Bomb the city to save it

Dr Eric Crampton
Insights Newsletter
16 July, 2021

Japan’s post Second World War economic growth was astonishing. Despite widespread devastation, Japan produced an economic miracle.

Economist Mancur Olson provides the most compelling explanation.

I wonder whether his lessons might apply to continued difficulties in Wellington.

Olson argued that political institutions become ossified over time. Entrenched interests block improvements. Wiping out existing political hierarchies and veto players enabled sustained growth.

Ideally, that kind of change is possible without the bombers. But one does wonder.

Wellington’s draft spatial plan debates a month ago were bad enough.

Some councillors did their best to prevent owners of old wooden tents in Mount Victoria from redeveloping their properties into modern townhouses and apartments.

While Council reduced the extent of heritage protection, substantial bans still prevent building new housing in places where people want to live – despite a massive housing shortage.

But it gets worse.

Wellington enjoys a heritage rail ticketing system, complete with paper tickets to be punched by conductors. While the bus system has electronic payment, getting that system onto the trains has been slow.

This week, Kāpiti Coast District Councillor Gwynn Compton found one reason why. Gwynn requested correspondence between Heritage New Zealand, Greater Wellington Regional Council, and KiwiRail regarding the rollout of any integrated ticketing system.

The response ran to three volumes and 128 pages. Heritage Impact Assessments needed to be prepared for necessary infrastructure. Comment on the Heritage Impact Assessments needed to be assessed. The size, colour, and location of six temporary posts checking electronic fare cards needed to be considered. Bold colours that might let commuters tell where to find things were considered too intrusive.

If you think that the Wellington rail station is a museum piece, fair enough. But it does also try to be a working commuter rail station. Britomart in Auckland somehow managed to integrate electronic ticketing into its heritage facilities.

But everything heritage in Wellington is simply too hard.

And that brings us back to my bomber-based solution. Every two years, Wairarapa has an airshow. When we are lucky, an American B-52 flyover delights the crowds.

It flies over Wellington on the way, on a well-advertised flight path providing plenty of notice.

Next time it could have payload.

Clearing Mount Victoria, the Gordon Wilson Flats, the unfixable-at-any-reasonable-cost library, and a few other spots could kickstart an economic and housing miracle for the Capital.

I wish there were an easier way.

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