Relocation after disaster: Engaging with insured residential property owners in Greater Christchurch’s land-damaged ‘Residential Red Zone’

Between September 4, 2010 and December 23, 2011, Christchurch (New Zealand’s second-largest city), the Waimakariri and Selwyn districts, and surrounds were struck by a series of large earthquakes causing extensive land and property damage; one of them, on February 2, 2011, resulted in 185 fatalities. The case study outlines the New Zealand government’s response to earthquake-caused land damage in residential areas by way of a voluntary Crown offer to buy ‘red zone’ land from insured property owners, and demonstrates how effective community engagement enables people-centered implementation to occur.

The case study describes the establishment of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority, a central government agency created in the aftermath of a damaging and fatal earthquake that struck Canterbury, New Zealand on February 22, 2011. The case study draws upon focused and life history interviews with CERA employees reflecting on the range of the different community engagement activities developed and implemented over time.

The focus of the case study is the community engagement activities developed and implemented in, and with, insured residential property owners and affected red zone communities, and places these activities within changing community and social contexts. The case study includes community engagement activities in the flat land residential red zones in Christchurch city and the Waimakariri district, and in the Port Hills red zone. It describes the range of associated supports and services underlying engagement, and which enabled affected residents to “move forward with their lives.” The case study also identifies the skills and expertise necessary to effectively engage with communities in a post disaster recovery context, and the importance of trusted relationships across government, NGO, and community sectors for implementing effective engagement in times of great uncertainty.