As a student geoscientist who subsequently spent over thirty years living in our shaky Capital city, I have always held the deepest respect for the powerful tectonic forces constantly at work on our little island nation. But nothing could have prepared any of us for the devastating events of 22nd of February 2011. The catastrophe of the Christchurch earthquakes deeply affected the lives of many across Canterbury and disrupted the way every New Zealander confronts their own tenuous reality, in a land poised atop a plate boundary, at the edge of the world. A decade down the road, how do these life experiences influence our ability to create value globally as we face the ongoing dual devastating effects of climatic change and an evolving pandemic? What is our unique value proposition in an uncertain world?
This week there have, quite rightly, been numerous observances from survivors, victims’ families and media commentators. Many have expressed hopes (and concerns) for the future of the city and some say the recovery is taking too long. But humans respond to tragedy, loss and change in a variety of ways. Someone close to me was at ground zero that day and miraculously walked away unscathed, leading a classroom full of students to safety. This person prefers not to memorialise the event and only rarely speaks about it. We must respect that everyone has their own process and that looking back might not be the only way forward.
Unique value proposition in its simplest form is a statement about the benefits you provide to others. In the context of a city this refers to the environment, economy and community aspects of the landscape. The pandemic is likely to accelerate existing trends towards de-urbanisation and the climate crisis will increasingly become a catalyst for economic disruption. Cities like Christchurch will need to evolve as vast amounts of financial capital migrates away from polluting and extractive industries towards sustainable and circular enterprises driven by renewable energy, data and creativity. This is the innovation based future that our city needs to embrace.
With the focus having been on survival and then recovery, the business of innovation has arguably taken a back seat for a few years in Christchurch. This situation is rapidly changing however. As a relatively recent arrival to Canterbury, I was attracted by renewed infrastructure, affordable high quality housing and the emergence of new opportunities in research, science and technology. None of these advances flowed easily and there certainly remain many years of hard work ahead. But green shoots are definitely visible and this is something to be celebrated. We now have an opportunity to position Christchurch in a global leadership position both as a highly liveable city and a place that proudly champions complex problem solving and sustainability through the use of technology innovation and entrepreneurship. That is our unique value proposition.
Paul Spence is an advisor at ThincLab New Zealand, Christchurch’s founder led incubator within the University of Canterbury.