Two years ago Christchurch was shaken to its core. The nation held its collective breath, then rallied to its side. It was a time for far-sighted, courageous leadership with a vision for the future – not only of Christchurch and Canterbury, but of New Zealand.
Two years later and the nation has done its best to convince itself that everything is ka pai. De-construction is the word, Christchurch has a plan, zones are being cleared and, we are assured, a new Christchurch will arise.
Two years later and the nation has done its best to convince itself that everything is ka pai.
But why is there a nagging feeling that things are not quite right? Surely, we should be past this stage by now? Rather than (again) promising a new Christchurch, shouldn’t we be now celebrating intangible and tangible signs of the re-birth?
If we were brutally honest to ourselves, New Zealand has let Christchurch and its people down. And, we’d admit we’ve let ourselves down.
I’ve just revisited some of my thoughts I put down in the immediate aftermath of the February 2011 earthquake. Admittedly, they were probably both naïve and optimistic, but I remember the feelings of shock and then the desire to stand together and help out our Christchurch whānau.
We appear to have succumbed to disaster-fatigue.
But, where are we now? And by we, I mean New Zealand. We bicker over who is to pay for the rebuild, we have let Christchurch de-populate, and we are now closing schools. We appear to have succumbed to disaster-fatigue. What next?
The required, strong, proactive, leadership is conspicuous by its absence. In its place is a reactive management of a salvage operation.
Yes, some people were always going to leave Christchurch. That is perfectly understandable behaviour given what some communities have experienced. But reacting in an administrative or managerial manner will only serve to reinforce and amplify the cycle – population shrinks, close schools, community weakens, more leave ... and around again ...
Responding in a proactive manner would require taking up a leadership role aimed at modifying people’s behaviour. Reassuring the community that core social infrastructure and services are not only guaranteed, but are in the process of being improved is what is required. And backing those reassurances with on-the-ground tangible action is required.
This is the difference between governance and management. Management responds to the past; governance sets the foundation for the future. New Zealand is strong on management. But where is the governance? Where is the leadership?
Returning to those thoughts of two years ago appears as timely now, as it was then.
In many ways the current situation calls for a very old-fashioned concept – that of nation-building. Where nation-building encompasses effort across many facets of life – institutions, relationships, physical structures, communities, societies, businesses, job opportunities and responsibilities.
Our forebears built this nation. Whether from Ngāi Tahu in the south to Ngāpuhi in the north, or on one of the four ships that sailed into Lyttelton, or on one of the many sailing or flying craft that have arrived on these shores, they have endowed us with this nation.
It is now in our hands to re-build, re-new and re-energise a significant part of this nation, and so to ignite the aspirations of future generations – just like our forebears did for us. This should (and will) be the primary goal of economic activity over the coming years.
In the short term this will definitely divert resources (people and dollars) away from other industry and business. This will cause some of the conventional economic performance indicators to look sad. But the longer-term goal of restoring the Christchurch, Canterbury and New Zealand’s economic potential, capacity and opportunities must be paramount.
Christchurch and Canterbury: we stand with you. Kia kaha.
Perhaps somewhat naively, but hopefully not forlornly, I ask “do we really still stand with Christchurch and Canterbury?”