Rebuilding our future

Presenters: Pat Walsh (Chair),  Colin JamesIan AthfieldRoger Sutton

Additional commentary: Dr Helen Anderson, Margaret Jefferies, Peter Townsend and Jacki Johnson. Speakers are identified in bold type.

Theme 4 – Rebuilding our future: Is an earthquake required? (Download the PDF)

Presenting in the first session on Building resilience, some of the observations by Dr Helen Anderson are relevant here. This section begins with her comments on re-thinking the status of buildings.

Wellington Fact BoxAlready, there are changes in the commercial landscape, especially round Wellington’s CBD. These changes are going to be, and already are, driven by insurers increasing their premiums –  and linking those increases to the status of the building and its percentage of the new building standards. Insurers, tenants, schools, board members, many of us, are rethinking what it means when a building is not 100 per cent of code in respect to earthquake. We’re seeing a change in the market that may lead to some buildings not being economically viable. This will present challenges, especially for smaller businesses – if you were going to trade-off low rent for the safety of yourself and your staff, maybe you should think differently.

Margaret Jefferies is the Chair of Project Lyttelton. This grass-roots community group is working together to achieve their vision of a vibrant, sustainable community. She emphasises the most human elements around rebuilding the future, describing some of Project Lyttelton’s notable successes.

We set up the first Time Bank in New Zealand. It is going really well and has played a significant role in rebuilding our future after the February 2011 earthquake. People share their skills with one another – measuring by the hour, not the dollar. And everyone’s time is regarded as equal. Civil Defence was called into action too – they didn’t normally have a presence in Lyttelton. The Time Bank is about sharing skills, hour on hour. We have a population of 3000, with over 400 people registered. So we have a system that works – we might send out broadcasts saying that we need people to take a chimney down, whatever the need – it is strongly coordinated. We link with other services too.

We also have a farmers market. It creates a sense of community, provides a meeting place and provides food. While you may bump into the odd person you know at a supermarket, you can do a lot of your local networking at your farmers market – always building on the sense of community and building relationships.  Relationships are key.

Welcome bags are another fabulous project, such a tiny thing – but fabulous.  Everyone new to Lyttleton gets a welcome bag. The bag is sewn by Time Bank members, with new people coming to our notice through neighbours or real-estate agents. In the bags are useful things like bus timetables, details about the time bank, the community garden, and there’ll be some fresh home baking too. It’s about going to your new neighbours’ door and saying welcome to our community. It touches people.

A lot of people ask about online communities, but if a beam falls on top of you, it’s not your online community that’s going to save you, it’s going to be your neighbour.

Communications is another important project. We are lucky to have a monthly insert in one of the free newspapers. So we are building relationships all the time, and we are doing it from an appreciative inquiry point of view. We’re not moaning, we are being positive and saying good things about what we’re creating. We have a website, Facebook, all of the usual mediums to easily connect. Just don’t forget the personal touch – to talk and connect. That’s what I’ve loved since the earthquake – all the random hugs.

Community vegesThe next thing to mention is local food production. We realised that without connection, no tunnel, the roads cut off, food was an issue – where would it come from? I’m excited that Lyttelton is now looking into improving food security in light of the earthquake. We have Crown funding to set up as a co-op and get the whole community into business together.

A key lesson – have a good time while you’re doing it all. You want people to come on-board and people won’t respond to a doomsday thing. They won’t respond if they’re in a state of fear.

We have a lot of fun while we’re doing these projects. It’s also important to have compassion and realise that people react in different ways. Even if you have every system in place, people can still feel anxious.

Peter Townsend is CEO of the Canterbury Chamber of Commerce. He sets out a vision for the rebuilding of Christchurch:

It’s not just about torches, batteries, ropes and first aid kits, it’s about the real issues facing business. So Christchurch’s future – we have a Draft Plan now, Christchurch City Council presented it. There’s a lot of work being done. I’m confident that we are going to end up with a fantastic offering in Christchurch.

It is going to be an iconic city, it is going to be a green city. It will be framed by our four Avenues that our forefathers had the foresight to put in place all those years ago. This will be interspersed with high quality housing, high quality accommodation, high quality iconic retail offerings, and high quality office space.

You will all see a completely different central city Christchurch. It will be a city that faces the future, in the same way that 150 years ago our forefathers laid down this city that has looked after us so well in the past. But it’s going to be different, it’s going to take time, it’s going to take an enormous amount of perseverance from the Christchurch community and the rest of New Zealand.

Jacki Johnson leads insurance company IAG in New Zealand. She comments on the Plan for rebuilding Christchurch:

The recently released Central City Plan presents a vision for a rebuilt Christchurch.  We are seeing some groups raise concerns. The requirement for higher-spec building is of real concern to developers. Architects think the proposals are too restrictive.  I understand that the business community supports the principles of the Plan. Clearly more detail, science and economic work is needed.  Nevertheless, the Plan provides a starting point for thinking about the future and building confidence in a new central city.

Roger Sutton is CEO of CERA. He describes the role of CERA, and what the priorities are for rebuilding Christchurch.

CERA – we don’t do everything, we’re a coordinating organisation. We’re the guys who try to ensure that things can happen, that the bits of society that need to come together and make the recovery, can happen. We also have the role of making sure that things like orders in Council get written, because we have this role of government. The CERA legislation gives us all sorts of special powers.

We were originally going to be a ‘skinny’ organisation – of 50 people or so. Over time, the job gets bigger and bigger. In particular, all the land issues – the damage to the land is enormous, and we need people managing that.

We’ve got ourselves established in an office in the CBD, in an eleven-storey building. I’m getting an office on the top floor, and we’re getting handles fitted from the ceiling just like you’ve got in a bus, that way you know if things start rocking you’re not going to fall over.

I’m not joking actually.

I’m not. Just talking about it though, maybe when I’m talking to people about the size of the event, it can be hard for people to get a feel for how big was the physical event. A 7.1 magnitude earthquake was equivalent to dropping a thousand of the worlds largest oil tankers from about 500 meters above the ground, onto the ground. That’s the sort of energy released. That’s enough energy to make a pot of tea for every single person in the world. And that’s the hard thing, because nature gives us so much wonderfulness, but in the September 4th quake, and on February 22nd – just in a few seconds, it took away so much, and it’s going to take 5, 10, 15 years to pull it back together again.

Talking about our priorities, the first priority is around the land.

There’s never been an earthquake event anywhere in the world that’s done so much damage to land as we’ve had in Canterbury. So at the moment there’s something like 6000 properties where we’ve said it’s not going to be economic to rebuild again.

Associated with those 6000 properties, we’re trying to bring more land to market more quickly, and that’s not a small job. We’re talking about the fact that we need to keep communities together, that we need to try to engage with communities. It’s very difficult to engage with people, when 6000 people know they have to move, and on top of that there’s another 8000 properties, that are what we call orange, we don’t know whether they’re going to be red or green? And then there are another 3 or 4000 properties in the Port Hills and we don’t know what’s going to happen to them.

So, we have these fantastic powers to ride over the RMA and other planning processes, trying to get land to market more quickly. Rather than sitting in Mr Brownlee’s office with big felt pens, drawing circles on maps and saying, “Well that looks like a jolly nice place to have another subdivision,” what we’re trying to do is speed up the process by using what has already been through  the conventional consenting process. Land that was, in general, getting held up by appeals put by other developers that hadn’t wanted a particular development to happen.

The infrastructure – I could talk for hours about infrastructure. There’s three or four billion dollars worth of work to be done there. It’s maybe a 5, 6, 7, maybe an 8 year programme. Already, we’re doing work at two or three times the rate you would normally see in Christchurch. The scale of it is quite extraordinary.

Then there’s the demolition. There’s something like 1200 buildings to bring down in the CBD, that’s about half of all the buildings inside the CBD, and about 600 have come down so far. Someone said today that the Wellington City Council building is at 14% of code – is that true? That’s outrageous, extraordinary, I really think that is extraordinary.

Christchurch have really struggled to get their city going again, and their Council buildings were pretty much up to code. Just all the light fittings and that type of thing fell down. The whole notion is that you can run a recovery, as long as your City Council has a response centre. And Christchurch had that. So I guess the question for Wellington is: have you got facilities for your 1000, 1500 staff to work in a week later? Have you got somewhere that is completely up to code?

Image R Moore

Brick building - Wellington CBD. Courage is needed to make the hard decisions around these types of buildings.

I guess I’m just a bit cynical about some of the local bodies’ ability to make hard decisions. It would have been better in Christchurch if Christchurch City Council had more courage around brick and masonry buildings a long time ago. But I don’t remember the last time a City Council in New Zealand did something really gutsy around those earthquake buildings. It’s the nature of local bodies. But the demolition thing is a really, really big issue. We’ve got the CBD cordon down to about half the size it was, but it’s not going to be down completely until roughly April of next year. The time frames are pretty extraordinary.

We’re writing a recovery strategy. And one of the key things is around the speed of recovery. We can have a conversation with the people of Christchurch, and say look, the recovery can take 3 or 4 years, and we’ll fill the town up with people from Ireland, Indonesia, the Philippines.

We’ll fill the town up and do it in 3 or 4 years. We’ll have maybe 20 or 30 thousand extra workers.

Or we’ll do it over a longer time period – 7 or 8 years and it will be a bit flatter, what do you want? They might say “Oh, we’ll have it in 2 or 3 years, please.” And that’s the thinking, educated people.

There are two dimensions to the speed of recovery. The first one is how thoughtful you’re going to be in making it happen. Are you going to get proper architects involved? Are you just going to draw lines on map, depending where your mood takes you? How many people are you going to throw at this issue, and to what extent you are going to create opportunities for your own people?

Or are you just going to bring a lot of people in – with the associated social issues? That’s a conversation we haven’t yet started in Christchurch. If left up to the pure political process it might just be – lets throw lots of resources at it, really quickly. So one of my roles as the guy who runs CERA, is trying to get the key leaders in Christchurch to start talking to a common theme – we have to make this a calmer, slower more considered recovery and avoid the riskier top-down approach.

Getting everybody wanting to row their waka at a more considerate pace won’t be easy.  I don’t for a moment say, people who are living in squalor shouldn’t get out of that squalor quickly. Because there are literally thousands of people living in badly broken houses at the moment, and we have to get them out – fast. And if necessary, we’ve got to bring pre-built houses from China, or wherever. We should do that, but we’ve also got to be more considered about how fast we rebuild.

The last of what we do is around communication. At the moment, there are a lot of communication messages that we’re not getting out there. So one of my roles is trying to coordinate all the players, to make sure they are communicating with the people, so people have confidence. So they can see the milestones. They can see where we’ve got to, where we’re going, and when we’re going to get there. That’s a key thing. We must get people believing that we are eventually going to get there. We will get there, but it will take longer than 2 or 3 years – it’s going to be much longer than that.

One of the guys I hired has come down from Wellington, he talks about the fact that when he came down, he was starting in the afternoon, he came via Uncle Trevor – and his name really is Uncle Trevor – and I’m not really sure where he lives in Christchurch, but Mike got to Uncle Trevor’s place at 10 o’clock in the morning. And Uncle Trevor’s in his 70’s, and Uncle Trevor was still sitting on the end of his bed in his underpants at 10 o’clock in the morning.

So when I talk about CERA, about how we have demolition to do, infrastructure to rebuild and all those sort of things, we’re not really doing enough, if Uncle Trevor in a year’s time, is still sitting at the end of his bed in his underpants, at 10 o’clock in the morning. At the end of the day, this recovery is about the people. It’s about giving people a sense that things are going to get better, we are going to be stronger, and that it all has a purpose. So we say – what have we done today to try to make Uncle Trevor’s life better? What have we done to try to make communities that support Uncle Trevor stronger? So they can give support to him.

Optimism. Am I optimistic about Christchurch? I am optimistic about Christchurch. I’m optimistic for three reasons. The first reason is insurance. New Zealand is well-insured. Christchurch is really well-insured. We’re lucky that 98% of houses are insured, and their land is largely insured. Businesses largely have insurance – so insurance is the first reason for optimism.

The second reason is physically, it’s still a great place. We have our wonderful parks, the mountains are just down the road, they’re a bit further away because of the way that the fault is. The Port Hills are still there, they’re a bit higher than they were – that’s a good thing. But seriously, Christchurch is still very much a great place, physically.

The last reason for optimism are the people. Christchurch is very much a community. All the key people have each other’s cell phone numbers. Everybody wants to work together, everyone has largely the same common vision, and I think we’re lucky in that way – we’re not so big that we can’t pull everyone together.

Ian Athfield, a prominent NZ architect. He talks about Christchurch, past, present and future – and offers some lessons for Wellington.

Before these earthquakes, I had always thought of engineering as a science. We have a building in Christchurch, which has heritage order and after 4th of September, we went straight back in. After February 22, the engineers said, “This is perfectly good, you can go back into the building.” So we went back in and everyone said, “It was a bit of a bloody shake you know.”

Anyway, we have a woman called Jane in the office and she’s got a fairly large frame, she’s tall and bears 10 pound babies. She was leaning against the wall in the middle of the office, and Ashley said, “The bloody wall’s moving Jane!” And she said, “You mean like that?” And all of a sudden the building started creaking and the glass started moving right throughout the building. The engineers came straight away and said it was 20% of the code – that’s 10% of the Wellington code – and we were out within one hour. A good example of engineering as a creative art?

To talk about the future of any settlement, one must look at the past. Here we have the Edward Gibbon Wakefield plan. Edward Gibbon Wakefield plan 1877Like many New Zealand cities, Christchurch was designed in Britain. They drew it up on the other side of the world. Luckily, they never ran up against hills. Woodward Street in Wellington was supposed to go out to Karori! But in Christchurch, they could go anywhere, never meeting a hill or a sea, and they just kept on going!

So this is a plan, about 1877, and the only thing that happened differently was they put a diagonal through the orthogonal plan drawn in England, mainly to get people from the Port through to the churches and back out to the sewerage system. And if we look at the pattern of growth in Christchurch, we trace it through 1886, 1926, 1946 and 1976, and like most new cities of the world, developed cities, it was based on that suburban model. Car driven, subdivision driven, maximum lot size, set-backs, and based on the nuclear family – 2 adults, 2 children and a guaranteed vote. Christchurch of all the cities, barring parts of Auckland, was one of those places that developed closely along these lines.

One of the interesting things which developed along with the suburban area, was the train system. As a kid, I remember going into the square – and the most important things about the square were the seven picture theatres, two milk bars, and the men’s toilet right in the center. And the settlement patterns were based around a transportation system, which assisted the city up until the mid 1950s.

Tram Cashel St. Image via Ian AthfieldHere we have an image of Christchurch, from Cathedral square looking down High street – this is early 1900’s. I can still remember these scenes from the 1950’s, and one thing that happened in 1947. Dad worked for Whitcombe and Tombs. My mum would send us up by tram from Sydenham to get the staff discount. From outside Whitcombe and Tombs, we watched the fire engulf Ballantynes. We saw people going out the windows, and for 10 years I got up every night, dreaming of fires. The last 13 months, I’ve changed those fire dreams to earthquakes, and thank God, in the last month, I’ve stopped thinking about them, and now get a decent night’s sleep.

Straight after the February 22nd earthquake, Richard Ballantyne approached us and asked, “Would you be prepared to talk, and work with the owners in the Cashel Mall area?” Cashel Mall and CBD Red Zone - Image Ian AthfieldWe knew that they had a start-up program with Buchan Group and Warren and Mahoney, but we felt it was important to sort of talk to people and try to get them to work together for the future of this sort of area.

So we spent a lot of time with them, we talked about those areas, we talked about amalgamating sites, and we talked about how we should inform the Council in the new District Plan. And to do that, we started talking about the bigger issues – to make them feel comfortable about the particular issues we were looking at for them. And so we have a plan, with Hagley Park on one side. We said, get rid of the one way street systems, get rid of all that transport through town, and start thinking about how you will develop housing around small ‘pocket’ parks. Think about how those parks can be used collectively by children safely, and how the streets can also become children’s playgrounds. We had the opportunity of 10 minutes to present to Council – and it was like presenting Roman Catholicism to Destiny Church.

The city went their own way and produced some pretty pictures. They also produced another set of regulations, compounding the frustrations of people – like permanent buildings, no less than 3 storeys in height, and no more than 7 storeys. The architects went out and did exercises. Finally, after they talked to their insurers, they realised that it’s going to be more expensive to upgrade the buildings than to redo them. So we have a city now that has a density less than Berlin at end of the Second World War.

So in Wellington, what are the lessons?

We have to look at our heritage buildings differently - Athfield Image R Moore

We have to look at our heritage buildings differently - Ian Athfield

We have to look carefully at our heritage structures. We have to look at them quite differently. If we have no business plan for a building, we have no building in the future. We actually have to look at the adaptive reuse. This particular building might have housing in it, on unit titles, so it has to be strengthened on the outside. So that is going to change the way the building looks, and if you want to keep it, then you have to think differently about it.

And then those important buildings within our city, which need quite a bit of work to bring them up to code, and one of the realisations for Christchurch is that we are seeing many modern buildings coming down.

An example is Gallery Apartments. It’s completely intact, but with very poor foundations and liquefied ground. If it had pile foundations and base isolation, it would remain there, but this is the sort of building that we are going to see come down in Christchurch, and we have so many of them. Around us we have six multi-storey buildings, five of them are now being demolished, and that’s outside the red zone.

I think for the future, we have to get our Territorial Authorities talking to each other, working together. Now, before an earthquake. We have to deal with the country, the urban area and the suburban area, all together, as one. We won’t get the answer by dealing with one aspect in isolation. Thank you.

Colin James is a political journalist commentator and analyst. He has the last word in this post on rebuilding our future, with the suggestion that we need a more solid core that will lend us better capacity to emerge from seismic shifts.

The economy has the advantage that exports are based principally on products and services for which demand can be expected to grow. But that advantage is not an immutable given. To make the most of it over time, we will need constantly to innovate and to reset policy to facilitate or promote an innovative capacity, so that earned incomes rise through higher-value activities.

If we don’t do that successfully, we will be more vulnerable to the globalisation of labour and talent and to the congregation of elites in certain offshore cities and locations. We would, as now, need to import human and financial capital to compensate for those who leave and that is a potential cost to social harmony, which is a core ingredient in economic success.

If we are to be resilient through the next 15 or 30 years, we could usefully start now to think through the policy frameworks we will need to perceive, develop and exploit human potential.

That is, we need to agree what our core is and secure it. We need a strong core to be secure in the new world order that will emerge from the seismic shifts in geopolitics and geo-economics. No one yet knows what that new order will be. Our relationship with China is interesting but still formative. Our relationship with India is formative, but based on shared goodwill, though we take too much for granted from cricket and our shared (though different) imperial history and we don’t study Indian history, heritage and language.

It’s those international connections we need, in addition to a strong core, an intelligent flexibility. That is because power shifts often in unpredicted and sometimes in sudden ways. Managing foreign policy, including trade policy, over the next 15 or 30 years is going to require suppleness and skill. It might also drive us close in to Australia (and vice-versa) but it is far too early to guess at that.

Then there are man-made and natural shocks.

The Rena incident reminds us that it is not only tectonic plates that jolt and holes in the ground that go on fire.

At one level there has been a failure of foresight in not updating our subscription to international conventions, a failure to keep the enveloping materials in top condition. At another level, the backbiting and anger in the media and among residents reflect a corrosive lack of trust in authorities, which undermines effective governance and management. That suggests the core is not solid and there is work to do.

The flexible, elastic, compressible and adaptable envelope is mostly in place, as the country’s relatively light damage from the great financial crisis indicates, though there is work to do on domestic economic policy and there is other maintenance work needed, as the inadequacy of safety measures at Pike River, the leaky regulatory environment which allowed leaky homes to be built, the permits to build houses in areas of Christchurch known to be at risk of  liquefaction and the failure to update maritime disaster conventions.

There is work to do on the core. As a people, a nation, we need to be able to constantly innovate, and be able to reset policy to facilitate or promote innovation and capacity.


The response, recovery and rebuild following the Christchurch earthquakes has not been a smooth, steady pathway. Uncertainty is the new norm, with continually changing plans, ongoing disruptions. Rebuilding our future requires intelligent flexibility and foresight, within a strong core, and as Fran Wilde observed in her summary, “That’s a pretty good recipe for organisational effectiveness. It’s a recipe for the big challenges in this world, where the speed of change just keeps increasing.”

The lessons for Wellington are clear. Build resilience now. Make our CBD safer. Make solid, but adaptable Business Continuity Plans, and test them. Connect people in organisations – and have people who know other people’s jobs. Connect organisations with their local communities. Drive community engagement and be positive about messages, wherever possible. Provide the collaborative and informed environment that will ensure we can make and support the considered decisions that are required – to build a better prepared, more resilient, confident and effective Wellington.

Download the PDF Rebuilding our future/Forum summary

1 thought on “Rebuilding our future

  1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I really appreciate
    your efforts and I will be waiting for your further write ups thanks once again.

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