Red to Green
September 27, 2019 11:25 PM   Subscribe

The Christchurch earthquake in 2010 and 2011 rendered unliveable an area of the city twice the size of New York's Central Park. 10,000 people had to move out of the red zone and 7,000 houses were demolished. After a decade, what's happened to that land? The evolution of a city's abandoned areas.

The first quake - 7.2 Wake up Call
After one month - Christchurch, New Zealand, post-quake
After six months - Photographs of the Christchurch earthquake recovery
After two years - Pallets and The Cardboard Cathedral
posted by happyinmotion (20 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
There’s no word, exactly, for what’s happening in the red zone. Depending on your perspective, it could be called either decay or regeneration.

The before and after photographs and comparisons are compelling in themselves, and the writing is good as well.
posted by Dip Flash at 11:44 PM on September 27 [1 favorite]

I remember when I lived in the woods, on top of a big hill, there were times when I felt like the land just wanted me gone, like it was actively fighting me off. This article brought that feeling back times a hundred.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:05 AM on September 28 [3 favorites]

For several years I worked near the edge of the red zone. They left trees in place when the houses were knocked down, so at lunchtime in late summer and early autumn, I would hop the fence and go looking for fruit.

Those newer subdivisions, I'm told, should never have been built. But the developers kept appealing and appealing and at some point the council decided it was a waste of ratepayers' money to keep fighting to prevent development.... so rumour has it.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:29 AM on September 28 [11 favorites]

I'm guessing the eerie Victorian-style lamp posts are not connected to electricity any more. Perhaps someone should retrofit them with modern solar lanterns, not unlike the ones people have alongside garden paths; if for no other reason, then in the name of art.
posted by acb at 3:42 AM on September 28 [11 favorites]

That was a fascinating read and the photography is great. Thanks for posting it!
posted by maurice at 4:08 AM on September 28 [1 favorite]

I went through such a roller-coaster of reactions reading this - starting with "hmm, that's a great opportunity for some green space, I hope they leave things be but it's not my place to judge...." to "oh hooray it looks like they are leaving a lot of it to be green space, cool!" to "....oh crap, some of the green space is over-maintained that's kind of missing the point, isn't it?...."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:03 AM on September 28 [1 favorite]

I've seen a fair bit of post-apocalyptic media at this point, and there's always a tension between what does and doesn't get reclaimed. Skyscrapers are a popular one to stay standing, albeit with big chunks taken out of it and maybe some artful plant life, but skyscrapers are fairly fragile, from what I understand, and rely on constant upkeep and inspections to stay standing.

It's eerie, seeing all the houses - all the houses, foundations and all - just gone in these shots, but the roads and the gardens still intact.
posted by Merus at 5:36 AM on September 28 [2 favorites]

Google street view has not been updated, so you can zoom into the area from above but click in to see the view pre-earthquake, spooky.
posted by sammyo at 6:48 AM on September 28 [4 favorites]

I recommend playing this song [YouTube] as you read this article.
posted by Rykey at 7:14 AM on September 28

The pictures look like they should be illustrating a J. G. Ballard novel.
posted by octothorpe at 7:27 AM on September 28 [1 favorite]

Some of the straight-overhead “before” shots are arresting. That was some tightly-packed housing. Do NZland folks feel differently about space between dwellings or is there just a different regulatory climate than in U. S. suburbs? Or maybe it’s just an optical illusion.

At any event, an interesting story and great photography.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 8:08 AM on September 28

This is fascinating. I can't help thinking about the choices made post-earthquake and wondering about places like southern Florida - places we will eventually lose to climate change. What will the choices be about how to deal with and use that land as it disappears? The choices in the article about planting exotic grasses and mowing a bunch of it seem utterly wrong - costly and pointless so glad to see them moving away from that.
posted by leslies at 8:35 AM on September 28 [1 favorite]

Vancouver and surrounding area keeps approving building on areas that are both vulnerable to liquefaction and sea level rise or other flooding and it is infuriating and tragic. We know that building on these areas is a bad idea and there are so many examples like this of why ... And we just don't stop.
posted by congen at 8:41 AM on September 28 [2 favorites]

That was some tightly-packed housing. Do NZland folks feel differently about space between dwellings or is there just a different regulatory climate than in U. S. suburbs?

That's central suburbs, literally one kilometre from the middle of the city, so more dense than most of the city.

Christchurch is fairly spread out by NZ standards and wastefully sprawling by European standards. It's also almost all single-story housing, so further sprawl.
posted by happyinmotion at 11:19 AM on September 28 [3 favorites]

I first visited Christchurch early in 2018 and was genuinely shocked at the state of the city centre. Even after 7 years it felt deserted and abandoned, and so many buildings were simply in ruins. I hadn't even thought about what the suburbs must look like. This is a stunning, powerful representation.
posted by AFII at 3:36 AM on September 29 [1 favorite]

the cabbages are coming now
the earth exhales

posted by aihal at 6:43 AM on September 29 [1 favorite]

One thing I found maddening about the article was little discussion about why an entire neighborhood was abandoned. Yes, there was a major earthquake. San Francisco was completely devastated in a 1906 earthquake, but the city wasn't abandoned.

I found an story here, from a homeowner's point of view.

Basically enough houses and utilities were destroyed that it was cheaper just to move everyone one out and write the whole thing off rather than letting people stay even in the houses that didn't get much damage.
posted by eye of newt at 3:39 PM on September 29 [1 favorite]

Interesting photography but the way it jumped, scrolled, autoplayed, etc is not friendly to many sorts of brains.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:19 PM on September 29 [2 favorites]

One thing I found maddening about the article was little discussion about why an entire neighborhood was abandoned. Yes, there was a major earthquake. San Francisco was completely devastated in a 1906 earthquake, but the city wasn't abandoned.

Because of the liquefaction, mostly. Locals have spent a decade doing a sort of accidental Geology 101, through shared trauma and sheer necessity. They understand how devastating liquefaction is, but it maybe wasn’t explained clearly enough for an international audience. It isn’t just that what was on top of the land was destroyed. The ground itself is unstable, groundwater is coming up from below, and even the parts of the land that are walkable now, may behave unpredictably when the next quake inevitably comes. Absolutely there are individual homeowners whose properties seem like edge cases, but mostly, liquefaction is a legitimate reason for abandoning the land.
posted by embrangled at 7:30 PM on September 30 [4 favorites]

Well. That's what I was alluding to when I said the newer subdivisions should never have been allowed to go ahead.

This shit was KNOWN. There are decades-old maps showing liquefaction-prone areas. When my father-in-law bought in the 1970s he consulted a so-called "black map" to choose a location where this wouldn't happen.

Chch is built on a drained swamp/estuary where there are (solid) shingle banks from the braided rivers, and in the old beds between the banks, sand and swamp material that liquefies. However, the last significant shakes in Chch were in the late 19th century and had passed out of folk memory, so only diligent people, people charged with the responsibility of knowing like local govt, actually knew about this.

It's understandable if sad that some of the oldest parts of the city suffered severe liquefaction, but inexcusable that the newer ones did, because they should not have been built.

Since the quakes, land has been classified into three buildable zones (T1, T2, T3) with increasing standards for foundations etc for each progressively more vulnerable zone, and the red zone, which cannot be built on and has been compulsorily acquired by the government.

If it weren't for rising sea levels, one might fear that eventually there would be pressure to allow building, but as it is, most of the vulnerable area is very low-lying, so... that problem might solve itself (/mutters darkly).
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 9:13 PM on September 30 [3 favorites]

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