New Zealand is a country with a population of around 4.5 million people which is increasingly concentrated in its major cities. According to Wikipedia, 72 per cent of New Zealanders live in its 16 largest urban areas, and 52 per cent live in its four largest cities: Auckland, Christchurch, Wellington and Hamilton.  Nearly a third of the population live in the Auckland urban area: a proportion of a country’s population contained in one city which is nearly unheard of in the world (aside from city-states of course and maybe the Buenos Aires urban area in Argentina…are there any other examples that you can think of?)

I’m a proud Aucklander, (the rest of the country sometimes describes us as “Dorklanders” or “Jafa”s – the latter an acronym for “Just Another F… Aucklander”, but they’re just jealous) and I love my city, but the concentration of people in our isthmus and islands brings with it a couple of baleful results: the cost of housing keeps going up as new building does not keep pace with the population growth; and rural areas of New Zealand continue to be hollowed out of population at the expense of the big cities, and in particular, Auckland. (Auckland’s transport infrastructure also sometimes buckles under the strain – on the weekend there was a serious crash on the harbour bridge which snarled a large proportion of the city’s roads for hours.)

Various politicians and commentators have in recent times started discussing whether there is anything that we can do to ease the population pressure upon Auckland and entice people to other parts of our beautiful country.  TVNZ recently reported on a call for the Government to force immigrants to live in regional New Zealand as a condition on them coming here. The article states that:

“Professor Paul Spoonley and Massey University Vice-Chancellor Steve Maharey [a former Labour Government Minister] are leading a population forum in Auckland this morning, arguing policy needs to be implemented if New Zealand is to avoid problems ranging from regional decline to housing shortages.”

Currently certain areas in New Zealand have about 50 dependents for 100 workers, but in the years to come this ratio could increase to 80 dependents for every 100 workers.  The future viability of small town New Zealand could be markedly improved if new immigrants were enticed to live in them rather than Auckland.  And there are a record number of these immigrants:

“…a record 107,200 migrants arrived on our shores in the year to October. The increase was led by more student arrivals, particularly from India, and more New Zealanders returning from Australia… Last year immigration contributed more to New Zealand’s population growth than fertility, making it an important contributor to growth and helping to counter the falling birth rate, which is set to go below replacement level in the next 10 years…”

The problem of course is that while the Government could try and get immigrants to start their live in New Zealand in regional areas, it will always be hard for these areas to retain them if the jobs and opportunities are all contained in the bigger cities. However, the call for the Government to at least start addressing the problem is probably a good idea. According to Professor Spoonley, there hasn’t been a strategic Government population policy since the 1970s.  Obviously since then New Zealand population has markedly changed: we have become older, less fertile and more reliant on immigration to grow our population.  It is probably time for us to start thinking about whether some targeted policies for immigration needs to be introduced.  If not, Auckland will continue to attract more and more people to the detriment of the rest of the country. 

So, do any of our readers have any bright ideas? Have similar problems arisen in your countries? How have you addressed them? Or is the answer simply to let the cards lie where they fall and not worry about the demise of anachronistic small towns that have outlived their usefulness?

Marcus Roberts was two years out of law school when he decided that practising law was no longer for him. He therefore went back to university and did his LLM while tutoring. He now teaches contract and...