Garden of tranquility
Christchurch, and especially its Red Zone, it a veritable hotbed of nature and wellbeing projects – the topic of my latest book. A vast area in the eastern parts of Christchurch as well as a number of inner city sites were deemed too risky to reoccupy following the February 2011 earthquake. While this has had tragic consequences for those many people who had to say goodbye to their homes, gardens and neighbourhoods forever, it has created a unique opportunity – unique not only within the context of New Zealand and its history, but also a rare opportunity anywhere in the world. I explored this in my 2016 book New Zealand's Rivers.
Myriad ideas were offered for what could be done with the red zone, but one theme that runs through all of them is nature. Some groups did not wait for the official plan to be signed off, they just got stuck in – and the fruits of their efforts are now seen as models for what can be done in the east of Christchurch.
On my recent trip to Christchurch, I visited a number of projects, but this one – which I stumbled upon with my guide quite serendipitously – left a particular impression. The site is on Cambridge Terrace, not far from the Pyne Gould Guinness Building, which collapsed in the earthquake, killing 18 people. Soon after the garden site was cleared of the building that once stood there, it was decided to turn it into a "garden of tranquility" for the people of Christchurch. This was only as a transitional use – its fate was yet to be determined. (The adjacent site was subsequently sold to a private developer, who is currently building apartments – visible to the left of the photo below.)
On the day we visited, there was a group of people working on the site: sweeping leaves, weeding, line trimming. I struck up a conversation with the coordinator of the group, and discovered that it was a part of an initiative led by Odyssey House, an organisation that supports people to overcome addictions. The group on this day were mainly those referred through the justice system. It became clear on talking to a number of these individuals that they enjoyed being there – and the sense of camaraderie and fun that they derived from working as a team with a common purpose was obvious. One or two of them spoke openly about their struggle with drug addictions, but all I could see on that day was positivity, a sense of purpose and good humour.
The information sign explained the garden's objective:
"It is a place created for meaningful activity, reflection and gathering in support of peoples' journey to wellness. We believe this space will facilitate bringing together our community, bringing down barriers and eliminating stereotypes."
My conclusion was that our towns and cities should not wait for a natural disaster to create these kinds of spaces – every community should have one – if not several – "gardens of tranquility".