Christchurch earthquake turns city on its head in so many ways Posted 2011, 01 March The Christchurch earthquake has the whole country reeling, for people both close to the tragedy and those far away. I think most of us are really simply lost for words to describe the enormity of it. The devastation has hit on so many, many levels. And we all come to terms with the shock in our own ways. For myself, I am lucky not to have anyone close to me deeply affected. In a professional capacity, I am already working with clients in Christchurch as they assess how to go about picking up the pieces. They are deeply traumatised and very unsure about what to do next as they stare through rubble, past armoured personnel carriers and cordons at where they used to work. For these clients, I have had to completely throw out some conventional thinking about relocation. Clients have told me their staffs are simply not prepared to go back to a multi-level building, and so we are looking at single-storey premises in the suburbs. Last I heard, at least 750 commercial buildings in the CBD were to be demolished. That is simply huge. And in one overwhelming week, a market where there was plenty of supply has turned into one of large demand overpowering a meagre supply. Radio New Zealand National this morning noted that many suburban landlords of low-rise buildings are now demanding corporate tenants sign up for 6 year leases. For those tenants their property situation has become a situation of “beggars can’t be choosers”. Unfortunately, some landlords are taking advantage of the situation and ‘making hay while the sun shines’. For those with premises that are still habitable, their staff may simply refuse to work there any more, or they may find that the market for their goods or service has simply disappeared. Inevitably these tenants are keen to walk away from their leases; however we anticipate that most landlords will still be demanding that these business tenants are still locked into a long or mid-term agreement. I foresee grief for these people. I am sure we all know that it is going to take a long, long time to rebuild Christchurch and it won’t be easy. My experience tells me that many organisations will have difficult decisions to make about whether they will stay in Christchurch, where and how they will set up again. These decisions take time. The dash for the quick solution may not be in their long-term interest. My concern is that when Christchurch does rise again, many of the larger organisations that created the Heart of the City will be lost to the suburbs. But my optimistic side looks to how Napier was rebuilt, and as a result now has its place on the world map as the Art Deco capital of the world. Once the dust settles, there is an opportunity like that for Christchurch. In the meantime, a lot of compassion is going to be required to get businesses back up on their feet.