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This report is taken from PN Review 235, Volume 43 Number 5, May - June 2017.

Letter from New Zealand Stephen Burt
TO LIVE IN CHRISTCHURCH at the end of 2016 is to encounter, daily and seemingly everywhere, construction: cranes, scaffolds, burly workers in lemon-fluorescent vests, bright orange cones, PVC pipes jutting up from the ground, all of it part of the ongoing, city-wide multi-year recovery after the earthquakes of 2010–11. The fences and pits are a great inconvenience, a melancholy sight for those who grew up in what was (I’m told) the most sedate and stable of NZ cities. For me, on the other hand, the construction is mostly inspiration: I see a city that’s putting itself back together, a nation that has recognised (and chosen to pay for) a shared public good, while my own home country, the United States, is tearing itself apart.

Christchurch city centre still holds vacant lots, sagging buildings and exposed rebar; the suburbs include a red zone where demolished homes have become de facto parkland, where no one can build on the unstable ground. But the city centre also includes the brand-new Margaret Mahy Playground, where big shiny slides, a zipline designed for eight-year-olds, a three-story rocketship-shaped climbing structure, bouncy synthetic turf, and even the metallic high-tech toilets represent public investment, and kid-friendly planning, of a kind almost inconceivable in much of the USA.

If kids at the playground want snacks, you can walk with them to the Re:Start Mall, three blocks of food and apparel stores made from repurposed shipping containers, opened in late 2011; if you live on the University of Canterbury campus, as we do, you can then take the bus ...


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