On February 22, 2011, the city of Christchurch, New Zealand was rocked by a large, shallow earthquake right underneath the city. A previous earthquake on September 4, 2010, had caused major damage in the province but only minor damage to the city, but the February quake caused significant loss of life and devastation to the central business district and to residential suburbs in the east of the city. As this part of the city is built on old swamplands and beachsands, flooding and liquefaction were major problems in the days after the quake. All of the CBD was red zoned and large tracts of housing in the eastern city will have to be demolished.
Christchurch has always prided itself on being "The Garden City". Many people are keen gardeners, and the sight of precious gardens inundated with grey, sludgy, smelly liquefaction was as heartbreaking to citizens as the loss of their homes. The Student Army and Farmy Army (students and farmers from surrounding countryside) helped residents dig out their gardens, but aftershocks continued to pump sludge up from the water-table.
Many voluntary groups were set up to deal with many areas of the disaster, two in particular to do with green issues, but quite different in their scope and aims.
Greening the Rubble www.greeningtherubble.org.nz was set up to make some of the ugly demolition sites into green areas, where people could relax and enjoy natural beauty. They work with site owners, and carry out temporary landscaping with donated materials and plants, with volunteer labour. These sites are entirely temporary; their function is to provide greenery until the sites are rebuilt with permanent structures, and the landscaping (bricks, stone gabions, seats) is designed to be moveable from one site to another. They've found that 'temporary' is a somewhat flexible term though; site owners have often asked them to stay longer as insurance payout timeframes have lengthened.
Quite different in intention is the Avon-Otakaro Network www.avonotakaronetwork.co.nz. This is a group whose focus is political and long-term, formed to further the creation of a new city park, stretching along the Avon River from the estuary to the central city. The government is proposing to grass over these areas after the houses, trees and gardens have been removed, and to "leave the land fallow" for many years to come. The Avon-Otakaro Network has presented a petition to Parliament, with the aim of conserving the heritage trees in this part of the city. The inner part of the eastern city is an old area of town, with many established, well-loved gardens, which will be bulldozed if some action is not taken. People living there have accepted losing their homes, but are more upset at the thought of the destruction of the trees and shrubs they have nurtured for many years. No firm decision has been made yet about the future of the red-zoned residential area after the houses are gone; hopefully, a new park can be built and years of residence can be remembered with a greenway, a walking and cycling path along the river from the sea to the city.