David Bowie said “Tomorrow belongs to those who can see it coming.” We could add and to those who are shaping the future of Christchurch and Canterbury now after the physical and emotional damage wrought by the five major quakes of 2010 -11.
But it is hard to look clearly into the future if you are mired in unresolved earthquake related problems. The St Valentine’s Day seismic reminder was high on the emotional Richter scale.
Very real progress is still mixed with uncertainty. For every new milestone there is a five year old millstone still dragging many people down, especially those with unresolved insurance claims.
Beaverish construction activity south and west of The Square contrasts with inactivity at the core of the city. A large question mark still replaces the fallen spire of Christ Church Cathedral and pigeons rule the open air roost. The cloud of uncertainty extends over the proposed convention centre and adjacent commercial and hospitality projects, all waiting for the fog to clear.
In the early disaster recovery stage there was some understanding of the need for a command and control approach from CERA, the government department charged with implementing the. Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Plans.
A different public mood has been evident for some time and will intensify with local body elections this year and national elections next. What many want is a different style of leadership, locally based, and a more active democracy. Best post-disaster recovery practice elsewhere suggests the earlier the better.
People living, working and investing in Christchurch have skin in the regeneration game and have to live with the results.
Despite starting with high hopes, CERA became prematurely portly. Leadership changes in the last 18 months have slowed momentum though not the flow of commuting bureaucrats.
The popular success of the Margaret Mahy playground stands in stark contrast to the lack of preventative action in adjacent New Regent Street which has caused the inner city tram artery to be blocked for weeks after damage exposed by the recent 5.7 quake. Quick off the mark outside the constraints of the inner city plan, the private sector has also for some time been driving the retail and commercial rebuild in the central city assisted by the directed migration of public sector government agencies to tenant new buildings.
“Regeneration “is the current bureaucratic buzzword and it is worth reflecting on its meanings. In Biology it is “the restoration or new growth by an organism of organs, tissues, etc., that have been lost, removed, or injured.’ In Electronics “ a feedback process in which energy from the output of an amplifier is fed back to the grid circuit to reinforce the input.’ Both are relevant to Christchurch now. The first is about organic growth, not alien grafts. The second is a metaphor for raising the depleted energy levels of the people of Christchurch by plugging into their positive inputs and feedback.
The new Regeneration legislation creates two new entities, Regenerate Christchurch and Otakaro Ltd, which have governance structures akin to commercial boards, apart from their funding, rather than government departments. From this transition point there is an opportunity to do things differently. There is also a fear that nothing much may change apart from the shuffling of alphabetical acronyms.
There is already in place the City Council’s Development Christchurch Ltd, not to be confused with the Canterbury Development Corporation, charged with looking at urban regeneration and investment. Otakaro has an anchor projects delivery role, while Regenerate Christchurch is charged with taking a long term, bigger picture approach to visioning and planning.
The new mix of central government and local government agencies is rather confusing and fraught with potential power conflicts. The regeneration proof will be in the collaborative pudding.
As would be expected after four years it is time to revisit, in the light of what we now know, some earlier decisions taken in respect to the anchor projects and precincts which came out of the closed door 100 Days Blueprint exercise for the Christchurch Central Recovery Plan in 2012. The Blueprint was a bold game changer, but the industrial descriptor was not appropriate for what needed to be, at least after its animated video sales launch, a more open and organic process which took account of contestable expert input and other perspectives.
This would have got more buy-in and enabled the Recovery Plan to have evolved more organically.
The process did not engender any sense of community ownership other than the feeling that the citizens of Christchurch were in line to pay some large tabs without having a say.
In reassuring contrast, André Lovatt , Chair of Regenerate Christchurch said recently “From my perspective, Regenerate Christchurch must and will engage with the community around what will be done.”
Drawing from his experience of working with a representative Christchurch Arts Centre board in the restoration and seismic strengthening of the Arts Centre, Lovatt has exercised real community leadership by taking people with him towards a clear vision. He now has a bigger canvas on which to outline and fill in the bigger picture.
Sustained regeneration requires open and creative dialogue and knowledge sharing not closed and defensive entities playing their PR cards too close to their chests.
The bandwidth of trust between those governing and those governed is due for a big upgrade. A well designed and well executed engagement process is community building in itself. People will support what they help to create.
For some months The Press has rekindled the enthusiasm of the pre-recovery plan Share an Idea exercise. Shaping a renewed city requires shared visions and shared strategies.
City regeneration is not just about building tangible structures, although they are the most visible sign of progress. It is also about developing the intangible assets which reside in its people .
The strength of the city’s intangible assets balance sheet will be reflected in the well-being of its people, their sense of community, their character, their creativity and above all their confidence in the future.
It is time for a fresh self image to reflect the changing character of Christchurch, not just in its physical appearance but because of the Ngai Tahu Renaissance of the last two decades and its changing multicultural mix, augmented by the more recent wave of rebuild migrants plus some new refugees.
Time will tell if the opportunity has been taken to create a more flexible legislative framework post CERA which promotes collaborative and innovative behaviour and reflects the sense of promise, energy and excitement which has been only the fringe festival of earthquake recovery to date.
To date much of the focus has been on the cardiac recovery of the heart of old Christchurch, after the seismic exacerbation of pre-existing conditions of decline . A more holistic view of the health of the wider city and region is overdue. In Plato’s words “The part can never be well unless the whole is well.”
http://www.stuff.co.nz/stuff-nation/assignments/feb-22-how-are-you-feeling-five-years-on/13934176/Christchurch-earthquake-I-feel-like-I-failed Jen Hastie 16/2/16 http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/news/christchurch-earthquake-2011/76898446/five-things-only-people-in-christchurch-will-understand 18/2/16