Sunday, May 15, 2011

Time of the phoenix...

Yesterday I drove round the harbour, as I usually do on Saturday mornings, to the Lyttelton Farmers' Market. After the February quake the market ceased briefly and then decamped to Mt Pleasant Community Centre. Within a month it was back in Lyttelton, the stall holders bravely setting up, even though the crowd that usually throngs the Saturday market was much diminished. One lady who sells beautiful summer produce - tomatoes, peppers, aubergines etc - told me how nervous she was about coming through the Lyttelton tunnel. I'm not surprised given that the epicentre of the quake was very close and that the tunnel itself, which I use frequently, is looking sad and poorly maintained.

But yesterday, for the first time, I sensed a change in mood. Little roadside stalls were popping up along Oxford Street. There were more people. They were talking not so much about the devastation as about the future. Conversations have turned to what could be. It seems that, as more and more historic buildings are demolished in London Street and Norwich Quay, the empty blocks - the spaces - are enabling new visions to emerge. I too feel this confidence. I know the residents of Lyttelton are strong enough, and sufficiently determined, to drive a rebuild that will meet their needs as a community.

One of the things that has concerned me, especially in the city, is that I will see empty spaces and wonder 'what was there?' - even in a city I know so well. However yesterday I noticed something different about the spaces. That you can look through. That they open up unexpected vistas. Obvious, yet unanticipated and strangely liberating. As though we need to be reminded that the absence of a building is a space and an opportunity. This parallels the many conversations I've had with friends and acquaintances about the post-quake, changed relationship with possessions. Items that we have treasured and lost seem unimportant in wider scheme of things. 'Stuff' is just stuff - and in times of emergency, a potential encumbrance. Perhaps we all feel lightened (literally and figuratively). Never could I, as someone who treasures objects and buildings with history and personal import, have imagined this possibility. It has taken a seismic shake to realign my/our relationship with the man-made environment.


  1. Such a hopeful post---but still shocking to see the realities of the devastation. Thanks for keeping us updated about the quake aftermath. We hear very little about it in the news anymore---overshadowed by the Japanese tsunami, and our nearby tornadoes.

    You are an early riser!

  2. This is brilliant. Not only for its optimism, but its insight, as well.

    A couple years ago, our local college was forced to raze a building that was no longer sound. The building stood at the heart of the school--and our community--for close to 125 years.

    Prior to demolition, there was much speculation regarding the building that would replace it. Would the design mimic the old building? Would they create something entirely new? We'd no idea, really.

    Then the building came down, and the debris was carted away, and earth was shuffled and grass planted, and the scar healed. Come spring, something interesting happened. The grounds looked beautiful. There was space where once there'd been none. I think our entire community stepped back and said, "Well now...maybe the best we can do is let the sun and sky and grass have it a while."

    And so we have.

    You're much quicker on the uptake than we were, Jane. Like I said, optimism and insight.

    I think this would make an excellent letter to the editor of your paper.

    Thanks for sharing this.

  3. Thank you both. Joe it is heartening to hear your local college story. Nice to have that confirmation of what I have been sensing. I am wondering whether we are inclined to treat empty spaces as we do silence - something to be filled, an absence or lack of, rather than a gift.

    More to come on the quake 'recovery' process... :-)