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Before and after: how the 2011 earthquake changed Christchurch

Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel was born and raised in the city she now represents. But she finds it hard to describe how it has changed since the earthquake.

“I don’t know whether it’s a post-disaster thing,” Dalziel says. “But for me, it’s sometimes hard to remember what was there before.”

Many Christchurch residents say the same. Their home has undergone enormous transformation in the past 10 years after a 6.3-magnitude earthquake killed 185 people, disrupted tens of thousands of lives and reduced 80% of the city centre to rubble.

Today, the streets of Christchurch are bustling, following a period of sustained construction: first, commercial development of glass-fronted office blocks and high-end retail space – and then civic and cultural buildings, which were either restored or replaced.

Though the rebuild is ongoing, traces of the destruction – fenced-off broken buildings and sports field-size stretches of land slated for development – are more likely to be noticed by tourists than locals, who know how far the city has come.

“Every now and then I get to see the city through the eyes of people who are visiting here for the first time in a long time, and hear their excitement about … what it’s becoming,” says Dalziel.

After 10 years, Christchurch is no longer, first and foremost, an earthquake-damaged city – but progress to this point has been slow and hard-won. In 2013, the cost of the recovery was put at $40bn; it was likely more.

Asked about the missed opportunities of the rebuild, Dalziel laughs. “How long have you got?”

Stressing the advantage of hindsight, Dalizel – who was elected in October 2013, nearly three years after the quake – says agencies could have been better aligned.

For example, individual telco and power companies took different approaches to repairing damaged infrastructure from the council, meaning the same roads were dug up many times.

Those lessons of the Stronger Christchurch Infrastructure Rebuild Team (SCIRT) have been made publicly available for the benefit of other cities facing a post-disaster rebuild, Dalziel says.

But the defining problem of the rebuild was the relationship between local and national government.

On 1 May 2011, the national government established the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera), a public service bureaucracy with wide-ranging powers to lead its response to the recovery – including over local authorities.

The approach taken by Cera led to widespread discontent, with both the council and residents feeling sidelined.

Dalziel suggests the central government and council could instead have set up an independent entity to operate together, appointing directors that were accountable to both of them. Read from source….