Can I thank the organising committee on your behalf for the work they have done, and on our behalf for choosing Christchurch.
We are indeed honoured to host such a prestigious conference especially since the previous five conferences have been hosted in: Tokyo (1995); Lisbon (1999); Berkeley (2004); Thessaloniki (2007); and Santiago (2011). With the exception of Tokyo, we are all members of the 100 Resilient Cities network pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation, which says something about our collective understanding of the importance of resilience in the world of increasing uncertainty that we face.
His capacity to connect with citizens has been an important element of developing understanding of the challenges of a city built on a swamp more than 150 years ago.
I will never forget being shaken awake on that Saturday morning at 4.35am not knowing what lay ahead.
From liquefaction to lateral spread; from EQC to TC3 – I was introduced to words and acronyms I knew nothing about before.
I tell people I am not the same person I was back then. I have been inspired by the ability of communities to come together in a time of crisis.
I have been humbled by the generosity of people – be they neighbours or multi-millionaire philanthropists living half a world away.
And I have been encouraged by people who have been so willing to share their knowledge and expertise with Christchurch as we recover and rebuild, which is why it was important to me that I thank you all for holding your conference here.
I wasn’t the Mayor when the earthquakes struck; I was a Member of Parliament representing the eastern suburbs of Christchurch an area that was particularly hard hit. I resigned from Parliament the day before I was elected Mayor two years ago. In my valedictory speech I said:
There are people who I have met in Christchurch and around the world over the past three years, who have changed my life forever. You know who you are when I say thank you for helping me learn about post-disaster recovery, especially the geo-technical engineer who made time so I could understand what had happened.
Many people know what I have been through, but very few know what it has meant for me personally to face my fear and take on my next challenge.
What I meant by that statement was my fear of earthquakes – firmly implanted in our capital city, Wellington. Living in Wellington three days a week when Parliament was sitting, with a known faultline within metres of our Parliament buildings, it’s not surprising that I had never contemplated my experience of New Zealand’s location on the ring of fire to be in Christchurch – the place where I was born and have lived all my life.
I was surprisingly unprepared for what happened. I remember after the first earthquake I kept trying to find out what had happened to the land.
I said to my husband on Sunday night after having seen the most extraordinary damage in my electorate, ‘it has something to do with the water’. I laugh now at my lack of knowledge, but as a I said in my valedictory, my understanding started with a geo-technical engineer, who was standing on the street quietly explaining things to a group of residents, who like me had no idea why the earthquake had caused the damage it did.
I asked him if he could help me understand what had happened so I, as a Member of Parliament, could help my constituents understand. I still have the picture he drew for me showing how liquefaction and lateral spread occurred. It certainly did have something to do with the water as I had guessed.
I make this point because no one should ever under-estimate the importance of the professional’s role in ensuring public understanding. Knowledge is power as they say and in the face of a dis-empowering event like an earthquake, knowledge is empowering, enabling those of us who have no expertise in such matters to make sense of what we see around us.
At the same time sharing this knowledge helps engage people in the process of recovery, giving confidence that we could rebuild our city despite the challenges that lay beneath.
Of course this was where things stood nearly six months after the first earthquake.
The earthquake on February 22 2011 changed everything. 185 people died, 115 in one building. The impact of the epicentre being so shallow and at the base of the Port Hills caused extreme damage across the city. This time rockfall damage joined with the shaking and liquefaction damage to seriously challenge the optimism we had for rebuilding all of the city.
Again the geo-technical engineers were out measuring the damage. This time the hills were subjected to intense scrutiny along with the areas that had been hard hit by the first earthquake.
All of this information helped us understand the nature of our city’s risk profile probably better than anywhere in the world. Information and data collected by researchers, scientists, engineers, assessors, be it for the government, the council, insurers, technical experts, universities, research institutes or building professionals, was able to be collated, in order to assist land use decision-making.
How those land-use decisions were made is the subject for further debate, but the fact that geotechnical engineers, both local and international, played such a significant role here in Christchurch is something that will be remembered as pivotal to ensuring resilience in the rebuild of the city.
You have arrived here at an interesting time. I believe it is a turning point for our city. The government has just introduced the Greater Christchurch Regeneration Bill – it signals the shift from recovery to regeneration; and the transition from central government control to local leadership and decision-making.
In the Bill, regeneration means --
(a) restoration and enhancement: and
(b) urban renewal and development to improve the medium- and long-term cultural, economic, environmental, and social condition, and the resilience, of communities.
To me personally, it encapsulates both restoration and new growth in a single term. They are both critical to the next stage of our city’s rebirth.
The Bill establishes Regenerate Christchurch, an entity jointly appointed by and accountable to the Crown and Christchurch City Council with the purpose of supporting a vibrant, thriving Christchurch that has economic, social, and lifestyle opportunities for residents, businesses, visitors, investors, and developers.
The objectives of Regenerate Christchurch set out in the Bill are--
- to lead regeneration in defined areas of Christchurch:
- to engage and advocate effectively with communities, stakeholders, and decision makers to achieve its purpose: and
- to collaboratively work with others in achieving regeneration.
Leading, engaging, advocating and collaborating – these are the right words to be using in a post disaster environment – and it will be up to us to make them meaningful.
I think when we reflect on our experience in years to come I’m sure we will agree that this is the right model for ensuring that we create appropriate governance while strengthening local institutions.
As Rahm Emmanuel famously once said –‘never let a serious crisis go to waste…it’s an opportunity to do things you think you couldn’t do before’.
We cannot have been through what we have experienced without gaining something meaningful from it.
I started by commenting on the co-location of your conferences with the 100 Resilient Cities network.
Resilience means so much more than the ‘bounce back’ definition that might be used in engineering terms. We know that modern materials will make our three water systems much more resilient – you will hear that from one of your speakers today – the replacement of pipes in one the most damaged areas after the September earthquake were able to survive the February earthquake.
But when I think of resilience in human terms, it means even more than that. Sure it means bounce back or bounce forward. And it means the capacity to adapt to a new environment.
But to me personally, it goes much further – it encapsulates the capacity to co-create an environment that empowers citizens to take action regardless of the situation they are confronted with. And we don’t have to wait for a disaster for that to occur.
The city won an international award for ‘Share an Idea’ - an amazing opportunity for everyone to come together – more than 100,000 ideas were shared by people who described the city they wanted to co-create. Experts from around the world helped inform the debate.
Regeneration gives us the opportunity to restart the co-creation conversation that we began in 2011 and now the city stands with the government as a partner and is ready to lead the way.
I am enormously optimistic for the future of Christchurch. We have reconfirmed here that there is nothing more important than the input of the people. Combined with the expertise that professionals such as yourselves bring to the table, we can solve complex problems and prepare ourselves for the challenges of the 21st century.
I’m glad to welcome this prestigious group of geotechnical engineers to Christchurch. On a silt-sodden street in the east of Christchurch five years ago, I realised just how important your work is and I hope our experience is able to contribute to how other cities are prepared for the challenges they may face in the future.
So, thank you once more for choosing Christchurch as the destination for this important conference.
No reira tena koutou, tena koutou tena ra tatou katoa.