Christchurch – Making Progress

I’ve sat down a number of times to write about what I saw, felt and thought on 22 February 2011.

I was in town having lunch…I crossed it to get back to work and check on staff … then trekked out again on foot to get home and deal with flooding and liquefaction.

I saw things I’ll never forget.

I can’t or won’t watch a great deal of footage – it’s still way too raw. But really I think I’m just sick of the damn day, and I’m especially sick of the media treatment of it, as though that’s the bit that matters. So I’m not going to inflict another overwrought account of that day on you. It’s not 22 February that truly matters – as a progressive, it’s what comes after that matters.

Following the quake “munted” quickly became the word of the moment; hell it became the word of the last year. But as a friend reminded me when he visited from Melbourne, “munted” just doesn’t cut it.

There is no other way to say it: Christchurch is fucked.

We need Christchurch to work. Calls to abandon it, move it, or supplant it are idiotic and ill informed. The nation needs an effective alternative to Auckland and for all sorts of reasons that place is and will remain Christchurch.

But I’ve spent much of the last year angry, upset, and generally frustrated with what I see as the failure of many, and especially our leaders (local and national), to engage with what’s actually happened in Christchurch. That goes double for those who ought to know better – those on the left.

Plenty of people have been working hard – I don’t accuse anyone of laziness. But way too many continue to confuse heat with light, energy with results – just because you’re busy, doesn’t mean you’re doing any good.

What I’ve found particularly frustrating is that Christchurch is a city full of need and opportunity. It’s a city full of fear and anger – crying out for those of us on the left to turn that into hope and action.

Certainly, I have my own views about a large number of policy issues including Transport, Environment, Housing, Health, Small Business, Arts, and Local Government to name but a few. I’m sure I’ll write about them over the next year.

But, on this the anniversary of the quake that broke my city, I want to issue a challenge:

To the Labour Caucus – every one of you.

You have a year – a year to understand how rebuilding Christchurch presents a challenge to our nation and an opportunity, in your portfolio, for our party and our country to advance our progressive agenda.

In a year’s time I expect all of you to be able to articulate and advance policy that will help rebuild Christchurch, and build a stronger more progressive nation.

You will need to come to Christchurch regularly. It is quite clear to me that one cannot understand what is happening here without seeing it in person.

You must not accept the government’s notion that this can and should be managed through one Ministerial portfolio. Lianne is doing an excellent job of holding the Minister to account, but she alone cannot fix the problems or seize the opportunities before us. You must come to see your portfolio through the lens of Christchurch.

Ours is a city of new horizons, it could be the most progressive city in the most progressive country in the world. We can build it back green, and progressive. We can throw away old models and ways of doing things. It’s simply up to you to grasp this opportunity – every one of you.

I look forward to hearing from you in a year.

3 thoughts on “Christchurch – Making Progress”

  1. James – I would like to respond to your comments on a day other than the anniversary of this tragic event but I cannot leave this unanswered. David Shearer has already reassured the government of our absolute commitment to a non-partisan response. This is bigger than a single Minister as you say (and as I have been saying for months) and bigger than a single government, which is why we need a shared vision. I am pulling a team together of caucus colleagues as a cluster to add to the Labour team here in Christchurch – our portfolios resonate well with the recovery: Clayton Cosgrove, (Commerce, Small Business, SOEs), Ruth Dyson (Conservation, Senior Citizens and Internal Affairs, which includes the Fire Service), Megan Woods (Youth Affairs and Associate Science & Innovation) and Rino Tirikatene (Tourism). David Shearer has already been here, choosing Christchurch to be the first of his regional visits in January, and is here for the memorial services today. I have already spoken to our Economic Development spokesperson about coming in the next few weeks. I would be more than happy to talk to you about the extensive research I have done on disaster recovery and how David Shearer has so much to offer with his background and experience. We will get there, but it is going to take a willingness to work together in a respectful and collegial way. I know that today is a hard day for everyone – especially those who have lost people they have loved. Once today is passed we will talk.

  2. Good post James. At first I was dubious about the term death of the city. Now I understand your intent and your message. Like a Phoenix rising from the ashes.

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