Thursday, August 16, 2012

Reflections on a broken city


Two years have passed since the Canterbury Plains was struck by a 7.1 magnitude earthquake. Since that fateful night the city has suffered tens of thousands of aftershocks and dozens of earthquakes above 5 on the Richter Scale.

The anniversary offers an opportune time to reflect on the responses from the national media, the government and our local community.

By daybreak on September 4th the country was swamped in repeated images on television screens, news-bites from manicured news presenters came into our living rooms with information that was confused and conflicting. In the days that followed the country was left with the sense that all was surprisingly well and that the main focus should be on the businesses of the city. The truth was the media were no longer representing what was happening on the streets.

Images of the army and police force being deployed into the city failed to note that it was the CBD they were sent to protect - not the people. We were left to dig silt, share what little we had and console one another as best we could.

As the days passed communities in area’s largely unaffected by the quakes had house visits from the Red Cross Volunteers, local MP’s and councillors. Road cleaning teams were hitting the streets and hi-viz jackets became the new look for summer 2010. Those who braved the roads to ferry supplies into communities in the East of the city knew the same was not happening there. Many asked what the volunteers and councillors were doing in the largely affluent suburbs, the question was often met with a confused look and vain reassurance that those in the East were being looked after.

The opportunity for community organising and a collective response was dashed with the Council’s Community Forum programme. Held across the city the meetings were heavily orchestrated leaving any ability to voice concerns deliberately directed to isolated tables at the back of the venue. The idea was to line up quietly and take your turn talking to a representative of the water board, Power Company or insurance provider. My partner and I stormed out of our community meeting within minutes of realising what was taking place. The message was clear, ‘everything was in hand’ and ‘stay out of the way’.

Gerry Brownlee was appointed the Earthquake Recovery Minister and given extra- ordinary powers. Fletchers win the government contract to repair earthquake damaged homes below the $100,000 mark and the Earthquake recovery is put into full swing.

By December 2010 builders and tradespeople that had swarmed to the city to help were now leaving in their droves due to lack of work and inconsistency from the authorities. One of Fletchers first responsibilities was to ensure everyone on the urgent list had suitable heating in time for winter. We now know half on the urgent list did not get their promised heating, many 1000’s continue to live in homes open to the elements with no source of heat while many more are forced to pay astronomical power bills.

What has since transpired is the smallest repair jobs have been given priority while the large jobs have simply been put onto the ever growing waiting list. EQC continue to boast tens of thousands of repairs but the reality is that the vast majority have consisted of minor crack repair and cosmetics. The big stuff hasn’t even begun. There are still huge pockets of land that are yet to be designated and for those in the recently created TC3 zone it’s anyone’s guess when they may be allowed to move on with their lives.

As weeks turned into months we began to help organise public assemblies and rally’s to highlight the plight of entire communities. Our focus was on affording people the space to talk.

-Matt Jones, Christchurch

Part 1 of a series of posts on Christchurch two years after the earthquakes began. The next part will be reflections on the most recent community actions/events...

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