Following on from a post here, I thought I’d take another look at the Auckland city centre’s population, now there is some more information available.

90 years of change in the inner city

I came across a fascinating paper here thanks to one of the other bloggers – it’s a thorough exploration of the changing population and demographics of inner-city Auckland, including the suburbs. I’ve updated a graph from the paper which shows how the population has grown over the long term (thanks to the author Ward Friesen, who kindly sent me the population figures he used up to 2006 so that I could update them to 2013):

Inner city population

This graph also shows the population of the inner suburbs, excluding the city centre. See Ward’s paper for a list of what is included there, but essentially it’s everything from Herne Bay through Grey Lynn, Eden Terrace, Newmarket and Parnell.
Both the city centre and the inner suburbs have seen similar trends over the last 90 years, with residential populations that fell in the post-war period, bottomed out in around 1991, and have since grown strongly. Today, the city centre’s population is larger than it has ever been, whereas – despite all the angst around intensification – the inner suburbs are still well below their pre-war levels.

The latest on the city centre’s population

I wrote in the earlier post that “it’s now likely that the CBD has a population of at least 28,000 people – and this is the kind of estimate Statistics New Zealand will end up with when they re-calculate their estimates next year.” Indeed, the new estimates show a population of 27,810 as at June 2013, and another big increase in the last year, taking the population to 30,130 as at June 2014.

I’m a little suspicious of that increase in the last year – I can’t see where an extra 2,320 people came from, given that there haven’t been many apartments completed. As highlighted in the original post, the population estimates can be prone to error. However, these figures do suggest a strong future growth path, especially as there are now hundreds of new apartments under construction.

On a final note, Auckland’s city centre now has a residential population the size of Taupo, Blenheim or Timaru, and it’s growing much faster than any of them. The size of its economy is several times larger, with 90,000 people working in the CBD. That’s a lot of activity taking place in a pretty compact area.

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45 comments

  1. ” I can’t see where an extra 2,320 people came from, given that there haven’t been many apartments completed.”

    That’s easy, higher occupancy. Housing price pressures meaning fewer empty spare rooms, more couples in single bedroom places, and more students sharing a bedroom with a roommate. When I was in uni ten years ago having an actual roommate was unheard of, now there are many ads for it on trademe and flatmate sites for apartments in the city centre.

    With 24,000 dwellings in the City Centre, you’re only need add a person to every tenth apartment to get that kind of growth.

    1. You don’t see things like an increase in average household size of 10% in one year, though… these things move much more slowly, barring some very serious shortage pressures, which I don’t think we’ve got. Anyway, if the CBD isn’t at 30,000 people yet, it probably will be in 2015, and there’s plenty more to come.

  2. Having lived through the dark ages of the determined attempt to kill Auckland’s City Centre of the last half of the 20thC it is gratifying to see this return to life and vitality. Additionally this powerful return to life looks like it has a fair way to go yet. The region and the nation needs Auckland to have a strong heart so hopefully the those who still harbour last century’s mistaken view that the city is of undesirable and expendable will slowly come to understand this, or at least die off.

      1. You cannot exclude the motorways, though. They’re a post-war development that has rendered vast tracts of previously-prime inner-suburban land unusable for anything except flow of vehicles.

        1. I think we measured the central motorway junction for a previous post as 5 hectares or 0.5sqkm. Not really vast tracts.

        2. Erm no, it’s more like 30 hectares, and that is excluding Grafton gully. The bit between Wellington St and Hopetoun bridge is over 5 hectares itself!

          We’re talking a similar area to the Wynyard Quarter here.

    1. Possibly, but only if NIMBY height fright completely cuts off the current apartment boom. The bits of Ponsonby and Grey Lynn that is happily zoned commercial because of existing use is rapidly being built up with many hundreds of apartments, so further growth is already baked into the pie. I particularly love the ones happening on the car yards of Great North Rd- a fantastic double hit on motordom.

      1. Let’s say, somehow, another 5,000 dwellings are added to the inner suburbs. They’ll require an average occupancy of three to get things back up to the peak pre-war population. That’s a stretch on two fronts: adding that many additional dwellings, and also having an average occupancy that is so high relative to residential occupancy trends currently being observed.

        1. Well, the City Centre managed to add ~20k people in two decades, without getting more land. Surely we can easily add another 20k in the whole area of the inner isthmus. All it takes is a few streets full of 3-4 storey buildings like we are slowly getting on Great North Road. Totally doable.

        2. It didn’t lose any land area, either, and is also a welcome home to genuine high-rise apartment blocks which is very much not the case for the inner suburbs.

        3. I am talking about the future, not the past. Unless you expect to be losing more land? I’ll repeat – if we can’t easily fit another 20k people into the Inner Isthmus, we aren’t even trying. This doesn’t need Singapore levels of density – it needs a couple streets of European-mid-size city density. 3-5 stories. Apartments mostly, some townhouses.

          Auckland’s ambition can be so tiny, and its fears so huge, I sometimes wonder where the courage and spirit of these peoples living here has gone – they had to have had *some* guts to move here, whether by waka, steamer or airplane.

      2. Agree Patrick. That stretch of GNR currently blighted by surface parking for cars on sale is going to be great once mixed use buildings are complete.

    2. I don’t know about that. You could probably fit a good amount of the deficit in Newton alone, Kingsland has plenty of space for apartments along New North Road, and Great North Road between the K and Grey Lynn could easily fit a couple of thousand new dwellings.

  3. The stand-out feature is that the overall population of these two areas has barely increased in nearly 70 years; about 70,000 then and now. So where is the intensification that we hear so much about (other than filling up a few spare rooms as suggested by Nick)? More importantly, who is going to occupy the new apartments? I’ve been monitoring that market for some months, and it’s moving very slowly despite the media hype. Granted, the larger north facing units sell quickly ($1.7m+), but not much else, as vendor expectation often exceeds market value by a significant percentage.

    1. I don’t know where you are looking, but I get one or two cold calls a week from estate agents wanting to sell my city apartments at top dollar. Just rented one, had nine groups view it the night I put the ad up, and one signed on the spot.

      1. Well done Nick. I get lots of cold calls too, but mostly agents trying their luck. OTOH I’m in buying mode at present, and I can assure you that some vendors’ expectations are unrealistically high, as evidenced by auction outcomes and sales records. But I agree that the rental market is hot; no problem renting out vacant units.

    2. Oh and probably important to point out that household sizes were much larger in the 20s and 30s, like literally twice as high. The baseline population density of everywhere has declined hugely. Back in the day you’d have families of five or six living in a three bedroom villa. These days you get maybe two or three people on average.

    3. jono, I think that’s an example of the classic “meaningless average” fallacy. There’s two clear periods of trends in the last 70 off years: Sustained population decline from 1945 to mid-1980s, followed by rapid growth.

      To put it another way: If one was trying to project how the population of these areas might change in the future, would you:
      1) Use the average change over the last 70 years (zero)? Or
      2) Take the average change from the last 20 years (i.e. circa 2,000 p.a.)?

      I know which one I’d pick. Remembering also that on the metropolitan level, 2,000 p.a. equates to 1-2% p.a. – i.e. much of the growth experienced in metropolitan Auckland for the last ~20 years has occurred in this curious corner of the city.

      That’s massive levels of intensification – and so much more to happen yet (Wynyard etc).

      1. Or (3) None of the above. There’s such a thing as an S-curve. Not to mention the fallacy of relying on the past as a predictor of the future. Or confirmation bias, which I won’t mention either.

        1. Sure extrapolating the past is no great guide to the future, but as there are so many apartment blocks going up now it’s pretty clear that further growth in these areas is already certain.

          What of course isn’t certain is when this current growth will stop, or whether it will stop, slow, or accelerate further.

        2. that’s all very cute, but your choice (1) was implied by your previous comment. All I was doing was suggesting that (2) was an improvement over (1) insofar as understanding past/present/future. Of course, if you want to bring in additional complexity into the model then yes, some form of diminishing returns may be a way to go. Although AK’s a long ways away from that methinks …

          With regards to relying on the past to predict the future I think it’s important to distinguish between forecasts based on:
          1. Simple extrapolations of observed trends; versus
          2. Attempts to understand the micro/macro drivers of observed trends followed by an analysis of how such factors might change in the future.

          In terms of #2, there’s evidence that: Cities are continuing to grow; Agglomeration economies appear to be strengthening; echnological changes tend to be solving the problems of density faster than they are reducing the impacts of distance; New Zealand’s population will continue to grow strongly from both natural births and net immigration gain; More growth in city centre can be accommodated in a number of areas, e.g. Wynyard, Britomart, Grafton etc; and Relaxation of planning policies, e.g. minimum apartment sizes, MPRs, would enable even more growth,

          I think this blog tends to focus on #2, but with an unavoidable dose of confirmation bias mixed in. But then again, there’s a statistical change that our bias is proven right.

      1. it may be that the 50,000 displacement figure relates to the extension of SH1 north of Ellerslie, rather than just the CMJ. Be interesting to know …

        1. I think it might just have been a load of balls that got repeated enough to become ‘fact’ kind of like the MMR autism nonsense.

        2. Saying its nowhere near 50K without evidence to prove your assertion is more correct than the current belief is also open to accusations of “a load of balls that got repeated enough to hopefully become ‘fact’ ” is it not?

          But if you dig a bit that 50,000 comes from numbers quoted at the time for the “expected” displacement estimates – which included the total demolition and rebuild of Freemans Bay suburb, which was intended to displace a lot of people given the nature of Freemans prior to the motorway. This particular planned activity was something which did not proceed fully and ended up only impacting 25% of Freemans Bay – down from the planned 100%.

          The census evidence of the actual number displaced in and around the CMJ was at least 25,000 – in these immediately adjacent suburbs – those numbers only account for suburbs that were no further south than Newton in the initial Motorway build phase. It excludes Grafton, Mt Eden, and parts of Newmarket/Gillies.

          Newton suburb was totally trashed, it went from over 4K people in it to 0 – that alone is 10% of that 50K figure in one compact suburb.
          If you take the “density” figure per hectare for Newton suburb and apply it across the entire CMJ land area (excluding Cemetery part of Grafton Gully and sports field at bottom of the Gully which were never “occupied” with residents), the number you’ll get will be close to 50K. As 90% of the CMJ outside of the Newton suburb which includes all of Freemans Bay, would be a figure close or over the 50K quoted as a “general” population density.

          Also note suburbs like Grafton/Khyber Pass, Newmarket, Greenlane, Remuera, Ellerslie also took a hammering when the motorway went through to the CMJ (from the then “end” of the Motorway at the present Ellerslie off ramp going north). Grafton in the Gully had whole streets that were flattened.

          The roads between the present “northern” edge of the motorway corridor and the railway line were all “trashed” to make the room needed. These suburbs easily add another 5-15,000 to the list of displaced.
          Whole streets full of houses (and occupants) – both sides at least were wiped out from Newmarket to Ellerslie. As well the Grafton/Mt Eden area was chopped into two by the Motorway with the southern part.around GIllies Avenue pretty trashed.

          If the full rebuild of Freemans Bay had gone ahead as intended the “missing” number from the 50K would have been in Freemans Bay rebuild part that never happened.

          So all up the 50K is a genuine figure, but is probably not 100% accurate based on the eventual (reduced) size of the Freemans Bay rebuild, which was only 25% of what was planned.

          At the end of the day it doesn’t matter whether it was 30K, 40K or 50K or more actually displaced as compared to the original estimates.
          The motorway impacted all those suburbs it touched and has done continuously ever since.

        3. Sorry about that Greg. The actual data is shown in Figure 3 of this http://www.population.org.nz/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/nzpr-vol-35_friesen.pdf which by my reckoning shows about 18500 people. Some due to the 0.5sqmkm of land needed for CMJ but some due to the need to build warehouses, offices and tertiary education facilites in the CBD and fringe. Some decline might even have been because less people live in each house, I think I read that somewhere!

  4. To employ the 20th century meme about living in inner city Auckland, that’s an awful lot of prostitutes and intellectuals.

      1. There’s a map in the linked paper, but it’s based on Stats NZ area units and as I say above, “essentially it’s everything from Herne Bay through Grey Lynn, Eden Terrace, Newmarket and Parnell”.

        1. Hard to be sure for that map but Centre City here is basically within the motorway boundary? If so that means the three new very big [for AKL] apartment blocks on Hopetoun and Howe Sts are just Inner Suburb and not Centre City?

        2. The area unit boundary peeks out a little way past the motorways in places, and that’s one of them; it runs along Howe St there. So Urba will count as part of the CBD, but Hopetoun Residences and 8 Hereford Residences won’t.

  5. This density bounce occurred in many cities, and in many places it follows exactly this pattern – the city centre bounces higher at the end of the century and the suburbs a bit lower.

    There are good reasons for this pattern – early in the century that density was structurally composed of larger family’s, more children and hostels/ boarding houses. Look at today’s historic buildings, multiply them to fill the street then literally cram them with people and you get the picture. This type of density was bad, it meant disease, sanitation problems (more to do with straining municipal budgets), smell, noise, a lack of privacy. It wasn’t that far before the graph that Auckland had an out break of plague. Basically density meant death -and you had a generation of people who could remember from experience these conditions in power upto the 70’s (long after the majority of the issues were solved but aversion memory is a strong influence ) Remember even court ville and many other historic apartment blocks now standing were actually a deconcentration when looked at people per square meter of floor space and at the time were considered elite modern living.

    Fast forward and now we don’t remember the density problems, we look at it as some sort of traffic engineer conspiracy to build motorways (it was really the doctors to blame). We now live with more space per person. In the CBD it’s fine, we just build taller buildings, preserve a comfortable living space, hence the high bounce. In suburbs like Ponsonby the tolerance tends to be towards preservation, so because you can’t squeeze people into to smaller floor space the bounce is lower. As for the amount of land occupied by parking -remember in the nz context there were allwYs small yards and a surprising number of land use that is no longer (industry, stables, privy’s) so the impact is not as drastic across the whole as it may seem at first blush.

    1. You make a good point. In the 19th century, the major public health challenges were, basically, diseases of density. Cholera, plagues, etc. However, we’ve pretty much fixed those problems through antibiotics, immunisation, and better sanitation.

      Today, things have changed. The major public health challenges are diseases of inactivity. Diabetes, heart disease, etc. The best solution to those problems is, paradoxically, more density! Put people in environments where it is easy to walk (or cycle) places, and they will be healthier. From a public health perspective, the re-peopling of the city centre and inner suburbs should be loudly cheered.

    2. > This type of density was bad, it meant disease, sanitation problems (more to do with straining municipal budgets), smell, noise, a lack of privacy.

      This is the difference between “density”, where more people can live in an area if you build more space, and “overcrowding”, which has to do with the number of people living in a fixed number or size of rooms. One of the the huge advantages of density of the first type is that it reduces the market pressure for overcrowding, which is still a very real problem in Auckland, particularly in CBD apartments and poor outer suburbs.

      It’s particularly perverse when density is opposed on the grounds that it will lead to the problems associated with overcrowding, when in reality it does the opposite.

  6. ” It wasn’t that far before the graph that Auckland had an out break of plague.”

    You surely refer to the worldwide Spanish Flu epidemic from 1918 onwards? – that wasn’t a “plague” caused by anything Auckland specific, and it was worldwide and was spread by returning soldiers from WWI – it affected cities and countries alike all over the world at the time.

    No doubt concentrations of people helped it spread, but the same can be said of TB and many other Public Health diseases.
    The roll out of Penicillin and Sulphur based drugs to the wider public, post WWII made them a distant memory in short order.

    1. Nope – Black Death, The plague of the bubonic variety broke out in Sydney in 1900. Lead to a big scare in Auckland there had been previous outbreaks which had lead to big clean ups in water supply’s (was a factor in the development in the movement of the water supply from the domain to western springs – along with fact it was too limited and the fouling from the cemetery into the pipes across Grafton gully -whether it was genuine plague is another matter but that’s what the reports said ). The main ones that caused the flights towards the suburbs tended to be things like cholera and typhoid. The risk of desiese and the fears of them in these generations long outlasted the risk to the population. It was still being sited during the demolition of freemans bay, greys ave and the state house building programmes decades later. It is a little like the fear my grandfather had of going underground – because he had seen a cave in as a child he avoided it- despite there being a remote risk in a rail tunnel.

      1. We have sorted out the solutions to the diseases caused by insanitary water and poor waste management in cities. These are not the problem now. But as Peter points out above we have new epidemics that are caused, or at least exacerbated, by the urban form built in the second half of last century with its concomitant auto-dependence and inactivity. There is little point in designing our cities in fear of a previous era’s problems. But of course you and anyone else is welcome to go and live in the country or any other smaller community if that is still a concern for you.

        1. If you want to understand these trends then you need to understand the society that created them. I am not advocating anyone goes and lives in a cave and I agree that the improvement of urban form is probably the single biggest technological advance New Zealand could make improve the lives of it’s citizens. What I am pointing out is these boogymen (and others) that have justified Auckland and many places poor urban form – it is not a case of traffic engineers setting out to destroy the country. We now have a golden opportunity- we have the first generation in history with no memory of these issues and so can return to more traditional ways of living (eg close to work and public transport). The trouble is now to identify what else are yesterday issues and so shorten their generational shadows- e.g. the need to provide 2 car parks per dwelling because you need a car each so that in 20 years time these are not still under pinning the master systems which drive the development of our cities, or recognise the disincentives to higher density dwellings in financial systems (higher interest rates for first home buyers in an apartment vs a house; or larger deposits to offset risk -which I saw when I was getting quotes for a house vs. an apartment. I am terribly sorry for disturbing your website- Perhaps I will go back to achieving intensely lively neighbourhoods – brightens up my cave nicely.

      2. Bubonic plague is spread by rats so its in a different league to the usual suspects.
        Sounds to me like the Russian Invasion, a true phantom menace for both back in their day.

        And as Patrick said, all we’ve really done is exchanged death by a single blow, for a death by a thousand cuts – caused by Auto-dependency and its accompanying lifestyle diseases which planet has an epidemic of.

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