Tuesday, March 8, 2011


Christchurch Earthquake And The Aftermath 2011

Greetings to all!

At this time, our thoughts and prayers are still with the people of Christchurch, New Zealand, who suffered such terrible losses during the recent earthquake that came largely without warning. The world watched as this very sad catastrophe unfolded before our very eyes and we could not help but shed tears for our Pacific Island/Oceania neighbours. To our dear Oceania neighbours, may the good Lord help and guide you along as you rebuild shattered lives and your beautiful city.

I have taken the opportunity to share some of my thoughts on Christchurch and the longer term implications of this terrible tragedy below:

Central Christchurch on the River Avon was such a gentle place, built in the late 19th century around a cathedral and a college from the dreams of British pilgrims to emulate Christ Church, Oxford.

Now, as emergency workers struggle to retrieve bodies from the wreckage of a fine dream turned to dust, the Christchurch Cathedral itself reduced from national treasure to ruined tomb, the 375,000 inhabitants of this city are consumed by a near unthinkable dread.

Is it possible that New Zealand's second largest city, having found itself on the lip of one of the world's most active earthquake zones, has no future?

This deadly earthquake has all but destroyed Christchurch's central business district, a square kilometre with Cathedral Square at its centre and bounded by four avenues: Bealey, Fitzgerald, Moorhouse and Deans. Previously, 50,000 people, the core of the city's middle class, worked within those four avenues. Less than an hour later not one of them had a job to go to and hundreds were dead.

Where tourists flocked and the city came to work and dine, police and military now guard every corner, refusing entry to all but emergency workers, residents with identification and media with accreditation. Three large conventions worth more than $NZ10 million ($A7.4 million) were to have set the area humming that week. Instead, by night the district is empty during curfew; a vision from a nightmare.

No one knows when, or if, the big banks, law firms, retailers, hotels, insurance companies, convention centres, arts establishments and scores of smaller businesses and restaurants might rebuild or reopen.

Christchurch is the venue for some of the biggest games in the Rugby World Cup to be held in New Zealand in September 2011. Senior rugby figures have so far refused to consider moving the games, but with the city's eight biggest hotels out of business and the biggest of all, the 26-storey Grand Chancellor on the point of collapse, Christchurch authorities are privately conceding that it will not be possible to accommodate the huge crowds expected.

New Zealand sits on the so-called "Ring of Fire", the boundary of the Australian and Pacific tectonic plates, and experiences up to 15,000 tremors a year. It averages at least one a day that is magnitude 4.0 or stronger. This "Ring of Fire" extends through the Melanesian archipelago, Japan and The United States West coast, and in particular California.

Rebuilding after a disaster, as soon as possible, in the same place and in the same way is the usual and expected community response. These emotional responses are intended to reduce community fears that homes will not arise again and property values will sink, destroying many people’s savings. While these statements are well intended, they need to be tempered with some reality.

The question for Christchurch, after the recent devastating earthquake, should not be whether the city will be rebuilt but how it will be rebuilt safely. This means patience and courage will be needed so a better city emerges. Assurances have to be given soon that the city can emerge from this trauma stronger that it was before the deadly earthquake.
The best way to do this is to assure everyone that they will have a place to live of equal value in the new Christchurch, but maybe not the same place or built in the same way.

The Japanese port city of Kobe faced this problem after its 1995 earthquake. In typical Japanese fashion, its authorities determined to build a better city by re-designing the spatial pattern, altering building codes and transforming the notion of property rights from absolute location to a place in the community that best fit the person’s needs.

In this instance, Kobe citizens worked with planners in every district of the city to rebuild their neighbourhoods in a new, modern way that, in many cases, moved away from single-family detached structures to higher density, more strongly constructed, multifamily living units.

Everyone moved back into or near a neighbourhood of choice — not necessarily to the same one as before the earthquake, but to an equivalent-value space in the city. Some families moved into stronger single-family dwellings, but in most cases, higher-rise or attached dwellings were safer and better alternatives. In Kobe, every family exercised the choice that met their needs based on age and income.

New Zealanders — and Australians — will want to continue the familiar form of single-family housing on their own block of land. But this may have to be done more along the model of New Orleans. There, more tightly built, safer homes are being constructed in clusters, with better building materials and safety systems, along with community services, shops and other activities located centrally.

Soon it will be time for residents of the beautiful city of Christchurch to rebuild by putting the safety of the total community at the core of the project, and not just to consider building better individual dwellings. Christchurch can view this as the opportunity to create sustainable and survivable neighbourhoods that can stand on their own, with local supplies, water and power, as well as community shelters. These communities should have a variety of housing forms that can withstand severe shocks.

In this respect, there are plenty of precedents. After Cyclone Tracy hit in 1974, the Darwin Reconstruction Commission rebuilt the city. The Bring New Orleans Back Commission helped resurrect the city after hurricane Katrina. Of course, New Zealand has been here before. After an earthquake razed Napier in 1931 - http://www.janeresture.com/newzealand_napier/index.htm - two commissioners rebuilt the city centre, assisted by the voluntary Napier Reconstruction Committee. Streets were widened, old mistakes rectified and beautiful buildings erected in the midst of the Depression. It is now a thriving art deco haven.

Indeed, at this time, Christchurch has to engage its citizens in looking at the best international alternatives in earthquake safety in California and Japan. Community members should share with everyone the best information about the kind of city they want to live in, while retaining its distinctive charm, given the dangers they will continue to face.

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