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Picturing a nation's change

Wednesday 5th November 2014

If it weren’t obvious from the marked absence of flying cars today, it’s difficult to tell what the world might look like in 50, 30, 20, or even 15 years’ time. Predictions of the future so often comically, woefully miss the mark that even educated guesses are something of a fool’s game. But a picture of what we can expect of New Zealand society in a couple of decades’ time is starting to come into focus – presuming, of course, that current trends continue. We asked Tim McNamara to show us some of the changes in the geographic spread of New Zealand in the years between the 2001 and 2013 censuses.

A map showing the centre of New Zealand's population,and the migration from 1861 to 2011

These two data points have been determined from the Official New Zealad Yearbook, which have been digitised by Statistics New Zealand. The yearbooks have consistently included population estimates for rural areas as well as many populated areas. For each area, calculate its central point (called a centroid) from its population, then take an average of each of the points, weighting each one by the national figure.

A map showing the top industries for each area

This image shows which industries most people work in, according to their 2013 census responses. Stats NZ does a great job of classifying census results into codes. For each area unit, we rank each of the codes by the number of people who work in that industry.

In the image above, you’ll notice that New Zealand looks pretty agricultural from afar. With the exception of tourist hotspots like Taupo and Queenstown, all country towns are pretty much the same, industrially speaking, as they service the needs of their local area. When we take a closer look at major cities, some really interesting patterns play out, with many split into two or three social divisions.

A map showing the top industries in Auckland

The spread of industries over Auckland is particularly stark. Professionals rule the central istmus and the North Shore, while manufacturing is a significant employer on the other side of the bridge. Newer places like Botany is more mixed. The one place that fights against the tide is Grafton, which is home to Auckland’s central hospital. It seems that staff like to live nearby, as the most popular industry for the West Grafton area unit is health.

A map showing how many industries employ 50 per cent of the population after ordering them by the number of people working in them

Diversified economies are likely to be more resilient in the face of a global downturn in a particular area. As you can see above, rural and provincial parts of New Zealand that are dependent on a narrow set of industries could be vulnerable to such a shock.

A map showing industry changes nationwide between 2001 and 2013

Most change is happening on the fringes of urban areas; both city centres and rural places are pretty stable. This makes some sense when you think that most development happens in relatively cheaper areas. One of the limitations of this data section is that we’re using the 1996 industry classification codes, called ANZSIC96. This clumps together a few professions that have been pulled into their own classifications in later standards. We’re sticking with the older standard here, though, as it allows us to make comparisions back to 2001 – the 2001 census results haven’t been retrospectively coded in the newer standard.

A map showing movement of people aged between 15 and 24 between 2001 and 2013

This shows the decline in people aged between 15 and 24 in the regions between the 2001 and 2013 censuses. There are about the same numbers of young people in the main centres, but many more in Canterbury, Otago and Queenstown. The East Coast, the Bay of Plenty and Northland are struggling to retain young people, which could prove a challenge for those economies if the trends continue.

A map showing movement of people aged between 15 and 24 between 2001 and 2013 in Auckland

If we focus on Auckland, we can see that the number of young people in expensive areas like Devonport, Remuera and Epsom, is declining while the number of young people in the city and more affordable suburbs like Glenfield, Te Atatu Peninsula and South Auckland is increasing.

A map showing where young families are in the North Island

A map showing where young families are in the South Island

One of the decisions that I was never asked about when I was younger – unlike what I was going to do when I grew up – is where I wanted to raise my family in the future. But it turns out that I won’t have total say over what town or city I finally do decided on, with the decision imposed on me.

A map showing where young families are in Auckland

A map showing where young families are in Wgtn

A map showing where young families are in Christchurch

This content is brought to you with funding assistance from New Zealand On Air.

Cover image from Photo New Zealand.



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Tim McNamara is interested in how technology can enhance people's lives. He works with scientists to speed up their research, supports humanitarian response to disasters and produces digital art. He also writes a lot of software, occasionally runs koha coding workshops and likes to run very long distances at great expense to his quads and his social life.
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