5 creative ideas to save Christchurch

1.  5 days paid leave, (or bonus pay), for all Christchurch residents.

Its been a long hard year for people living in Christchurch: the city is physically damaged and the people emotionally drained from a year of shaking and uncertainty.  Put simply, the people there need and deserve a good break.  As the insurance industry delays and reconstruction and planning are pushed further  back the city is also in desperate need of economic stimulus.  I can’t think of a better time for a clever use of tax payer stimulus than now by giving ALL Christchurch residents 3-bonus days of public holiday to be used by the end of the year.  An early Christmas present.   People can take the chance to go for a drive, visit relatives, go out for nice meal, a bike ride, skiing.  Whatever floats their boat.   I haven’t costed it, but it couldn’t cost less than $10 millon and almost all the money would go directly into the Christchurch economy.

2. International Paintball Championships in the Redzone.

What are three of the main things Christchurch needs now?

Money to start rebuilding,

entertainment to keep people there sane, and

international exposure so people and capital return to the city.

In the spirit of this stunning and quite moving youtube video of skaters using the broken streetscapes of Christchurch, I propose that a large-scale reality tv Paint ball championships be run in Christchurch before it opens in 2012.  Paint ball is water based so will dissolve in the rain.  All the dangerous buildings have almost being demolished, the rest of the buildings to go are economic demolitions not structural ones so safety should’t be a concern.  Perhaps we should take all the SAS and special forces forces out of Afghanistan and let them have a Special Olympic style battle to see which is best.  Give them a building each and see who is left after 3 weeks?!

3. Eastern land swap

Eastern parts of Christchurch have been badly damaged by the earthquakes and large areas around the river of it are ‘redzoned’, meaning there are thousands of people who need to sell their houses to the government and move elsewhere.   A great idea that I heard from Christchurch Architect, David Hill, is to swap some of the parks and golf courses in the east with this damaged land.   Its a fantastic interventionist idea, but only works if the government gets active and onto it.  The opportunity is there to create new neighbourhoods of well designed, well serviced, ‘green’ housing that enables people to live in, or close to the existing communities. While also getting some much needed stimulus into the economy and getting the trades and professions going.  All it takes is some politicians with some vision… now where were they?

4. Bikes, Bikes, Bikes.

Not a particularly creative one, but this needs repeating again and again. Bikes are the cheap solution to lots of Christchurch’s future problems. Even with the advantage of a massive capital injection and a fresh start, the reality is that Christchurch is the wrong shape and layout to ever have a comprehensive public transport system.  It can have a handy and modern bus system with clever and well designed tickets to make it easy to use, but is never going to have frequent trips to all parts of the city.  It has grown around the expansiveness of the motorcar and will remain locked to its logic.  Fortunately there is a much better way to get around flat wide cities with grid layouts than the car. Bikes!  They are cheap, they last longer than cars, roads can fit thousands of them, its easier to park them,  they keep people fit, they are cheap and choice!   The rebuild is the perfect time to make the roads bike friendly and provide extensive bike infrastructure around the city. Cheap bikes to hire, bike paths on most roads, bike paths along the rivers, bike stands, places for workshops, safe storage, etc etc.  Weather shouldn’t be a big problem, look at how they do it in Amsterdam and Copenhagen.  10% of one of the stupid holiday highways being built out of Auckland could fund this for decades.  (The image below is Christchurch in 1937!)

5. Move the World Cup Cloud to Christchurch.

1 +1 should equal 2. Over the next 1-5 years Christchurch is going to be in desperate need of high quality temporary structures to house the civic and commercial activities of the city while the rebuild gains momentum.  In about 30 days Auckland will be left with a large unused high quality government owned structure.  Move it to Christchurch. Simple.

The Nastiness of the Mainstream Right Politics

I’ve been meaning to write this post for sometime, but have put it off because it takes some small bits of research. Here goes.

While the political division between right and left is overly simplified, in New Zealand there is at least one fundamental difference in policy between the two which for me marks a clear distinction.  It also reveals the deep cynicism of right wing politics.

In recent New Zealand history the left  made it a political and economic goal to have full employment.  The labour government of 9 years from 1999-2008 was lucky enough to have strong local and international growth during this period which enabled them to get very close to the target, in 2007 unemployment fell to historically low levels in 3.4%.

A change of government in 2008 to a right-wing government coincided with the Grand Financial Crises and this of course led a surge in umemployment numbers.  The blame for increased unemployment, at least initially, can not be put on the right wing party.  However it is very interesting to note a change that occurred to the reserve bank soon after National took power.

There is a policy targets agreement between the governor of the reserve bank and the minister of finance.  The 2002 Michael Cullen version is first, and the 2008 Bill English version is second.

Left Version 2002

The objective of the Government’s economic policy is to promote sustainable and balanced economic development in order to create full employment, higher real incomes and a more equitable distribution of incomes. Price stability plays an important part in supporting the achievement of wider economic and social objectives.

Right Version 2008

The Government’s economic objective is to promote a growing, open and competitive economy as the best means of delivering permanently higher incomes and living standards for New Zealanders.  Price stability plays an important part in supporting this objective.

Read them carefully and a clear difference emerges between the left and the right, and how they use the instruments of government to affect the country.  This is one small passage that influences the way the reserve bank acts, which potentially effects thousands if not hundreds of thousands of lives.

From these passages we understand that the left is using the reserve bank to get as many people as employed as possible.  It does this knowing that this may well put pressure on inflation, because as it become harder to find workers they can charge more for their work which if this happens widely enough makes things more expensive which pushes up inflation.  Inflation is bad because it devalues peoples investments and savings.  But the left understands there are vast social, health, and economic gains to be had from having full employment. The least of which is that the states doesn’t have to support as many people.  The strange and misunderstood aspect of this is that there is likely to be less people on welfare under this approach than the right’s, which I will explain now.

The right uses the reserve bank to encourage a strong economy as a means to delivering higher incomes and living standards.  It prioritizes price stability so as to avoid the corrosive effects of inflation.  However the removal of the mention of employment gives us a sense of what this means. If price stability is the priority, then keeping wages down is also a priority, and one of the most effective ways to keep wages down is to keep a level of unemployment.  The employment pool acts as a reserve to put pressure on wages and salaries so that inflation is kept low, so that peoples and companies saving and investments are protected.

Now at this point, it is a largely healthy disagreement on how to deal with the economy.  We have different political parties so that we can have different views and discuss the merits of those views and have discussions and discourse around them.  All fine and good.

The bit that makes it nasty is when we follow the behavior of the right. If we accept the need for a certain level of necessary unemployment, (which I don’t) but seems like a logical economic policy in some regards, then we are in reality asking a certain amount of the population to sacrifice jobs they might otherwise have for the good of the country.   What I find disgusting is the same party that creates this condition then spends vast amounts of energy denigrating and attacking those very people that could otherwise be employed as been lazy and bludging of the state.

In New Zealand around 2008 long term unemployed (as a percentage of total unemployed) was 3.2%. This means for every 100 people on the dole only 3 or 4 of them had been on the dole for more than a year.  From a total of 72,000 unemployed people, 49,000 of them were on the dole for less than 26 weeks; the churn of people losing jobs and quickly gaining new ones. Of the total only 1300 people in the entire country had been on unemployment benefit for more than two years.  Read that again.  It clearly illustrates that the myth of dependency on the dole and preference to want to live off $200 a week rather than work an honest job is a fallacy.  If the jobs are there people take them.

The thing about full employment is that everyone starts to benefit and social, class, ethnic and gender divisions are lessoned by the participatory nature of the work force, and the increased social mobility that employment provides.

The dumb thing about requiring a certain level of unemployment is that inevitably its certain groups, for various geographic, historic, and soci0-economic reasons, that end up without work.  In New Zealand this is the young, some elderly, and Pacific Island and Maori people.  These people end up unemployed because of a way the government chooses to run the economy and then turns around and specifically stereotypes these populations and been deficient for some reason.  Its foul and immoral.

There is obviously some economic incentive to denigrating the unemployed because it makes people even more desperate to work in low-wage jobs, and keep inflation down, and a nice conveyor belt of cheap workers.  The crushing of the unemployed is also managed through giving them less than is needed to survive with any dignity in New Zealand.  A specific policy that was established in 1991 by Ruth Richardson.

I’ll leave the conclusion to the superb idiot/savant of norightturn, who I have sourced most of the links from in this article.

There is an underlying problem of benefit adequacy, dating back to the 1991 benefit cuts. As explained in Alister Barry’s In a Land of Plenty [part 5, from 10 mins, to part 6] experts worked out minimum food budgets for beneficiaries based on nutritional needs and different expectations of diet. Treasury took the lowest level – which was inadequate to meet basic nutritional needs – and cut it by 20% to provide an “incentive”. And while benefits have been inflation adjusted, that basic gap between benefit levels and minimum nutritional needs has remained ever since. And now we’re back in an era of mass unemployment and longer durations on benefits, it is again coming back to haunt us.

This is indecent. No-one should starve in our country, and a government system which guarantees starvation is simply immoral. But it is also stupid. Kids who grow up malnourished and starving have higher health costs and do not reach their full potential. In other words, the short-term “saving” of benefit cuts in fact produces long-term costs. But it won’t be the present government paying those costs – they’ll be well out of office when the bill finally comes due, and cleaning up the mess will be someone else’s problem.

http://norightturn.blogspot.com/2010/08/starvation-benefits.html

As a society, we have chosen to have a certain level of unemployment in exchange for low inflation. Therefore, as a society, we have an obligation to care for those whose lives and prospects we are sacrificing. Policywise, this means trying to ensure that unemployment is not too great a burden and easy to escape from (or at least, not a trap). This suggests both decent benefit levels, and policies centered around improving “churn”: training, education, active job finding, and an array of grants, loans, housing and transport assistance to help people move or travel to work.

http://norightturn.blogspot.com/2005/07/failed-policies.html

 

http://norightturn.blogspot.com/2009/11/eroding-neoliberalism.html

 

 

The Quake

As history uncurls her fingers from Christchurch, the stories of loss, survival, and the stupid blunt force of an indifferent planet emerge from the dust.  For those of us with friends and family in Christchurch, the test of our support is not of the past 6 days, but in the coming days, weeks, and months when the adrenaline will fade and the long slow and tedious task of re constructing lives will begin.

While the pain is individual and the stories unique to Christchurch the pattern is universal and the suffering is the same shared recently by communities around the world, from government murders in Egypt, deadly floods in Queensland, civil unrest in Libya, floods in Pakistan, droughts in China and Nth Korea, and bombs in Iraq, the list goes on.

With this in mind I’ve been impressed by the surprising humanizing role of technology in the last few weeks.  Most of the time these devices and interfaces that now consume our lives seem to take us away from the nature, loved ones, and things we really appreciate.  The frustrations to technologies that not only consume our working and relaxing hours, but are also increasingly providing mundane fodder for our conversations.  It is great then to see some truly mobilizing potential with these ubiquitous technologies.

  • Within hours of the Christchurch Earthquake google had worked with a number of organizations on a very effective missing persons interface Google Missing Person List.
  • Within days, Habitat for humanity had started a very easy to use website for both offering accommodation and finding help for places to stay at the Habitat Shelter Website.
  • A international group of volunteers called Crisescampnz has produced the beautifully designed massive collaboration site titled the Christchurch Recovery Map,
  • The Canterbury University Students Association showed the value of Student Unions with their fantastic Student Volunteer Army.

These are just four of the many responses to the Earthquake we’ve seen in the past week, they illustrate that these new technologies offer not only a speediness of set up and communication not previously possible, but also a radical repositioning of the role of the citizen.  These new technologies are becoming critical tools in what might as well be called the democracies we live in, and its a good reminder that democracy isn’t about voting every three years, its ability to engage with issues of governance as a free citizen.

Internationally we are seeing profound change in the middle east, and here too democratic forces and technology are meeting.  The global advocacy and activist group Avaaz has been enabling internet satellite into parts of Libya and Bahrain so that people there can keep up with important international news.  AVAAZ Satellite delivery. This fantastic sign from Egypt suggests we are seeing the growth of a global activist movement.  Egypt supporting America.

My last comment on the Christchurch earthquake is to realize the important work that has been going on in Nz for the past 50 years that has minimized the effects of last tuesday.  The force on buildings was TWICE what the building code asked for, so its impressive that so few collapsed.  In addition to this the rescue response sounds like it has been extraordinarily well co-ordinated given the desperate circumstances.  Brian Rudman of the Herald states

“as a small bunch of people, spread across a geologically challenged group of remote islands, we New Zealanders actually don’t do such a bad job of looking after ourselves.  Unknown to most of us, we do have structures on which to fall back in times of emergency – like Civil Defence, which had its origins after the Napier disaster and got a pat on the back from the head of the British urban rescue team, who said this was the best-organised rescue effort he’d attended, through which local communities have joined together to assist each other in moments of need.

So hats off to not just the men and women working on the ground, but to the 100’s of planner, bureaucrats and politicians who have prepared funds and expertise for disasters like this.  Here’s to long term planning, long may it continue.