At 4:35am on September 4th, 2010, Christchurch, New Zealand suffered a magnitude 7.1 earthquake. Miraculously, despite it causing widespread damage across the city, there was no loss of life.
Avonside–a patch of land measuring 1.3 square kilometers and home to over 3200 people–suffered large-scale damage, particularly as a result of flooding, land subsidence and liquefaction. Entire streets were covered in silt and raw sewage and the area was without power or clean water. Testament to the spirit of the community that called Avonside home, neighbors banded together and helped each other clean up and rebuild. Unfortunately, no sooner than the last wheelbarrow of silt had been carried off to landfill, Christchurch shook again.
It was 12:51pm, February the 22nd, 2011. 400,000 tons of liquefaction spurted up from cracks in the ground; buildings collapsed and 185 lives were tragically lost in what is now regarded as New Zealand’s largest peacetime disaster.
The months following these events dragged on forever. Insurance disputes became all consuming, especially after residents of the badly affected eastern suburbs began hearing the words “Red Zone”. In staggered media releases, the land of Avonside was officially deemed unsafe and the infrastructure that sustained the community uneconomical to repair. Over the years since, removal trucks have pulled in and out of driveways and demolition trucks and diggers have rolled slowly in. Witnessing this has deeply affected me and changed my understanding of the concepts of home and belonging forever.
As time passes and Avonside’s built environment is literally scraped from the dirt, it’s the subtle signs that bring the reality of the situation home. In many patches of land, cabbage trees and pointy conifers mark the boundary lines of long abandoned properties. In others, fragments of crushed red bricks catch the light and reflect off pools of rainwater. In the picture presented here, we see a heap of non-native trees and plant life deemed non-essential to the planned new ecology of the area, ready to be put through a wood chipper. Some people have termed this part of the land clearing process a type of “ethnic cleansing” of the natural environment. Amongst such rapid change and uncertainty, one thing is for sure; if you stand in this environment, cock your head and turn left then right, you can sense the ghostly shapes of buildings as they once stood. Avonside remains the second oldest suburb of Christchruch, but if you don’t look you’ll miss it.