Saturday, 2 April 2011

Christchurch: Phoenix from the Ashes

I will confess: I have a soft spot for Kiwis. The fruit, the flight-less birds and the down to earth nature of the people from the land of the long white cloud. In fact were I not already in love with Vancouver Island I could easily transfer my allegiance to the North and South Islands of beautiful New Zealand.

So needless to say, my heart ached in September to hear of the 7.1 earthquake in Christchurch and again this February to learn of the second to strike the South Island city. Although not as high in magnitude, the second quake left the city more damaged than the first: 146 lives lost. 50-60% of central business district buildings completely destroyed or significantly damaged, including the iconic Christchurch Cathedral whose spire I remember soaking up one sunny spring more than a few years ago.

Christchurch Cathedral, before and after the February 2011 quake

I've been thinking a lot of those who I know there and their process of recovery and rebuilding. My thoughts perhaps more acute knowing the Pacific Northwest of North America is sorely overdue for a shake-up of our own. The magnitude of the devastation may not be as great as that being suffered in Japan, but for me the personal connection runs a little deeper.

It's been interesting to watch the response of the tourism industry as well. Destination marketers have evolved into crisis responders, ensuring there is an accurate and steady flow of information about accommodation, transportation and tourism activities in the wake of the disaster. The city has updates and regular reports for travelers to help keep the flow of visitors coming, a key ingredient in ensuring economic recovery as quickly as possible. This prompts me to wonder how many CVBs are as prepared to respond to this kind of situation. Is natural disaster response in their destination plan and strategy?

Beyond that, however, it is inspiring to see that from the ashes citizens are using this catastrophic event as an opportunity to envision the rebuilding of their city into something new and different. Better. Celsias recently featured several of these ideas, ranging from greenspace to living roofs and improved biking infrastructure.

Am looking forward to my next trip back to my second home to see how the city responds, rebuilds and sustains itself. Maybe you'll help them rebuild, too.

Christchurch and Canterbury, New Zealand

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