Christchurch's crumbled CBD is finally getting put back together, eight years after the deadly February 22, 2011 earthquake, with central city spending sky-rocketing over the last year.
Sir Bob Parker, who was the fluro-jacketed mayor during modern-day New Zealand's worst natural disaster, joined the Herald for a walking tour of the recovering Garden City this week ahead of the eighth anniversary of the killer tremor, which claimed 185 lives.
The 66-year-old broadcaster and former This is Your Life host is buoyed by the recent state of progress.
As he strolled a city loop on a balmy summer's day, locals, business people, and tourists filled the now mainly-smooth pavements.
Today there's a daily working population of 38,500 within the central area known The Four Avenues, with more than 4300 businesses, according to the Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce.
It's a stark contrast to the immediate post-quake years when the city centre largely resembled a ghost town with few signs of life outside of contractors, council workers, and disaster-tourists.
"One of the most frequent questions from overseas media who came [after the quake] was, 'Are you going to have a city?,' said Parker, whose Christchurch mayoralty spanned 2007 to 2013.
"We told this place has a great future and it's proven true. The city is rising again."
Sitting in a bustling al fresco café on Oxford Terrace, on the eastern banks of the meandering Avon River locally known as The Strip, Parker surveyed the rising skyline, built by private companies.
But walking around the corner onto Worcester Blvd, the fenced-off crumbled remains of the once-landmark Christ Church Cathedral looms large.
Parker has been dismayed at the lack of progress of the cathedral, as well as key projects in the rebuild's blueprint – the convention centre, new sports stadium, and Metro Sports Facility.
"It's happened back to front, in a kind of way. Many of those big projects were designed to help bring stability, confidence and new investment into the city and some of them still haven't happened, which is frustrating," he says.
"But you look around the city and it's extraordinary what's happened. It's evolving into a great city – a beautiful and incredibly safe city."
Passing through the wide, open spaces of the Eastern Frame, which was once a thriving area of businesses and flats, it's tough to get your bearings and remember what was once there.
And moving to Latimer Square, and the CTV Building, where 115 people lost their lives when the six-storey concrete off block collapsed in the violent, shallow magnitude-6.3 shake, the memories come flooding back.
"I still don't like coming back to this place," Parker says at the CTV site, which has been turned into a memorial space for victims' families.
"It just brings it all back."
Walking back towards town, through new glass-fronted shops and office blocks - all major banks, accountants, law firms are now back in the central city - things appear sunnier.
This weekend, the Sir Miles Warren-designed Christchurch Town Hall reopens after a $167m restoration job, which Parker fought hard to save.
"There's so much memory tied up in that building for people and for many it's the true heart of the city," says Parker.
He's confident that the rebuild has turned a corner. The people are coming back. And they're spending.
City council agency ChristchurchNZ senior economist Peter Fieger said spending in central Christchurch was up 17.4 per cent in December last year, compared to December 2017. International visitor spending leaped 29.9 per cent.
"Christchurch's central city is really starting to hum now," said ChristchurchNZ's Loren Heaphy.
"Every day we are seeing new businesses moving back into the city – both big and small."
While private developers have led the regeneration, Chamber of Commerce chief executive Leeann Watson said that anchor projects like the $300m Justice and Emergency Services Precinct and new central library Turanga, along with some clarity on the new stadium, has also helped.
"Over the last year in particular, we've seen real momentum in the regeneration of our city," said Watson.
"We are seeing interest from investors who are now seeing the city as one of opportunity for the future."
Graphic / NZHerald