How are we doing, Christchurch? – WORD Christchurch

For a session dedicated to an honest discussion of how Christchurch people are coping post-quakes ‘How are we doing, Christchurch?’ had a lot of laughs in it.

Mind you, there’s a dry sort of humour that I’ve grown to associate with Christchurch people and the quakes. Jokes in the midst of loss and grief, of chaos, of fear – for some people a wry quip in a tight spot is the only sane choice. The panellists were very much of this sort – though a flippant remark was often an entree to a more thoughtful, sincere response.

Each had a completely different background and area of expertise, coming from a range of professions – Sam Crofskey, owner of C1 Espresso; Katie Pickles, historian and author of Christchurch Ruptures; Ciaran Fox, of the Mental Health Foundation and All Right? campaign; and Robyn Wallace, CEO of He Oranga Pounamu who is also involved in both iwi and local government organisations in the Waimakariri District/Ngāi Tuāhuriri rohe.

Katie PicklesCiaran FoxBronwyn Hayward Robyn Wallace

So how are we?

Not doing “number twos” in the backyard any more but possibly not as well as we’d like?

It was really interesting to me that Crofskey admitted outright lying to outsiders about how they were doing, early on, saving his honesty for those in his family and community. “I didn’t have the words for people who weren’t affected,” he said.

This particularly hit home for me yesterday when I read a New Zealand Herald column, by a visiting Aucklander who that mentioned that he’d heard “very little whinging” from Christchurch people during a recent stay. The column was a light-hearted one admittedly, but I couldn’t help feeling that it didn’t reflect the reality of Christchurch in the slightest. And certainly not the genuine concern mixed with weariness I felt in that room.

Crofskey’s experiences as a central city dweller, in the early days of the post-quake response emphasised this idea of outsiders not really understanding, when he spoke of “White knights in hi-luxes” trying to out-aid each other and others imposing their own ideas of what was needed –

Let’s put on a rugby game for them and make them happy again.

Cover of Christchurch rupturesThere was also a really great discussion about whether the Christchurch we’re rebuilding is for everyone, or if it’s for the men in suits who run things. Pickles’ hope, certainly, is that we can break out of some of those old pre-quake patterns of operating and make a city that everyone feels at home in. Perhaps we need another 4 or 5 Margaret Mahy type playgrounds around the city, for instance?

Crofskey’s wish for future Christchurch was a simple one – “I want a city my children want to stay in”.

One of Fox’s points made a lot of sense for me personally. He simply pointed out that we’re all really tired, and that being tired affects your ability to see solutions to problems. You fall back on the tried and the true. It certainly hinders your ability to be innovative and to take risks. If you scale the personal up to the organisational level, is it possible that this is part of what’s hindering a really creative, innovative recovery?

All panelists were in agreement that Christchurch people have had a “crisis of trust” in various systems and mechanisms / bureaucracy which are not working for them. There were many, many sounds of agreement from the audience on this point.

Audience questions ran the gamut from rants about the consenting process, to concerns about post-quake democracy, and how to keep and spread the energy of innovative projects like GapFiller into other arenas.

Did we solve Christchurch’s problems? No. But I certainly came away from the session feeling less alone, and comforted by the fact that many other people feel more or less as I do about our shared home.


WORD Christchurch

Ciarán Fox: WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival

WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival is a mere few weeks away – it kicks off on 27 August. We’ve asked three quick questions of festival guests:

Ciarán Fox – co-editor of Catalyst

What (or who) are you most looking forward to at WORD Christchurch?

It’s going to be hard to choose between so many fantastic events – I think I need to clone myself. This is definitely shaping up as the best Writers Festival ever. I think I’m most excited about all the poetry in this years festival particularly slam poet Anis Mojgani. But if pushed I have to say the two must-see poetry events will be the Catalyst Road Show on Saturday 30 August 9pm at the Darkroom – some of the best local performance poets paired with live music. And of course there is the absolutely unique live poetry event Survivor Poetry that closes the festival – a one of a kind mash up of performance, writing and reality TV invented right here in Christchurch.  I guarantee you have never seen poetry done like this before

What do you think about libraries?

I’m pretty passionate about libraries and I love how everyone that works at Christchurch City Libraries seems to feel that way too.  Libraries are such an important part of our communities and personally I don’t know what I’d do without them. I think of how much I appreciated the libraries that were able to open soon after the earthquakes and what a lifeline of sanity they were. Oh and I love reading as much as life itself. My favourite things to do in the library are hunting through the music sections and looking for obscure graphic novels.

Share a surprising fact about yourself.

I’m sorry I have no idea what to say for this one, sorry!  Oh maybe that I’ve never won a competition in my entire life. Not a thing, apart from sport or quizzes. Or maybe that I can say the alphabet backwards as fast as I can forwards. Or that both my parents were dancers.  Or that I’m actually very good at table tennis. Or that when I was a kid I wanted to be a Formula 1 driver or a nature documentary film maker.