Christchurch revamps and opens for business

IT WAS a city so widely damaged that when planners wondered how to rebuild, they looked to war-ravaged Beirut for inspiration.

But 18 months after an earthquake that killed 185 people and damaged 100,000 homes, Christchurch is emerging from ruin - and embarking on a public relations blitz.

In Sydney yesterday, the mayor, Bob Parker, called on Australians to visit and invest as the city moves from demolition phase to a $30 billion rebuilding effort.

"We had tremendous support and a great deal of sympathy and generosity. Now we really want to say, 'Don't feel sorry for us'. We are open for business," he said.

Under a new city plan, Christchurch's centre will become a low-rise, compact, "people-friendly space" framed by parks and featuring a new convention centre, covered stadium, music venues and an earthquake memorial.

The work represents the largest such effort of any Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development country since the end of World War II, Mr Parker said.

"New businesses will cluster around a city which has the 21st century's safest environment; a sustainable, green city that is superbly connected," he said.

"It is the story of the emergence of a new city … a whole central area basically having been demolished and beginning to appear again. It is an extraordinary thing to witness."

A host of temporary businesses are driving the renewal, including a bar built on the back of a semi-trailer, and another in an old truck workshop.

The number of Australians visiting Christchurch has dropped by 70,000 a year since a pre-quake high of 400,000.

The chief executive of Christchurch and Canterbury Tourism, Tim Hunter, said that Australians needed convincing that "seismic activity is not going to ruin their holiday", adding that 90 per cent of the city's tourist attractions were open and accommodation was available.

GNS Science, which monitors New Zealand's seismic activity, says Christchurch is experiencing a longer-than-expected sequence of aftershocks, but they are declining in frequency and magnitude.