As you’ve gathered by now this appears by co-incidence and circumstance to be fast becoming an earthquake themed holiday. When we visited Napier was tremour free and calm for us but Mother Nature still puts out a few magnitude 5′s every year which keep the locals on their toes.
Christchurch of course is still enduring aftershocks …and decent sized ones too. Their subsequent earth wobbles have passed 10.000 in number and compared to Napier’s total of about 500 aftershocks, it’s clear to see why the de-building (yes, I just made up a new word) and rebuilding process is taking so long down South.
All buildings in Christchurch have be checked over by structural engineers after every larger aftershock to check that it’s safe for work to continue, and as New Zealand’s second biggest city, there are many more buildings filling the Christchurch city center and Napier had no many-storied high-rises to dismantle.
Napier’s fires turned much of the debris into ash, Christchurch had to haul it’s debris away, seperating recyclables from landfill and salvaging what it can.
Back in Napier though… in 1931 there were standard insurance policies for fire, storm damage and floods but only one canny Scot who owned businesses in Napier had had the forsight to have the word ‘earthquake” added to his insurance policy, so in the aftermath of the quake he got paid out and was first to get started on rebuilding his businesses.
The rest of the business owners faced financial ruin because most insurers deemed the fires to be quake damage and refused to pay out.
The New Zealand Government appointed a magistrate (Mr. J.S. Barton) and an engineer (Mr. L.B. Campbell) to be Napier comissioners and together they oversaw various committees tasked with Napier’s reconstruction.
These two men turned out to be the right people, in tne right place, at the right time because together they efficiently supervised speedy restoration of water, sewerage, replacment of land titles (lost in the fires) and the resurvey of every property in the affected region.
In spite of the hashness of the depression years much of the money for the recovery was due to charitable donations that flooded in from fellow Kiwi’s around New Zealand.
Barton and Campbell also realised that a very speedy solution was needed if local business were to have any chance of surviving until their premisses could be rebuilt, so they authorised the building of what was essentully a large temporary warehouse in Clive Square, a short distance from Napier’s city centre.
There had been a ladies toiet block in the park area of the Square and they quickly extended a structure around it, divided it into small booth-like sections and had local business owners draw lots for a booth, since there was not enough space in the building to go around.
The booths were tiny, but better than no premises at all and allowed for limited trading to continue whilst rebuilding of their full premises took place.
The rules were strict, the moment your new premises looked like completion could be imminent, you lost your booth place to the next business waiting in the queue.
Since the tempory building in Clive Square was largely made out of corrugated iron and had a corrugated iron roof it was quickly dubbed “Tin Town” by the locals and Tin Town proved to serve Napier residents well for several years after the quake.
Many people are looking at this example of simplified organisation and drive to get something done quickly as an example of a solution for Christchutch City facing it’s present day central city rebuild, and I wish, wish, wish it could be so simple.
Sadly today Christchurch is hung up in a mountain of red tape, insurance battles, City Council in-fighting, and the two locations differ vastly when comparing the sheer scale of demolition needed, the number of business involved, the difference in size of the two city centres, the sizes and heights of the building involved in both demolition and rebuild, the populations each serves, and the number and magnitudes of aftershocks that are still taking place.
It’s not to say that it wouldn’t be wonderful if Christchurch could have a “Barton and Campbell” of their own… a few clear headed and clear minded men /women with the authority to make decisions and get things done quickly and efficiently.
But rightly or wrongly these days everyone demands to be “consulted”, society is more democatric and more complex, rules are made to try and regulate every eventuality , but we have to remember that most people effected by any disaster aftermath usually don’t conveniently fit the set patterns of the Rules laid down after the disaster. Every story and every need is different. It’s hard to make the recovery system work for everyone.
One is delighted that their land has been deemed Red Zone …they can now rebuild elsewhere or relocate overseas and move on.
Another is devistated that their almost undamaged building has been lumped into a Red Zone and is fighting to stay and selvage what they can because their insurance will only pay out for the minimal damage, the rest of the property is effectively now worthless, marooned in what will shortly become no-mans land and the amount they get for the land is a pittance.
If this property represents your life savings tied up in your home, business or both, then you can see that they really are “between a rock and a hard place”.
The Christchurch situation is more complicated and the city faces an up-hill battle, so a “Barton”and a “Campbell” style of inspired vision would no doubt be severely welcome.
Tin Town was an inspired solution for Napier in 1031 … it was up and running witihn months of the quake and certainly saved many businesses from going under. It’s long gone now of course, but Clive Square stands ready should the unthinkable ever unfold here again. Let’s have a look around Clive Square as it looks today.