Thinking Inside The Square?


“One conversation that’s just beginning is to do a Re:Start here [in the Square] and having a giant movie screen, [and] artificial beach and trying to bring people into a place that has actually caused fear to make it welcoming and engaging again… People [are] saying, ‘What would happen if this became a place of creativity and not a ruin?'”  Anglican Bishop of Christchurch Victoria Matthews*

It’s enough to make Haydn Rawstron choke on his Chardonnay and John Robert Godley spin on his plinth and fall off flat on the ground. He already has? I  quite forgot. But at least he wouldn’t lose his head in a seismic crisis, would he?.

The Bishop of Christchurch might, though. The tumbril is being greased and the knitting needles have been clacking pointedly since she announced on Friday that the quake fractured Christ Church Cathedral will be pulled down (in PR speak “deconstructed”), after its recent deconsecration, to a level of two to three metres over the next year, leaving only the walls.*

In her ex cathedra utterance Mathews said this would meet safety requirements and allow the safe retrieval of taonga and heritage items which could then be stored and protected until decisions about a new Cathedral were made. “Our priority is also to ensure people working on-site are safe…We are also mindful that since December 23, the context of our decision making has changed given the further deterioration of the building and the risk of further seismic events, according to the geotechnical experts.”*

She might have reminded us that such events happened three times within two decades of the Cathedral’s consecration in 1881: as a portent a stone was dislodged from the final cap of the spire by a quake within a month of that event; seven years later the top of the spire fell in the North Canterbury earthquake and in 1901 the spire top was felled by a quake. Perhaps the next century or so was merely the calm between seismic storms.

Of course  the Bishop is between a lot of fractured rock and a soft place, only 6.192 metres above mean sea level. It was under the  sea only a few thousand years ago and will possibly submerged again inside the next 200 years if the ice sheet melt keeps accelerating. As Nigel Williams* points out the beach may return naturally as early as 2100 and a century or so later, Banks Peninsula could become the island James Cook thought it was. .

Perhaps the conversation the Bishop reported about having a giant movie screen and an artificial beach in The Square was a little premature. In about the same time period that we’ve had pakeha living in the region the beach could be back of its own accord, although maybe not the giant movie screen, despite film producer James Cameron’s recent parttime migration. Perhaps he could help with the underwater filming.

Some critics virtually accused the Bishop of throwing sand in their eyes the very day before she announced the fate of the Anglican Cathedral. At least she didn’t further divert attention by announcing that the Cardboard Cathedral would be built on Brighton Beach.

Councillor Aaron Keown said he appreciated Matthews’ enthusiasm, but did not believe the Square was a “place where you’d want to sit in the sun”. Councillor Keown favours an ice-skating rink,  alternating seasonally with a drop-in grassed area.  He didn’t mention that this would save part of Hagley Park being used as a cricket test oval if they squared the circle, but he probably will.

The real debate over the fate of the Cathedral has ramped up with Friday’s announcement.  Church insiders had earlier said there was little appetite to rebuild or restore it though some vehemently disagree.Flack has been flying like snowballs in the first fall of winter, but it’s not all bad news; skating on thin ice Councillor Keown said the cathedral would be demolished over his dead body. Heritage campaigners had been pushing for a moratorium on any decision surrounding the Anglican cathedral, but it appears they have a snowball’s chance.

I’m saddened like the rest of us by what’s happened to the Cathedral, The Square and the wider city. One of my earliest memories is standing on the ledge supporting the old BNZ’s.spiky railings, watching the troops in uniform march past on ANZAC Day 1945.  A year later, as a new school boy, I had my obligatory photo taken standing outside the main Cathedral door in my new school uniform with the obligatory monogrammed cap. I remember well the busy tram and bus exchange at the centre of the city and the dank dungeon of the underground men’s lavatory as I made my schoolboy’s erratic way to The Grand or the Tivoli to roll Jaffas.

 As a university student in the early sixties I biked around the old Square-actually an oval drag strip-dodging bodgies and widgies and later, mods and rockers.. I recall it in the seventies and eighties and beyond as a magnet for the delightfully eccentric: the Wizard, the Seagull Man and assorted religious and secular zealots, including the unZen-like practioners of Zenith Applied Philosophy, or Zappers, among whose number was a young David Henderson.

Like many of us I remember the interminable debates over tiles and edifices as the civic space got makeovers on top of makeovers in a never ending circle of council square dancing.

But the real issue is not what’s on top of the square but what is underneath it-now and in the foreseeable future. That is one of the reasons why the location of a new Convention Centre is still up in the air- and economically at least, it may be more important than a new Cathedral.

What is needed is some down to earth thinking inside and outside the square. The Cathedral may have been a “central-city icon” but the centre of gravity of the city is moving west demographically and was before February 2011, though the momentum is obviously accelerating now.

Geology and geography will have the last say. Time and tide wait for no man. If we take a responsible long term view, knowing what we now know seismically, geologically and climatically, we shouldn’t put our descendants in only a few generations in the Canutian position of waiting for time and tide to erode Christchurch V2 because we rebuilt it in the wrong places. (See my 23/3/11 blogpost on “Swamp: The Cautionary Tale…”*)

We really need to think outside The Square.


#Lyall Lukey 4 March  2012 My other (bit more serious) blog 


3 Responses to “Thinking Inside The Square?”

  1. Well thought out Lyall. Cathedral needs careful consideration by the Canadian cleric, in what will turn our to be one of those long contracted Canterbury debates. Those Christchurch citizens will chain themselves to their beloved edifice to delay the decision and boy will those letters to the editor create a deluge of Biblical proportions.

  2. 2 M E Emberson

    If the ice sheets melt the sea will only rise 20 inches not feet!
    Reference specialists in sea ice.

  3. 3 ME

    I take up my computer to drag a red herring in front of the hunting pack going after the Anglican Church and Bishop.

    How about campaigning for a real Town Hall in the Square?
    There was already an empty site in one corner or the site of the Press would do, overlooking the cathedral garden.
    This Town Hall could be built of old recycled buildings of the “historic” category and would house the residence of the Mayor where he could greet foreign dignitaries and so on at banquets. There could be a balcony where he and the visitors could address the citizens.
    Incidentally the question arises whether a city that doesn’t have a cathedral reverts to being a town… there is another bone of contention for you!
    That would keep them happy for months of letters to the Press.

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