on their foundations as the earth heaved. The central business district was cordoned off for more than two years afterward and more than half of the buildings there had to be demolished. On Madras Street, the odd assortment of empty white chairs is a memorial to each person who died. Spend a moment or two here, take a bus tour, or go to Quake City, an exhibition in Cashel Street mall, for a good insight into what people here have been dealing with. A special Memorial Wall is being constructed on the banks of the Avon River as a permanent place of contemplation.
More than five years on from New Zealand’s biggest natural disaster, there is a feeling of excitement and anticipation in the air. Christchurch is now a future-focused city, rebuilding for new generations while carefully restoring its heritage. It is achieving international acclaim for creative and clever urban design, evidenced by inspiring street art, new high-tech structures, and a "Cardboard" Cathedral awarded the world's top architecture prize. As a visitor to this city you will be welcomed with open arms.
Today the city center is in active rebuild mode, with new office, shopping, and hospitality precincts now underway. Replacing many of the city's transitional colorful shipping containers are new sustainably designed buildings made of earthquake-strengthened steel, glass, and concrete.
Christchurch has been presented with a unique opportunity to redesign the city from the center outward, allowing for a new, energy-efficient, low-rise environment, and, where rebuilding is not possible, large areas of inner-city parklands. This will be a fascinating place to visit for years to come.
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