Poor attitudes hold back Christchurch revovery

In Cologne there is the remains of a church that was devastated by Allied bombing during the Second World War. The locals cleared away the rubble and made the remaining bits secure.

Parts of its stone walls still stand broken, forlorn and desolate. I visited the church in 1985. The roof had gone, and inside, there was an eerie feeling of what was once there. It was deliberately preserved as a reminder of the destructive power of bombs, and the havoc war brings to property and people. The rest of the city was rebuilt in a modern style to capitalise on the opportunity to make things better.

Perhaps Christchurch needs an icon to remind people of the destructive power of nature, and to be a visual symbol of the never to be forgotten day on which a city was wrecked.

There is a peculiar aspect of the Christchurch character manifesting itself in the argument over heritage buildings.

After the quake on 4 September there were earnest discussions about what buildings could be preserved. It was an easy argument in one respect, because not a lot had been destroyed. Easy in another respect that neither the council nor the government were willing to preserve damaged buildings where the private owners were unwilling to fund the high cost of repairs. So some things would come down.

Nonetheless there was a strongly held view that Christchurch should be restored as nearly as possible to the way that it was before. Pulling down the rundown buildings in and around Manchester and High Streets was not popular. The opportunity to create a completely new character zone in the central city was rejected.

One might think that the 22 February quake would change all that. Apparently not. The inner city is now wrecked beyond recognition. But the cry goes up - save the heritage.  What is really meant is undo what the earthquake did, so that life can be what it was before. The city and its people are living examples of an effort to make time stand still.

 There is merit in preserving the past, but in many cases the past is now rubble; attempts to restore it are howling at the moon.

 When Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee talked of getting rid of the "old dungers' he had a point. But the wrath of the city came upon his head.

There is a very real opportunity to build a new - and different - city.   The authorities are going to have to pitch their renewal plans carefully.

Businesses and homeowners will want comfort that the ground is sound, and the infrastructure is operating. But they will also want assurances that there will be an attractive trading environment. Boards of directors will need convincing that investments will make an appropriate return before committing large amounts of capital to new facilities.  Proposing to recreate the old is not a good signal to those businesses that have a choice about whether to invest in Christchurch again.