Most important earthquake book so far?

WILL HARVIE
Last updated 14:57 15/09/2014

Probably the most important earthquake book so far was launched on August 31 but it's safe to predict that it won't be the best-selling.

Once in a Lifetime: City-building after Disaster in Christchurch, published by the Freerange Press ($45), comprises 55 essays, many of them thoughtful, insightful and dense.

The authors include chief executives, politicians, architects, engineers, publicans, journalists, artists, economists and the like for 512 pages.

Co-editor Barnaby Bennett told a session at the WORD Writers & Readers Festival it was the document the incoming earthquake recovery minister should read before anything else.

The co-editors would probably like that to be someone other than Gerry Brownlee, but there's more heft to this collection than political point-scoring ahead of the election. Bennett and co want a better rebuild.

Take these exchanges on consultation:

Roger Sutton:

'' . . . there clearly needed to be a plan [the blueprint] put in place as quickly as possible. There could be no delay. The process itself had to be quick and not constrained by debate . . .'' (p54)

Jane Smith, a citizen:

'' . . . There has been no effective public consultation since Share an Idea . . . effective consultation requires ongoing engagement with the opportunity for the public to view proposals and support them or ask for changes   . . . '' (p149)

Three co-writers describing how New Orleans recovered from Hurricane Katrina:

'' . . . Individual and communities needed to have a say in their own recovery. With a true commitment to public input, the [Louisiana Recovery Authority] established a regional planning process - called Louisiana Speaks - that allowed for public input into the establishment of rebuilding priorities . . . '' (p357)

In a sense, this is old ground. But it's good to see the arguments made well, to find them in one place, to savour their implications.

If daily journalism is the first draft of history, this book is the second draft. We still await the definitive earthquake and recovery history and it's far too early for that. I expect it will be written about 2030-35.

And when that definitive history is written, Once in a Lifetime will be an important source. It's not so much a book to be read cover to cover, but to dip into when an issue comes up. I haven't read every word and doubt many people have.

The best quake book so far, as opposed to the most important, is Earthquake, published by my employer The Press and Random House after the February 2011 quake. It's the disaster book, full of troubling photos and scenes of devastation now long gone.

I'm not sure which quake book is the bestselling, but fear it might be Quake Dogs, which may be surpassed by the forthcoming Quake Cats.

- The Press

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