Post-disaster mobilities: exploring household relocation after the Canterbury earthquakes

Housing Disasters Canterbury (NZ)

This thesis examines the relocation process and experience of disaster of those within the Southshore red-zone, after the Canterbury earthquake sequence.

Abstract: During 2010 and 2011, a series of major earthquakes caused widespread damage in the city of Christchurch, New Zealand. The magnitude 6.3 quake in February 2011 caused 185 fatalities. In the ensuing months, the government progressively zoned residential land in Christchurch on the basis of its suitability for future occupation (considering damage from these quakes and future earthquake risk). Over 6,000 homes were placed in the ‘red-zone’, meaning that property owners were forced to sell their land to the Crown. This study analysed patterns of residential mobility amongst thirty-one red-zone households from the suburb of Southshore, Christchurch. Drawing on interviews and surveys, the research traced their experience from the zoning announcement until they had moved to a new residence.

The research distinguished between short (before the zoning announcement) and long term (post the red zone ‘deadline’) forms of household relocation. The majority of households in the study were highly resistant to short term movement. Amongst those which did relocate before the zoning decision, the desire to maintain a valued social connection with a person outside of the earthquake environment was often an important factor. Some households also moved out of perceived necessity (e.g. due to lack of power or water).

In terms of long-term relocation, concepts of affordability and safety were much more highly valued by the sample when purchasing post-quake property. This resulted in a distinct patterning of post-quake housing location choices. Perceived control over the moving process, relationship with government organisations and insurance companies, and time spent in the red-zone before moving all heavily influenced participants’ disaster experience. Contrary to previous studies, households in this study recorded higher levels of subjective well-being after relocating.

The study proposed a typology of movers in the Christchurch post-disaster environment. Four mobility behaviours, or types, are identified: the Committed Stayers (CSs), the Environment Re-Creators (ERCs), the Resigned Acceptors (RAs), and the Opportunistic Movers (OMs). The CSs were defined by their immobility rather than their relocation aspirations, whilst the ERCs attempted to recreate or retain aspects of Southshore through their mobility. The RAs expressed a form of apathy towards the post-quake environment, whereas, on the other hand, the OMs moved relative to pre-
earthquake plans, or opportunities that arose from the earthquake itself.

Possibilities for further research include examining household adaptability to new residential environments and tracking further mobility patterns in the years following relocation from the red-zone.

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