Where do we go now?
In times of crisis, Sutton said, it is better to be 90% right and get a message out quickly than 99% right and issue it slowly. The risk to this strategy, however, is that the missing 9% comes back to bite you. In some instances, it has. There have been protests over the way Cera has handled the red zoning of residential areas. Last November, some homeowners living in the city’s hills were told their properties were too dangerous to inhabit – after being told the contrary for more than a year. Many saw this as an example of top-down leadership gone wrong. The city’s newly installed mayor, Lianne Dalziel, hopes to usher in a new era of governance that focuses on empowering community organisations to do things for themselves. “Building a resilient city starts at the grassroots, so that bottom-up meets top-down halfway,” she wrote recently. The ability to plan for, absorb, recover from and adapt to events is surely key to becoming a more resilient city. At a conference on “resilient futures”, which was held in the city soon after the earthquake, Massey University’s Prof Bruce Glavovic, the country’s top recovery expert, criticised the purely top-down approach. “How is [Cera] going to capitalise on local culture and knowledge? How is it going to mobilise local capacity to rebuild? How is it going to enable local communities to make choices that will build safer and more sustainable communities?” he asked. Despite such sentiment, a division of Cera was tasked with developing the city’s first urban blueprint plan. Taking in 106,000 ideas from across the community, it was launched in July 2012 after a 100-day deadline. “We want this city to be distinctive with an active urban edge,” said the division’s general manager, Don Miskell. A team of local and international architects and designers created the plan, which involved 70 projects being constructed over the next 20 years. It imagined a compact central business district dominated by low-rise buildings. A “green frame” around the CBD would blend in with the Avon river that was being developed as a corridor of parkland through the city. It also emphasised environmentally sensitive transport, including a new light rail network, pedestrian boardwalks and cycle lanes. Before the earthquakes, the centre’s retail areas were not competing well against the rise of suburban malls: “It was clear,” Miskell said, “the rebuild following the 2011 earthquake provided a great opportunity to make Christchurch better than it ever was.” But some have questioned parts of that vision. While certain building codes had been changed to include height restrictions, there was no legislation to enforce building “greener”. Sir Mark Solomon, the head of the local Maori tribe Ngai Tahu, recently remarked that the rebuild had not put enough emphasis on sustainability. “It was certainly one of my visions that we would adopt full green technology across the city,” he told a televised panel discussion. “But if you go through the subdivisions – including our own – it’s the same old, same old.” There is still debate about what Christchurch should become. The earthquake recovery minister, Gerry Brownlee, has suggested that the region’s sporting heritage makes it a perfect location to become a world leading sports hub, with state-of-the-art facilities and stadia. But at grassroots level, some feel this idea is too narrow and does not represent the greater Christchurch.
Care of the community
“Unless people in communities understand what is happening and can relate that to their own situation, there can be a sense of anger and frustration,” said community organiser Evan Smith, whose own house was red-zoned soon after the February quake. Smith advocates a return to “village values”, with the city being made up of many smaller residential areas. “One thing the earthquake taught us is that you can’t always rely on central services to survive,” he said. “You have to rely on things within walking distance, without a car or a laptop. If you build with that in mind, you build in a lot of resilience.” With precisely this in mind, dozens of community organisations, manned by people like Smith, popped up after the earthquake. They became the voice of people on the ground while government attempted to gain an overall picture of the disaster (often the information that government had and the reality depicted by these organisations were vastly different).