A bit of demography news hit the headlines last week close to home. Recently (no one is really sure when) the population of my home city, Auckland, hit 1.5 million people. The NZ Herald ran a front page story on a newborn baby, Emily Van Wonderen, who it picked as the 1.5 millionth Aucklander. (Interestingly enough, the other major New Zealand newspaper website, Stuff.co.nz, picked a different person to be their 1.5 million Aucklander, as did at least one of the TV channels.)
1.5 million strong, Auckland is now far and away New Zealand’s largest city, with one third of the country’s entire population living here. It is also Australasia’s fifth largest city – behind Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth. Not only is Auckland growing fast (it hit one million people only 16 years ago) but it is also changing in both its ethnic and cultural make up. It is expected that by 2021, 27% of Auckland’s population will be Asian, 17% will be Pacific Islanders, 12% will be Maori and 53% will be of European extraction (some people identify with more than one ethnicity). This will mean that Auckland is far more cosmopolitan than New Zealand as a whole which, in contract, in 2021 will be made up in the following way: 71% European, 16% Maori, 14% Asian and 9% Pacific Islander.
This cosmopolitanism is one of Auckland’s greatest advantages (along with her harbour and gulf islands). To walk down Queen Street, the main thoroughfare in central Auckland, is to be surrounded by people of all sorts of nationalities and colours. The most remarkable and admirable thing about this is its sheer lack of remarkability for those living in Auckland. One does not even think about the fact that one is surrounded by a crowd containing a myriad of different cultural backgrounds. Instead one thinks, if they think about it at all, that one is surrounded by Aucklanders, who just happen to have different ethnic make-ups. This is not to say that Auckland a paradigm of racial harmony. It is certainly not perfect. It is, however, a melting point and a meeting point in the South Pacific of different cultures. I think that living cheek-by-jowl with various nationalities and cultures breeds familiarity. And familiarity does not breed contempt, but rather an awareness of humanity’s rich diversity, a surface diversity made even richer by the recognition that we are in fact so similar at the root of it all.
However, this growing, changing Auckland comes with a myriad of problems that our local and national government will have to deal with. By 2031, the city is set to reach 2 million people and the number of people travelling to work each day will increase by 25%, meaning that the city’s transport infrastructure will have to be expanded to meet the demands. Furthermore, there will need to be an average of 10,590 houses built each year to cope with the demand (only 3,700 applications for new dwelling consents were received by the council in 2011) while the school system will have a roll of 400,000 (up from 310,000 now). All of this will cost money and it will be interesting to see how the council faces up to these issues in the years ahead. However, it will at least have the security of a rising population to level rates on, a situation that is far superior to some other cities around the world.