Talking Christchurch Heritage

By Brigid Gallagher 10/03/2011

Hurrah for Mary O’Keeffe!  I have just watched the Breakfast interview with Mary about heritage buildings in Christchurch.

I have some how managed to miss it in amongst all of the other heritage hits available on the world wide web.  At last a member of the professional heritage community stepping forward to make comment and answer some of the accusations being flung at the feet of heritage.

I have been quietly watching and reading the articles and media releases reporting on the state of Christchurch heritage, and what will happen next.  I have also started blogging about this each evening for the past week, and then I read back what I wrote…

To put it mildly, I have read back like a frenzied enthusiast, with the heart of an activist, hell bent on preaching to the world the truth…that heritage is finite…once it is gone it is gone…what is decided now will set precedence for the future…the heritage buildings of Christchurch are the tourist draw card, they are the key …if they have gone, there is no going back….

And then I heard Mary O’Keeffe utter the very same words.  And it felt wonderful.  Here was a fellow archaeologist finally saying something out loud.  Fantastic.  My internal ranting subsided…and my professional head and still impassioned heart came back to a far more sensible place.  I have had no desire to wade in looking like a crazed fanatic, unable to act professionally in a time when heritage and its archaeology needs support in a meaningful way.

Constructing a strategy

What this situation needs is sensible voices; talking professionally and acting in a meaningful way, ready to contribute to long-term outcomes.  Voices that speak clearly and calmly, that outline the findings and the options in plain English, and most importantly, based on analysis of the evidence that the various specialists have been recording over the past 2 weeks.

Underlying this, but also integral, I am talking about;

  1. maintaining, in this extra-ordinary time, rigorous processes and scientific methodology,
  2. being led by international standards of best practise.

Yes, this is a terribly emotional and emotive time. Sensitivity is undoubtedly called for.  But the professionals working on the heritage need to be given the opportunity to be produce accurate data from which to enable discussion at the appropriate levels and the appropriate time, in which to come to conclusions which will enable strategies to be produced.  Listening to a friends displaced family member, who did not know I had any interest in heritage, it was made quite clear that the people should come first, but there was acknowledgment that the heritage had to be dealt with…but they wanted a  ‘plan’.  They just wanted somebody to make decision on how to deal with it, and then they could move on…they would know what they were dealing with and what to expect.

To adequately construct a strategy certain activities will have to occur including:

  1. going back to first principles; reveal, define, observe and assess, act
  2. consulting with national and international specialists
  3. assessing and extracting from relevant case studies where this type of event has previously occurred,
  4. considering individual heritage values, such as uniqueness or contribution to our cultural fabric

The list could go on and on…

Final thought

One of the most important requests Mary O’Keeffe made, in my opinion, was to ask for time to ‘pause and think’.

I don’t think anybody (NZHPT, Christchurch Council, architects, engineers, archaeologists etc etc) working on the nuts and bolt of the heritage issue at the moment will be under any illusion that ‘pause and think’ means a relaxed moment on the couch.  Having spoken with archaeologists (yep, the Historic Places Act 1993 defines an archaeological site as a place associated with pre-1900 human activity both above and beow ground…ergo, the heritage issue is in many instances an archaeological one) after the last quake in Sept 2010, they were kept very busy!

But Brownlee is absolutely right on when he says in the above article that he has a ‘’huge desire’ to see Christchurch open as soon as possible’….

But would you send a person into surgery without the relevant tests and consultations?

0 Responses to “Talking Christchurch Heritage”

    • Thank you, I stand corrected..and have corrected. Apologies to Mary!

  • An interesting blog Brigid! As you say, people must come first, but now is the time for heritage organisations to ‘get it right,’ to record the newly exposed details of Christchurch’s heritage buildings, and work with planners to rebuild the city. Perhaps somewhere like San Francisco has a heritage blueprint which may prove helpful

    • Hey Deb, Absolutely San Francsisco! I also wondered about Istanbul. It is so important to get it right now isn’t it. I do think the use of virtual technologies and visualisation is brilliant for this type of thing. R is down recording the Time Ball this weekend with view to virtual reconstruction. Sounds incredible what he is seeing. Such a shame. Great to hear your ‘voice’!