Wellingtonians are embracing inner-city living, with nearly 13,000 now calling the CBD home.
Census figures published yesterday show that, while the population in many of the southern and western suburbs has stagnated, the inner city is thriving.
Between the waterfront and the Basin Reserve, the population has jumped by 62 per cent since 2006, with an extra 1704 people.
Overall, including the Lambton Quay stretch of the city to Wellington railway station, 12,954 people now live in the inner city, compared with 9294 at the last census seven years ago.
Many northern suburbs also experienced strong growth, with central Johnsonville growing by 10.3 per cent. Carterton was the fastest-growing district in the North Island, its population increasing 16 per cent between the last two censuses.
And while Wellington isn't growing as fast as Auckland, which gained enough new residents to fill Tauranga, the capital is holding its own, increasing its population by a steady 6.5 per cent. That means an extra 11,490 people are living in the capital.
Craig Stewart is managing director of Stratum Management, which has been behind several recent inner-city apartment developments in the city, including Piermont on Tory St.
He said the sort of people wanting to live in the CBD had broadened, and developers were now building for families, first-home buyers, young professionals and renters.
"As people are getting busier, owning a property in the suburbs, with all that maintenance, is becoming less attractive. The city, with its cafe lifestyle, is becoming the people's backyard."
Wellington City Council strategy manager Brian Hannah said the movement of people into the city and the northern suburbs was part of the council's deliberate growth plan. "We have got a plan to direct new dwelling into the north and apartments in the city."
Population growth in hilly suburbs such as Kelburn and Wadestown, which have both shrunk since 2006, was limited because the housing was older and there was little spare room. "And some of those are character areas, which we want to protect."
A more centralised population was good news for the region, with a bigger resident population better supporting a vibrant inner city and generating savings from a more concentrated infrastructure.
Professor Philip Morrison, of Victoria University, who specialises in urban migration, said Wellington and New Zealand were following a global trend of greater urban concentration.
But more people in the CBD also meant higher property prices and this, in turn, pushed people with lesser means to the outskirts and created a corresponding population growth in peripheral areas.
This could perhaps partly explain strong growth in some parts of Porirua, northern Wellington and Wairarapa, he said.
"It's in the middle, and on the outskirts."
Elsewhere in the lower North Island, most urban centres continued to grow, although at a slower rate than previously, in line with a national decline in the pace of growth that has been linked to a drop in migrants.
More than half of the growth since 2006 was in Auckland, where the population jumped by 110,592.
IMPULSE BUYS JOINS COOL CARTERTON'S BOOM
Te Rahui Cowan has mixed feelings about the rapid growth of his adopted home town.
"If you find a good surf break, do you tell everyone, or just enjoy it for yourself?" the Carterton musician and artist says.
The Wairarapa town was identified by Statistics New Zealand yesterday as the fastest-growing district in the North Island, with a population increase between the last two censuses of 16 per cent, to just over 8000 people.
Mr Cowan, 42, has family connections to the town, and sold real estate there 10 years ago, before shifting to Taranaki.
Four months ago, he was showing an Australian friend, fellow artist Pamela Kean, around old haunts when they noticed a gracious old building and, on impulse, decided to buy it.
Now they are setting up a potted palm tree business at the property.
Ms Kean is still in Australia organising her move, and said she was drawn to the town because it reminded her of the unhurried, relaxed Sydney suburb where she grew up. "The freedom, the friendliness . . . I felt liked I'd stepped back into my perfect childhood."
Mr Cowan said he liked Carterton's diversity. "There's new [housing] developments, but also beautiful old villas . . . there's vineyards, a swimming pool, antique shops, restaurants, it's actually quite a cool place."
Wairarapa's beaches were also a drawcard, as was the vibrant music and arts scene, and the easy business culture. "Carterton people still own their own businesses - you can approach people on the street."
Carterton's boomtown status came as no surprise to Mayor Ron Mark. "It's about value for money - people know they can sell a pretty average home in Wellington and get a good home here, and still have money in the bank," he said.
Developers appreciated the council's quick building consent process, and identified the Event Centre, centrally located train station and close-knit community as other factors in the town's growth.
"People in Wellington who say Wairarapa is shrinking and dying and can't support itself can now eat their words."
AUSSIE JOBS ENTICE OHAKUNE RESIDENTS
Ohakune has lost one-tenth of its population - and the carrot for those leaving is a job across the ditch.
Census figures show the Ruapehu district, in the central North Island, has lost 12.7 per cent of its residents since 2006, the highest rate of decline in the country.
And the decline is gathering pace, nearly doubling in the past seven years. In Ohakune, the district's biggest town, the population dropped 10 per cent, with just 987 residents left.
Locals have blamed outsourcing, an exodus of young people to the cities and Australia, and growth in forestry at the expense of farming.
Byron Zohs spent his teens and 20s in Ohakune, working as a labourer and later completing an apprenticeship as a heavy fabricator.
But as he grew older, his pay stagnated and work dried up. In 2008, he moved to Perth and has no intention of returning.
"I earned $21.50 an hour - here I earn twice as much for half the work," he said.
Many of his friends had joined him and few stayed in the district past their early 20s, he said. "The young ones get signed out and then they leave . . . There are a lot of guys in their 60s, and that's it."
Mr Zohs' old boss at Ohakune Engineering, Bruce Cranston, said it was extremely difficult to attract skilled workers and even harder to keep them. "I used to have three apprentices, now I've got one."
He blamed a lot of work being contracted out of the district and a growing exodus to Australia.
"This is a big flow from this town, all trained people," he said. "We just can't compete with that money."
District Mayor Don Cameron said that, without economic growth, the district would not be able to keep its people.
As well as the young, an increasing number of farmers were also selling out to forestry. "There were six farms that were bought up in one go - that's six families that are not in district."
However, he remained optimistic the trend could be reversed, citing plans among iwi to develop more industry that would lead to more jobs.
"Our aim for the next three years is more economic development to bring those people home."
HAWKE'S BAY MAYORS FOCUS ON ATTRACTNG PEOPLE TO THE REGION
New Wairoa Mayor Craig Little knows the size of the challenge he faces if he is to keep people in the district.
The northern Hawke's Bay town, between Gisborne and Napier, is home to 591 fewer people than it was seven years ago. The latest census figures come as no surprise to Mr Little, who is vowing to end the decline.
Wairoa's population has fallen steadily over the past 20 years.
The latest census puts its population at 7890, down from 8481 in 2006, and 8916 in 2001.
"We've got to do the basics first," Mr Little said. "We've got to welcome business to town. One of the real possibilities is dairy farming. We're in real dairy country here, but we need more farms.
"When business comes to town we need to bend over backwards to keep them here."
Central Hawke's Bay finds itself in a similar position, with its population having dropped by 237 since 2006. Mayor Peter Butler said this showed how vital it was that the proposed Ruataniwha dam was built.
"We need the district to rally behind the dam, to go to the first [Hawke's Bay Regional Council] meeting by the train-load to support the councillors that are for the dam."
Hastings' population grew slightly, though well below the national rate.
"I don't think we've done enough as a region to try to fix that," mayor Lawrence Yule said. "If we continue growing at this rate . . . we will continue to struggle for resources."
New Napier Mayor Bill Dalton said the city's 3.4 per cent growth since 2006 "provided a good base to build on".
"It's not all about population growth. It's about attracting industry and high-paying jobs to the region, and that will be my focus for the next three years."
The Hawke's Bay population is 151,179
This is up 2.3 per cent, or 3396, since 2006
Hastings grew 3.4 per cent to 73,245
Napier grew 3.4 per cent to 57,240
Wairoa dropped 7 per cent to 7890
Central Hawke's Bay dropped 1.8 per cent to 12,720
- © Fairfax NZ News
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