TEDxEQChCh was unusual for a TEDx event, in that it had a highly specific theme and a hyperlocal focus: imagine a vision for the future of a city that has been devastated by three major earthquakes and thousands of aftershocks, a city where the ground is still unstable and the population still woken regularly by the Earth’s trembles.
Our challenge with the event was one of balance: of context and opportunity, of certainty and hope, of feasibility and vision. We also sought to balance perspectives: government, business and citizenry; local, national and international; logical and creative. Our aim was for people to leave inspired and invigorated about what the city might become.
And then came Art.
The former Mayor of San Francisco during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, Art Agnos is one of the few people in the world who understands exactly what we were facing. He understands, for example, that we as a city experienced a slight high in the immediate aftermath of the quake, as offers of support and charitable donations came flooding in. He also understands that we came down from that high, as the world’s attention inevitably turned elsewhere while we continued living in ruins, sharing porta-potties with our neighbors and conducting our business from temporary premises or coffee shops.
And he helped us understand: that what is best for the long term is often at odds with what is best for the short term, that the needs of the city must trump the politically expedient, and that the effort and discipline of making hard decisions will be worth it in the end.
Art finished his talk by invoking that old Athenian oath to leave our city better than we found it — and then came the challenge: “Christchurch,” he cried, “Will you take this oath for your city right now?” 700 people stood up: “Yes!” “Repeat after me: I pledge, upon my solemn honor, to leave this city better, safer, stronger, and more beautiful than I found it.” We stood as one, hands raised, and took the oath, many of us in tears.
Mahatma Ghandi said: “The future depends on what we do in the present.” TEDxEQChCh was one step towards building the future we desire in Christchurch, and now 700 people have pledged to guide their present actions by the future they want to see. These are the kind of ideas worth spreading that change lives, affect generations, and create the kind of world we can be proud to leave to our children. It was a privilege to be a part of it, and to be a part of this city as we work towards our shared future.