Art Agnos


We, like San Franciscans before us, know what it is like to go through a devastating earthquake event. Start early says Agnos, with strong building codes despite any opposition from developers and property owners. Fight the bureaucracy that slows and reduces the flow through of benefits from recovery efforts. Sometimes you have to bypass the normal channels of communication.

No rule or regulation is sacred in a disaster, sometimes you need to be prepared to modify or discard rules that are an impediment to recovery. San Francisco City hall was badly damaged in the earthquake and was dismantled piece-by-piece before rebuilding with seismic isolators underneath it.

On the social and emotional aspects to recovery – involve he people! Give people some control over the chaos and decisions hat are affecting their lives. San Francisco invented new techniques to allow residents access to heir buildings for the recovery of their property. residents were allowed to enter dangerous buildings so long s they signed a waiver of release, and someone waited outside in case something happened – yes it was a risk, but it was an important kick tart to the recovery process.

San Francisco used the “soft takedown” approach which allowed residents to search for items, floor by floor as buildings were de-layered. The rubble was then taken to a landfill site where it was labeled with an address to give residents one last chance to search or their items – they put people first.

San Francisco archived the thoughts and emotions of people who had experienced he earthquake. The understanding of what people will do in an emergency gave them the impetus to capture that knowledge and build neighbourhood emergency response teams. “Building the culture of confidence”.

Do not assume that things will be put back the same way they were – open the door to re-imaging the city. New plans however are not always unanimous, Agnos told of the example of the elevated freeway above the waterfront in San Francisco. While many people wanted it repaired, the demolition and re-development of he area has created an amazing world-class asset that San Francisco can be proud of.

Agnos used his post-earthquake popularity to build a momentum for some long-term changes. This does not however align with medium term electoral cycles and the hard decisions cost Agnos the mayoralty but have been proven, with time, to be the right ones. Public office always comes to an end eventually, but what sticks to you is the knowledge that you used that precious time to do something that is truly lasting and even historic. This is that moment in the history of the city of Christchurch. This is our moment as citizens of Christchurch. Seize it, take the risk, do the best things to fix these broken places and you will fulfil the oath of the citizen in the ancient city of Athens “I promise, upon my honour, to leave this city better than I found it”.