I have so many memories of the times that this decade of reflections has invoked that in some respects I had forgotten about.
For me, the memories always start with Charles Dickens – A Tale of Two Cities – it was the best of times; it was the worst of times.
The best times are reflected in the people I met – like Bruce – and the generosity that each of them showed to a Member of Parliament who had set herself on a journey of discovery in the wake of the disaster the recovery from the earthquakes came to represent.
Bruce was part of the very first presentation to community leaders after the September earthquakes – one of the councillors went and she gave me a copy of the slide deck.
This is where I learned about the hidden story – what was going on before the crisis began – because not understanding that could condemn us to re-embedding any dysfunction that pre-existed the event into what was built.
I have spoken many times about learning the lessons that history teaches us. We know we are condemned to repeat them if we don’t.
And as I have also said many times, we look back not to blame, but to understand. If we name, shame and blame then we risk not learning the lessons that will help others in the future.
I still believe that people don’t deliberately set out to ignore best practice – the trouble occurs when they convince themselves that something has no precedent, then how else to proceed but to make it up as we go.
This is an incredibly significant book about our disaster experience, because it engages a range of Critical Disaster Studies Perspectives.
I have read once over lightly. And I can’t wait to dig more deeply into each aspect.
From the opening chapter on the critical studies imperative through to the concluding reflections: making social choices in turbulent times, we are asked to reflect on the events that occurred, the order of priorities that were chosen and how decisions were made.
I was reflecting today on the announcement in Sept 2012 of the schools’ closures and mergers the government decided to impose on communities still struggling to come to terms with their earthquake damage. The reflections in here about the decision to prioritise the base-isolation of the Art Gallery over other more critical work caused me to think about those who fought the individual school decisions and won and those who fought equally hard and lost - from a socio-economic perspective – Redcliffs and Philipstown equally deserving but totally opposite results.
This book is an important contribution to the literature that will inform best practice for the future. I recall the despairing message given by one of the speakers at the International Speakers Series - an important component of the Councils extraordinary Share an Idea campaign - that the model imposed by central government was an example of worst practice.
I met Doug Ahlers from Harvard University and I know when he wrote that he – as did all the speakers who co-signed a letter to the PM – he was wanting to offer help to a city that each knew would struggle to recover under the model imposed by the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act.
There is considerable reflection in this book about the importance of Share an Idea and the imposition of the Blueprint that followed. The most telling line was:
“The Minister’s decision to jettison the plan is a dark spot that closed down opportunities for civil society to shape recovery outcomes”.
Learning lessons is an important part of our shared responsibility post-disaster. But most importantly we need to ensure that the lessons we learn from our experience are embedded into future practice, so we don’t make the same mistakes again and again.
We often learn more from the things we get wrong, as we do from the things we do well.
This is a timely book and will be of considerable interest to community members and academics alike. A big congratulations to all the contributors and editors. This will be essential reading for those who want to commit to best practice and to engage the community every step of the way. And for every candidate in the coming elections.
I will end with this whakatauki: Kia whakatōmuri te haere whakamua - 'I walk backwards into the future with my eyes fixed on my past' – that’s how we learn from what we have experienced. Thank you once more.