Rachel Smalley is a radio host for Newstalk ZB. Listen to her between 5am and 6am every weekday morning.

Rachel Smalley: Too soon for Christchurch regeneration

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Members of the public look at the wreaths following a Civic Memorial Service held in the Botanical Gardens for victims of the 2011 Christchurch Earthquakes. Photo /  Kai Schwoerer, Getty Images
Members of the public look at the wreaths following a Civic Memorial Service held in the Botanical Gardens for victims of the 2011 Christchurch Earthquakes. Photo / Kai Schwoerer, Getty Images

In the space of a day, Christchurch has moved from the post-earthquake recovery phase, to one of 'regeneration'.

Cera - the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority is no more, and now the city has what's called the Greater Christchurch Regeneration.

If you live outside of Christchurch then you'll probably shrug your shoulders and say, "Well, it was a big event, it's been five years, the rebuild's going okay, and that city's moved into a regeneration phase." No big deal.

Well, I'm not sure that Christchurch is ready to fall into line with that time-frame. I'm not sure that five years on, Christchurch is positioned to move into a phase of 'regeneration'.

I've spent a bit of time in Christchurch over the last five years, my family is there, a lot of friends, and I've been there a lot with work as well. That is nothing compared to the years of post-earthquake upheaval that Cantabrians have lived and breathed and endured, and still do.

And I know that if Cantabrians think I'm wrong, they'll be quick to correct me this morning - but my sense is that it's too soon to be labeling Christchurch as being in a regeneration phase.

I don't think you simply transition from a state of recovery into a state of regeneration, and not least when people are still trying to deal with the earth under their city rocking and shaking and shuddering.

I was in Christchurch on Saturday morning, it was early, and I was heading out for a run - and there was a quake. You don't ever get use to that noise, do you? It was as if two huge lorries had collided outside. And then a few minutes later, another quake - and coming to a standstill out on the road where I was running because the earth was moving.

And that was just one morning. I know, too, that the February quake this year - the Valentine's Day quake where the cliff tumbled down into the sea - I know that quake was the last straw for a number of people. The 5.7. Emotionally - and I had this conversation at the weekend - that was the final straw for a number of people. I spoke to three people who said they lost it that day. They cried, in fear and frustration for much of that day and beyond.

READ MORE: New name for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery portfolio

And so when I question whether the city is ready to be labelled as being in a phase of 'regeneration', I'm not talking about the city, as such. I'm talking about the people. The public sector, for example, is truly exhausted. Shattered. Five years of recovery, five years of living in that city, and just think for a moment about the impact on mental health. The police. Emergency workers. The health system. The education system. Work and income. Disability services... and so it goes on.

You can fix Christchurch's drains and roads and water supply, and you can knock down buildings, and you can rebuild entire streets, and you can red-zone areas, but before central government announced Christchurch was in a regeneration phase, I think it needed to pause for a moment.

There needed to be a phase between recovery and regeneration, where an investment was made in the mental health of people who've been at the coalface of that rebuild. The public sector, along with the public they serve, have spent half a decade in flight or fright mode - and while the Government has signalled it's time for Christchurch to enter its regeneration phase, I'm not sure Cantabrians are ready for that.

- NZME.

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Rachel Smalley is a radio host for Newstalk ZB. Listen to her between 5am and 6am every weekday morning.

Rachel’s career in journalism is extensive. She has reported from Europe, Africa, Asia and America, covering elections in Britain, the United States, France and New Zealand. She joined Newstalk ZB as host of KPMG Early Edition in 2013 and also works on TVNZ’s Sunday and Q&A current affairs programmes.

Read more by Rachel Smalley

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