Today I’m officially launching the New Zealand Local Population Database. This brings together a huge amount of population data for the first time, showing how different parts of New Zealand have changed over 1891-2013. The database covers all council areas (regions and territorial authorities), as well as 260+ towns and cities (“urban areas”).
As mentioned, there’s a wealth of data in there. I’m sure some readers will love taking a look through and seeing what they can find – how has the population of Waipukurau or [insert name of small town where you were born] changed over the last 120 years? For now (and in the “Constructive Thinking” publication which the slides below are taken from), I’ll just look at some highlights for Auckland.
Some historical perspective: at the turn of the 20th century, New Zealand had “four chief towns” which were all about the same size – although Auckland was a little larger.
Auckland started to take off in the postwar period. The city grew at 3.1% annually for 20 years, while the rest of New Zealand grew at just 1.7% annually. Those higher growth rates made a big difference over 20 years – Auckland grew by 84% vs just 39% for the rest of New Zealand. Annual growth of 3% is pretty big for a city – we didn’t see those levels again for decades, although Auckland has probably reached that level again in the last few years with the migration boom.
And ever since the 70s, Auckland has been big and fast-growing enough that it’s had higher total population growth than the rest of New Zealand combined.
This is one of the key findings from my research: From 1971 to 2013, a period spanning more than 40 years, Auckland has outgrown the rest of New Zealand combined – adding 650,000 people vs 575,000.
Hang on, you might say. If that’s true, then why doesn’t everyone know about it? Why does it seem like Auckland’s growth is a new or surprising thing?
I think it’s because historical data like this is hard to access, or it has been until now. That’s partly because New Zealand (and especially Auckland) has gone through lots of local government changes, reshuffles and so on:
Local government (i.e. council) boundaries haven’t changed much since 1989 – the key change being the merger of the old Auckland councils into one. But before 1989, we had a completely different system, and different boundaries, so it can be hard to compare or even know what to do with the older data. My research aims to change that (and it covers the whole country, not just Auckland).
Lastly, Auckland didn’t have much of a regional identity until quite recently. Again, I think that’s due to how the city was structured, and the plethora of councils we used to have.
This slide is a cracker, I think. It shows that most of Auckland’s population was on the ‘isthmus’ – the old Auckland City Council area – until the late ’50s. The isthmus still had the majority of the population into the ’60s. Starting then, the south, west and north all took off. I also looked at this in another post two years ago, when I first started collating this data…
That postwar period was a time of huge suburban growth, and new suburbs sprang up in all directions. Auckland had always had little satellites and towns outside of the main city – in most cases, the city has now expanded to meet them and they’ve become suburbs of the wider whole.
The great tragedy is that all this growth was focused around cars. Most of the old ‘satellites’ had been on the southern or western railway lines, but the new suburbs that surrounded them didn’t give any thought to public transport. It’s a bit off topic for my research, but we’ve obviously bemoaned this fact at Greater Auckland many times. Looking back at the history makes you realise that Auckland could have turned out very differently.
I also find it interesting that the Harbour Bridge, the example everyone thinks of when they talk about “transformational infrastructure”, just didn’t have as big an effect on growth as the suburbanisation of the west and south. And of course, growth in all three directions was predicated on motorways rather than effective transit.
And last but not least, another slide that isn’t technically part of the New Zealand Local Population Database. It’s not based on migration data, and unfortunately only goes back to 1991:
Long story short, Auckland is very popular with international migrants. This is a key factor in our growth. Number crunching shows that Auckland actually received all of New Zealand’s net migration for 20-odd years, until the current boom (2013 onwards) started. That reflects that some other regions lost people, while others gained people, etc. Internal or domestic migration is a different story, and it’s likely that Auckland has lost people to Waikato and the Bay of Plenty in the last few years, continuing a trend in place since the 90s.
I’d love to get hold of some more historic migration data – Auckland presumably got a large share of international immigration in the ’70s and ’80s too, given that this was when the main waves of Pacific immigration took place and most of NZ’s Pasifika population is in Auckland. But I haven’t found the data yet.
That’s enough for one day, but future posts will look at data for other parts of NZ, and more specific parts of Auckland (here was one I did for Devonport).
Compiling the New Zealand Local Population Database was kinda tricky, and those who are interested can explore the files to see how I did what I did, and the various caveats.
The only issue relevant for this post is that pre-1926 data for Auckland (and other parts of NZ) excludes Maori. This only comes into the first slide, and not in a big way as the Maori population prior to 1926 was mainly rural.
For some parts of NZ, boundary changes make the data a bit questionable once you go back beyond the last few decades. Auckland doesn’t have the accuracy issue (its borders haven’t really changed since 1891).
I’d like to give “mad propz” to Arthur Grimes and Nicholas Tarrant, whose 2013 paper was the starting point for my work here, and “big ups” for Peter Nunns who I think first introduced me to that paper. Although it might have been Stu Donovan, so he gets a “shout out” just in case.
And thanks to my employer RCG for publishing and hosting this database.