Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The State of Emergency has been lifted.

Over the weekend two significant events took place here - the lifting of the State of Emergency, and the coming of CERA, the Christchurch Earthquake Reconstruction Authority.

i had half forgotten we were in a State of Emergency. Life has gone on here. i have resumed walking to work. It used to be one of my pleasures, forty minutes through town and along the river bank. i would walk home after my shift ended at 11 pm.* After the earthquake happened, my work moved and the cordon was too large to walk around. Now, the cordon has shrunk enough, and some of my work is at the hospital. i figured it would take an hour to walk there.

The first time was in the daytime and it was raining. It was a stiff schlepp in the mud, and some of the route i had driven wasn't really walkable. i arrived wet through and mostly everything looked miserable. It took an hour and a quarter. The next time was in sunshine. It was still slightly weird, as everything still is here. Bits of the road surface had broken out like a teenageer's face. Great pumps and drills delved under the streets and spewed up unmentionable things. There was almost a festive atmosphere as families were out at the edge of the cordon, photographing the wreckage. i have always liked wreckage. i like how things are outside that should be inside. i like to look at structures in different ways. i like the small sights - a washstand with soap still in a dish, a tidy row of files, pot plants.

Walking back at night was different. Rats! i had heard that the city was infested with them because of the deserted food outlets. i was promised rats! i was expecting to form a circle of light with my torch and they would be blinking their red eyes and backing away slowly and then the torch would blink out and one of them would shourt "Get her!'... i saw none (rats!).

Normally on a Saturday night the town is alive with revelry. Some of it even looks like fun. (It probably isn't. And all the young women look identical. There is only so much you can do with a short skirt and high heels). But this time of course there was nobody about, because the town was all closed, and it was dark. A few of the lights were out even on the bits of street that work, and it was torchlight. i was thankful for sensible shoes, and being a girly swot i always carry a torch and a whistle and a swiss army knife and a compass and a rubber chicken.# The lack of revelry and general people-ness made me uneasy. There was one pub open on the edge of town, pooling light and warm beer smells and conversation. A solitary drunk spat and lurched off into the teetotal darkness. i kept on going, into more familiar and less damaged territory.

And now, que CERA CERA. This Authority has very wide powers. From now on it will run our lives, and nobody elected it and nobody can stop it. Truly worrying is the fact that it has no experts on it - noone who knows about disaster recovery, or geology, or community development. There is already concern that it will sell the city's assets, because that would be in keeping with the ideology of the imcumbent national government which has appointed it. There is very little mandate for community involvement, for small solutions or local participation.

There are some truly disastrous examples out there of how big, autocratic planning benefits only the wealthy few. The scariest is Hurricane Katrina. Big private interests used racial stereotyping and fear to drive out poor people from their traditional neighborhoods and bring in the rich. And this was entirely in accord with Bush administration thinking - that government exists only to fund defence. In Thailand, after the terrible tsunami, fishing villages were displaced inland and hotels for tourists were built in their stead. This is called Shock Doctrine. Some good writers on this are Naomi Klein with her book of that name, and the inspiring art critic and environmentalist Rebecca Solnit.

On a micro level, the organisation i work for has done the same thing. For some years they have planned an unpopular restructuring. Now they have used the State of Emergency to declare because of the earthquake things must change, and that they no longer need to consult about change - and, guess what, they plan to restructure us in the same way they were planning before the earthquake.

We culd have a new, clever, green, smaller Christchurch with many small smart ideas and we could study the best ideas from other disaster areas, and we could thin and talk together. And people could come and look and use our model. But we won't. There will be impatience, and hurt, and greed, and fear, and vested interests, and we won't.

Oh, i nearly forgot. The first time i walked through the city, in the rain, i saw this written on a blackboard, among the orange cones and rubble and cracked walls. i don't know if it relevant, but maybe nothing is every irrelevant:

'If the doors of Perception were cleared Everything would appear to man as it is: Infinite' - William Blake.

* i have always walked in the city at night, wherever i am. We humans are the scariest things i know, but i insist i am safe if i am confident in my step. The more women who walk, the safer we are.

# i lied about one of those things. Guess which one?**

** i think if ever i am approached by a person who has evil intent i will shout 'Have a look at THIS, motherfucker!' and i will pull out the rubber chicken and they will be so appalled they will run away. There are few things more appalling than a rubber chicken at midnight.

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