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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The Christchurch earthquake sequence : government decision-making and confidence in the face of uncertainty Taylor, Josh Ellis


Natural disasters can create significant uncertainty for individuals and entire cities. This thesis examines the role of government decision-making and uncertainty in disaster recovery, focusing on a case study of post-earthquake Christchurch, New Zealand. Beginning in September 2010, Christchurch has been shaken by a devastating sequence of earthquakes, stretching over 18 months. The most severe event took place on February 22, 2011, taking the lives of 185 people and causing significant damage throughout the city. Building damage has forced the closure of portions of the Central Business District (CBD) for over 2 years as of July 2013, and over 7,000 residential properties have been purchased by the government due to land damage. The duration of the earthquake sequence, combined with the scale of damage, has created significant uncertainty for the city, specifically for the future of the CBD and the local property market. This thesis seeks to examine how government decision-making can incentivize a community of self-interested actors facing uncertainty to pull together, and create an outcome that benefits all of them. A conceptual framework is developed through which three key government decisions in the Christchurch case are analyzed in terms of how uncertainty has been managed. The three decisions are: 1) maintaining a Cordon around the CBD, 2) Establishing the Christchurch Central Development Unit to plan the rebuild of the CBD, and 3) Establishing a system of zoning to classify land damage for residential properties. A detailed description of the earthquake sequence and context is also provided. The primary research for this thesis was collected during 23 semi-structured key informant interviews conducted in New Zealand in May of 2012. Interviewees were selected with expertise in a range of different recovery issues, as well as different roles in the recovery, from decision-makers to those implementing the decisions, and those impacted. In conclusion, this thesis argues that uncertainty has been a major driver in government decision-making, and that those decisions have had a significant impact in terms of reducing uncertainty. In particular, decisions have addressed uncertainty in terms of the residential property market, and the future of the CBD.

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