Thursday, 22 May 2014

The Cardboard Cathedral

I hope you guys are enjoying these little vignettes of life in Christchurch New Zealand, a city which as been living with the effects of two devastating earthquakes followed by thousands of aftershocks, for almost four years now.

It is hard to describe the physical consequences and impossible to understand the psychological effects on the worst affected people. There is bitter and ongoing political strife about how the mess should be cleared up. Insurance companies make matters worse by fighting their corner every step of the way. Most recently they won a court ruling. The consequences felt by property owners who have been banned from returning to their homes because of the danger of rockfall are not the responsibility of their insurers. Potential damages, the court ruled, was not actual damage and was therefore not covered by policies. The ban on entry still deprives policy holders of the amenity which they paid to insure but they have no redress.

There are many people still living in garages or with relatives or are paying very high rents because of property shortages. The centre of the city is a largely empty place and there are threats that even some of the buildings still standing, including those that have been repaired, will be demolished to make way for a grand plan for the city. And all this in a place where the authority is close to bankruptcy. In part, the dire finances are the consequence of a decision which resulted in much of the city's own real estate being  under-insured.

Before we arrived in Christchurch we had heard much of the plight of the cathedral which has been severely damaged. There is an ongoing dispute over what should happen. Reports say that the Bishop wanted it demolished and replaced. In the mean time she has had a temporary building erected at considerable cost, but nothing like the amount that will have to be budgeted for the real thing. I am afraid that I think that the old cathedral was no great loss. It was a dull building but it meant a great deal to the inhabitants of Christchurch. What's gone is gone.

Having seen the temporary "Cardboard" Cathedral, as it has come to be known, I am impressed. It feels right and its space has a great impact on the inside.

More important, I think it provides a model that Christchurch decision makers might follow, given the plight of their city, its people, and its financial coffers. Build something cheap and temporary that does the job. It keeps the show on the road. Also it postpones the horrendous cost to fully earthquake proof buildings that are designed to be permanent. Decisions about the longer term can then be taken at leisure and as money becomes available.

The markets

I have chosen my time to be away well. The market continues to languish. Sorry I have so little to say about the markets but these quiet periods do happen.

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