Lainy Nowak Studies Resilience in Christchurch, New Zealand

The Road to Recovery

Author: Lainy Nowak

Christchurch is a coastal city situated on a major fault line, at risk of tsunami and susceptible to sea level rise caused by climate change. These characteristics could describe countless cities around the world, including many on Vancouver Island. Coastal cities are growing quickly, and the environment is changing faster than we can plan for. This makes them susceptible to unpredictable events which is why building resilience is incredibly important to ensure coastal cities are prepared for a major disaster and the subsequent road to recovery.

When I arrived in Christchurch I was shocked at the number of damaged buildings, empty gravel lots, and active work sites still littering the Central Business District more than 7 years after the major earthquake on 22 February 2011. I thought to myself, “Surely it shouldn’t take this long for a city to recover.” What I quickly learned was that disaster recovery is much more complicated than it seems. It is not as simple as tearing down a building and replacing it.  There are many complex underlying issues such as insurance claims, politics and process, and deep-rooted sentiments. The road to recovery is not a short one but the citizens of Christchurch have been resilient considering their circumstances.

Through my research I have been trying to determine how a coastal city like Christchurch can build their resilience before a major event happens to try and ease the recovery period. So far, two major themes have revealed themselves: Preparedness and community. Being prepared for an event is an essential part of resilience. Knowing your risk and having the proper infrastructure and resources may save your life during an event - it may even save your neighbour's life. A widespread sense of community is a factor that largely contributes to the resilience of Christchurch. During the earthquake, neighbours, students, and strangers banded together to help each other out and they continue to do so today.

The mass amount of traffic cones and cracked buildings have become a part of everyday life for many of the citizens here. They may complain about the inconvenience of taking an extra 15 minutes to get work because of the construction, but at the end of the day, the citizens of Christchurch have been resilient in understanding that recovery is a long road and it takes a community of people to get through it together. I hope to take the lessons I have learned from this resilient coastal city and help prepare communities on Vancouver Island for a disaster to ensure we have the means to work together and recover faster.

Lainy Nowak, VIU Masters of Community Planning Student and QE Scholar

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