May I begin by thanking Alessandro Palermo, chair of the organising committee for inviting me to speak today. I wish I were welcoming you to Christchurch in person.
I am acutely aware that IABSE has never held a major international event in New Zealand, and Christchurch represented the first opportunity to address that, but due to the global pandemic we have to make do with being virtual hosts. May I offer each and every one of you a warm invitation to visit Christchurch when our respective borders allow. We would be delighted to show you some of the advances we have been able to make in the decade since the earthquakes did so much damage.
I noted on your website the acknowledgement of Christchurch’s participation in the 100 Resilient Cities Network pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation.
This was an important step for me as a new Mayor back in 2013. I am fully aware of the importance of participating in such networks as that is how we share knowledge and experience of the ever-increasing disasters that challenge our world – learning the lessons (both good and bad) from the response and the recovery efforts we make.
I want to focus today on the importance of the human face of our experience and the importance of resilience from a community perspective in the context of lessons learned.
I put up the word cloud to remind us that resilience doesn’t mean strong – look at the words – flexibility, adaptation, creativity, diversity, community, respect, change, cooperation. It’s all there.
The capacity to adapt and to thrive in a co-created new normal. That requires trust – both ways – and it requires communities to actively seek to take back responsibility for their futures. I have spoken many times about how much power communities have ceded to governments – local and central. It is in my view the antithesis of resilience and communities need to relearn to trust themselves and we in government need to learn how to trust our communities. Why do we have to wait until a disaster strikes that the capability is there. If it’s there then, it’s always there.
We have also learned that there is a natural desire to return to normal as soon as possible, however rebuilding after a disaster takes time. Getting the balance right between speed and deliberation is essential. I came up with my own phrase – take your time…as quickly as you can. But don’t skimp on community engagement. Time spent equipping communities with the information they need to fully understand and to debate all the issues so they can be involved in the decision-making processes along the way is time well spent.
If that doesn’t happen the result can be cynicism.
For me resilience begins and ends with connected communities. I have put up the cynical voices from Christchurch and New Orleans. People came to Christchurch and said – you’re so resilient when they meant stoic. But for a lot of people – even today – it means “you have no idea how much I am still struggling and it’s 10 years later”. And in New Orleans, ‘ok they’re resilient’ meant the authorities could do something else to me. Stop Calling me Resilient and I am not resilient were as much a plea for agency as they were for help.
So even when you are talking about infrastructure, never forget who it is for and why they matter. It’s always about people. That’s the lesson we have learned.
Here is an example of the decision to replace an existing gravity wastewater system with a new pressure system, and what typified the community response.
The Council said: "[The tanks] are the most resilient solution for households in areas with land damage, prone to liquefaction,"Simply replacing the existing gravity system would be a "disservice" to communities and "potentially a huge waste of ratepayer funds“. So it makes sense doesn’t it?
Not if you’re a resident that sees this is going to be done to them without any say. This resident talked about the hurried time frame and "loss of democracy". "This is just so typically Christchurch,” she said. “Things happen to you, not with you."
Her logic was quite simple: if "proper infrastructure" could not be supported after the quakes then land should have been red-zoned ie purchased by the government.
"We're told what we can and cannot do with our homes, we're told our schools are closing and merging and now we're told we're having tanks put in because there's no other options.“
If real effort had been put into consulting with the community in a meaningful way, then this sense of frustration may have been averted.
This is the Bridge Street Bridge – the closest bridge across the estuary to the city from the south east residential area of the city. A few months for it’s repair stretched out to over a year. In that time the traffic could only travel one way and residents had to use another bridge a few kilometres down the road in order to return home. It was a very disruptive time. The residents were very unhappy and a meeting was finally held with the alliance that was rebuilding the infrastructure and the contractors. After all the questions from residents had identified that every option had been carefully considered and full explanations were given, a resident stood up and said: I was so angry when I came to this meeting, and I came to tell you what I thought of you, but now I just want to say thank you for all that you are doing to get our bridge repaired. I think of all the pent up anger and upset that could have been avoided if this meeting had been before the decisions were made. And that’s why it’s important to think about building resilient communities alongside the resilient infrastructure.
In Christchurch we had a really good understanding of disaster risk before the earthquakes struck. Unfortunately, not all agencies including the Council had taken on board on this excellent report that had been commissioned some years before to support a multi-disciplinary approach to the vulnerability of lifelines to natural hazards. We knew we faced seismic risks, but to be fair we hadn’t imagined what a centrally located epi-centre would mean.
But our publicly owned energy company, Orion, took it very seriously and invested heavily in protecting the infrastructure. Here we can see what part of a $6M investment achieved – the one on the right was sold to a community group, the one on the left, like all the rest, was strengthened, which protected around $60M of assets and - more importantly – we lost our power supply for only three weeks, as opposed to over three months. This was a deliberate and planned approach to building resilience into a network based on an independent risk assessment of the hazards we had mapped for our region, and it paid off in financial and human terms. I love putting up this slide when I’m debating the cost benefit of investing in resilience. We actually knew a lot about our pre-existing vulnerabilities.
The first of the images is a pre-event map of what was expected by way of liquefaction prior to the Canterbury Earthquake Sequence. You will struggle to see any difference in the map next to it (the map showing the experience of the Sept 2010 earthquake). These two images show how accurate knowledge was about the pre-existing vulnerabilities to the damage that occurred. February was much more significant, but that’s not surprising given the extent of the peak ground accelerations. As you can see liquefaction occurred in exactly the same places we knew it would.
And I have put these three slides below to show a typical house in Bexley’s Pacific Park Subdivision – before and after the quake. In the middle, are photographs I took. On the left, this photo is inside the house – and you'll see the same amount of silt outside the house – the middle is the bathroom where like the rest of the house, the silt forced its way through unreinforced concrete slab foundations. I will never understand why any (let alone so many) houses were allowed to be built alongside a wetlands in this manner.
I have put the other image there just to prove that chard survives anything – which probably explains why it’s so good for you.
The issues for me when I look at these images and the maps are:
We were too focussed on the hazard rather than the risk.
There were poor linkages between science and land use planning decisions.
We had minimal understanding of social and economic risks, and
We hadn’t listened to the community concerns re development in many of these areas.
We have learned our lessons and are now much more focused on de-risking:
Maps and reports are available on-line
There is much better geotechnical information and open-source foundation design guidance available,
Land zoning and land use planning has improved exponentially
And people are far more capable of engaging in technical discussions, and thinking proactively about adaptation planning.
In the centre of the city, Christchurch has been given the opportunity to build back better - innovation in both seismic and environmental design have enabled buildings to have more resilience, making them more sustainable and cost effective across the whole of the life of the building.
The Engineering School at Canterbury University has been driving innovation for decades.
I’m sure you are all considerably more expert in discussing things like Post Tensioned, Low Damage Technology and energy dissipation units (pictured here) than I will ever be. As a Mayor I am just grateful that we have the excellence of a world-class engineering school on our doorstep.
It has been really important to the city to see as much of our built heritage preserved as possible. The buildings that had already been strengthened prior to the earthquakes were by far in the best position to be restored.
The Isaac Theatre Royal was the first of the heritage buildings reopened – it is a stunning restoration that has preserved the façade, the magnificent dome and the grand staircase.
The Art Gallery although not a heritage building was closed for 5 years. People cried when it reopened. It’s engineering story is not so much about the base isolation, which was retrofitted, but the ground stabilisation -124 jet grout columns between 3-4m in diameter and up to 6 1/2 M deep, and the relevelling of the building - 1.5m litres of grout over 44 days – lifting the gallery on average 2mm per day, with lifts of up to 182mm required in some areas.
In addition, as a public building, the BIM system enables us to check for safety after an event without having to enter the building. The investment in smart technology is certainly worth it.
The Christchurch Town Hall was destined for demolition after the development of the blueprint for the rebuild of the central city, but the people spoke out against this happening and it has been restored, with the acoustics ranked among the top ten concert halls in the world.
It was a marvel of engineering, but everyone who worked on this project that I spoke to said they felt they were really giving something back to the city.
I have also chosen this image of a new build, our city’s award winning library, Turanga.
It is not only a beautiful building, it is functional, constantly busy and represents what happens when we listen to people- including children – about what they wanted before we built it.
So I come back to where I began – resilience is all about people. Nothing about us without us – is the community mantra. We must listen and learn. Whether its about building community resilience or resilient infrastructure, the approach must be the same.
I found this image on the last page of a recovery best-practice seminar held after the September 2010 earthquake – it was adopted by the Canterbury Community Earthquake Recovery Network -CanCERN – as their motto: “The wisdom of the community always exceeds the knowledge of the experts.” I am sure you hear the frustration sitting behind it – the government and the council were impenetrable – no-one would listen.
After everything I have been through and our communities have been through, I would now say that the wisdom of the community when combined with the knowledge of the experts always exceeds what one can offer without the other.
And that’s what must be remembered throughout this Congress and beyond – no matter what you’re building – whether it’s a bridge or a library – it’s all about people. That’s who you are building for and that’s why listening to them matters.