Monday, 11 February 2013

Hope in Christchurch


Now your correspondent is often accused of being a bit of a doom-monger, and there is perhaps some truth in that. There was some criticism (registration required) of my first book, for instance, in that it might have gone too far in accepting that governments can't do much to reshape the economy or society. That wasn't the intention, of course. As I said at the time:

...this work [has not] attempted to detract from planning techniques in all circumstances. Given widespread political support, vigorous leadership, the potential for extensive growth and a need for structural investment, government-led planning can succeed.

The city of Christchurch, on New Zealand's South Island (above), is a good example. In September 2010, and much more grievously in February 2011, it was struck by a series of earthquakes that left many dead, especially after the collapse of a poorly-designed and badly-built television building. The city was shaken to its core. The spiritual damage - the Post Traumatic Shock, the depression, the anxiety - might be nearly as bad as all those fatalities. It looked like Christchurch - on the most beautiful and blessed cities in the Southern Hemisphere - might never recover.

But I've just been there, and the overwhelming feeling? One of tentative hope, and of defiant rebuilding. The Re:Start shopping area, in particular, might stick in many minds as a symbol of human ingenuity in the face of crisis. Shipping containers have been stacked against and on top of one another, painted in bright colours, surrounded by flags and flowers. It looks great. It was, admittedly, a beautiful day, and in the midst of the World Buskers Festival, but there was a sense that the city might well be on the way back.

It's an enormous achievement for a small country, and a relatively small city, that's isolated in the Pacific, not all that populous, and not all that rich. It's a testament to what collaborative planning, and collective effort, can really do.

Yes, history is full of entropy. Things fall apart; all-too-fallible humans get confused; men and women retreat from their aims.

Cities fall. But cities rise, too. Cities rise.

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