Is this the end of the Kiwi backyard?

Luke Parker
Is this the end of the Kiwi backyard?

Auckland is consistently ranked in the world’s top-10 most liveable cities. And with this high reputation, comfort and beauty, it’s no surprise the city expanded by more than 50,000 newcomers last year alone, and shows no sign of slowing.

With a construction boom predicted to be the biggest ever in 2017, further waves of council’s special housing areas being released, new terraced housing developments, and the inner-city apartment lifestyle craze heating up, land will continue to become a rare commodity.

So is this the beginning of the death of the backyard dream for many future Aucklanders?


A remnant of our colonial history

Massey University Pro Vice-Chancellor, Distinguished Professor Paul Spoonley FRSNZ, says our Kiwi dream around owning the house with big back yard was initially formed in New Zealand’s early colonial period. Land was plentiful and space was needed to provide for families – gardens and small holdings for a cow or some sheep.

“This was further underlined by the welfare state,” Professor Spoonley says, “especially in relation to ensuring that there was support for home ownership and that basics were provided for by the state so that there was disposable income for major purchases, such as housing.”

SEE ALSO: Auckland: A country within a country (+ Infographic)

He says the shift really began in the 1980s when the Labour Government changed the social contract that underpinned the welfare state and universal provision.

Changes under the 1990’s National Government and since then have also played a part.

“Major issues really emerged in the second decade of the 21st century when the cost of housing compared to income began to diverge, hence the ongoing debates about housing affordability,” Professor Spoonley says.

“The shift really began prior to the Global Financial Crisis, but as we have come out of this with a significant inflow of migrants, reduced departures from New Zealand, and the inflation in housing prices, especially in Auckland, the issues have become very stark.

“It is acute for those who are entering the labour market and are establishing families.”


Auckland’s future housing dynamic

Professor Spoonley poses several questions as factors to consider when looking at Auckland’s future housing dynamic and landscape:

  • What will baby boomers do as they retire – will they head into apartments?
  • Will there be more intensification of land use?
  • And will buildings go up rather than out?

“There’s a strong ideological position in these debates which says that the main issue is land supply.

“It is a simplistic view, especially given that the housing deficit between demand and supply has been obvious for some time in Auckland.”

The Massey University professor says there are younger generations who are going to struggle to get into the housing market while baby boomers own houses that are becoming too large for them both in terms of the size of the house as an empty nest and the section.

“Affordability issues are combined with a growing housing mismatch - need versus ownership.”

SEE ALSO: Auckland: A country within a country (+ Infographic)


Distinguished Professor Paul Spoonley

Professor Spoonley is the Pro Vice-Chancellor of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Massey University, New Zealand. 

He was the Programme Leader for the “Integration of Immigrants Programme” ($3.2 million, Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment/MBIE) and Nga Tangata Oho Mairangi which researches population change ($800,000 MBIE, 2012-2014) and is one of the Principal Investigators on Capturing the Diversity Dividend of Aotearoa New Zealand ($4.8 million, MBIE, 2014-2020).

He is the author or editor of 27 books on politics, employment and labour markets, ethnic identity and immigration. He was awarded the Royal Society’s Science and Technology Medal for leadership in intercultural relations in 2009, he was a Fulbright Senior Scholar at the University of California Berkeley in 2010 and was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand in 2011. 

In 2013, he was a Visiting Researcher at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity in Göttingen. The award of the recent MBIE grant enables the New Zealand research team to work with their colleagues on the Max Planck hosted project on Global Diversity which examines the way in which immigration has contributed to superdiversity in global cities. Auckland will become a new site for this research.

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