The earthquake, and the new reality

by Brent Efford
With its combination of human life lost and devastation in New Zealand’s third largest urban area, Tuesday’s ‘aftershock’ in Christchurch is going to change everything.

Our thoughts, like all New Zealanders, are with the traumatised residents. I was in the city – my home town – only three weeks ago, recording the extension of the downtown city tramway which is providing so much evidence for the feasibility of tram-train in Wellington.

With the death toll mounting, and bodies and survivors still being pulled from the rubble, it may seem crass to think about mundane issues like urban transport and how the city will emerge from the disaster. But anyone who has seen cities like San Francisco, or Napier, or any of the cities bombed out in World War 2, appreciates the potential for ‘recovery’ after the ‘rescue’ phase has passed.

Mayor Bob Parker has already been on TV talking optimistically about the new Christchurch that will emerge from the 22 February disaster. After the fatality-free 4/9/10 prelude, he set about promoting the concept of an urban form and transport network which differs from the car-dependent urban sprawl that has been the Christchurch paradigm for the last 60 years or so. Yesterday’s devastation, for all the ghastly tragedy of the loss of life, serious injury, individual property loss and the destruction of so much of the heritage of the city, gives a cleaner slate on which the future can be written. As a promoter of light rail and tram-train from even before the 4 September quake, Bob Parker has clearly signalled the way he thinks the city should go.

But that is going to take years to work out. The Christchurch quake has been declared a national state of emergency and we all – Christchurch residents or not – will be affected economically.

How this affects the transport situation will take a long time to work out. Hopefully the luxury of indulging in uneconomic and unsustainable Roads of National Significance projects will be an early casualty of the new reality. In the meantime we wait and hope.

Brent Efford is Information Officer of Trans-Action – a registered trust which advocates tram-train for Wellington. He is also editor of the Trust’s newsletter Well-Track, in which this article was published yesterday.

 

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