Christchurch needs 'radical new solutions'

DAVID KILLICK
Last updated 08:16 08/01/2014
Gerry Brownlee and Lianne Dalziel
Stacy Squires

POWER BROKERS: Margaret Bazley of ECan, Kelvin Coe (Selwyn mayor) Gerry Brownlee and Lianne Dalziel.

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OPINION: Look around Christchurch. So much still needs to be done. So many decisions still need to be made more than three years after the first major earthquake.

Many buildings still lie in ruins. Many sites are still strewn with rubble. Roads are still a mess. Traffic is still terrible. And thousands of people are still battling EQC and insurance companies.

"Do you really think the rebuild won't be finished until 2017?" a Wellingtonian asked. Doubt it. More like 2027 - if then.

Colourful artworks and installations offer only a temporary escape from reality. They mask big structural problems facing the city.

Many problems pre-date the earthquakes, which have exacerbated them. Some, like housing affordability, are occurring elsewhere in New Zealand and overseas.

In my view, we need radical new solutions: more on that later.

Yet there is still cause for optimism. Many houses have been repaired. At least there is a plan for the CBD. Compare towns devastated by earthquake and tsunami in Japan, which I visited last year. Whole communities have been wiped out. The same happened in the Philippines after super- typhoon Haiyan.

We may be sick of out-of-towners telling us, but Christchurch and Canterbury people really are resilient. Most of our buildings withstood the quakes. Put that down to timber or reinforced construction and building codes.

Some communities have been lost, but far more have survived. Mainly this is due to the city's spread-out nature.

As this year's general election draws nearer, politicians will spout forth about the Christchurch rebuild. Labour leader David Cunliffe has already condemned what he sees as lack of progress.

But could a different political party really have done much better?

I do not believe that one party has all the answers. I do believe that Canterbury people are fair-minded and will vote for the team whose policies and candidates they trust and consider are the most effective.

Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee has made many of the biggest decisions. He is energetic and on the ball, but can be blunt and takes no prisoners. Time will tell whether his job is sustainable post-November.

Local politicians on all sides deserve credit. Two standouts are National's unfailingly positive Nicky Wagner, who seems to get along to just about every cultural event; and former Labour MP-turned-mayor Lianne Dalziel.

There is a difference between being a manager and being a leader, and Dalziel recognises this. The mayor's job is to reach out and co-operate with people from all spheres - even former political opponents such as Brownlee - while not shying away from the tough decisions.

The Christchurch City Council needs, and is getting, long overdue surgery. How the city council functions and relates to central government and other organisations are vital.

But government cannot do it all.

"Resilience is not about government (central or local) doing things for communities, businesses or organisations; it is about enabling those groups to do things for themselves," Dalziel wrote in The Press.

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"Building a resilient city starts at the grassroots, so that bottom-up meets top-down halfway."

So how do you do that?

Keeping abreast of the issues and being actively involved helps. Above all, being part of your community, whether it is helping in a community garden or joining a group to pressure for change. Even just chatting to neighbours. Have your say.

More courtesy and co-operation all-round would not go amiss. Have Kiwis lost the ability to be courteous and polite to one another? In this internet age, and in an era when aggression too often dominates, it appears that co-operation can be a forgotten art.

ECan chief commissioner Dame Margaret Bazley wrote of the need for all organisations to co-operate. While some people still regard ECan with suspicion after the Government sacked democratically elected councillors, it plays a significant role in the region's recovery. Bazley is bang on.

It is not only politicians who value co-operation. The decision to close schools has angered many. But principal Nigel O'Reilly, who is in charge of the newly merged Waitikiri School, which will combine the former Burwood and Windsor school communities, refuses to be pessimistic.

"The future is incredibly exciting," he said. "These are two communities who are ready to work with the school in partnership to make a really fantastic learning environment for the children."

We need that optimism. We can learn from the past, but let's focus on the future.

More pragmatic wisdom comes from the pen of George Bernard Shaw: "People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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