I’m hoping to share with you some ideas about where to look for the opportunities that always come from crisis.
Slide two: The Greater Christchurch area is home to around half a million people and is New Zealand’s second largest city.
It is a low-lying coastal city with a large Peninsula, which means we have an extensive coastline exposed to sea level rise.
First settled by Māori, they knew their environment well. They could read the weather and the stars. They understood the rivers and the land. The European settlers who came in the 19th century knew none of that.
Wetlands, which had been traditional food gathering areas, were drained for farming and ever-increasing urban development. The settlers “tamed” the environment or so they thought.
Slide three: On the 22 February 2011 the earthquake, which devastated our city, showed us just how vulnerable we were. 185 lives were lost; many more were injured. There was extensive damage to land, homes and businesses, as well as to the city’s infrastructure.
There are two aspects of our experience that I want to touch on.
Both relate to the opportunity to build back better – the first is in terms of the built environment, and the second is building community resilience to future challenges.
Slide four: After the earthquake, the City Council developed a draft recovery plan based on a community engagement simply called Share an Idea. This engaged the whole community in reimaging what the central city could be. Thousands participated. It was a remarkable exercise in co-creation.
And although the process was superseded by a government blueprint, there are great examples of when the design matched the expectations the community had set.
This is one of those, and shows what happens when we put people before cars. I chose these images because build back better doesn’t just mean seismic engineering – it is the opportunity to reimagine our sense of place by engaging with the people who live there.
A bleak pre-earthquake environment reimagined as a Riverside Market and a pedestrianised street, showing the best of what a partnership with the private sector can offer.
Slide six: The second issue relates to the opportunity the earthquake offered to build resilience to future challenges.
We experienced in a matter of seconds the impact of sea level rise predicted over 100 years as land levels dropped, in places, by more than a metre.
The earthquakes exposed poor planning processes, and along with the underlying nature of a city built on a swamp, led to an increased vulnerability to flooding.
One of my early decisions as Mayor was to establish a multi-disciplinary Mayoral Taskforce on Flooding, which provided us with a framework for making decisions on flood protection and mitigation works, including a voluntary buy-out scheme for the most vulnerable homes.
Slide seven: The government had already intervened after the earthquakes with a buy-out of around 7000 homes. This cleared a 600-hectare area of low-lying land, adjacent to one of our rivers.
This has made us more resilient to flooding and also given us the opportunity to develop and plant wetland areas, protect biodiversity, manage stormwater and improve water quality.
Involving children and young people in community planting days and wetlands restoration has been a great way to develop an inter-generational commitment to our waterways.
The extensive community engagement the regeneration planning process involved, has helped us develop an approach to coastal hazard adaptation planning.
Slide eight: We are now working with 23 priority communities in coastal and low inland areas to develop a shared understanding of the science; and finding locally appropriate adaptation approaches that suit each community.
The coastal panels are made up of community and Māori members, bringing local and traditional knowledge to the table, and they are supported by a specialist and technical advisory group.
Slide nine: My last slide references a quote, which many of you will know, “The wisdom of the community always exceeds the knowledge of the experts.” It was adopted by frustrated community groups after the earthquakes when no-one would listen to them.
However, after everything we have been through, I would now say: (click)
“The wisdom of the community when combined with the knowledge of the experts always exceeds what one can offer without the other”.
And that is why we have chosen the adaptation planning framework which, empowers Māori and our local communities together to plan for the future.
And we do so as this whakatauki says - Mō tātou, ā, mō kā uri ā muri ake nei – for us and our children after us. Kia ora koutou katoa.