Talking Points

Time to move out of Auckland?

Picture a typical workday in the life of an Auckland nine-to-fiver. For the purpose of this experiment, our Aucklander (let’s call him Bob) lives in the outer suburbs. Bob has lived in a CBD apartment before, but just briefly, and he hated every minute of it. In search of a bit of breathing space, he moved into a standalone property with a small garden and a spare bedroom. And, after all, isn’t everywhere in Auckland an “outer suburb”?

The alarm rings. Bob wakes up, washes his face, dresses, drinks his coffee careful not to spill any of the scorching brown liquid on himself, and gets into his car. Birds are chirping. It’s a fantastic day.

Five minutes later, he’s trapped in traffic. It doesn’t matter if it’s 7, 8 or 9 am – he tried them all. From there, it’s bumper-to-bumper all the way to work. He already knows it will take him about 50 minutes to cover those 10 kilometres. So he sits back, turns on The Rock FM, which by the way is playing the same two songs by Guns ‘n’ Roses for the millionth time, and takes a look around.

All faces look familiar, in a way. There’s one person per car. There’s the aggressive ute driver who believes that swapping lanes will get him to his destination quicker. There’s the woman with only half her makeup on, staring blankly in the void ahead. And there’s the usual army of drivers who have never learned how to use their indicators (to whom it may concern, the right order is: flash the indicator light relative to the direction of the turn; look in the rearview mirror to ascertain whether any vehicle is approaching; if a vehicle is approaching, wait until it has passed; only then, move).

It’s Bob’s personal Groundhog Day. If he hasn’t turned into William Foster in Falling Down yet, it’s just because he started practising yoga three days a week in his living room. But yoga can’t stop the squeaky voice in Bob’s head, looping like a broken record: “You’re not stuck in traffic, you’re the traffic.”

At 5 pm, he will call it a day, pack his stuff, and get into his car. Five minutes later, he will be trapped in traffic. And wait, is that the same guy on the ute, flicking him the bird?

We’ll never find out. But if you live in Auckland, sooner or later the irony will strike you: there are just five million people in New Zealand, and you’re literally stuck in the country’s only traffic jam. Twice a day. Five days a week.

Don’t get me wrong: I love pretty much everything about Auckland. The most stunning beaches are just a 30-minute drive away. There’s a lot of green everywhere. Let’s not even get started on food and coffee. But every time I hear the phrase “Auckland’s infrastructure”, a tear rolls down my cheek. And brace for impact, my friend, because there’s more bad news coming.

Two million people will live in Auckland by early 2030s

Image of a scatterplot showing Auckland region population estimated up to 2020 and projected from 2023, 1996 to 2048. See link to text alternative at bottom of image.

According to Stats NZ, Auckland’s population could rise from 1.7 million to 2 million by the early 2030s. Auckland is expected to account for 37% of New Zealand’s population by 2048.

I shouldn’t worry too much, should I? I will be 64. If my plan works out, I’ll be living life off the grid in Northland, with a bunch of sheep and my husband. But those two million concern me greatly. Because I may never leave. Love it or hate it, Auckland is New Zealand’s largest city. Most job opportunities are indeed here.

Should I stay…

“Auckland reached a population of 1 million in the early 1990s. Recent growth was driven by high net migration in the seven years before COVID-19,” says Stats NZ.

It’s no wonder immigrants flock to Auckland in droves. I’m told Nelson has the best weather and high quality of life, but what about job prospects? Would I find work in my industry over there?

Now, it’s also possible that many of us are just lazy, or that we’re drawn to city lights like moths to a flame. Besides job opportunities, some may find New Zealand’s regional life to be too slow for them. Coming from overcrowded Italy, I appreciate a life that’s less hectic, more peaceful, and less populated. But, at the same time, I’m not ready to give up on the options available in Auckland. I’m not quite ready to retire just yet.

…or should I go?

Graph of Projected average annual population change, by region, 2018–2048

Growth rates in the Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Canterbury, and Northland look promising. But what’s wrong with the West Coast? What about Southland, Marlborough, or Nelson? Let’s prove Stats NZ wrong. People will always look to Auckland as the first port of call, but Auckland is not New Zealand. What are we passing up?

I guess what I’m saying is, with a little more investment and support from the Government, these regions could be able to realise their full potential, diversify their economies, and create more opportunities for everyone involved.

So here’s my suggestion to both Government and local councils: Why not develop the regions a bit more? Why not incentivise businesses to relocate away from Auckland? Workers will follow, smaller cities will thrive, and our infrastructure will breathe again.

Otherwise, we can just patiently sit here and watch Auckland become a tentacular monster, dragging more and more commuters into its gaping maw.