It’s the last day of 2025 so it is a good time to run through the events of the last ten years in Auckland. A decade of profound transformation for New Zealand’s largest city. A coming of age.
This is Part 1 of a 2 Part scenario.
Global megatrends mean local megachange, and Auckland is fortunate to have been well placed and nimble enough to largely come out on the positive side of these forces. We have seen the global trends of the first decade and a half of the 21C accelerate over the last decade, particularly:
- Migration: Internationally another great age of people movement is clearly underway
- Urbanisation: Both the developing world and the OECD nations have continued to urbanise and cities have become the economic force of our age
- De-Carbonisation: The urgent need to reduce carbon emissions everywhere and in every way has been an increasing issue
The strong population growth in Auckland seen just before this period has continued consistently. Auckland grew at around 2.5% per year from 1.5 million in 2015 to approach 2m this year [cf 2015 pop growth was 2.9%]. This has of course not been without difficulty, requiring the government and the council to work much better together with the private sector to deliver the required new dwellings; hence the huge building ramp-up we are seeing, especially of apartments and terrace houses, but also the demand side controls finally enacted by government to reduce the more egregious forms of speculation. The adoption of the first Unitary Plan which reduced density restrictions in some areas helped enormously; and especially led to the new vibrancy around Rapid Transit stations such as Albany, Papatoetoe, and Glen Innes. Who’d have thought Glen Eden, among other places, would become as cool as it has with all those car yards and panel beaters shops around the station now sprouting apartments?
And although we are along way from the various crisis points we are still at the end of the global movement of peoples we’ve seen over the last decade as another one of history’s great ages of migration picks up strength, New Zealand remains an attractive place to live and Auckland in particular an increasingly attractive place to work. Not to mention all those returning New Zealanders and [smarter] Australians fleeing those seemingly endless destructive weather events across the Tasman. It has been much more difficult in other places, especially Europe, although there too these changes have helped offset natural declines and ageing populations, and are proving quite stimulatory as well as disruptive.
The ageing population is a huge issue here too; every year from 2011 another year of that demographic bubble from the post-war baby boom turned 65, the nominal age of retirement. The changes of this politically active and property rich cohort have had a big impact on the city and nation. Two main trends have been observable over the decade; one group have taken advantage of the secular price shift in Auckland property over their lifetime and sold up and headed for smaller centres around the country [providing population offsets there, but also en-greying these communities], the second group have downsized within Auckland; stimulating significant demand for rest homes but also smaller well placed dwellings, particularly apartments, in great locations near amenities. Thus we have seen the apartment boom driven by two very different ends of the market; older cashed up people and younger first home buyers and renters starting out. More on our new urban form below.
Next year of course, 2026, this group will enter a new phase as the first of them turns 80, we can expect further shifts in the retirement sector as well of increased hospital and care costs for the nation as a whole. The aged care sector is booming and the apartment market is diversifying as a result. And thankfully in Auckland the service and tourism sectors are growing strongly to contribute to these nationwide costs. We will need the regulatory changes that saw in the start of this period, the Unitary Plan, to continue to evolve in response.
The ‘Super Diversity’ trend has continued and strengthened, making Auckland a much more dynamic and vibrant place [eg Pakuranga Town Centre now in an intense rivalry with Balmoral for the bragging rights as the leading centre of Asian street style eating]. And a much more internationally connected and economically competitive one too; migrants always bring better and deeper connections back to their home nations for expanded trade and social interaction. Also the creative sector has witness a great outburst of productivity as people bridging more than one culture so often are stimulated to respond to the tensions of that situation creatively.
Urbanisation- and the rise of the Suburban Centres
Called the Metropolitan Revolution and the Great Inversion even before our period began, the stunning re-emgengence of cities as the economic, cultural, and environmental force of our age has continued strongly. The strength with which Auckland has risen to take its clear place as the Primary City of the South Pacific region has caused rumblings in the rest of the country, but happily successive governments have come understand the value of the city’s rise for the whole nation [and new urban policies have benefited our other urban centres too; for they too are having their own Metropolitan Revolutions]. Auckland is competing strongly with the equally resurgent cities of the Australian seaboard; Australian cities helping to soften the blow of the structural decline in the hard commodity extractive industries there, despite the climate impacts all through that continent.
Auckland City Centre population doubled from 20k in 2005 to 41k in 2015, and doubled again to over 80k now. These new apartment buildings substantially changing the skyline, and their new occupants substantially changing the street life below. Wynyard Quarter, the whole of the western side down from the Hobson St ridge, and elsewhere are now covered in new residential buildings and streets buzzing with new retail, hospo, offices, and above all that great resource; people. Architecturally the full range is on show, we all have our favourites [and otherwise]. I particularly like the new 50 story block with the grand atrium linking Fort St through to the new shared space on lower Shortland St, and of course the development of the parking stump [at last!] out the back of high street with new apartments above in the daring light-weight structure. Just a couple of examples.
But of course this growth of the centre is nowhere near the whole story, the strong boom in long dormant subcenters has been as a big if not bigger story this decade. New Lynn has its sixth apartment tower now, and looks unstoppable after the huge boost it received with the opening of the CRL [more on that in Part 2] and the conversion of industrial land to housing. Manukau City, is at last gaining a true identity on the back of its intensification, and even Pakuranga Town Centre is thriving, after that big fight over the now canned flyover; the Busway there is booming inevitably leading to talk of converting it to Light Rail in the future. Albany is now an actual place with residents in quantity giving even that maddeningly planed environment life and character, it has been extraordinary watching it really take off with the Busway extension and those new mixed-use apartments.
Every Metro Centre has benefited from the removal of Parking Minimums and the rise of ride-share [more on that tomorrow too], the range of small and affordable living spaces all across the city made possible by unbundling them from parking and the improvements in Transit quality has been great for everyone, especially students and the many singles and couples not wishing to share. It has also led to many new entrants in the development business as the cost barriers to entry are lower. Smaller building firms are now building multi-unit dwellings instead of only detached houses, creating a much more varied market.
Local quality and identity is the new groove; made possible by new high volumes of dwellings clustered around Transit Stations. All sorts of places are transforming on this model from Papatoetoe, Onehunga, and Albany and of course all along the Western line, where the transformed access to employment, education, and entertainment made possible by the CRL has led to explosions of activity.
The rapid re-greening of the whole city secured through the somewhat controversial Urban Canopy rules in the Heat Island Regulation of the second Super City Mayoralty is now accepted as universally successful. This by-law requires every public parking space to covered by a solid canopy of tree cover or face a sharp penalty was of course resisted by carpark owners, but is well loved by the public and has generated measurable heat island effect reductions and rapidly improved the city’s tree cover with all the additional ongoing positive outcomes urban trees bring. While also making many previously dreary places instantly glorious. Not to mention creating a whole industry for arborists and landscapers, that newly sexy profession. The many passionate debates about tree varieties often pitting the urban food growing movement up against the botanically correct: It is interesting to see how by choosing a consistent kind of tree a community can almost brand their neighbourhood.
But it is the Centre City that has seen the most transformation; Albert St now is giddily vertiginous with so many new tall buildings, the rebuilt leafy and peopled streetscape, and of course the sleek movement of trains below. Everywhere within the broader Queen St valley from the University ridge to the east across to the western slope down to Victoria Park is thrumming with people and largely absent of cars and fumes. And the whole roiling scene now tips effortlessly down to the newly opened waterfront which offers such an irresistable pull: This is so obviously an extraordinarily positive and productive revolution that it beggars the mind what took us so long to achieve it. Perhaps it really did need the right Zeitgeist, or simply enough people of vision in positions of power?
Part 2 up next: Transport.
NB: This ‘History of the Next Ten Years’ is a scenario, not a prediction, a possible future, perhaps even a probable one, but that depends on decisions made now and in the near future…discuss…