Who are the real villains behind Christchurch's escalating arson problem?

Christchurch's arson problem  continues to escalate. This is a problem that the authorities and those who have set themselves  up as the cheerleaders for the city's rebuild have, by their inaction, allowed to develop.

In 2009  the New  Zealand  Fire Service expressed concern  that Christchurch could become known  as 'Arson City'. That fear seems to have become  reality with arson attacks occurring every two to three days. The attacks get duly noted in the corporate friendly local media and nothing changes.

Arson attacks were up nearly fifty percent from 2011 to 2012  and the Fire Service say they are on track to be up another 50 percent this year. By the end of this year Christchurch could well account for more than  half of all New Zealand's arsons.

By far the majority of these arson attacks are on abandoned houses in the quake-devastated  eastern suburbs. And there is also extensive vandalism and graffiti attacks.

There  were two more arsons  in the Eastside on Sunday night. Two red-zoned home in the Christchurch suburb of Richmond were fire bombed  and the houses were destroyed.

Of course arson is an emotive issue at the best of times and it is likely  to get our less thinking citizens  reaching for the telephone and talkback radio to express their outrage.

But heaping opprobrium on the heads  of those committing arson isn't  - and hasn't -  solved anything. Nor has the police's initial  enthusiasm to get the local community to 'own' the problem. That strategy never got off the ground because people in the eastern suburbs generally don't think they  should own a problem  that they did not create in the first place and who rightly want to know what local authorities are going to do about it.

The answer is so far : not much.

If the houses were being fire bombed in Merivale and Fendalton then action would be prompt but it is seemingly of low priority in the eastern suburbs. After all this is an area where the SAS let off incendiary devices and play their little 'catch the terrorist' games.

And the response of the insurance industry was to declare that it was  insurance fraud that was driving the wave of arson attacks.

Chris Ryan, chief executive of the Insurance Council said in 2012 homeowners who did not have adequate cover for earthquake damage were turning to deliberately torching their homes. Despite admitting his evidence was 'only anecdotal' that didn't stop him putting the boot in.

Having had their  economic and social plight ignored for over three years  people in the eastern suburbs aren't deposed to own a problem when their own  concerns have been consistently  ignored. An indication of the anger in my neck of the woods is that few billboards of our local contenders for council seem to survive for very long before they are defaced or ripped down. Indeed   I have been considered  pulling down one of Aaron Keown and Ngaire Button's  poisonous  billboards myself. I haven't. Yes, I'm a wimp.

Detroit is another city  also suffering a epidemic of arson attacks but  on a far larger scale than could be envisaged in Christchurch.

The financial crisis of 2008 was the catalyst for the city's collapse and the banks and the corporations, seeking to avoid financial damage and place the burden for the collapse on the working people of Detroit, forced the city into bankruptcy earlier this year.

Nearly 40 percent of the city is now unoccupied. Over 80,000 houses have now been abandoned and the city has become a fertile ground for arson. There are an average of fourteen arsons every day.

 "We're in a crisis and one fire way from a disaster,"  recently warned Dan McNamara, president of the Detroit Fire Fighters Association.  "The city can't continue to operate like this."

A documentary about Detroit's fire epidemic, Burn,  received critical acclaim last year for exploring the crisis through the eyes of firefighters.

"Arson is a form of self-expression in a place where you can't express yourself," Brenna Sanchez, co-producer/director of Burn," told Reuters.

She went on to say that she saw little hope for solving the arson epidemic in Detroit until  other economic and social  problems were addressed. She said there would be no improvement in the situation  'until people stop feeling desperate. It's a question of improving the quality of life of residents."

I think there is much merit in Sanchez's comments and think they are applicable in Christchurch too.

Without wanting to impute political motivations that are not there, is it a coincidence that arson is epidemic in an area of the city that has been left to its  fate while the political and corporate bigwigs have lavished their attention - and all the resources they command - on the central city that they are rebuilding in their own image? Is it a coincidence that these arson attacks have occurred in an area of the city whose voice has remained unheard?

The failure to address the economic and social crisis in the eastern suburb's in favour of the central city rebuild has been scandalous and reprehensible and has, among other things  allowed the development of a dangerous  fertile ground for arsonists to run amok.


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