Unforeseen Casualties


As a different set of cracks begin to show, architect Cymon Allfrey reflects on Christchurch six years since the February quakes.

This time of year brings with it reflection on the recovery and rebuild of our city, and its people. In the days, weeks, months and first few years following the February 22 earthquake we worked our way through a period of recovery; before moving into a period of rebuilding.

The fallout of the earthquakes left no stone unturned, no one was left unaffected and for a long time the devastation and casualties was all consuming. As we moved forward the casualties slowed and a period of healing was left in its place.

Yet now six years on, the casualties and cracks are beginning to show in a way not many may have considered: businesses. With the hospitality sector the most recent casualty. It is frightening to look at the difficulty some businesses are facing, most notably because they are located in an area that in the short term presented demand and opportunity, yet in the long term were left wanting.

The long-term impact of the earthquakes has highlighted the fragility that all businesses face. Business brings with it cycles of boom and bust, and the wake of the quakes sent us into an artificial boom which is now on a rapid decline.

For those with an eye for it, and a creative flair, there was a fantastic opportunity in the wake of the earthquakes but the long-term reality is proving a challenge. But why is this? Entrepreneurial development comes from a vision to meet a demand. There is a primary drive in business to present, offer or cater for, current needs – however perhaps that is where we went wrong. A focus on the current, rather than the future.

Consider the published difficulties that the hospitality sector of Victoria Street is facing. It is a vibrant, busy sector of the city that presented great opportunity in the wake of the earthqukes, however, the Council blueprint has arguably disconnected it from the city.

With development and new business comes risk. And in the unknown environment of post-quake Christchurch, the opportunity presented came with great risk. While a number of businesses embraced the opportunity, meeting a need and a demand in an artificially inflated environment, the question has raised itself, what is sustainable? While some have been able to build on the opportunity and shift gear, direction and even location, to ensure their risk is minimised, others haven’t been so lucky.

However it isn’t all doom and gloom! On the eve of the sixth anniversary it is possible to look around the city and see the extensive activity that is being undertaken to rebuild. While many are frustrated at the slowness of the anchor projects and infrastructure, it has been a far bigger job than anticipated – but we will get there. Perhaps our expectations were flawed from the outset.

We have gone from recovery, to rebuild to regeneration. We just need to ensure we are balancing the line between opportunity and good business sense. The quakes have given us a new set of skills, a greater knowledge and a unique understanding of change and challenge. We need to draw on this to ensure we aren’t experiencing any more casualties.

Published in Metropol Magazine

Published on Thursday, February 16th, 2017