It will be 10 years on Monday since Christchurch suffered its devastating earthquake. The milestone offers a useful lesson as we look for the best path of recovery from a pandemic that has devastated one of the largest sectors of the national economy.
The lesson was well delivered by film-maker Gerard Smyth in a documentary "When a City Rises" screened by TVNZ this week. It featured some of Christchurch's city planners, property developers and heritage protectors lamenting what happened when the Government took over the rebuild.
It set up an agency, the Canterbury Earthquakes Recovery Authority, which quickly scrapped a plan for the inner city drawn up by the council which had canvassed citizens for ideas. Backed by special legislation and public funds, the all-powerful agency set about its own surgical solution for the city's wounded heart.
I saw this disaster at an early stage when journalists from other parts of the country were invited by the Earthquake Recovery Minister, Gerry Brownlee, to come and see what they intended to do. We were given a bus tour inside the deserted central business district then still behind a cordon.
The CBD looked better then than it would a year later, and that some parts of it still look today. The rubble had been cleared away and there were gaping holes where buildings had been. But there were still plenty of buildings still standing that were familiar to anyone like me who'd grown up in Christchurch. They appeared to be intact.
It was a relief to see them still there until, as we passed each one, we were told it would have to go. Our guide, whose name was on a construction company, seemed amused by our mounting dismay as, one by one, he condemned them. In the front seat of the bus, Brownlee nodded each time.
Property owners in Smyth's film said they were planning to redevelop their site before the Government compulsorily acquired it for the masterplan. But most owners, they said, were content to be paid out and many took their money out of the city.
A heritage enthusiast claimed much could have been saved. Maybe. All I can say from seeing Christchurch that day is that the Government demolished a lot more of the city centre than the earthquake did.
Just about everything was flattened. One of the few exceptions was the former Canterbury University, dear to my heart as one of the last cohort to graduate from the city campus before all faculties moved to suburban Ilam.
The old stone buildings became an arts centre and fortunately, the documentary explained, its insurance valuation had been updated not long before the quake. Though heavily damaged, the Arts Centre could afford to keep control of its destiny and it has been restored splendidly.
Another fortunate survivor was the Christchurch Town Hall, the best auditorium in New Zealand. It's Warren and Mahoney's architectural marvel, not just visually but, more important, aurally. Stand it in when it's empty and the perfect scale of its space and shape make the very silence resonate.
Naturally, it had to go. It took a determined citizens' campaign to save it.
Having destroyed so much of the inner city, the Government's heavy-handed, well-funded agency set up a Christchurch Central Development Unit to redesign it.
In July 2012, the unit issued a "Blueprint" dividing the central city into "precincts" for distinct activities. Each precinct was to get an "anchor project", such as a big public building that was to be a catalyst for development around it. A combined police headquarters and courts complex would spawn a "justice and emergency services precinct". That sort of thing.
There was to be a health precinct, a performing arts precinct, the anchor projects would include a conference centre and a metro sports facility, possibly also a covered stadium.
The city got the conference centre and wishes it didn't. The thing is a monstrosity, way out of scale with the regenerating commercial life around it. It promises to be not as much an anchor as an economic deadweight. The council has declined to take possession of it. Taxpayers will probably carry its losses.
Christchurch's heart is slowly coming back to life in its own way at its own pace. Shopping, dining and nightlife have returned to streets near the Avon River, in new buildings designed to an economic human scale by private enterprise. The terraces along the river will be the hub of the new city, I think, not Cathedral Square which is still a shapeless bombsite.
The Government that bowled Christchurch was National; oppressive central planning is not peculiar to the left. A Labour Government is now contemplating some economic rebuilding on larger scale. It should note that its favourite phrase, "build back better", was used for the Christchurch blueprint too.