Sunday, October 30, 2016

What’s new in Italy? Some notes on this October seismic swarm


Before starting: 
While I was writing today this piece about the Italian earthquake on 26th October, a new earthquake occurred in the same areas (Preci, Norcia, Ussita, Arquata del Tronto). Much information is yet to be confirmed. Some important pieces of cultural heritage, such as the Basilica of San Benedetto in Norcia, have collapsed. Places affected by the previous earthquakes in August and few days ago have been hit as well. The magnitude has to be confirmed at 6.5-6.6. It seems that some villages are isolated and at least three people have been rescued under collapsed buildings. No reported victims. All to be confirmed and updated in the next hours.

The seismic swarm on 26th October

A seismic swarm occurred on the 26th October in the Valnerina area (Umbria region) and in part of the Macerata province (Marche region). The list of affected places is long, including: Visso, Ussita, Camerino, Cingoli, Matelica, Norcia, San Severino Marche, Tolentino, Castelsantangelo sul Nera. These areas are just a few kilometres far away from Amatrice, Accumoli and Arquata del Tronto, hit on 24th August by an earthquake which caused 291 deaths, hundreds of injured and thousands of evacuees. The environment is similar: settlements with centuries (in some cases one millennium) of history placed on, or perched upon, hills and mountains in the astonishing landscapes of Central Apennines. The social structure is similar, with villages usually host to a few hundred inhabitants with an elderly demography. The loss of centuries of settlements, history, cultural heritage, and human-environment relationships represents again an unfathomable loss for Italy and the world.

The collapsed Basilica of San Benedetto, Norcia, this morning. Source: Twitter
While damage has been severe, there was just one reported victim (a 73 years old man due to heart attack); few were severely injured, and rescues from collapsed buildings were not necessary. This appears to be because when the first quake of 5.4M occurred, people that were already worried after the earthquake in August were able to evacuate to safer areas, so they were safe when the strongest swarm of 5.9M occurred. The earthquake was felt in Rome, where people left their houses going into the streets; in L’Aquila, which is still recovering (and will do for decades) from the earthquake in 2009; as well as in Amatrice and closer areas, where other buildings collapsed. Approximately 4000 people have evacuated, in addition to the other 3500 evacuees after the earthquake on 24th August.

It would appear that the destruction of settlements is a sufficient, but not necessary condition, to draw attention by politics, media and general audience (but I have to admit, also by scholars). The smell of victims’ blood is necessary, together with the dust on the face of rescuers awake for 48 hours (better if helped by some rescuers dogs) in order to bring politicians in the affected areas doing portraits of themselves while hugging affected people, or press and television doing interviews or filming ruins, better with a heartbreaking soundtrack on the background. Easily touching our intimate nature as voyeurs, these kind of story are something widely and rapidly shared. Conversely, a part of two initial and “emotional” days, politics, media, and press very poorly covered this October event. Being not at a catastrophic level, it can therefore be declassified as a routine into Italian life and institutions. However, this earthquake is important like any other Italian earthquake. It serves to confirm the usual trends, to reject common and established narratives given, and to add hidden perspectives which are now urgent, as very briefly presented below.

A damaged building in Visso (Macerata province), 26th October 2016. Source: RT


Confirming the perennial emergency


When a disaster happens (flood or earthquake, does not matter) in Italy, we should always wonder what has been done in the past. For example, it is acknowledged that these areas have a great exposure to seismic hazards. Seismologists recognized that seismic faults are very active in these months, so preparedness is an important phase to be understood. Therefore, efforts should have been done immediately at least for improving preparedness among communities and institutions, for updating and sharing (when present) emergency plans, for assessing their usefulness, for improving the collaboration between City Councils and communities and between different levels of government. For the longer term, critical conditions in terms of buildings and slope stability (there have been some landslides) should have been monitored, assessed, and solutions implemented. However, it seems we live in a perennial emergency, whether an earthquake, a flood, or an induced “waste crisis”. Discussions start just after an emergency, Twitter becomes inundated of hashtags, the news occupy pages of media and of political talks for two weeks, the “state of emergency” is proclaimed for years deviating from normal administrative and transparent operations; then, all sink into oblivion until the next tragedy. Great part of politics and media stopped talking about Amatrice and other areas after three weeks, leaving those places alone and the affected communities with lasting physical and social disruption.

New bottles, old wine: confirming same problems

When an earthquake happens in Italy, the immediate reaction is to point the finger to the protection of cultural heritage. In my previous intervention on this blog after the earthquake in August, I tried to explain why reducing seismic risk is not just a question of safeguarding cultural heritage, but recalls questions of political commitment, risk perception, necessity of clearer focus by institutions, collaboration with local communities, and improvement of the everyday life of these places with jobs, basic and public services, transport, environmental protection. In this way, it is time to draw attention to the astonishing problem Italy has in terms of safety in public buildings.

Hospitals

Some hospitals have been evacuated few days ago, as in Cingoli, Matelica, Tolentino, and Norcia. Meanwhile, some patients from some Extended Care Units have been moved to other units. In 2009, in L’Aquila, the San Salvatore hospital, opened since 2000, was severely damaged and patients were evacuated. The same happened in some hospitals in Emilia. This serves to confirm the shameful conditions of the public healthcare system.

Students’ accommodations

Among the others, the historical centre of Camerino has been evacuated. Camerino is a small town of around 7000 people hosting one of the oldest universities in Europe (since 1366), and thousands of students from around Italy. Within the historical centre, most of the students lived in rented apartments, therefore leading to ask how owners prevent harm to students which often move into town with a low/nil perception of risk and sometime have to cope with financial constraints. Questions also arise about whether a public institution such as a university (University of Camerino in this case, but we can easily extend to most of the Italian universities) cares about the quality of the accommodations and the related wellbeing provided for their students, which also largely contribute to the local economy. In this case, we have to remember that one of the students’ accommodations provided by the University of L’Aquila, a post-war multi-floor building so-called Casa dello Studente, collapsed in 2009, and 8 students perished. Again, nothing new in this case.

Schools and university buildings

A damage assessment in the area is ongoing for school buildings, and schools’ operations are suspended. This is a very sensitive issue, as in past earthquakes several schools and university buildings sustained severe damages. Recalling recent episodes, in the Abruzzi region after the L'Aquila earthquake dozens of schools were considered unsafe for occupancy and moved into temporary school shelters called MUSPs (Moduli ad Uso Scolastico Provvisorio), still on the ground and hosting thousands of students. Also the University of L’Aquila buildings were severely damaged and operated for years out of temporary solutions such as industrial hangars. In Emilia and Lombardy regions, in 2012, dozens of schools were severely damaged. In Molise (31st October 2002, rightly 14 years ago), 28 out of the total 30 victims were in San Giuliano di Puglia (1000 inhabitants), where the rooftop of the primary school collapsed because of the earthquake killing 27 kids and one teacher. Last August, a wing of the primary school in Amatrice collapsed, among the others.

The collapsed school in Amatrice. Source
While some overlaps existing between cultural heritage and public buildings exists in Italy, we should therefore include in our discussions also which kind of public services are provided, and how.

Rejecting the mantra of a generalizable reconstruction model

Some of the aforementioned villages (e.g., Visso, Ussita, Preci, Camerino, Castelsantangelo sul Nera) were already affected by the earthquake in Umbria and Marche regions on September 1997, which left 11 victims and severe damages to important cultural heritage such as the Basilica of San Francis in Assisi, one of the most important sites for catholic religion and pilgrims. Therefore, important questions arise relating to whether these collapsed buildings benefited of reconstruction funds after 1997; who assessed and monitored the reconstruction process; how it has been done; and, therefore, how reconstruction funds allocated to “build back better” were really used.

A serious investigation must eventually reject the toxic narrative of the post-disaster reconstruction in Umbria and Marche (1997) regions as a successful and exportable “model” to be applied in other affected areas. The mantra of a generic -and generalizable- reconstruction model is still in fact a commonly accepted discourse in Italy (but not limited to it). Particularly, after the earthquake in Amatrice, the Prime Minister Matteo Renzi appointed the former President of the Emilia-Romagna Region, Vasco Errani, as Commissario per la Ricostruzione, a sort of Director appointed for managing the reconstruction process. Renzi choose Vasco Errani as he was called for the same appointment after the earthquake in Emilia-Romagna in May 2012. Strong criticisms remain on his outcomes in the region (Pitzalis, 2016), while some (like me) consider this appointment as purely an opportunity to give political office to a party member. Nevertheless, the Italian government justified this appointment, claiming that Errani was successful and effective in managing reconstruction and therefore is the “right man” for exporting the “Emilia reconstruction model” in Amatrice and surrounding areas. However, longstanding evidences from scientific literature report that reconstruction models never find application, and when these models are forcibly implemented in an affected area can contribute to worsen the existing conditions (Lizarralde et al., 2010).

In Italy, the complexity of politics and of governance structures strongly affects the reconstruction process, which therefore depends on a vast range of factors, such as the “political use” of earthquake and reconstruction by central governments (as during the Berlusconi mandate after L’Aquila earthquake, 2009); the role assigned to regional governments (after the earthquakes in Friuli, 1976; Umbria and Marche, 1997; and Emilia, 2012); the relations between central and regional governments (after the earthquakes in Friuli, 1976; and Molise, 2002), between politics and science (again in L’Aquila, see for example Alexander, 2014), and between politics and powerful corrupted elites (as after the Campania and Basilicata earthquake, 1980). It is also worthwhile noting that contextual factors at the local level are decisive in addressing reconstruction and its timeframe, such as the characteristics of the built environment (not just of cultural heritage, but also of post-war and recent buildings); the capacity of the affected communities to claim and enforce their will and rights; the skills, knowledge, and capacities by local institutions (e.g., Mayor and City Councils) in managing emergency, disasters, and related risk reduction. All these variables strictly interact and shape governance, resource management, interactions. All have to be evaluated case by case, Municipality by Municipality, sometime neighbourhood by neighbourhood, and therefore do not allow to generalize the successfulness -or not- of a post-earthquake reconstruction.

Adding something new: an “emerging” problem in prisons’ safety?

An emerging problem is related to prisons and should require immediate attention not just in Italy, and came on my mind after reading this article, unfortunately in Italian. The earthquake severely damaged the prison of Camerino. Detainees were moved to Rome, while three correction officers were injured. This represents a very sensitive issue as it proves how a social system contributes to the creation of individual and collective vulnerabilities, as detainees have not freedom of movement and are constrained into their cells in case of danger or when a hazard occurs. It also represents an institutional vulnerability as the governance structure of the prison system in Italy did not go through deep reflections on how to ensure safety for detainees requiring assistance in case of hazards. This is not the first time, as for example some prisons were evacuated after the earthquake in Emilia. 

Furthermore, a very interesting witness is that of an ex-detainee in Poggioreale, the prison of Naples. He told that during the earthquake in 1980 (still the strongest and costliest earthquake in Southern Europe since 1980, 3000 victims in total, 53 victims in Naples due to a collapsed building), detainees were left into their cells as “trapped mice” while all the panicked guards left the structure. Of course, this occured 36 years ago; however, the issue of seismic risk for prison never emerged in Italy and only recently have some contributions been provided into literature (Gaillard and Navizet, 2012). The problem seems to be that no specific guidelines exist and all is left to the prison director, who has to provide safety measures for personnel and detainees, simultaneously minimizing the flight risk. Therefore, the option of opening cells is often impracticable.

It is certainly worth questioning the usefulness of jail detention for some kinds of crimes. In any case, detainees have the right to know the risks of the place and of the building, and to be put in conditions that keep them safe. Italian prisons have longstanding problems of overcrowding and of lack of basic human rights in terms of healthcare, hygiene, privacy, gender and sex disparities. The context, therefore, already reproduces vulnerability per se, for example in terms of mental health or heat- or vector-related illness. In this way, the issue of seismic risk may appear as naïve; however, it is necessary that a reflection starts now and involves decision-makers, military and civil personnel, and detainees in understanding risks and enacting adequate preparedness measures.



Conclusion

While the earthquake on 26th October luckily reported just one victim, it confirmed existing problems in the built environment, including the quality of public buildings. It also rejects the existence of a generic reconstruction model to be applied without considering very context-specific and local variables. It may also add a perspective, such as that of addressing the seismic risk reduction as a right of detainees, which have been underrated by now, but should find more space in scientific and public debate. Once again, these issues have to be discussed and stressed in "peace time", and not following the (genuine, but very often rhetorical) emotional mood  on social media or the political propaganda in the aftermath of a disaster. These issues have to be part of our everyday life, and should be improved through the individual and community everyday life, particularly of those which our social system make vulnerable, for a vast range of reasons.   

PS; I have to thank very much those Italian scholars with which I exchange ideas, impressions, and news about disasters and risks in Italy.  

References


Alexander, D. E. (2014). Communicating earthquake risk to the public: the trial of the “L’Aquila Seven”. Natural Hazards, 72(2), 1159-1173.

Gaillard, J. C., & Navizet, F. (2012). Prisons, prisoners and disaster. International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction, 1, 33-43.

Lizarralde, G., Johnson, C., & Davidson, C. (Eds.). (2009). Rebuilding after disasters: From emergency to sustainability. Routledge.

Pitzalis, S., 2016, Politiche del disastro. Poteri e contropoteri nel terremoto emiliano, Ombre Corte.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Flood Disaster in Central Vietnam: The Need to Involve Experts

by Chinh Luu and Jason von Meding


From 12-15 October, 2016, Central Vietnam faced an all too common occurance - disastrous flooding. While meteorologists are not surprised by the intense 2016 monsoon season due to the El Niño phenomenon and warmer Pacific water temperatures, the impacted provinces from Ha Tinh to Thua Thien Hue are some of the most vulnerable in Vietnam. As is often the case, the root causes of this disaster have been overlooked.

In some areas in Quang Binh, total rainfall reached over 900mm in 3 days. Torrential rain led to rivers overflowing their banks. Flooding in mountainous areas caused landslides and across the region, roads were destroyed and residential areas were devastated. 

Ho Chi Minh Trail underwater (Source: http://phongchongthientai.vn/tin-tuc/mua-lu-gay-thiet-hai-tai-cac-tinh-mien-trung/-c3222.html)
According to a report by the Department of Natural Disaster Prevention and Control (national level), the main impact of the floods included 34 deaths, over 100,000 flooded properties, over 300,000 animals killed and widespread damage to roads, agricultural land, canals, dykes and embankments. 

Boating through Phong Nha (Photograph by Mi Xu)
The severe consequences in terms of loss of lives and property in Ha Tinh and Quang Binh province cause us to look at preparedness and response from the national level to the local level (province, district and commune). What we find is that both those responsible for disaster management and those affected by disasters adopt a largely passive approach. 

Institutional framework for disaster management in Vietnam
The institutional framework for disaster management in Vietnam shows that the public administration apparatus is entirely responsible for disaster related activities and that expert scholars and scientists are not involved in decision-making committees. 

The approach of the Vietnamese government is almost entirely reactive. If we want to really understand the impact of a disaster, we must reject the idea that it is a natural event, or the notion that it has no political drivers. In this case, the lack of a proactive approach has all but ensured widespread death and destruction. 

Flood risk management approaches
In the aftermath of such destructive flooding, provincial and district officials have all laid blamed on the flood discharge of a small hydropower project. This has been reported widely in the media. 

We have a situation where the heads of committees and those with decision-making power either do not understand the cause of flooding, or are deliberately misleading the public. Either way, the current working of committees is clearly not effective for protecting people and property. Decision-makers do not possess expertise in disaster management, let alone disaster risk reduction. They are government officials with little accountability.

In May 2014 the Law on Natural Disaster Prevention and Control of Vietnam stipulated that disaster management activities must include prevention, response and remediation of consequences. However, after each event of this nature (which occurs every year and in many localities), we are left with fresh questions as to the effectiveness of the legal, organisational and operational framework. 

Action plans are prepared annually at each level. However, these are primarily administrative documents. They are prepared based on the flood risk management experience of staff working within the political system. 

It is important to note the positive force with which all levels of government in Vietnam are mobilized in a disaster context, working with communities rapidly and in solidarity. This speaks to a strong existing community capacity. However, the presence of the public administration apparatus in flood risk management activities is just not enough. 

We call for the involvement of expert researchers and scientists in the flood risk management steering committee, shifting the focus to more proactive approaches, including mitigation and preparedness. Decisions must be made based on a combination of the latest scientific knowledge and a deep sensitivity to the local context. A solution to reduce risk in Central Vietnam must go beyond a technical fix; it must be economic, social, political and environmental. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Change, or the Same Old Thing?

Sometimes it appears that nothing is changing. The rich and powerful continue to find new ways to subjugate, oppress, control and generally get what they want. The injustice that we observe all around us can be overwhelming, a feeling enhanced by a rapid dissemination of information that is unique to our time. War, disease and greed are timeless. So too, though, are kindness, compassion and love. 

We may wonder, therefore, whether the age that we live in is really any different and to what degree we should be genuinely concerned for the future of humanity. In my writing, I argue repeatedly that we must reject the social/economic/political status quo. This is a status quo that has generated great wealth and has overseen remarkable progress in science, the arts and every aspect of society. If we are to advocate for a departure from it, we have a responsibility both to diagnose the problem and suggest a treatment.


Given this context, there are 5 key reasons that I believe that today is indeed different to any other time in history. This is why I think that we must consider radical alternatives if we are to protect life, health and human rights in the future.

1. Society/culture
- We are seeing a rise in nationalism and tribalism in politics. In more and more countries, society is driven by materialism, the quest for possessions. Externally, this manifests in displays of dominance and greed. Our education systems are producing robots rather than thinkers, lending their support to questionable societal and governmental objectives. A nuclear war is a distinct possibility, as the U.S. and allies further militarise and position themselves against Russia and China.

2. Environmental damage - We are in the middle of a mass extinction event, the so-called ‘Holocene extinction’. Last time this happened, the dinosaurs and most everything else died within 3 human lifetimes. We are losing species now at an alarming rate, and this is before we even consider the impact of ecological tipping-points due to climate change.

3. Consumption - Consider this; the global middle class is projected to grow to 3.2 billion by 2020 and 4.9 billion by 2030. Our planet is currently coming apart at the seams as it is and imagine the impact if most people consumed like the average middle-class Westerner, which appears to be the objective.

4. A Global Cabal of the Powerful - We rely on whistleblowers, hackers and activists to bring truth, while the mainstream media promotes and protects the status quo, collaborating and conspiring with the corporations, billionaires, politicians and other powerful individuals and collectives that profit from the established order of things.

5. Corporate Dominance - Since the industrial revolution, we have seen a continuous effort to privatise profit to generate wealth for a select few that hold power and influence. At the same time, any negative impact (social, environmental, economic) is shifted onto the public. Nothing is sacred, everything is subject to privatisation. Political lobbying and corruption has destroyed any pretence of governance in the interests of the people. National governments are run as corporate enterprises.

Today we face new challenges, or exacerbated conditions that demand immediate attention. We do not have time to wait and see what happens; we must act on the evidence that is before us. There are powerful forces that will oppose any radical ideas for change. They will divide us in any way possible. They will ridicule us as naive 'purists'. They will manufacture consent for their agenda.

We must organise for a fight.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Transition Through Disaster: Christchurch

In April 2016, a group from UON visited Christchurch to learn more about the 2011 earthquake and the subsequent response and recovery efforts. The group wanted to meet some of the actors involved in the reconstruction process in Christchurch, more than five years after the earthquake which claimed 195 lives and left thousands injured in February 2011. We were able to meet with local government representatives, developers, community groups and local activists. We listened to their stories of recovery, both in rebuilding the physical environment and in participating in the renewal of society. In this blog, Giuseppe Forino and Jason von Meding share some of their thoughts about the reconstruction of Christchurch

Post-disaster reconstruction often leads to conflict. The interests of politics, business and citizens can easily collide; powerful forces (political, economic, financial) may attempt to monopolise control of operations (accommodation of displaced persons, materials management and logistics, procurement) and economic flows. Meanwhile, some individuals, local communities, or grassroots groups try to enact autonomy or engage in spontaneous initiatives of their own.

This is representative of the the reconstruction of Christchurch. In Christchurch a series of seismic swarms occurred between 2010 and 2011. On September 3, 2010 a strong earthquake of 7.1 M caused some damage to the city, but with no victims and just a few people injured. However, the 6.3 M earthquake on February 22, 2011 resulted in 185 total deaths and thousands of injuries, compromising at least 50 % of the city centre (CBD) and many suburban residential areas.

The powerful work together

Rebuilding Christchurch was a tortuous process. After the earthquake of September 2010, the Christchurch Civil Defence Emergency Management (CDEM) was appointed to drive emergency operations. A few days later, the Prime Minister announced the establishment of an ad hoc Cabinet Committee on Canterbury Earthquake Recovery (CER), as well as a Minister for Canterbury Earthquake.

Besides providing emergency management, the creation of this ad hoc Committee led to the modification of the bureaucracy of development consent, which was “lightened” in terms of control and consultation obligations. After the earthquake in February 2011, the central government and the CER proposed a further change of legislation with the creation of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA).

CERA was born with an agenda for collaboration between local and regional authorities, the market sector, and local communities. However, it slowly eroded the authority of local government, while leading to the marginalisation and exclusion of local communities, such as spontaneous initiatives, local associations and Māori groups, within the decision-making process.

Large-scale projects in CBD (all pictures by Jason von Meding)

There was widespread discontent, with citizens emphasising that the centralisation of the decision-making process in reconstruction allowed the government to accelerate the achievement of speculative goals.  Under “normal” administrative procedures, the potential for private profit not have been so extreme. CERA appears to have acted as the arm of the central government, working together with private speculators. This represented an unprecedented experience within the New Zealand democratic processes and was one of the main criticisms expressed by citizens.

Dispossession and Speculation

A few months after the earthquake of 2011, CERA identified a Red Zone, which consisted of both the CBD and many external residential areas. These Red Zone areas contained mostly small residential properties with gardens. Areas within the Red Zone were considered damaged or vulnerable to such an extent that their recovery was assessed as too risky, inconvenient, and expensive.

Avondale area, beautiful as a park
In response, a change in land use for about 8000 properties was proposed to the owners and an ultimatum given with 2 options: a) accepting the offer by the government, which would acquire the land, with owners relocated; or, b) selling properties exclusively to the Commonwealth Crown. Most of the owners decided to accept one of the offers; however, a limited number did not and disputes are ongoing. On our visit to the residential Red Zone in Avondale in April 2016, we were impressed by the solitary resident, John, still defending his property.

We did not venture onto the property, but we do love John
Avondale - apart from the roads, the area has largely returned to nature
Since 2011, a "game of zones" has been born, with the government spending $1.5 billion for the acquisition of great part of the Red Zone. The aim was to achieve goals of economic, social and cultural wellbeing, while avoiding economic loss to the Commonwealth Crown. Acquired land was to be sold in the near future for residential, trade, and tourism purposes. Local residents, associations and universities attempted to promote various alternatives for such land use change, for example the creation of a large urban river park in order to maintain water and environmental quality in the areas.

Preservation of Cultural Heritage

In a similar vein, speculative goals appear to have formed within the management of historical and architectural heritage, mostly located within the CBD. Since 2011 Ian James Lochhead, Associate Professor at the University of Canterbury and an architectural historian, struggled alongside local activists to prevent the demolition of central Christchurch Cathedral, a grade 1 heritage building, the symbol of the city and an Anglican building of great historic and architectural value.

The Cathedral was damaged by the earthquake, while the apse collapsed later. However, inspections confirmed that most of the structure was in good condition and its refurbishment was certainly possible and may in fact be desirable. There has been a 5 year struggle between advocates for demolition and new design, demolition and rebuild, and refurbishment and strengthening.



The interest by Lochhead and his committee for the Christchurch is part of a broader framework of struggle to preserve damaged historical and architectural heritage from speculation. According to Lockheed, community action to preserve the cathedral serves as a necessary prohibitor to speculation and predatory private investments on damaged heritage structures whose demolition would be unjustified. We certainly left with a lasting impression of the attachment to and value for place among the Christchurch community.

Our group visited New Brighton, where the main controversy involves the plan to implement the New Brighton Master Plan in what is still a somewhat sleepy seaside town. Whether this is justified and necessary, or whether it is simply opportunistic, is the subject of debate. This is particularly contested given the evidence of serious coastal exposure to hazards in the area. We also visited the epicentre of the February 22 earthquake, Lyttleton, and found a town that had lost much, in its historic building stock. Contributing to the contemplative atmosphere, large black and white photographs are positioned in front of where each building of significance once stood.

Lyttleton - photographs in place of most historic buildings
Repairs ongoing in Lyttleton port area
In addition to the historical building stock of Christchurch, there is one more recent building that has received special attention since the earthquake. The Christchurch Art Gallery only opened its doors in 2003 following a national design competition and is known for its spectacular glazed facade. After the earthquake, it functioned as the Emergency Operating Centre for the recovery. It remained closed for extensive and complex repairs until 2015, including the installation of 140 base-isolators that make it effectively float during tremors, making it one of the most earthquake resistant art galleries in the world. The private tour of the underground carpark to learn about the base isolation solution and see the flexible service provision was a great experience. 

Amazing base-isolation system RETROFITTED to existing building!



A Vibrant and Creative Community 


Small, bottom-up initiatives have sprung up with a vision to regain the use of public space for everyday life and sociality. In this sense, it is certainly worth mentioning Gap Filler, an initiative of urban regeneration that tries to fill the urban (social and spatial) voids through small projects and events for people in Christchurch. In an area of the CBD previously occupied by a damaged hotel which was demolished in 2012, Gap Filler created The Commons, a public space hosting local associations that were born after the earthquake to promote social initiatives such as music festivals, food and drink take away, kids playground, or such as a stage for dance and music, to be hourly rented at low prices, traveling around the city.

Impromptu dance, anyone?!
Learning about Gap Filler at The Commons

Exchange Christchurch is a creative organization developed through the reuse of a building hit by the earthquake and changed into a multi-function space for exhibition, bar, and co-working for professionals who need working affordable spaces. We learned that the creation of local networks constituted an added value that enabled users to develop common projects, spread publicity and gather more business. The atmosphere was vibrant and welcoming, as were all community led initiatives that we visited. Christchurch appears to have grown stronger by necessity and perhaps through the experience of loss.

Overall, the trip was informative and challenging for the students that attended. We are very grateful to our various hosts and we hope that a Newcastle group will be back again in 2017.


Note: Some of the presented contents can be also found (in Italian) in a piece by Giuseppe on Lavoro Culturale, an Italian blog of human and social sciences.
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