I hate this question because I cannot reduce it to a single phrase – the 10 second sound-bite that captures the essence of its meaning.
Somebody said something me to me the other day that sort of got me there, but it doesn't completely get there. And that was – Christchurch – the best of all worlds.
We have a temperate climate and we have beaches to our east and ski-fields to the west. We
have Universities, a polytech, high tech industries and we service a strong rural economy that
masked the impact of the disaster on the region.
A great lifestyle coupled with boundless possibilities - big enough to be a great place to live
and small enough not to be lost in the crowd.
It summed up the potential I see for us – that world of opportunity - that gets me out of bed in
On the last Q&A programme last year I was asked about my vision for Christchurch along with
Sir Mark Solomon, the leader of Te Runanga O Ngai Tahu, and the Minister for Canterbury
Earthquake Recovery, Hon Gerry Brownlee. We had three minutes.
Sir Mark spoke first of a family friendly city – build the whanau, build the city. He spoke of the
importance of building to the natural environment and not the other way round. He reminded
us how the earthquake broke down all the barriers and how the whole community came
together. He felt that was the way forward and I agree.
I said that in 2030 I will be 70 years old. A child starting primary school this year will be 21
years old. That is who my vision is based on. I talked about participatory democracy in the
context of Christchurch being a leader in political change as the home of Kate Sheppard. I
talked about a place that encourages innovation and creativity as is fitting for the place where
Sir Ernest Rutherford studied. I talked about our status as a Gateway to Antarctica and the
knowledge about climate change that will come from there.
The Minister was interesting – he asked what our new identity would be, accepting that we
would always be the Garden City, the Gateway to the South Island and Antarctica. His view
was that we could claim the title the Sporting Capital of NZ – we would have new facilities.
And more importantly with a large amount of residential red zone land (four times the size of
Hagley Park) we could have a huge recreational amenity. Our flooding issues could be solved
by a large water course that could be unique in the Southern Hemisphere.
Imagine if we took the three visions – a city that was family friendly, built to our natural
environment, breaking down the silos that divide us, where we all worked together; firmly
focused on our future with innovation and creativity at the heart of our city, with citizens
participating in decision-making giving a sense of ownership and responsibility as well as
building strong communities.
Christchurch can be a centre of science and research facing the source of food and water on the
Canterbury Plains – food and water security being global issues; we face the coastline which
helps us learn about preparing for sea-level rise (over half the world's population now live in
large coastal cities exposed to the impacts of climate change); we are the gateway city to the
Aoraki-McKenzie Dark Sky Reserve another place where we search for knowledge; we are one
of only five cities in the world that is the gateway to Antarctica, which holds so much
knowledge about the future.
We are the gateway to the South Island where authentic visitor experiences are to be found.
We are of course more than capable of being the sporting capital of New Zealand; but what
about adding the science around proteins, diet and exercise that could find solutions to obesity
problems that are now endemic in cities around the world?
And we have had a natural event which links us not just to the physical sciences and new
building technologies, but also to the world of risk, the measurement of which is equally
interesting to governments as it is to insurers and reinsurers.
We have world-class universities, technical institutes, crown research institutes and local
businesses to support all of these, along with an international airport and seaport.
We can be global leaders helping to solve global problems. We are small enough to trial
innovations and big enough to produce meaningful results.
That does not make us a living laboratory, but a hothouse where ideas will be seeded and
grown. As our Chief Executive said recently, we will know we have achieved success when
people from all over the world are asking 'what would Christchurch do', such will be our
reputation for providing solutions to complex problems.
As I said at the start we can have it all – our city and its place in our region literally offers the
best of all worlds.
Everything I have read about recovery tells me we need legacies for communities affected by
disaster to leave future generations so that it isn't just the tragedy of these earthquakes that
defines this moment in our history.
We need to think about those legacies and how we achieve them.
For me they exist beyond the so-called anchor projects in the blueprint for the CBD.
They are the Eden Project.
They are the future use of the Residential Red Zone.
They are Sensing City.
They are new models of participatory budgeting and collaborative decision-making.
And they are about harnessing the spirit of what marks the transition – the energy, creativity
and innovation that has captured the attention of Lonely Planet and the New York Times.
They are about engaging people who rarely participate in civic life – especially young people –
using the tools and networks that did not exist before.
Two years ago, the Christchurch City Council was the "unanimous overall winner" of the
international Co-creation Award for the Share an Idea campaign.
But Share an Idea was only a beginning – and actually we did very well describing the kind of
city we wanted to live in – a green city, a stronger built identity with safe sustainable buildings
supported by quality urban design, a compact CBD supported by business incentives, free Wi-
Fi and ultra-fast broadband, making the central city a great place to live, work, play and learn
and an accessible city with a focus being on cycling and walking.
I have always wanted to return to where Share an Idea left off – engaging the people of
Christchurch and all the diverse communities they represent – in co-creating our future.
I often get criticised for using the word resilience. But to me it is not a negative – in fact it's a
huge positive. Resilient communities are adaptive, creative and resourceful environments,
which just happens to mean they are excellent places to live, work and play.
The Ministry of Awesome, Gapfiller, Life in Vacant Spaces, EPIC, Greening the Rubble, ReStart
Mall, transitional cathedral, our museum hosting a street art exhibition – these are what are
putting us on the map in a way we would never have expected.
And they display the sense of energy, creativity and innovation that characterise the potential
for our future.
Christchurch is becoming home to people who want to come here for many different reasons -
to live, to work and to study.
And they are coming for the potential – the sense that anything is possible – and it has always
been home to me. That's the best of all worlds.