Starting as a Christchurch resident, I say that no-one who has lived through this experience is unaffected by it. People say what's changed for me – I say pyjamas.
Now my husband and I are in a different house; a different neighbourhood; we have a mortgage with the bank, something we didn't have back then; he is about to move his former central city office for the third time; and I have a different role in the city – one I would never have even considered before.
My world has been turned upside down, but I believe that I am one of the lucky ones. I have been privileged to be in a representative role throughout.
I have learned much in the past 4 years. I will never look back on that with regret, but with gratitude to the constituents and the specialists and experts local, national and international who have opened their doors to me.
I can truly say I am no longer the person I was before. My attitude to what's important has changed – and my focus is firmly on the city of Christchurch and getting it back on its feet.
As an elected community leader I have had two roles post earthquake – an MP for the damaged eastern suburbs – and now as Mayor for a year.
In preparing for this evening's address I flicked back to a speech I gave to close the annual Public Health Association Conference in September 2011 –one year after the wake-up call that shook our world in more ways than one.
I said I had learned a lot about earthquakes and learned new terms like liquefaction and lateral spreading – and one thing I'd taken to heart was that the strength of the ground and the foundations are two of the most important factors in terms of protecting buildings from damage. And if I were to think of the ground as the social, economic and natural environment and the foundation as the home and the community then it is easy to see where health promotion or public health sits in terms of preparedness and disaster recovery as well.
I referred to the Ottawa Charter which says:
Health promotion works through concrete and effective community action in setting priorities, making decisions, planning strategies and implementing them to achieve better health. At the heart of this process is the empowerment of communities - their ownership and control of their own endeavours and destinies.
Community development draws on existing human and material resources in the community to enhance self-help and social support, and to develop flexible systems for strengthening public participation in and direction of health matters. This requires full and continuous access to information, learning opportunities for health, as well as funding support.
This philosophy lies at the heart of disaster recovery and sadly it has been absent from the recovery process.
What I said back then was to emphasise the importance of frank and timely information, the setting of realistic expectations and genuine community engagement. My views have not changed.
I was interested to note that according to CERA studies, in September 2012 32% of residents were satisfied with opportunities for the public to influence earthquake recovery decisions. By April 2014 this had dropped to 24%.
In my research around post-disaster environments, I came across a discussion around emergence and resilience.
Emergence: The concept of emergence describes governments being increasingly called upon to serve in highly complex and uncertain circumstances, where public issues regularly emerge as surprises and require equally emergent responses. This transforms the role of government and the relationship between government and society. It emphasises the need for more agile, innovative and adaptive approaches to governance and public administration.
Resilience: The concept of resilience acknowledges that notwithstanding the efforts of governments and citizens to explore, innovate, prevent, pre-empt or course-correct, unforeseen events will arise and unpredictable shocks will occur. The role of government extends to promoting the resilience of individuals, communities and society.
At its essence these concepts promote the ideal of partnership between government and society in a way that offers a real platform for recovery. In such a world the word resilience no longer represents the glib assertion it has become, which many don't feel; it becomes the essence of who we are as individuals and as communities – be that of geography, interest or identity.
Government – both central and local – must stop thinking of we, the citizens, as taxpayers and ratepayers and as consumers of the services they provide. It is they who need to change their way of engaging with us and this means they have to be prepared to reimagine their roles. This is enormously challenging, but if we can't do this in the light of what we have experienced here in Christchurch then we will lose the chance to turn our disaster into the real opportunity it presents. I found some descriptors, which define a much better role for central and local government:
• Enablers within a framework of collective responsibility;
• Partners who use their power and that of the State to support the contributions of others; partnership depending as it does on trust, goodwill and mutual respect;
• Facilitators who convene citizens and organisations to build communities of purpose, to identify the areas of risk and greatest potential;
• Collaborative actors who work with others to coordinate decisions and to achieve concerted actions;
• Stewards of the collective interest with the power to intervene and to course-correct when the public interest demands it;
• Leaders to achieve convergence and a common sense of purpose.
This is not the way we currently engage but I am determined to find a way to create this as our city's legacy.
One of the things that is standing in the way of all this is where people are at.
International literature suggests that psychosocial recovery after a disaster can take five to ten years. A key reason for this is that a double blow often occurs. The shock and effects of the disaster itself are followed by secondary, recovery-related issues. These include dealing with damaged homes, insurance claims, poor roading and lost community facilities.
Research figures initially released in 2013 found that:
• over 80% of respondents stated their lives had changed significantly since the earthquakes.
• Almost a third said the earthquakes had caused them financial problems
• 64% said they felt guilty that other Cantabrians were more affected by the earthquakes.
• Eighty-four percent gave their time to support others
• nearly a third felt connected to their neighbours, and 42% 'a little' connected.
• 65% of city residents felt tired (a 10% increase on 2012)
• 66% agreed that it felt like their life had been normal over the last 12 months, compared to 60% in 2012.
But averages and percentages often hide the disproportionate impact on different communities. I remember saying on many occasions that it is a tale of two cities. This is reflected in the difference in speed of recovery for different individuals, communities and geographical areas. The newly vulnerable include those still with unresolved insurance issues and/or living in temporary accommodation.
But the one statistic that worries me, is the one that said Cantabrians were 40% more likely than those living outside the region to have at least one of several kinds of disorder including: major depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, or anxiety disorder.
"Extreme concern" has been expressed among health professionals regarding increased homelessness among people with mental health issues. As might be expected the most vulnerable are disproportionately affected: low incomes, pre-existing health issues, disabilities. And the problem is often hidden from view in the health budget where hospitals are filled to over-flowing.
So now that I have thoroughly depressed you can I turn to a more positive note.
My journey of discovery as I call it has allowed me to connect with the aspect of resilience that I hadn't appreciated.
The capacity to adapt and indeed thrive in the face of adversity captures the sense of anything is possible.
I often use this quote: "You never let a serious crisis go to waste. It was a statement made by Rahm Emanuel, Former White House Chief of Staff. "And what I mean by that: it's an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before."
It's the opportunity that springs from disaster that we can capture.
The innovation, energy, creativity that inspires Lonely Planet & the NY Times to say 'come visit' – the transition could become our new normal – if we are able to able to embed that in the way we run the city together.
I hope as sociologists that you see Christchurch as a place that will help others prepare and plan for what cannot be predicted in a way that harnesses that potential.
We are an object lesson on what not to do, but we also know so much more about what to do.
I often say that Christchurch is small enough to trial new approaches to solving problems, but big enough to produce meaningful results. That doesn't make us a living laboratory, but rather a hothouse where ideas can be seeded and grown.
Thank you for inviting me to speak tonight. I am incredibly optimistic for our city. But there are many challenges that still lie ahead.