I hear a lot of comparisons between different cities in New Zealand. “Wellington has trains, why don’t we?”, or “Christchurch is getting heaps of cycleways, why isn’t Wellington?” “Auckland’s public transport is booming, why isn’t Christchurch’s?” etc etc.
But each city is so different to each other, it’s hard to know if the comparisons are valid or not. I thought I’d take a closer look at how our biggest cities differ from each other, and how they are the same.
The populations of New Zealand’s 10 biggest cities (as of 2017) are:
- Auckland 1,534,700
- Wellington 412,500
- Christchurch 396,700
- Hamilton 235,900
- Tauranga 137,900
- Napier-Hastings 133,000
- Dunedin 120,200
- Palmerston North 85,300
- Nelson 66,700
- Rotorua 58,800
Interestingly the population of Auckland (1.5 million) is roughly the same as the populations of the other nine cities on the list combined (1.6 million), which in turn is roughly the same as the rest of New Zealand (1.7 million).
I thought I’d focus on the largest four; Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Hamilton.
First I mapped the four city street networks at the same scale, with concentric circles at 5km intervals from the cbd.
I think even this simple exercise shows some interesting things. Firstly, Auckland stands out as being a different scale to anywhere else in New Zealand, with a lot more black area (dense street networks are pretty much equivalent to developed areas).
Secondly, despite Wellington and Christchurch being basically the same population, they couldn’t be more different in form. Christchurch is a very compact circle of development clustered almost entirely within 10km of the centre, with only a few small blobs further out (e.g. Rolleston, Rangiora). On the other hand Wellington is almost like someone hurled a handful of sticky urban goop at the bottom of the North Island in a northeasterly direction, with the bulk landing at Te Aro, but two good-sized splatters spraying firstly up the Hutt Valley, and secondly up through Porirua to the Kapiti Coast. Less than half of the developed land is located within 10km of the centre. The Hutt Valley extends 35km away, and the Kapiti Coast just keeps on going – most of it doesn’t even make it onto the map.
Below is another way of looking at this – a graph of population versus distance from the centre (this is one I did a while ago based on Census 2013 data, I didn’t do Hamilton because back then I didn’t realise how big it has gotten).
This highlights the same two points. Firstly, Auckland is a different beast to anywhere else in Aotearoa (the area under the blue line is much larger than the areas under the red and yellow lines. Secondly, Christchurch is very compact compared to both Wellington and Auckland. Almost all of its population lives within 10km of the city centre. Despite its low density of development, and despite 2013 being only just after the earthquakes which completely destroyed it’s CBD, it still had more people living within 4km of the centre than both Auckland and Wellington.
Next post: So what does this mean for transport?
What stands out to you when you look at these maps and graphs?
Edit: added graph below for further info: