I don’t need statistics to tell me Christchurch is not monocultural. I see evidence to the contrary every day, and it fills me with hope for the future.
When a city is rebuilt, the wanderer’s eye is particularly drawn to artists’ renderings of what will stand where now, there is bare land or rising steel. Onsite billboards present an idealised vision of what to expect; a permanently cloudless summer sky, gleaming glass, pristine walls untouched by tags or lichen. Little clusters of people hang around these perfect buildings, often a little translucent, like future ghosts. As we walk through patches of wilderness to reach these little islands of growth, we search, sometimes hopelessly, for the familiar, and examine the new.
I started paying particular attention to who populated artists’ renderings – spoiler: white folks – not long after an outcry over a campaign designed to promote living in the CBD, which featured almost exclusively white or white-appearing professional people. Some time before that, my then-employers had released a series of posters that sought to depict the exciting variety of typical local newspaper readers: several white people and a dog. Between the two of these events – which I found people generally responded to with some variation on “but Christchurch really is super white and monocultural, it’s just reality”- I began counting obviously non-white faces as I went about my day in the CBD. I’d usually hit between nine and 15 in a 10-minute walk, before I got bored with counting and started thinking about something else.
When I say “CBD”, mind you, I’m not talking about a bustling metropolis, or even the moderately active small city that Christchurch used to be before the 2011 earthquake. I’m talking about a still fairly sparsely populated part of town. It’s a place tourists visit, and it’s a place where international students and new migrants gather to study English. Many of them, it’s true, may not live within the Four Avenues. But they work or study here. And many would live here, given the option.
I am a white person from a largely white family. Growing up, I really did live in a largely white town. It’s not any more. It hasn’t been particularly homogenous for at least 20 years. Not if you look around. Christchurch may statistically remain overwhelmingly “European” – 83.9 percent of Christchurch city residents surveyed in the 2013 census identified as such, though some of them probably also identified as something else – but it is changing. More of us are Maori. More of us are Chinese, or Indian, or come from the Philippines. More of us are a mixture of all kinds of things. There have always been Kiwis whose ancestry traced to neither the British Isles nor Hawaiki. They’re just more noticeable now.
I don’t need statistics to tell me Christchurch is not monocultural. I see evidence to the contrary every day. Hazara women in sludgy greens and browns examine bargains at the Warehouse. Sweet-faced young Sikh men sporting winter-weight turbans step back to let me on the bus ahead of them. Taxi drivers come from Africa or Afghanistan. People whose origins I can’t readily identify are everywhere, speaking languages I don’t know, and some that I do. The homeless guys who line the streets behind cardboard signs – most of them aren’t white. While it makes me sad and frustrated to see the latter, and while I fear the rebuilt city will exclude the non-monied majority, I love the rising diversity of my town.
The streets, the map, even the land beneath them have changed. When the ghostly figures who stride around the fantasy version of our future take flesh, they’ll be Kiwis with many lines of ancestry. And that’s a good thing.