Recently I had the real pleasure of visiting Italy whilst on holiday. One of the highlights for me was a visit to Pompeii, kind of squeezed it in on the way to the Amalfi coast.
There are so many amazing places to visit in Italy but Pompeii really surprised me. It was engaging, sombre and enlightening all at the same time.
Most people think of Mt Vesuvius erupting in 79AD, a buried city and looking at lots of dead bodies – well actually the moulds of the cavities in the volcanic ash that were re-created to demonstrate the positions people were in as they were overcome.
All walks of life in various poses of escape or simply succumbing to the inevitability. One in particular was a shopkeeper holding the cash he had gone back to retrieve.
There's a lesson there I'm sure. But while this might seem somewhat macabre, and strangely fascinating, it only added to a much bigger picture for me.
Bear with me in case you're wondering where I'm going with this. The point will reveal itself shortly.
Here was a city that had its genesis 500 years BC and what struck me most was the completeness of the city and its society. It had everything and was considered one of the most sophisticated societies of its time.
Water, roads and sewerage infrastructure, arts, culture and heritage on show everywhere, sporting and recreation venues including the first Roman Amphitheatre (70BC) that could hold 20,000 spectators, public baths and swimming pools, parks, orchards, gardens, places of worship for the god of your choice: Isis, Venus, Hercules, Athena, Apollo and Jupiter, merchants and merchant houses, resplendent villas for the well-to-do.
Of course, not everything would line up with our values today; they had slaves for example, but what was instructive was that some of the first community-owned structures built (some 150 years before the Amphitheatre) were theatres.
A Grand Theatre, a smaller Odeion Theatre (not really small) and a large "Quadriporticus" for intermissions and gatherings between shows. Plays, Greek and Roman tragedies, singing, mimes and musicals were the order of the day.
So, what's my point? Back to us and today. Towns and cities have not really changed much in terms of what they need to be successful.
The four Northland Council Long Term Plans are out now for consultation. Each is concerned with projects and developments that will support our towns and cities, their raison d'etre (reason for being), and the places and spaces that make them great, or not.
Whangarei District Council, for example, is wanting feedback on a new civic centre, Forum North and Capitaine Bougainville Theatre; the Far North LTP, "Creating Great Places: He Ara Tamata" asks for feedback on a civic hub for Kaikohe, money for "placemaking" projects and a Kawakawa tourism hub and town square.
The new Mayor of the Kaipara District, Dr Jason Smith, did his PhD on the "creative economy". This message is not lost on him. The Kaipara District Council is wanting feedback on a Dargaville civic hub and the Mangawhai community plan.
This is not some conspiracy, it's democracy in action, they are your representatives, get involved.
Help shape the future of your town or city they are so important to our wellbeing and sense of place.
Yes, we want good infrastructure, libraries, meeting places, sporting facilities, civic centres, great shopping and local businesses that support local charities and sports clubs, but we also want places we can be collectively proud of, that challenge us, that tell our stories and provide us with a strong sense of belonging.
There is a reason why the first thing Pompeii did was build theatres, they allowed people to meet, wrestle with important issues, laugh, connect and see themselves in the performances.
Projects like the new Manea Footprints of Kupe project in the Hokianga, the new Te Kongahu Museum of Waitangi, the new Hundertwasser Art Centre and Wairau Maori Art Gallery and Hihiaua Cultural Centre in Whangarei are not only museums, cultural centres or tourism products - they are a reflection of us, our people, our stories, our places.
They are important, and visitors love them!
Good for us and good for the economy.
■ Dr David Wilson is the chief executive of Northland's Economic Development Agency, Northland Inc, and Chair of Economic Development NZ.