A stronger Wellington, today and tomorrow

The Kaikoura earthquake on 14 November was a wake-up call for Wellington. While science and history have told us to prepare for a big shake, there’s no reminder quite as powerful as the real thing, says Mayor Justin Lester.

Mayor Justin Lester and Deputy Mayor Paul Eagle standing in Cuba Mall.

It could have been worse, of course, and our job now is to keep strengthening our city and communities so we can respond effectively and recover quickly if another one hits.

We also want to make sure we’re thinking about the other stresses – physical, social and economic – Wellington might face in the future. To do this, we’re introducing the best local solutions with the support of leading thinkers from around the world.

Making our city safer

While buildings and infrastructure in the capital have generally been built tough, there’s more we can do to keep people safe. Among the projects we’re supporting this year is a joint fund with the Government to help Wellington building owners to secure unreinforced masonry on their properties.

These Victorian and Edwardian buildings are precious and contribute hugely to the character of the city. In their existing condition, however, they present a serious hazard to people in the street. Falling masonry has been responsible for many earthquake-related deaths in New Zealand and overseas.

We want to get this work done as soon as possible, so as well as contributing $1 million to the fund, we’ll be doing everything we can to make sure building owners get it done within 12 months.

We’re also strengthening Wellington’s roads, retaining walls, tunnels and bridges, and making our water supply and wastewater systems more resilient – all so Wellingtonians can feel more secure about their future.

Getting support from the global community

While earthquakes are the obvious thing for us to prepare for at the moment, there are other factors we need to think about for the medium and long-term stability of our region. These include sea level rise, possible economic downturn, and the sustainability of our food networks, water services, and energy supply.

Internationally, there’s a move to build stronger, future-focussed cities. To tap into this growing body of knowledge, we’ve joined a worldwide community that’s looking at ways to withstand and recover from these physical, social, and economic challenges.

100 Resilient Cities (100RC) – Pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation connects us with a range of international experts, as well as financial and logistical support.

As part of the 100RC programme, we’ve worked with local organisations to come up with more than 20 projects to make Wellington a more resilient city. Some of these projects are already happening, while others will need support from the community and other organisations.

These projects are outlined in the Wellington Resilience Strategy, which you can read on our website

A healthy city is built from healthy homes

Safe, warm housing is a basic human need, and it’s also vital to the city’s resilience. Healthy homes not only help people thrive, they also provide refuge and workplaces after a natural disaster. One of the first things I did after the election was to set up a Mayoral Task Force on housing to tackle the escalating issue of housing affordability in the capital.

This task force will look at a range of issues, including homelessness, social housing, housing affordability schemes for first home buyers, the rental market, and housing density.

Wellingtonians working together

Of course, the actions you take to improve your community and make your home safer are as important as anything the Council or Government can do. After all, it’s the people who make Wellington the vibrant, inclusive, and creative place we all love.

Meeting your neighbours, tying piles to foundations, growing your own food, reinforcing or removing brick chimneys, reducing your waste – these small things help create a more robust and resourceful city.

Over the past few months I joined the thousands of Wellingtonians who’ve installed water tanks outside their homes – I’m really proud that local people haven’t needed prompting to understand the importance of storing a lot of water.

My wife Liz and I also sat down and prepared an emergency plan for our family. In the event of a big quake, storm, or other emergency, we know where we’ll meet up, and our daughters know what to do and where to go.

We all have a role to play in building a stronger, more resilient Wellington – a city that can thrive no matter what the future brings.