I was born and raised here, so I love Christchurch. But the earthquakes have given us opportunities we may never have had otherwise.
Tomorrow is the 160th anniversary since by Royal Charter we became New Zealand’s first city.
There is something about being NZ’s oldest city but becoming New Zealand’s newest city at the same time.
And maybe that’s the ambivalence. The old and the new – the past and the future.
From the present we look back and we honour our past but at the same time we learn from our history. From the present we look optimistically to the future, but we remember what has gone before and we are determined to make the most of the opportunity that lies ahead.
It was Edward de Bono, who said:
“If you do not design the future, someone or something else will design it for you.”
Christchurch is at a unique moment in its history right now and we have a chance to ‘design our future’.
We need a city that reflects the diversity of the people who work, live and play here. We have the opportunity to ensure that it is safe, smart and sustainable. And of course that it is accessible for everyone.
Right now, we are at an important stage in the transition from central government to local leadership - which is perhaps not so fascinating for you - but it is of central importance to me as Mayor of Christchurch.
This transition means we can refocus our view of the city.
No longer does Christchurch need to be viewed through a lens of disaster and demolition - now the lens is one of regeneration and the opportunity that brings.
And that’s where leadership comes in.
The Canterbury earthquakes have taught me new words – like liquefaction and lateral spread – but they have enabled me to understand words I thought I understood well, but didn’t, like community, resilience and leadership.
My staff gave me a necklace with these words on them, because they know how powerful their true meaning has become to me.
Community is not the co-location of houses; that’s a suburb. It is the relationship between people in those houses and their connection with decision-makers, be they central or local government.
The extent of social capital within communities is not measured by socio-economic status; it is measured by those relationships.
Resilience is not about being strong in the face of adversity – that’s stoicism. It’s the capacity to prepare and plan for an adverse event, and to absorb, to respond, to recover, to adapt and where necessary to co-create a new kind of normal. Resilient communities have plenty of pre-existing social capital.
When we have cannot possibly predict with accuracy what we will have to respond to at any time in the future – the effects of climate change, a disaster triggered by a natural event or a crisis triggered by our own doing - communities need to be prepared to respond themselves. The government cannot be everywhere and cannot do everything. If communities have been disempowered to the extent that they are unable to fend for themselves then recovery will be much slower and much more challenging.
And then we come to leadership. Leadership is not a position – it is a characteristic based on certain qualities. Sometimes people who are described as leaders do not have these qualities and are not true leaders. And sometimes those qualities are evident in people who do not hold leadership positions, but are true leaders in every sense of the word.
I remember going to a forum where young people were asked to describe leadership and the usual words were offered: strong, decisive, committed, authoritative, responsible.
Any textbook would associate those words with what it takes to be a leader. But this is what is described as a heroic model of leadership – someone who comes in and takes charge – such leaders issue orders and are obeyed.
In the emergency response period following a disaster, people often look for this form of leadership – command and control can be comforting; someone else taking charge, knowing what to do.
But there is another way to define leadership and this definition ties in with my experience once the crisis is over and we begin the process of recovery.
The kind of leader that emerges in this environment is one that is respectful, engaging, empathetic, inclusive and intuitive.
Why do we think of women when we hear those words and yet we don’t necessarily think of women when we look for a leader?
But that is an aside – the real issue is that it’s all about trust. And it is these leadership qualities that build trust.
So where does this conversation go now in your context?
I heard Gil Penasola speak recently of the 880 city – where it’s great to be 8 and it’s great to be 80. An inclusive city embraces the idea that this is a great city to be a kid and a great city to grow old.
Accessibility is a unifying theme when considered at the two ends of a life’s spectrum and everything in between.
I heard a Mayor speak at a conference:
I’m no greenie, but if you’re going to build back why wouldn’t you build back green?
He also said – never forget the greenest building is the one that’s already standing.
But my point is this. If you’re going to build back, why wouldn’t you build back green and accessible and smart? And if you’re thinking the whole of life why wouldn’t you make your home accessible from the start? Think of the retrofitting bill paid by the health system and ACC year in year out.
Does it really take an earthquake to think about the future? Do other city’s have to wait for that too? Or could we show them the way?