Friday, October 28, 2022

Oliver Hartwich: Save our cities

One of the megatrends of the past decades has been urbanisation. Globally, city dwellers have surpassed rural dwellers since 2007.

This is what makes Statistics New Zealand’s latest data so remarkable. Because New Zealand now bucks that trend.

In the past two years, New Zealand’s cities have lost population while the country as a whole has grown.

Since 2020, Auckland has lost 1.11 percent of its population. Wellington’s population shrank by 1.57 percent, and Dunedin is 1.87 percent smaller than it used to be.

Among the major cities, only Christchurch was able to limit its losses. Nevertheless, Christchurch was down 0.59 percent as well.

The pandemic can explain some of these falls in population. Not least, international students unable to come to New Zealand or returning to their home countries will have been a factor.

However, the decline of our cities is attributable to more than international movements. As the case of Auckland demonstrates, internal migration is an even bigger factor.

Auckland lost a net 13,500 people to emigration, but more than twice that number to internal migration. A net 30,400 people left Auckland for other places in New Zealand.

Had it not been for a natural increase of 24,900 people (i.e., more births than deaths), Auckland’s decline would have been even more dramatic.

There is no way to know why people are leaving Auckland and other major cities. Did New Zealanders discover working from home during Covid? Gazing at beaches or mountains is undoubtedly more pleasant than facing a cityscape while stuck in a Zoom meeting.

The loss of amenities in big cities may be the better explanation. House prices are exorbitant, congestion is endemic, and crime is perceived to be on the rise.

Given these unpleasant elements of life in the big smoke, no wonder the countryside looks more appealing to many.

Rural house prices have risen, but not to the ridiculous levels seen in Auckland or Wellington. Congestion and crime may be less of a problem there, too.

What makes sense from an individual perspective should nevertheless ring alarm bells. Economic development has historically been dependent on cities.

Harvard economist Edward Glaeser said a decade ago that cities are humanity’s greatest invention. They make us “richer, smarter, greener, healthier and happier”, as Glaeser explained in The Triumph of the City.

Economic recovery from Covid will be harder if cities lose their attractiveness.

Dr Oliver Hartwich is the Executive Director of The New Zealand Initiative think tank. This article was first published HERE.


Anonymous said...

Houses, rates and insurance are all getting more expensive but even more so in the bigger cities.
After 40 years of neo-liberalism we can see the trickle down didn't. The widening wealth gap means people will continue to look for more affordable lifestyles.
Keep watching for more tents and camper vans to appear around the coutryside.

Robert Arthur said...

Most people do not venture beyond malls, supermarkets, Mitre 10, etc, all the same anywhere. Downtown Auckland offers nothing; endless driving traps, very expensive parking, sleazy and threatening. Incredibly, despite the reduction, the govt has inflicted a zoning which places pleasant home life at great risk everywhere, and at extreme risk within 800m of transport. Suddenly Ngaurawahia or Palmerston North is attractive,

Anonymous said...

It would be interesting to know where these people went to. And what age demographic too.

Retirees are leaving Auckland and heading to smaller cities like Wanaka (for the very wealthy), Tauranga/Mt manganui (for the less well off) and Whangarei (for the others)
Kerikeri mangawhai and Waipu are also popular retirement destinations.

This exodus could just be the baby boomers who no longer work in Auckland and have no other reason to stay.