I don't need to tell anyone here that life is full of risks. But are we aware of them? Do we calculate probability and consequence each time we climb into our car or jump on a plane?
probabilities and consequences beyond that tolerable level. Life risk is an issue we will be addressing in the Port Hills session.
But the same issues arise around risks to property. I would have thought – with the benefit of hindsight – that it would not have been acceptable to allow houses to be built on unreinforced concrete slab foundations on the edge of wetlands vulnerable to liquefaction and lateral spread. Should we be able to assume as property buyers that the rules would have required suitable foundations? And should we have more of a say about what is a tolerable risk to our homes?
When faced with these risks, we can accept them, mitigate against their consequences, adapt to them or avoid them. To understand the options, we need to understand risk and the costs associated with them.
I spoke to an insurance forum this week. Their business is based on understanding risk – that's how they price their policies.
I said that I believed that we – the general public (and I include myself because I have only learned some of this over the past three and a half years) – don't always fully understand the risks we take, nor do we always appreciate that insurance is only one tool in the toolbox called risk management, which is a shared responsibility.
When I sat down with a Tonkin & Taylor engineer at the beginning of February 2011 so that he could explain to me the risks of proceeding with the rebuild without addressing the issues associated with the three finished floor levels in these areas (pre-Building Act, the Building Act 1-50yr levels and the brand new Plan Change 48) – namely ponding, localised lateral spread and recession planes – little did I imagine I would be standing in front of people today as the Mayor of Christchurch to reiterate the importance of understanding our hazard risks and thinking about what this means for our city.
The purpose of today's forum is to help us as a community come to grips with the sometimes overwhelming decisions we face in deciding how best to respond to natural hazards.
I suspect there will be many of you here today who in the past week will once again have experienced first hand the devastation that nature can wreak on our homes and communities. And as we all know the earthquakes and the changes they have wrought on our natural environment have not impacted evenly on our city and its citizens - (red zone, eastern suburbs, Port Hills).
Our challenge during today's forum is to put aside for a moment our pressing individual needs – and even those of communities – to address the bigger questions about how we as citizens of this city and region, wish to respond to our environment and the legacy we wish to leave our children and grandchildren.
As a consequence of the intense scrutiny of our landscape by geoscientists, seismologists, hydrologists and engineers, we now have a much better understanding of the nature of the natural hazards to which we are all subject - from the increased vulnerability to liquefaction, flooding, erosion, cliff collapse, rock fall and mass land movement as a result of the recent earthquakes, through to the longer term effect of rising sea levels, storm
surges and coastal erosion.
As a city we need to ensure our decision-making about how we respond to these natural hazards is based on credible science, a shared understanding of the level of risk we are willing to live with - not only as individuals, but as communities, (risk is never isolated to a single person or property) - and a common vision and shared values about what sort of city we wish to inhabit.
In 1855 when the new Provincial Government took over the role of the Canterbury Association, a law was passed which said that "the land commonly known as Hagley Park, shall be reserved for ever as a public park, and shall be open for the recreation and
enjoyment of the public."
This was a defining decision from which the generations to follow have benefited enormously. It would never have passed a cost benefit analysis, unless this analysis had a way of placing a dollar value on the sight of the first cherry blossom in Harper Avenue or daffodil in little Hagley Park. Nor can a typical cost benefit analysis quantify the value of preserving neighbourhoods and communities.
In my view it is also absolutely critical that the planning decisions we make now about where and how to develop a resilient city lessen rather than exacerbate the gulf between those who are prospering in this city, and those whose lives have been utterly upended by the earthquakes.
However, balancing these interests and needs will not be easy. The city is in a difficult financial position: citizens have little if any capacity to absorb rates increases and this Council has accepted the need to control costs. In other words we do not unlimited resources and inevitably hard choices will have to be made. Some are more pressing than others, but we need to be prepared.
Today is about helping all of us to become better informed so that we can all participate in ensuring these decisions are the right ones.