Just before being elected as Mayor of Christchurch I discovered that the Rockefeller Foundation had decided to celebrate their centenary by devoting $100M to building resilience – the first step was establishing a network of 100 Resilient Cities. The deadline for expressions of interest was before the local body elections. So I contacted Bob Parker and asked him if he would make that happen, and he readily gave me someone to work with. And after I was elected one of my first tasks was to sign the official application.
The definition of resilience I was using was from Disaster Resilience: A National Imperative and it read: The ability to prepare and plan for, absorb, recover from, or more successfully adapt to actual or potential adverse events
The 100RC definition focussed on the ability of a city to withstand chronic stresses and acute shocks while still maintaining essential functions and recovering quickly and effectively.
Where I had got to was the capacity to co-create the new normal – when there is no chance of going back to the way things were.
And actually I’d already started believing why would you want to go back. Never let a serious crisis go to waste – said Rahm Emmanuel now Mayor of Chicago – it’s an opportunity to do things you think you couldn’t do before.
I was delighted we were selected for the 100 RC Network. We were supported in this by what makes up the Urban Development Strategy Partnership – Selwyn & Waimakariri District Councils, ECan and Ngai Tahu, with support from the NZTA, CDHB and the University of Canterbury.
I hadn’t realised how important the UDS had been in the post disaster environment until I was confronted with the Land Use Recovery Plan. We were already looking ahead to 2041 when the earthquakes struck. There couldn’t be a better foundation to build on.
The vision was clearly stated: By the year 2041, Greater Christchurch has a vibrant inner city and suburban centres surrounded by thriving rural communities and towns, connected by efficient and sustainable infrastructure. There are a wealth of public spaces ranging from bustling inner city streets to expansive open spaces and parks, which embrace natural systems, landscapes and heritage. Innovative businesses are welcome and can thrive supported by a wide range of attractive facilities and opportunities. Prosperous communities can enjoy a variety of lifestyles in good health and safety, enriched by the diversity of cultures and the beautiful environment of Greater Christchurch.
Sustainable prosperity was the overarching principle and this was to be achieved through Strategy partners committing to providing leadership, and to work in partnership with each other and the community, and taking responsibility for decisions. Decision-making was to be based upon the need for resilience, adaptability to change, the need for innovation to find creative approaches, and through integration between partners, plans and processes. In so doing we knew we had to value and look to the restoration of our natural systems.
It is a tribute to the visionary leadership of the Greater Christchurch area that we were so well prepared. Coupled with established and emergent community leaders the response and recovery at the community level was so much more than our civil defence preparedness may have credited.
My concern is that there is a real risk in a post-disaster environment that we fail to recognise these building blocks, as I would describe them, and replace them with alternative unfamiliar structures, thereby inadvertently undermining the capacity of communities to contribute to their own recovery in a positive and collaborative way. Christchurch has seen itself treated differently than Selwyn and Waimakariri in that regard. These are among the lessons we must learn.
This resilience plan which will be distributed for further feedback is intended to be a living document – it’s a snapshot in time – but it will be invaluable when we come to refresh the UDS. Each of us here commits to visible collaborative leadership, working in partnership with each other and the communities we are honoured to represent.
A telling quote you can find on the San Francisco Civil Defence website reads: “Actual emergencies look more like people coming together than cities falling apart”.
That is our collective story. Neighbourhoods came together supported by communities throughout the city and beyond. And the people of Rangiora offered a hub to transport food and water into the city and the people of Banks Peninsula, Selwyn & Waimkariri formed the Farmy Army.
But these don’t of themselves make us resilient.
Resilience is a journey – not a destination. Which is why I like quoting Judith Rodin the chair of the Rockefeller Foundation who ended her book the Resilience Dividend thus:
“There is no ultimate or end state of resilience. But, by working together to build resilience to the greatest degree possible, we can reduce our reliance on crisis as a driver of change and, instead, deliberately take the future into our own hands – for the well-being of our families, our communities, our cities, and indeed, the planet we all share.”
And that’s what the plan is all about. We’ve had our crisis – now we can deliberately take our future into our own hands.