Running down a narrow river at 90 Km/h (55 mph), sheering a sheep, bathing in sulphur pools, after enjoying a gourmet meal, and stopping by to taste a delicious Riesling (among other wonderfully crafted cuvées) at a renowned winery on the way back to the city is also part of the research one has to undertake to thoroughly understand the culture. Not to mention witnessing breathtaking natural sceneries not even 30 kms (20 miles) apart – from the snowed in mountain tops an hour and a half away (now open for skying) to the Pacific Ocean, 15 minutes away.
There is no doubt that despite the backdrop of the tragedy Christchurch remains one of the most privileged places in the World. Quality of life is not just a slogan in Christchurch, it is a way of life. The single word I would use to describe the primal quality of everything we are experiencing is: authenticity. The most unassuming fish dish at a local pub turns into a top quality meal you would expect at top restaurants in most renowned cities worldwide, from Paris to New York through Sao Paulo, and the principal reason is always the same, around the World, the quality of a great “plat” is first dictated by the quality of its raw ingredients; and New Zealand has those ingredients in abundance.
We are now entering our second week in Christchurch and starting to develop some key themes on how we can assist the city as it goes through its rebuild and transition process. In the previous week we met with many people each of who had strong views on what was needed to develop a sustainable and economically prosperous city. Like any large scale change there are many opinions about how to approach the challenge but a single view coming through is that change is essential and in many cases inevitable.
Education was a key theme. We met with people who are passionate about ensuring that the education process supports the community’s needs and gave the individual student the skills to compete and contribute to society. There was also the understanding that learning is a life long process that the education system has to support.
We met with many people who had left Christchurch as they graduated from university and had now returned. The common theme is that Christchurch is a great place to rear and educate their children. Also we met many migrants that had married people from Christchurch overseas and had settled in Christchurch for the same reason. This presents Christchurch with an influx of talent gives it leverage for developing new and existing businesses and cultural change.
There was a lot of talk about innovation being a way of creating economic advantage. It was clear that a great many inventions and products had come from this region but had been productised and developed overseas due to lack of venture capital or distance from the market. There is a diverse range of views on what is innovation and the best way to foster it.
Over the weekend we took a tour around the Red Zone which is the areas worst affected by the earthquake. We saw streets where all the houses were either destroyed or were unliveable. We saw walls that are supported by shipping containers. Although many houses have been repaired there is a long way to go. Everywhere we went there were street blockages as teams repairing water and sewage services moved through. We were told that any trip around the city is unpredictable due to the constant road closures and repair work.
At a personal level many people we meet are still traumatised by the earthquake and the going recovery efforts. Everyone has a story about what happened to them and their families on the day of the quake. Also nearly all have damaged homes that in many cases have not been repaired so it can be difficult to focus on the bigger picture of city recovery.