(with apologies to samuel butler and many others besides)
To whomsoever the soil at any time belongs, to him belong the fruits of it. White parasols, and elephants mad with pride are the flowers of a grant of land. —Sir Wm. Jones’translation of an Indian grant of land, found at Tanna.
The streets of Christchurch have not been the same since September 4th 2010; even less so from February 22nd onward. Different flows have appeared; flows of detoured traffic conditions, flows of conversation veering always to the last shake, flows of the a/effluent, flows of money, flows of light from new holes in the fabric.
Green uniforms of army guarding a closed ‘cbd’ were the first signs of an unusual time; suspicion is pre-supposed with the green men. Bored teen soldiers racing a LAV up Oxford Terrace an early event for me to note that energy transfers; released energy is absorbed again, and a lot of energy can be absorbed into teenage soldiers with nothing much to do; throttling it in a LAV the subsequent release. Cycling through the streets became an adrenaline sport, requiring constant vigilance, like liberty….they were sitting on a deck chair at a card table for 8 hours a day, protecting an empty city. The green men, first strangeness of the strange days that have found us. Earthquakes have a physiology, why wouldn’t they? Dissipation of energy on a graduating scale. Human affairs, on the other hand, tend toward runaway. It is said that there is no such thing as a natural catastrophy, only the human response. The resilience, preparedness, and adaptability of those affected determines the true extent of damage. Nature did what it always does, what does it know of catastrophy? ; that concept takes time.
Having lived through these intense years since (and strangely monotonous ones, as most social interaction reverts to stories of aftershocks), what harrows most, after the initial adrenaline subsidence, is the stagnation occurring now with property issues; namely, insurance. There, I’ve said it- ‘ that which must not be named’, or as the Goons put it, ‘insurance, the white man’s burden’. Well, guess what, it’s everyone’s problem now.
James Lunday, an urban theorist speaking at the one of the tedx conferences, was suitably bemused in questioning the use of language after the first two events. The timidity of the term ‘munted’ seemed to insult his Glaswegian sensibilities, as he reminded us that the city was no longer munted after February 22, it was fucked. Now, a further two years along, and with ruptures of discontent hissing forth more frequently, can we now have a stronger word than fucked please James. Munted, fucked, ? Mcfucked? ; and so to the theme of this story, what does an uninsurable city look like? …perhaps a bit like this one.
Insurance is the elephant in the room, or would be if any room could be located among the layers of re- re- re -. No more ra ra ra, it is all re re re ; the layers of the underwriting maze. The draft of the City Plan elaborated so closely the views, opinions and desires of the community and key stakeholders (although, by this elusive terminology, the community are considered separate to stakeholders, and stakeholders separate to key stakeholders – and so on ad infinitumis someone being flattered?), that the elephant had temporarily been forgotten amongst the deserved glow of a responsive, exciting ….planning document!
Catalyst projects, river green belts, bicycle recognition, light rail links to the university, and even a suggestion to what became the largest speech bubble graphic of all – MORE GREEN SPACE. (Although this phrase may represent, in its lack of any Quality whatsoever, a real turning point toward actual engagement, through the sheer necessity for an expedition toward language that indicates Quality. Read again; MORE GREEN SPACE, it doesn’t actually say anything. More Hagley Park? More thirsty lawns? – fear and panic seem to drive people toward these dogmatic statements – the other species being the NO brigade [NO concrete, NO Cars] – words without qualitative aspects)
Worthy results, though, of a thorough consultation process that has pushed popular sentiment as generator to such a level that the results almost resemble placation. Such a prominence that one is left with an ever sharpening focus of what such offerings may be concealing. This is where the insurance elephant enters again, not so much mad with pride, as impassive, perhaps even sympathetic – “all admirable plans, but…” That’s a big but. Initial exuberance flees with the reportage and indicators which suggest that risk assessors many miles away will decide the fate of Christchurch. Not 106,000 ideas gathered from active citizens, and not meticulously compiled and presented vision plans.
On a good day the City Plan says all the right things, almost regurgitating public sentiment. On a bad day…..the city is uninsurable.
The Mayor is an ex game show host afterall and seems to have recalled those latent skills, only this time offering both the money AND the box; does the City Plan remain only a draft, a rehearsal so to speak. When the lights go up, does every AND become an OR again? with the ‘community’ consultation being the sparkly offerings dangled under noses to fill time between the ad breaks?
Meanwhile, the elephant has been dressed in orange fluoro and taken on tour.
Some wider ranging insights on insurance and its more far reaching ambitions;
(both taken from ‘The Perception of the Middle’ – Nathan Moore)
….”but the more useful insight is that developed by Donzlot and Ewald in terms of insurance. It is not simply a question of trying to protect against the future by assessing risks in the present, but of making the process of that assessment profitable in every conceivable way. It is this profitability of the future that motivates control, extended to every image of the universe in the hope of replacing it with an ever modulating universe of data. Decisions become impossible because the construction of consequences, in the form of further decisions, is displaced by discrete, and isomorphic, choices, in which the aim is not to extend the consequence, but rather to limit it through new understandings of liability.”
Perhaps the most appalling aspect of control is that it has reduced the City to nothing more than a representation of conflicts, and in this has sought to institute a new ‘l aw of the jungle’ to favour the survival of the fittest – but as Nietzsche pointed out, it is always the weakest who survive! … the artisan continues to extract combinations that are not determined by the needs of conflict. This reminds us that decisions can still be made, and that the City remains. Rather than a world of choice, we should re-discover cities of decision.