I’ve been investigating how different parts of New Zealand have grown in the last 125 years, inspired by a 2013 Motu study. As part of that, I noticed that there’s actually pretty good data for ‘central’ Auckland, i.e. the isthmus (other parts of Auckland are a bit trickier, but hopefully I can work through that). The 2010 amalgamation of all the old Auckland councils still seems quite recent, but those councils had actually only been around since 1989.

Before that, we had a system of boroughs and counties which had survived quite intact since the 19th century. And it turns out that the Eden County, and the various boroughs within it, was almost identical to the 1989-2010 Auckland City boundaries, what Stats New Zealand now call the “Central Auckland Zone” of the Auckland Urban Area. The only difference is that it excluded Otahuhu.

If that all sounds like too much of a mouthful, here’s a map of Eden County – I’ve just used the figures for that, but adding in Otahuhu.

Source: http://www.aucklandcity.govt.nz/dbtw-wpd/exec/dbtwpub.dll?BU=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.aucklandcity.govt.nz%2Fdbtw-wpd%2FHeritageImages%2Findex.htm&AC=QBE_QUERY&TN=heritageimages&QF0=ID&NP=2&RF=HIORecordSearch&MR=5&QI0=%3D%227-A14275%22
Source: http://www.aucklandcity.govt.nz/dbtw-wpd/HeritageImages/images/photos/c19f/A14275.jpg

And here’s what the figures look like:

Central Auckland's Population v2

By 1891, there were already more than 50,000 people living in central Auckland, which grew pretty steadily until 1971. The population hardly budged from 1971 to 1991, actually dropping slightly at one point, but since then it’s been on a major growth path, faster than at any time previously. My guess is that we’ll keep up this growth for a long time to come.

Incidentally, Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin all had quite similar populations at the end of the 19th century. It was only in the 20th century that Auckland became so much larger than any of our other cities.

So why did central Auckland stop growing in the 70s and 80s? New Zealand as a whole had lower growth rates in this period – lower migration, perhaps. Auckland had lower growth as well, and most of the growth that did happen was out to the north, west, or (especially) the south. From some other Stats data (and note that Otahuhu has shifted back to south Auckland for this one – population around 11,000)

Total Auckland Population v2

Another interesting point here is that central Auckland dominated population growth in the region until well into the 1950s. It was after 1956, or maybe even 1961, when the southern, western and northern areas started to take off.

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44 comments

    1. Not just the car, but the decision and multiple millions of dollars to promote and subsidise its infrastructure and the sprawl it led to. Including the use of rates income from the old city to spread the people away, and of course the actual destruction (trams) or neglect and near abandonment (rail) of the city’s supporting transport technology.

      We are of course now rebuilding what was lost, but interestingly this time we will not be destroying all the work of the last sixty years, but rather complementing it. This is one of the ways that the current revolution in transport infrastructure investment is cleverer than that of the second half of last century.
      The chart above clearly shows the dullest 20 years in our city’s story. Living through it in part informs my views on the city now.

      1. “The chart above clearly shows the dullest 20 years in our city’s story.”
        That 20 years was dominated by the citrats (the nats in drag); keep rates down at any cost mentality – and the cost was enormous. Unfortunately far from seeing the error of their ways, the ones still around want to double down on it. No names needed.

      2. And a bit of a class thing also. My contemporaries lived in the inner suburbs as students in the late 60’s and early 70’s but the minute they got a bit of money, they moved either back to Mission Bay, or to the new suburbs in the west which were opening up with the new motorway. When I bought in Kingsland in 1981, they thought I was mad. My street had the remnants of the old white working class which had settled it in the 1950’s, the remnants of the Pacific Islanders from the 1960’s and more recent arrivals -students, hippies, lefties, and queers like me. Now – it is full of blasted yuppies.

    2. I recall from the 80’s that it was illegal to live in the central city, a few ingenious architects were selling kitset kitchens/bathrooms for a small market of bylaw-flouting trendsetters (in NZ), not sure when that regulation was changed and would have aided with the population explosion of the last decade. Tellingly, all I can remember of the central city as a kid back then was a desolate, dirty place with ancient old buses. A lonely Planet I read recently from the early 90’s described Auckland as a city with a dead heart – thankfully this is slowly being turned around.

      1. There were actually quite a lot of illegal residences hidden away in nominally commercial buildings scattered around the crappier corners of the CBD back in the 70’s

      2. It was never illegal to live in the city. Generally what made it illegal was the addition of a kitchen or bathroom to office space without consent.

  1. Rather interesting and would like to see the figures out until 2013 (last Census) then again when the 2018 Census happens

    Looking from about 1956 the South began taking off and apart from a dip in that 70’s – 80s period (Oil shock, stagflation and the Western (world) Cities in decline) has continued accelerated growth until about 1990 where it began running parallel to the Isthmus.

    If current trends continue the Isthmus and South will continue to run parallel in growth (most likely). But if that Isthmus “slow down” does not alter through 2013-2018 and the South maintains its trajectory (no reason not to with the amount of growth this way) then by 2025 you might see the South overtake the Isthmus.

    Of course this is determined by the final outcome of the Unitary Plan. So if the Isthmus does not step up with its intensification load the South will definitely overtake the Isthmus by 2025 if not earlier.

      1. Very interesting! I would also like to see the second graph extended to include 2013 data. As a non-Aucklander, it would also be useful to know which areas by name fit into each (S-C-N-W) category.

  2. Any reason why Otahuhu is bound with the Isthmus given Otahuhu while former ACC controlled is part of the Manukau Ward with Auckland Council?
    Would have Otahuhu as part of the Southern figures (about 545,000 (Counties Manukau approximate))

    1. Sorry my explanation went lower down. Otahuhu and Panmure joined up as Tamaki City as a rear guard action to prevent being part of larger Councils. It didnt work but Tamaki City couldn’t be split due to a promise so it all went into Auckland City Council.

          1. I can see my Victorian Street. It’s a fascinating document.

            Though interestingly it has streets that were never built, see those where Grey Lynn Park is now; there have never been streets there.

            Heartbreaking the rape we continue to do to the Onehunga foreshore…

  3. From Wikipedia:

    “Designed in the 1960s and with most of its links built in the 1970s, the CMJ was a major project in a scheme that led to the forcible acquisition and demolition of 15,000 dwellings in the inner suburbs, causing 50,000 people to move away from the area”

    That would explain the dip.

    1. From what I understand 15,000 is probably an underestimate.

      Apparently the area was designated for a time prior to construction, during which the area devolved rapidly (as one would expect) with little maintenance and only low value construction (eg car parks). I wouldn’t be surprised if the desolation of this area prompted many surrounding areas to tread cautiously, as the government was showing that it would happily devalue or seize land.

    2. The figure of 15,000 dwellings is absurd. If you allowed a modest 200 m2 section with a single dwelling (small even for the inner city) that would imply some 300 ha of land was used for CMJ. Just not possible

    3. … which went hand in hand with the construction of state houses in Te Atatu, Mangere and Otara, intended to house the migrant workers displaced by the ACC’s slum clearance program. The gentrification of the remaining houses would have also led to a drop in the number of people living in each house.

    4. This paper http://www.population.org.nz/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/nzpr-vol-35_friesen.pdf gives a good history on those population declines – while there seems to have been a drop of about 50,000 people overall, it’s not all due to the CMJ. Also smaller household sizes, major redevelopments of housing by the council, the shift from the city centre being mixed-use to just a CBD (now, of course, it’s very much a city centre again), etc.

      1. Yes we have had this discussion before. If 50,000 lived in the CMJ area it would have required densities greater than the more populous parts of Bangladesh. The 50,000 happened due to all the changes in the centre including expansion of business areas and reductions in household size in Ponsonby/ GreyLynn. Some numpty wrote a paper claiming it was all due to CMJ and the story lingers on.

        1. I agree that number is almost certainly overstated. But it was still a huge number given the size of the city then, and furthermore the severance it created continues today to day and destroyed the premier shopping strip of the time; K Rd. And the loss of rateable property to the council must now amount to millions and millions. Sure it enabled wider connectivity but at an enormous cost, including to local connectivity.

          If anyone proposed any kind of project that caused this much disruption now there would be no chance. It is important to understand the destructive heroism that public projects of that age were able to muster, for good and ill.

          By contrast the CRL is Laparoscopic surgery to this amputation with no anaesthetic.

          1. And I agree with all three of your paragraphs Patrick. But as well as coming a those costs it also has enough benefits that we wont be pulling it down anytime soon.

          2. plus much of the costs of CMJ are sunk, so that’s why you wouldn’t pull it down (which would incur additional costs).

            And that’s coming from someone who thinks that on balance the CMJ probably made a net negative contribution to Aucklanders welfare, especially when compared to the original (very decent) highway plan to bypass the city centre along what we now call the SH20 alignment.

          3. Absolutely, and I don’t propose that we should. We do need to achieve better mitigation of the severance however, and that’s all possible.

            The costs of abandoning the previous era’s work is a lesson I think we need to take from the Brave New World of Modernism. Some of these structures should go, were the benefits of doing so out weigh the costs, the obvious example being the stupidity of the New North and Dom Rd flyover, but otherwise we are in the business of adding or returning the missing alternatives to the widespread and complete private motoring infrastructure: more choice not less. Complicating and reducing its dominance, but not destroying it.

  4. Don’t worry about over population of the central isthmus, Len Brown has managed to slow building growth to a crawl. The central isthmus’ high rental costs will force poor people to move elsewhere.

    1. You’ve got the NIMBYs to blame for that. Conversely, in areas like the central city it’s hard to walk down a street that doesn’t have at least one new apartment blocks being built on it such is the explosion in demand for central living. Not surprisingly the central city is actually one of the most affordable places to buy – plenty of apartments for a few hundred thousand.

        1. Can’t blame housing issues on Len – that’s ridiculous, hes only one vote on Council and Council itself is only one part of problem.

          1. If you look at the actual voting records of who is voting for more density versus more of the same you’ll find the mayor and deputy mayor constantly voting for more. On the other side we have a ragtag group of councillors who believe in something along of the lines of ‘democracy, heritage and ‘the kiwi lifestyle” to resist increasing density allowance across the city.

            I’m not sure what your agenda is here, but misrepresenting this voting record and their actions is pretty poor form. You should be targeting the likes of Mike Lee and Dick Quax who have been consistently opposed to any increase in density.

  5. Otahuhu was only included in Auckland City Council in 1989 because the Local Government Commission, to encourage amalgamations, had promised that any voluntary amalgamation would not be undone. So Panmure and Otahuhu Borough joined up as Tamaki City in the hope that would mean they could avoid a larger amalgamation. They couldn’t. Tamaki had to be kept together so it was put into Auckland. But Auckland successfully lobbied to get rid on Middlemore Hospital to Manukau (no rates) and even though the old Auckland owned Waikumete Cemetery they also off loaded that to Waitakere City (again no rates).

  6. The old city centre were higly industralized, highly polluted with crime.

    With the invention of cars, people could live in a greenly suburb with a quarter acre land for kids to play, and being able to commute to city for work.

    Now the trend has reversed because our highly polluted factories are moved out, replacing with service industry.

    CBD will growth once it is no longer dirty, and replace with desirable amenity, retail, hospitality and good public transport instead of car congestion.

    1. Bit more nuanced than that, a lot of the US promotion of sprawl through motorway building and subsidised housing were based on racist policies that aimed to allow white people to live away from urban areas seen to have high black populations.

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