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Recovery similarities between New Orleans and Chch - expert

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

A post-disaster university response expert from New Orleans, which was severely hit by Hurricane Katrina eight years ago, says he sees recovery similarities between his home town and Christchurch following the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes.

Vincent Ilustre, executive director at Tulane University’s Centre for Public Service in New Orleans, will be the keynote speaker at the first New Zealand Tertiary Community Engagement Summit at the University of Canterbury (UC) on Friday.

More than 1800 people died during Hurricane Katrina and Ilustre says the population of New Orleans city dropped from 460,000 to 360,000 and of those 75,000 are new to the city as part of the recovery. See interview with Ilustre here:

What Christchurch doesn’t have are the cultural, racial and socio-economic issues that New Orleans has where we not only dealt with the recovery post-Katrina, but we also had to deal with those contexts in terms of race and class.

In terms of the physical recovery, one thing I have noticed is how isolated New Zealand is. I have toured the Christchurch CBD and see there is less equipment around to do the actual rebuilding. In New Orleans all kinds of heavy equipment to begin the process of recovery was bought into the city at a far quicker pace.

But there are a lot of similarities, with the open spaces of land which is what I see in downtown Christchurch and on the outskirts of Christchurch in the most devastated eastern parts of the city.

The University of Canterbury is pivotal to the city and it really has an opportunity to capitalise and become better members of the community. Similar to Tulane, UC can focus on engagement and it is an opportunity now to set itself apart from other universities in New Zealand.

The innovative plan envisioned by UC after the quakes lays the foundation for an engaged campus that is responsive to its surrounding community, the nation and the world.

UC can really capture the imagination and spirit through their students as the recovery takes hold. For students coming to UC next year, the fact that the University is involving its students and staff in work in the community and being part of the rebuild process is exciting.

Students should take advantage of this situation to engage themselves beyond regular volunteerism, but really thinking about the issues that under-gird some of the things that are happening in the recovery. They can explore opportunities for themselves professionally which will really help them find employment later.’’

The summit is part of a drive by UC to engage closely with the community. Already more than 400 students have been involved in UC’s CHCH101 course, launched after the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes, to build on the Student Volunteer Army’s community engagement work.

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