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Disaster recovery as participation: lessons from the Shaky Isles


Despite broad scholarly consensus that public participation in disaster recovery is highly desirable, in practice, appropriate and effective forms of community involvement are difficult to achieve. Drawing on both non-disaster participatory planning theory and disaster recovery literature, this paper explores a possible relationship between participation in specific activities (the ‘substance’ of recovery) and participation in decision-making (the ‘processes’ framing recovery activities). This raises questions about a possible connection between ‘token’ forms of participation and a similarly ‘token’ recovery and indicates a need to better understand how ‘successful’ recoveries are measured. In addressing these questions, this paper documents some different forms of participation witnessed in Canterbury, New Zealand—the so-called Shaky Isles—following an extended earthquake sequence. I conclude that recovery as participation requires a more nuanced understanding that recognizes the co-constitutional nature of procedural and substantial aspects.

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  1. In 2013, central government passed the Local Government Amendment Bill (2012) which replaced this second clause with “meeting the current and future needs of communities for good-quality local infrastructure, local public services, and performance of regulatory functions in a way that is most cost-effective for households and businesses.”.


  3. These were later Red Zoned.

  4. The situation in Christchurch was very different; nine of the 13 elected members were replaced (with four resignations, including the Mayor’s).


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I would like to acknowledge the New Zealand Royal Society’s Marsden Fund and Geological and Nuclear Sciences/Natural Hazards Platform for providing funding support for this research.

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Correspondence to Suzanne Vallance.

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Vallance, S. Disaster recovery as participation: lessons from the Shaky Isles. Nat Hazards 75, 1287–1301 (2015).

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  • Disaster recovery
  • Public participation
  • Community resilience
  • Canterbury earthquakes
  • Co-production
  • New Zealand