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Traffic Cones for Christchurch

People all over New Zealand are being asked to remember the devastating February 2011 Christchurch earthquake by placing flowers in traffic cones in their neighbourhoods, towns and cities this weekend.

The project is inspired by Henry Sunderland, a Christchurch design tutor and artist. On the first anniversary of the February 22earthquake, he circulated a cartoon asking Cantabrians to place flowers in traffic cones “To remember all of those who lost their lives, those who lost loved ones and those whose lives will never again be the same.”

Christchurch writer and social historian Te Awhina Arahanga, an earthquake “refugee” now living in Auckland, is promoting the idea in Auckland for the third anniversary this weekend and hopes it will get support around the country.

“Three years down the track, people have the idea that Christchurch is back on its feet. But that is not the case. People are still struggling.”

“On the day of the first memorial, traffic cones all over the city were decorated with flowers. It was a simple, quiet and poignant visual recognition,” says Te Awhina.

She is setting up an installation of 185 traffic cones outside the Pitt St Methodist Church in Auckland. The cones will be set up in time for the third anniversary of the earthquake, which occurred at 12.51 p.m. on February 22, when there will be a blessing and the names of the victims will be read out. After this, people are invited to place their flowers in the cones.

Construction company Fulton Hogan, which has been involved in many demolition and infrastructure projects in Christchurch, has provided the traffic cones. Other local businesses are supporting the project.

“It is wonderful how Aucklanders are moved by this reminder of the suffering in Christchurch and how they are getting behind the project. Anyone who can’t get to the blessing can place flowers in a traffic cone near them,” she says.

She is setting up a Facebook page with information about the earthquake and the memorial, and a brief history of traffic cones. People are invited to share their own photos of decorated traffic cones.

The official toll of the February 22 earthquake was 185: 115 people died in the Canterbury Television Building, 18 died in the Pyne Gould Corporation Building, eight people died on buses in the central city, 28 people died in other parts of the central city and 12 people died in suburban locations. The deaths of four more people were directly associated with the earthquake.

Te Awhina says that traffic cones became important to Cantabrians in the aftermath of the earthquakes as a symbol of the destruction that took place and the struggle to adapt to life in a city that had thousands of after-shocks.

The humble, hard-working traffic cone has become the symbol of Christchurch’s dislocation, an indicator of danger and destruction, and now of the slow rebuild. It is estimated there are now about 150,000 traffic cones in Christchurch.

“They stood beside the carnage when humanity was in turmoil. They continue to protect what is left of the Garden city and to help indicate a way through to the future.”

Te Awhina says that she chose the Pitt St Methodist Church as the site for the memorial because its fellow church, the Durham St Methodist Church in Christchurch, collapsed in the quake with the loss of three lives. The church had already been severely damaged in the September 2010 Darfield shake and the workers who died when it collapsed were removing its historic organ for safe-keeping and restoration.

Te Awhina Arahanga is a short-story writer, poet and social historian. She lived in one of the Dorset Street flats in central Christchurch, designed by architect Miles Warren, and was unable to return after the February 2011 earthquake. The flats are still cordoned off. In 2012, she was awarded a residency at the Michael King Writers’ Centre in Devonport.

She is a member of the Pitt St Methodist Church congregation.

Since the Canterbury earthquake sequence started with the Darfield shake in September 2010, there have been more than 11,500 after-shocks. The Darfield quake measured 7.1 on the Richter scale and larger than the February quake, but the February earthquake was shallow and much more damaging.


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