Monday, July 4, 2011


One of the outcomes of the city earthquake damage has been the loss of central meeting places – C1, the Globe, Le Café, Dux de Lux, The Coffee House, Alchemy, Café Roma… (I’m thinking tea/coffee here as opposed to alcohol). My other destination of choice to meet with friends – Lyttelton – has lost all but one of its many cosy, cheerful, character-filled cafes. An interesting consequence of these losses has been the necessary search for other spaces in which to gather, enjoy good coffee and share stories. There has been a move to the periphery. So yesterday my friend Anna (who has relocated from her damaged home in Heathcote to Leeston) and I met halfway at the Tai Tapu store. Other recent gathering places with other friends have included the Little River Café & Gallery, The Blue Duck at Motukarara and the general Store at Diamond Harbour (the always-popular Cup on Cashmere remains). So other little businesses benefit, in the interim, as our places and spaces shift to accommodate a changed and changing world.

Even for those of us less materially affected by the quakes, the sense of dislocation is significant. Never in my life did I think I would mourn the passing of a supermarket, but, as I negotiate the still unfamiliar Colombo St Countdown, I long for my St Martins New World where I knew the location of all items, recognised customers and checkout staff and felt ‘at home’. I go to the Riccarton Mall of necessity but do not feel I belong. It is not my part of the world. Despite having worked for many years in the (comparatively unscathed) north-west, my allegiances have always lain in the south-east of the city: Opawa, where I was born; Beckenham, where I lived for many years; adjacent St Martins, en route to the Rapaki track; Sydenham where I shopped and enjoyed the gritty history; Heathcote and Horatane Valleys – Sunday drive destinations from long ago and weekly must-goes for summer fruit; Sumner for the sea; Lyttelton through the tunnel to another world.  The common threads are proximity to the Port Hills and the Heathcote River – the defining, much loved geographic features of my life.

Last week the Opawa shops were demolished. No great architectural loss; certainly not a significant commercial loss. But these brick shops defined my childhood. A five-minute (less?) walk around the river or up and over the railway tracks to a group of little shops that served a community. From where, pre-supermarket and (for us) pre-car, my mum purchased all her groceries. From where I collected my much anticipated, weekly Princess magazine. From where the ‘lucky’ children at Opawa school, in the 1960s, could buy fish and chips for lunch.

The earthquakes have ‘surfaced’ our often taken-for-granted allegiance to place. Suburbs that some Christchurch residents may never have heard of are part of the collective conversation, precisely because they are about to be erased entirely from the map. The more community-oriented ‘village’ seems to be replacing ‘suburb’ in the discourse of rebuild. If, out of all this, we who remain in Christchurch end up with an enhanced sense of commitment to our communities – to the parts that constitute the whole – then something of great value will emerge from the rubble and silt. 


  1. I still rehearse in my mind our last coffee outing before February, when we sat in the summer sun in Latimer Square in the same place that would be used to triage the injured and keep warm those whose family members were missing in the CTV building. It is a memory like something preserved in a jar, a refusal quite to accept that all that is gone, has gone.

    I find that these days I am spending much more time in smaller neighbourhoods to which I wouldn't previously have gone thanks to the former Riccarton/CBD nexus: Addington, Spreydon, Hornby and of course Sockburn itself. As Riccarton and Papanui overflow with people displaced from their social rounds elsewhere, those in the proximate suburbs are staying closer to home. It is strange to be having discoveries in places where I've lived all my life, but I feel an obligation to keep looking, keep uncovering precisely because of the people in Lyttelton and St Martins and Opawa whose neighbourhoods are being stripped of their familiar comforts and amenities.

  2. Hi Jane. As a displaced inner city worker all my old food and coffee haunts are gone but working from home has made me discover all sorts of treasures close to home - the coffee cart at Piko on Stanmore Road, Under the Red Verandah on Tancred St in Linwood, Beat Street, etc and Ristretto on Barbados Street. They all serve good coffee and food and have a nice community feel. Long may they prosper.

  3. I too think back to that day when we negotiated post-September hazards to sit in Latimer Square. Little did we know... It's a poignant memory knowing that the little cafe and the glorious McK&W building are gone (at least I don't know for sure about the building...). To rediscover one's own neighbourhood is a grand thing to do. Now there's a good word - 'neighbourhood'. Less clinical and soul-less than 'suburb'; more suited to the NZ context maybe than 'village'...?

    Marion that is good news. Like harvestbird you are doing the close-to-home. The ingenuity and resourcefulness of small businesses has been amazing. I like it that it is not just the city that has changed - that WE have changed too.

  4. This discussion (original post and follow-up comments) is so touching, it brings tears to my eyes---as NZ has often done in recent months---this time because of your sense of place and community and connectedness---and you must know how quaint and romantic all your place names sound to the western ear---I bow to the "ingenuity and resourcefulness" and full-blown courage of the New Zealand people in the face of so much destruction---

  5. Thanks for your 'reaching-out' Debby. In fact, we (the conversationalists above) are all fine as we still have our homes (in more or less need to repair) and families while some have lost family/friends, homes and places of work. Yet whatever our situation there is a need to talk about what is happening - and in my case to write a bit too - in order to process it. And the sharing of stories is very important. Almost all conversations, whether between friends or strangers, begin with a 'quake-check'!

  6. I can imagine that for sure! Will probably be so for a long long time. And as you suggested, may the little businesses that survived enjoy some new prosperity.