Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Earthquake Reflections

The previous entry in this blog was on 20th February, 2011. On 22nd February, my home city Christchurch suffered a severe earthquake. In Christchurch, things online stopped. For some people there was no electricity, for others, computers were damaged, and a few had no access to the building their computers were in. Even if we had working systems, most of us had other priorities, for the next several days, and being online wasn't one of them.

On the Canterbury Transition News blog, six days later, on 28 Feb 2011, I posted: "Possible online 'Neighbours Forums' across Christchurch to assist community recovery. Based on initial local interest on the existing regional forum Canterbury Issues, we are exploring the rapid creation of 10 to 20 Neighbours Forums for Christchurch." It's important to note that these forums were suggested by Steven Clift, in Minnesota, USA. An outsiders view can be very useful, sometimes. I got involved in that work, which now boasts 25 small but active online Neighbours Forums.

The next entry in Canterbury Transition News, was on 14 March, when John Adams and Cristoph Hensch began to post news items again. They posted 10 items for the month, mostly about energy policy but four were about the earthquake.

Sustainable Otautahi Christchurch, has not been functioning online since the second earthquake.

Project Lyttelton is based in the centre of the earthquake damage. Their web site was running again in 27th February and there were twenty-eight posts until the end of March. Of particular interest is the functioning of the Time-Bank over that period, a topic I want to learn more about.

The New Brighton Project Blog posted four detailed weekly posts in March. I think that was a very commendable effort.

On 25th February, three days after the second earthquake the St Albans Residents Association got their web site functioning again. It had been down for several months since the previous earthquake in September, 2010. Sixty-five news items have been published since the opening date. That's a grand effort.

The Addington Community Blog organised by Nate Cull, is very active. Mike Peters is also running a blog about the recovery from the earthquake called Addington Action.

The Roimata Community has posted earthquake information for members.

The Avonside Blog has been very active particularly posting many amazing pictures. Of all the local online local neighbourhood efforts I've seen, this is easily the most readable. Well done Lawrence Roberts.

Another group that has got the idea of the importance of local communities firmly in focus is canCERN who have a new web site here.

Finally there is Rebuild Christchurch, which is mostly the effort of Deon Swiggs, and is a credit to his hard work and skills. Deon deserves community recognition and support for his effort.

Sadly, many of these groups fail to connect with each other. On the Internet that's one of the most easy things to do. There is value therefore in not being an island to yourself but in actively linking to other web sites, even if they don't have enough Internet sense at the other end of that connection to link back. Websites are useful for many things, but they are passive tools. Web sites work best when activated by active tools like an email list. On the Internet, email (not Facebook) is still the killer application. There is particular value for web site owners to join relevant email lists and to encourage their users to join those lists too. Appropriate mail will bring quality traffic to your web site, not just more hits, which count for very little, but visits from real people who are interested in what you are doing.

The same thing applies to the members of Residents Associations and particularly to the officials of those societies. One way to get your message out is to engage with other people online. That has been the theme of the previous three posts in this blog. "Does the web change everything?" My conclusion was "Yes" for people who know how to use it; and "No" for people who have not yet worked out the potential for the web to change everything. There is a digital divide; and that's where it is, between people's ears.

Four posts back I wrote about the "whole economy" making the case that any economy is a three legged stool, the legs being the environment, the social community and the market economy.

I've spent much of the last month trying to work out how that thinking can be applied to the recovery of Christchurch. The way the NZ government is thinking, and trying to work, the problem of the recovery of Christchurch, despite all the promises made by the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance, is unaffordable. It's impossible to BUY, a solution. Especially impossible to buy a quick solutions. It is possible to spend a great deal of money buying the wrong solutions, which will simply add to the long term costs. Many people feel that this senario is exactly what will happen. We'll get a "solution" but not the one we need.

Christchurch has suffered a loss of WEALTH. We've lost building and infrastructure, yes, but also people who've moved away, tools and equipment, business records, customer bases, supply bases, and important intangibles like personal and community confidence. Money and wealth are not equivalent. I've talked to over 1000 people about this. Many are concerned about the likelihood of making early decisions that we later regret because there has not been enough consultation about the issues.

My "whole economy" model makes some decisions relatively easy. The environment has sent us a clear message. Some parts of the city should not be rebuilt. That decision can be made quickly. Even if we get that wrong in the first case, we can reconsider that again, later. The new city needs to be build on sustainability principles. The rebuilding of the old Christchurch isn't desirable because it never was going to be sustainable. This is a wonderful new opportunity, if our old minds can deal with it.

There is going to be massive unemployment and relocation and disruption that will go on for years. We need to make a commitment to social justice, to treating the MEMBERS of our community fairly. I don't know how to do that, but forming street Groups, Neighbourhood Associations, Neighbourhood Support Groups, and the like would be useful. Creating a strong open forum where lots of public discussion can occur would be an excellent contribution to the future. The twenty-five new Christchurch Neighbours Forums are a starting place. We have to find social solutions for the problems money can't fix. How do we engage 100,000 volunteers in the rebuilding of Christchurch?

Yes, there is also a huge financial cost. Too much money too quickly will simply push land prices and building costs very high and for that reason, money alone, no matter how much, cannot fix the problem. Those who've been promised a "new home" paid out in full based on their old valuations will find it impossible to get a replacement home of similar standard with the money they have. There will be many angry people out there who will feel ripped off by the system. Government can't solve that issue, nor can insurance companies, nor can the Christchurch City Council.

In the process of thinking this through, I've realised that the concept of the "whole economy" really needs a fourth leg; Government. We are used to thinking about the government as being something separate, especially if we think of the "government, the law, the courts, and the media" as a fourth leg.

In some future posts I have partly planned, I want to talk about how the "whole economy" can help us remake Christchurch as a city with a modern future. Our biggest challenge is to quickly rebuild and build community networks, so we can utilize voluntary work and engage effectively in community purposes. We need to develop processes of informal public education and non-market exchange systems, like The Lyttelton Time Bank. We need to recognise the value of open space discussion forums and ensure that they are widely used in the development of policy decisions. We need to create a new process of participatory democratic action, and city-wide governance. I don't know how we do that, but I do know that's something we need.

Please use the comments button below to ask questions and to make further suggestions.

John S Veitch
The Network Ambassador

Comments        URLhttp://johnsveitch.blogspot.com/2011/04/earthquake-reflections.html


therock said...

John I agree with you. The term wealth does not apply entirely to money. It covers the whole emotional, physical and spiritual world of each individual and relates in the same way to communities, suburbs, cities and countries.

It relates to health, physical and mental experiences and desires.

A man can have all the money in the world but lack in health. What good is that money if he can not enjoy spending it.

I would rather die poor and be able to look back at my life with a satisfaction. To me wealth is more about enjoying a fulfilling life.

Lawrence said...

Hi John. Thank you for your observations and views, they are very useful to have.

For some people there is too much technology in use, too many places to check, and too much to take in. We, in our society ("CowPat"), are still trying to find a balance between these things. It is hard enough trying to keep up as a small group without involving other community groups in an electronic association. To this end we use e-mail and a blog for our own purposes, and unite with other communities in person via CanCERN and its meetings.
Regards. Lawrence Roberts