The business of Christchurch was business [update 2]
The Christchurch we knew has gone. It is no more. It disappeared and went away seven days ago, and it won’t be coming back.
What will re-emerge in Christchurch we still don’t know, but it will be unlikely to look or be like the city that disappeared last week.
And it will be weeks, nay months, before Christchurch is back in business.
Even longer, if Christchurch's businessmen themselves are kept from recovering by the agencies of government goodness who now rule the city.
Earthquake & Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee is a minister out of his depth. A minister with actual dictatorial powers, who’s not afraid to use them to scare the very people the city needs if it is ever to rebuild: the very businessmen who built it.
Yesterday property owners learned through the media that Minister Brownlee and Mayor Parker intend to demolish the property owners’ buildings.
''What we've got in the CBD is 500-plus buildings that will need to be demolished,'' declared Brownlee…
Christchurch property owners are beginning to ask why they have to learn about this in the media. Why they are not being talked to. Why they are not even being given the courtesy of consultation about the fate of their own bloody buildings.
They’re not even allowed to visit their own property to have their own engineers make their own assessment before it is done (eventually) for them. Police, soldiers and tanks guard the cordon, and arrest and public opprobrium confront anyone bold enough to breach it.
This is a situation that might, says Mayor Parker, last for months. Months! And in that time …
Business owners are not even allowed to visit to extract the important tools of their business. No, says Minister Brownlee, holding up a fat hand. Just sit tight and do as you’re told.
But the answer is still no. No, no, no.
Sure, businesses with political pull have been allowed to creep into the central city accompanied by police to extract hardware and software. Inland Revenue officers for example, extracting records with which to do businessmen over; and lawyers in offices right next to the destroyed Pyne Gould building. They’ve managed to pull a favour.
And police have found time to take “dignitaries” and journalists on tours through the central city, and even into some threatened buildings to take photographs.
But business owners with businesses in the central city are not only not allowed anywhere near their businesses at all—the soldiers and tanks and the Brownlee Diktat will see to that—but if they were found emerging from the cordon with an armful of their own stuff they’d probably be arrested for looting and placed in the public stocks.
Christchurch businessmen and property owners are the very people who will rebuild this city—if they chose to. If they choose to stay and re-invest. Yet they haven't even had the basic courtesy of a phone call from the junta now running Christchurch to discuss what the junta plans to do with their property.
And their supposed ally, Christchurch Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend, instead of fighting their corner is in abject forelock tugging mode, echoing the views of his political masters in telling businessmen (i.e., his members) that
… but that is basically their tough luck. There was ''no prospect'' of that, he reiterated. (Time for businessmen who know how to read a message to move elsewhere and start again, I guess). Yet just four days ago Townsend was telling the media:
See how much difference four days and a few lunches with Gerry Brownlee make.
Meanwhile, Brownlee’s junta has had a vision. The fat man has been telling journalists
12 months while businessmen and property owners could put their own property and their impatient energy to work rebuilding their property with their vision—creating an organically revivified city in the image of those who actually own it.
12 months while businessmen will have to wake up every morning and read this pap while being barred by bureaucrats from getting on and doing what they do best—making the most of their existing resources and putting them to productive use—while listening to “visions” from others about what they would like to do with their property.
To wake to up and discover that a fat fool plans to give their buildings the chop (or not) without even the courtesy of a phone call. “Let them read it in the media” implies the fat fuck.
To be given no chance at all to check or collect stock, or important papers—even out of the rubble once their building is bowled.
To be told that “radical solutions for the city’s business heart have already emerged” involving their buildings, their sites and their property, without even being consulted as to what is being planned for their own property, or what solutions they themselves have.
To be told by failed and former mayors that they would like to see the city’s buildings rebuilt in timber—without any thought by these pontificating jackasses whose building’s these are.
They have to listen to all this, and then be told that in order to recover everyone in Christchurch must “pull together.”
No wonder so many are so angry.
They must listen to this while hearing well-meaning fluff from Parker and oafish pronouncements from Brownlee and others that simply ignore them and puff the protagonists.
Christchurch should properly be a dynamic competitor to Auckland. It won't be and will never
be as long as Christchurch bureaucracy stands in the way of Christchurch businessmen doing what they do best.
Already thousands of Cantabrians have left the city—maybe a quarter of its population—many of them perhaps never to return. People are saying, "I don't want to live here any more," upping whatever sticks they have that remain unbroken, and they're heading to the airport or taking to the roads, taking with them their savings, their insurance payouts and their lifetimes of future enterprise and production with them.
They’ve seen the pathetic “reconstruction” since September’s much smaller quake—no repair work, just the unleashing of clipboards on the city and suburbs and a chorus of grey ones shouting “No.” They know what’s coming this time, and they’re leaving.
The volunteer efforts of those who remain are inspiring – the Student Volunteer Army, the Rangiora Earthquake Express, the Farmy Army, eq.org.nz, the many beds offered, tonnes of food and water transported, shovelfuls of work done.
But even these voluntary efforts are being hamstrung by “the authorities.”
Right in the first hours of the quake volunteers around the CBD were rescuing people from the rubble and pulling out strangers from ruined buildings. But within twenty-four hours the soldiers had cleared the central city to make way for “officials,” and thereafter only two souls were saved.
And even just a few hours ago, we heard that a volunteer food programme from Rangiora that has delivered more than 30,00kg of food by helicopter to folk whose roads are impassable is being shut down by the grey ones because the hot food preparation area doesn’t have a license.
What a shame the wrong people died in the quake.
These volunteer efforts in the face of a dying city are just a snapshot in microcosm of what might be unleashed in the name of recovery, if the central planners would just get out of the way.
But why would they?
Because what they have now is their authoritarian wet dream.
The tragedy of a city continues.
UPDATE 1: A few Christchurch shop owners have contacted me with their frustrations at being so cavalierly excluded from their own property, and even from consideration of what is being contemplated with it.
One owner, Deric Blackler of Portobello Antiques, tells of his frustration and heartbreak at the prospect his shop will be demolished without any opportunity to salvage any of the important items that remain intact inside.
UPDATE 2: Things can move quickly when people start taking a poke. Gratifying to see this sort of news now coming out of Christchurch:
Owners may soon return to cordoned off businesses
Paul Lonsdale, manager of Christchurch's Central City Business Association, has talked with Civil Defence about reducing the cordon area [and the cordoned-off area of central Christchurch may be cut back within the next four days] …
Lonsdale said initial access to newly opened areas would be strictly controlled, as businesses had been left unsecured last week, when the quake struck.
Business owners would be allowed into the area first, in order to secure their buildings…
John Walley, chief executive of the Manufacturers and Exporters Association, said the Government's support package for Christchurch workers and businesses, announced on Monday night, would be a "bridge to nowhere" if Canterbury's economy was not swiftly resurrected….
Key to the economic recovery would be allowing businesspeople to access their buildings located behind the cordons and retrieve vital equipment, such as computer hard-drives.
Walley said a specific protocol around how businesspeople could gain access to those buildings was required.
"Clearly that means some sort of queuing system, some sort of priority system and then some sort of accompanied supervision," Walley said.
"Civil Defence told me yesterday [Monday] that some kind of protocol was under development."