On Saturday, October 28th Christchurch's downtown rebooted. After 8 months of not having a central business district the public was welcomed back into a small section of our forever changed downtown to kick start Cup & Show week, the coming summer and the long road to rebuilding our city's heart.
The walk into town one cannot but witness the still ongoing demolition that is taking place. Buildings are being taken down one by one, with only a very select few having been deemed structurally sound enough to stay up. But even walking past this is good. We have been kept out of our city for so long and some things have changed so drastically that it is good to be able to watch from a closer proximity and be able to take in the change as it happens.
Stephen and I arrived at about 3pm in the hot spring sun and Cashel Street Mall was packed with people. There were live music groups busking in corners, cafes sending out the aroma of coffee and baked goods, and bright, festive wares in all the shop windows. Not to mention to bright, colourful shipping containers that lined the streets, piled on top of each other. If the walk into town had been somewhat sobering, it seemed that everyone inside the new shopping district was drunk on the headiness of being in a place they had missed for so long.
The first thing that struck me on walking into the Mall was the amazing thought that had gone into planning it. I can only hope that there is more like this to come for the rest of the city as we rebuild it. Green spaces and benches for relaxing, buildings that are built to human scale (ie., not towering over us and blocking out the sun), small alleyways to pull pedestrians down to discover what interesting and amazing shops are down there, central areas dedicated to cafes where people can sit, relax and watch the people going by.
At the far end of the Mall the planners have built a timber fence which has, planned or not, become a destination in and of itself. People clamber up on the planter boxes in order see over and down towards the parts of town not yet cleared up. This small area is great, but it is surrounded by the reminders of what we are still missing. While we were sitting enjoying our lunch (after standing in line a good half hour), Stephen and I talked about whether Cashel Street Mall would last. Despite the festive atmosphere of the day, we wondered for how long people would make the long trek downtown to shop at very expensive shops. There are no offices nearby, there are only two small cafes and it does not serve passing traffic as there is only one road open through town and it doesn't come all that close to here. We hope that the businesses there will do well and that Christchurch people will work to help each other, goodness knows the next time I need a gorgeous dress I will be heading downtown to pick one out. Isn't someone out there having a wedding soon I can come to?