Christchurch mayor looks to Israeli example in wake of massive earthquake

Mayor Parker referred to Israeli ‘entrepreneurship’ and ‘innovation’ critical capabilities he says burgeoning city will require to sustain vast economic recovery.


Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker radiates a remarkable sense of calm for a man whose city was virtually leveled following a two-year string of earthquakes and aftershocks. The 59-year-old former broadcaster seems undaunted by the Herculean task of rebuilding the New Zealand city in the wake of last February’s tragedy, in which a 6.3-magnitude earthquake took the lives of 185 people – including three Israelis.

Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker. Photo courtesy of Christchurch Mayor's Office.

Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker - Photo courtesy of Christchurch Mayor's Office.

This week Parker joined dozens of his peers in Israel at the International Conference of Mayors, co-sponsored by the American Council for World Jewry, Israel’s Foreign Ministry and the Union for Local Authorities. While in Tel Aviv, he spoke with Haaretz about the planned reconstruction of his city, while also reflecting upon his first visit here.

“They say Israel is an island,” says Parker. “My country is, quite literally, a series of islands – and an island is where a great sense of sustainability is required. We share this in common.”

Parker paints a stark picture wrought by the destruction in New Zealand; some heavily damaged buildings are still in the process of being deconstructed. Parker says the effort to rebuild is expected to last a decade and attract inflows upward of $30 billion dollars in aid, investment and reinsurance.

The sheer scope is staggering: 12,000 homes are to be rebuilt, as well as 2,000 commercial buildings, 900 kilometers of roads, 500 kilometers of underground pipes, a transit infrastructure, sports and commercial facilities and a convention center.

“We are in a growth phase,” says Parker, noting that his country will require 20,000-30,000 construction workers from the allied industries.

Following a conference that included meeting with Israeli leaders and business executives from the hi-tech, intelligence and security sectors, Parker referred to Israeli “entrepreneurship” and “innovation” – critical capabilities he says his burgeoning city will require if it is to sustain its vast economic recovery.

Joined by his wife, Joanna Nicholls-Parker, Parker appeared awed following their visits to some of Jerusalem’s holy sites. Parker notes that he believes “in the god of my understanding based on a set of personal spiritual values.”

Recovery operation personnel in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Recovery operation personnel in Christchurch, New Zealand - Photo by AP

Having survived an earthquake, Parker says he has a new appreciation “for the value of life, the impermanence of life, at times, and the sacrifice the people of my community made and the courage they shared.”

“I wanted to come to Israel for a number of reasons, not the least of which is pure curiosity, but also because of the support that I’ve received from Israel along with a number of other countries,” adds Parker. “We have been through an event which is not dissimilar to the sorts of traumas that communities in Israel have experienced. Of course, the circumstances are different, but the results in many cases are the same.”


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By Mordechai I. Twersky