The Handful Who “Called the Government’s Bluff and Stayed”

(p. A12) ACHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand — First the houses and cars vanished. Fences, driveways and the other remaining markers of suburban life followed. Now, only stretches of green remain — an eerie memorial to two earthquakes that leveled Christchurch, New Zealand’s second-largest city, 10 years ago.

The undulating expanse, which begins two miles from downtown Christchurch, was deemed uninhabitable after the quakes, the second of which killed 185 people on Feb. 22, 2011. The 8,000 properties it encompassed were bought by the government and razed, the remnants swept away.

. . .

When the government sought to buy out thousands of homeowners after the 2011 quake, it intended to give them certainty about their futures. Many were angered by the offer, which was based on four-year-old property valuations.

Some were compelled to accept in order to pay their mortgages, others when officials warned that red-zoned areas would no longer be served by utilities, infrastructure or insurance.

A handful of residents called the government’s bluff and stayed.

Brooklands, a semirural area, is home to the most united display of red-zone defiance. When the land there was judged unlivable, most residents sold up and left, but a little over a dozen homes remain.

“It’s beautiful,” said one of the homeowners, Stephen Bourke. “There’s no one here. It’s paradise.”

A project manager in the civil construction industry, Mr. Bourke repaired his 80-year-old wooden villa himself. “It doesn’t leak,” he said. “It’s all on an angle, but we’ve water-sealed it.”

Ramshackle bus shelters remain on Brooklands’s single-house streets, although no buses arrive. Surviving homes are flanked by overgrown lots.

The local authorities still collect trash and mow the verges, contrary to warnings in 2011 that they would stop, but the roads are potholed and uneven.

Mr. Bourke said he saw little point in moving elsewhere, given that much of New Zealand is prone to earthquakes and floods.

“It’s all very well having these politicians turn up and tell people where they can go,” he said. “But where are you going to tell me to go in New Zealand that’s safe to live?”

For the full story, see:

Charlotte Graham-McLay. “Years After Quakes, City Leaves a Hush Where Homes Stood.” The New York Times (Tuesday, February 23, 2021): A12.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 21, 2021, and has the title “10 Years After Christchurch Quake, a Hush Where 8,000 Homes Once Stood.”)

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