Topic: Southshore: A Community not a Suburb by Michele McCormack

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Michele McCormack's entry in the 2012 Memoir and Local History Competition

I live in an area in Christchurch called Southshore. Sounds pretty ordinary, doesn’t it? It’s not at all ordinary and let me tell you why.

Southshore is situated on a spit of land between the Pacific Ocean and the Avon – Heathcote estuary. It was originally an untamed corner of Christchurch that was thought to be too far from the city to live. Some of the big companies in town built holiday homes, or baches, here. One by one they sprung up and some sent their employees here for holidays.

The main road that ran the length of the land was named Rockinghorse Road due to the undulations in the unmade up surface which was likened to being on a rocking horse.

The building of permanent homes followed and eventually there were over six hundred homes on Rockinghorse Road and its side streets, most of which have bird names. Eventually it became a suburb of Christchurch, a watery suburb all on its own at the end of South Brighton, attached to the rest of the city only by a narrow strip of land.

Over the years as families moved into the area, people started to get to know each other and a community formed. We have our own Residents’ Association, Social Club and a monthly newsletter called The Beacon. There have been many community events over the years, such as picnics and craft fairs.

One family had four generations of the same family in Southshore. Many people don’t move out of the area once they shift here, just up and down Rockinghorse Road. Personally I have lived in four different homes here. There are a number of police who live here because it is a safe area. There is little crime as there is only one exit. Criminals don’t like it because there is no alternative escape route.

We are lucky enough to have godwits living on the spit at the end of Rockinghorse Road. These small migratory birds leave us every February or March to fly 11,000 km non-stop to Alaska and then return again in September. The Christchurch City Council rings the bells and holds a special ceremony to mark their leaving and then the bells are rung again to herald their return. This used to happen in the cathedral bell tower, but that is no longer possible due to the earthquakes so it takes place in one of the suburban churches that survived the shakes.

Southshore took a direct hit in the September 2010 earthquake, mainly in the homes along the estuary front, many of which were built on reclaimed land. The epicentres of the subsequent earthquakes were much closer and caused much more damage. They finished off many of these once beautiful homes and further damaged many others.

After each event there was a supportive atmosphere in the hood as people banded together to check on each other and help each other out with things such as cooking on BBQs or digging toilets in the garden. We had no power or water for lengthy periods and were unable to use our toilets for about 5 – 6 months due to badly damaged pipes underground. Portaloos became a common sight and each home was issued with a chemical toilet. Some families have only just regained the use of their toilet in recent weeks as a new waste water system to replace our badly broken one is rolled out.

In June 2011 the government, via the recently formed CERA, put homes in Christchurch into zones and we became a multi-coloured / zoned city. The zones indicated the level of damage to each area and went from red (written off) to green (OK to repair or rebuild on).  In addition there was an orange zone on the flat and white on the hills. These last two zones were badly damaged areas and further investigation was required to determine whether they were fit for habitation.

Southshore was orange zoned which meant that our fate was uncertain. We watched over the coming months as other areas were rezoned and the beach side of Rockinghorse Road went green in October 2011. This gave those families certainty. Those of us who live on the estuary side were informed that our land was the worst damaged of the remaining orange zones and we continued to live in limbo. Eventually in May 2012 we were given the decision about our homes.

Half of the estuary side went green but the other half went red, over 200 homes in total. This was mainly caused by liquefaction (ejection of silty water from underground) on the estuary frontage and lateral spread where the land has shaken so much it has moved towards the estuary, leaving behind gaping cracks and subsidence of the land and structures on top of it.

This decision was devastating news for some and a relief for others.

We lost our local pub / restaurant, hairdresser, Indian takeaway and dairy a few months ago then more recently lost a further set of shops including a café and off licence, leaving two businesses who are struggling to stay afloat as there are fewer people passing by. This is compounded by the fact that the roads are constantly ripped up for repairs and the local South Brighton bridge over the Avon river is only open to traffic heading out of the area. We have to travel home an extra 5 km via New Brighton.

The bridge will be closed for over a year. The roads are in a poor state of repair and we have been told that they won’t be fixed for at least two years until after all the infrastructure underground has been repaired. Even then they are unlikely to be restored to their pre-earthquake state due to a lack of funds. This feels like a smack in the face as many more affluent areas of town have lovely new tarseal on their roads.

There was a steady trickle of people moving out of the area after the first earthquake as people left badly damaged homes and shifting land. This has increased to a steady flow since the zoning decision. There is no forum to say goodbye to these people, all of whom are someone’s friend, neighbour or family member. We are witnessing the fracturing of a community and it is very sad. Many of these people will never find their way back to this beautiful, peaceful corner of the city and those of us left behind are mourning the loss of these good people.

We have to look to the future, however, and just this week we have had a community meeting organised by our Southshore Residents’ Association regarding the future of the red-zoned land along the estuary frontage. Some wonderful ideas were put forward, among them walking and cycling tracks, sheltered picnic areas and a memorial garden.

Ours is an evolving story with no end in sight as there are many homes awaiting demolition or repair. One thing you can expect is that we are a community that is passionate about our environs and we won’t be sitting back and doing nothing.

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Southshore: A Community not a Suburb by Michele McCormack


Latitude and Longitude coordinates: -43.548919,172.74693509999997

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Southshore: A Community not a Suburb by Michele McCormack by Tauranga City Libraries Staff - HC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License