It’s been over six long years since the February quake devastated parts of Christchurch, and ever since then debate has raged about how to make best use of the 535 hectares of vacant residential land.

Shortly after the red zone became a thing, thousands descended on the Horncastle arena to share in what was, and I quote, regarded as a model for public consultation. Red zone general manager Rob Kerr excitedly stated that ‘it had the potential to be transformational for the future of Christchurch.’

Of the more than 10,000 ideas submitted at that landmark event almost six years ago, we are excited as kittens in christmas cardigans to say that all that hard work and no-8 wire ingenuity has not been for nought.* There are things happening in the red zone as we speak that are nothing short of transformational, true to that brave man’s predictions.

*Double negative naysayers be damned!

Sure, it’s taken a really long time to get here but nothing as big as this happens overnight. From an idea scribbled on the back of a napkin – actually, no, that was just Gerry at his nightly buffet making up more ‘you know you’re from christchurch when…’ jokes, right next to the grease stain from the spicy buffalo wings … I digress, but from the planning committees that helped form more committees to the hard working efforts of community-minded citizens to get more funding for more committees.

I hear sniggers from the back row, but please put your skepticism to one side since I haven’t got to the best part – the unveiling.

Ok, so the launching of this transformational (from now on, for the sake of brevity, I will just use the word ‘wow™’) red zone project was a bit disappointing. No parade, no fanfare, no mayoral speech, no mad butcher sausage sizzles (oh that’s right, he’s having a warriors-type season right now). But we can forgive them that because the reality is nothing short of wow™, it’s actually happening, and you can actually see it for yourself. Truth is, if you don’t see it with your own eyes, you would hardly believe it, that’s the sort of transformational, sorry I mean wow™, magnificence we’re talking about.

And here it is….

Keep scrolling, this is good we promise…

And … your lack of faith is rewarded with more scrolling…

Keep going, don’t give up now…

Whoa, back up!

Stop scrolling! … You passed it like a full scroll-wheel ago!

Yeh I know you didn’t think that was it, but it was, so scroll back up and soak it in. In glorious technicolour. Pure, unequivocal evidence of red zone wow™.

Ok, so let’s carry on with the story. Eyes on me. I need you to focus. I know you’re giddy with sheer excitement about how much wow™ you just laid your eyes on but just take a moment, collect yourself off the floor and pay attention.

But now you’re experiencing something else, maybe confusion, possibly a hint of disappointment. All those great ideas we wrote up in our best handwriting, folded neatly and carefully placed in those welcome, share-an-idea boxes, full of promise and hope. We were meant to have nature walks, water parks, flat lakes and ziplines from Retreat Rd to the pier.

Easy guys, not so fast. A lot of committee planning went into the street signs initiative so don’t write it off as being ‘nothing’, honestly there’s a lot of committiness in this exciting – aka the wow™ – development.

Street sign initiative ‘for the good of all humanity’

When approached for comment, the local city council was coy about their involvement, trying to play down any contribution to fast tracking this exciting development. But it’s a reality and it was only possible with funding from Christchurch City Council’s Enliven Places Programme and free installation donated by Fulton Hogan Signs and Graphics.

The result? At a cost of over $15,000 (including special brackets to prevent theft, installation was provided free of charge by Fulton Hogan) 94 street signs are now back in the residential red zone.

Graham Norton, of the CCC’s Enliven Places Program, explains why this project was the overall winner for transforming the red zone.

“Amidst all the committiness we started getting reports from people (people outside the civic offices, also referred to as ‘other people’) who were sending in reports via the Snap, Send, Solve app that large groups of aimless, confused residents were getting stranded in the middle of crown-owned land. USAR teams were called back to Christchurch to rescue these in-peril ratepayers, who faced a long, dangerous walk back to their cars through the remote backyards of abandoned Christchurch.”

“We knew then we had to stop focusing on red zone ideas that improved the lifestyles of residents. Aesthetics, the fun factor, natural beauty – it all went out the window when we knew what was needed was street signs, because ultimately we need to make this area safe.”

“And I want you to know that everyone in the legal team is very happy with this outcome.”

Highlighting how unsafe the red zone was without street signs, witness accounts mentioned incidents of dog walkers, loitering teenagers, and even entire families, walking in circles for days, possibly new to the city and unfamiliar with the ‘head towards the port hills’ principle for anyone lost in the garden city.

As USAR plucked the hapless wanderers from various locations in the red zone, some perched in trees, nervous about the incoming tide and rumours of rats the size of cats, or maybe they were just cats, nobody’s quite sure.

When interviewed, survivors were ropeable. After USAR untied them, they talked about the fear, the uncertainty of ever escaping the well-groomed grassed red zones, and the anger at the CCC for not installing the street signs earlier.

“We used to walk this area before the quake and never had a problem. We knew where we were. If we got lost we’d just stop in and ask Doug at number 64. Now, with Doug gone, we just don’t have a clue. It all looks the same.”

“Fortunately, someone in our group had the urban foraging app and we were able to get by, surviving on shrivelled lemons and these furry red berries, I don’t even know what they were, they tasted disgusting.”

“We heard traffic in the distance. It sounded so close but just as we were getting near it, we turned a corner, and then another, and before we knew it, we were right back where we started.”

“We’re just angry that it’s taken the CCC this long to put the street signs back. Getting lost in the red zone was the most scared I’ve ever been, and I’ve been shopping at westfield on a wet teacher-only day. We don’t even know why they took them away in the first place.”

But all is well in the red zone now, with the street signs installed. No longer just empty, pre-loved backyards, the red zone is a cornucopia of empty, pre-loved backyards – with street signs.

All I can say is wow™. No, really.

Read the full story here.

Christchurch Red Zone set to undergo radical transformation
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