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Saturday, March 5, 2011

Editorial: We must accept the city has changed forever

Editorial: We must accept the city has changed forever

Last updated 05:00 05/03/2011
A week and a half after the earthquake, all we talk about is a desire to return to normal.

While there is still much grieving to do for those who have been lost and while it is clear that reconstruction will take a very long time, the human instinct to get back to the familiar and comfortable – to get back to normal – is overwhelming. For Christchurch, though, returning to normal will not mean returning to things as they were before.

The old normal has gone forever and Christchurch must now learn to adjust to a "new normal". Many things about it will be hugely different. After the basic amenities are restored, people have to begin to get their heads around what life is going to be like in this radically altered city.

For many, the first return to normality will be to get their children back to school. This should be high priority for the education authorities, who should be working to bring it about as rapidly, and with as little bureaucratic nonsense, as possible.

Regrettably, the hidebound bureaucrat's mindset can be hard to dislodge and there have been anecdotal accounts of out-of-town paper-shufflers raising difficulties with documentation and paperwork, to the distress of schools and pupils alike. It can only be hoped that such events are not widespread, although the fact that they happen at all shows an appalling lack of sensitivity.

A lot of schools are relatively unscathed so that will be straightforward for their own pupils. Some schools and school grounds, though, are heavily damaged and for them the new normality will mean a vastly different way of operating.

Most schools, if not all, want to retain themselves in as intact a form as possible. If this is achievable, it is plainly desirable both for the benefit of the teachers and employees, who tend to be close-knit and supportive little communities in their own right, but above all for the benefit of the pupils, whose desire to be with teachers with whom they are familiar and with friends will be particularly compelling at this time.

Schools may have to share premises and accommodate the extra numbers by running split shifts – with one school being taught in the morning and the other in the afternoon. Whatever the arrangements, they will require flexibility and great co-operation.

Another part of the new normality is the relocation and re-establishment of businesses in order to save as many jobs as possible.

One thing that just has to be accepted is that many of the small shops and cafes and restaurants in the inner city have disappeared forever.

The destruction of so many of the smaller buildings in Manchester St and Colombo St that housed many of the shops of inner Christchurch mean those businesses will never return. But hundreds of other firms and businesses are making herculean efforts to get up and running from new premises in the suburbs. Already, a kind of de facto central business district is coming into being in the area near Westfield Riccarton mall, around Birmingham Dr and Tower Junction.

Everything must be done to ensure that businesses and jobs are rescued so that the city remains economically viable.

Because of the cordon, the reality of just how badly the centre of the city has been damaged has probably not yet come home to most people. The proposal raised by the Mayor, Bob Parker, to allow people back into the city soon should change that.

The idea is a good one, which will not only allow people to properly grieve for lost lives and property but also help in the process of moving on. It will bring home, as television pictures are not able to do, the reality of how the city is going to have to change.

It may also prompt a radical rethink of how the area might be rebuilt to become the vibrant city centre of the future. One idea, for instance, might be to consider returning the university, or at least substantial parts of it, to the central city.

Not only would such a development correct the wrong decision made 50 years ago to send the university to the suburbs, it would enable a rapid rejuvenation in an area that will urgently need it.

- The Press

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