A theme of 2001 was the economic renaissance of the regions. Fuelled by high farm gate prices and our weak dollar, our provinces are finally doing well and shaking off years of decline.
We have also seen from the government regional development conferences, knowledge economy conferences, and a determination from the Ministry of Economic Development to create jobs and prosperity in the provinces.
Southland has its data centre initiatives, Invercargill is becoming fashionable, projects are under way on the East Cape, Northland is promoting itself as “Silicon Beach” and Hamilton has just launched a multimillion dollar “innovation park”.
Last week, Phil Holliday of iTouch told me the virtues of Christchurch, with its low cost of living, little congestion, a pleasant city and the mountains on the doorstep. Canterbury is also home to many high-tech firms, such as Aoraki/Jade, and there is a burgeoning software cluster. All find quality of life an important drawcard.
But what about the City of Sails, lagging behind economically, and becoming ever more crowded and congested?
My move brought the issue into stark reality.
I have seen the future of Auckland and it is far from pleasant.
I now live in one of those high-density apartment blocks so beloved of city planners.
Imagine a four-storey creamy-grey slab dumped unceremoniously into an attractive tree-lined avenue full of characterful wooden cottages and you get the picture.
A council project engineer recently told me that, as a newly impoverished nation, New Zealand can no longer afford the infrastructure associated with a sprawling suburbia if Auckland is to double its population to over 2 million by 2050.
Instead of having motorways sweeping out towards Hamilton, Whangarei, Helensville and Tauranga, with brick-and-tile houses alongside them, Auckland is to grow upwards, and focussed along city-based “corridors” with people using public transport.
By restricting the supply of land for development, this obviously pushes up its price, making housing and city living very expensive.
Godzone has already sunk from being a “Quarter-Acre Pavlova Paradise” to a “Cross-leased Cellphone Chardonnay Paradise” (I’ve read the book) and now Aucklanders face the prospect of “Shoebox City, Once Was Paradise”.
A workmate describes Auckland as one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Looking at the harbour front and the pohutakawas along Tamaki Drive, she could well be right. After a trip overseas I certainly notice how green it is compared with other cities. But if every nook and cranny was filled with cramped cardboard box terraces, would this still be true?
Of course, in our IT age, is this necessary? Do we all have to live and work in Auckland? Or its CBD?
On the Job this year has featured IT companies happily based on the North Shore or in Manukau. I have also written about people successfully operating businesses in the Coromandel, the West Coast and the Far North.
The beauty of IT is that you need not be in the city, especially if broadband internet access is available. If you serve overseas markets, which you must to gain sufficient scale, it won’t matter to your US or European clients if you are 10km from Queen Street or 100km.
Basing yourself in the city will soon mean having your workers housed in tight-spaced tenement blocks or they face a long commute. Base yourself in the provinces, your staff can afford brick-and-tile bungalows with gardens and a driveway, yet they can be paid far less.
Of course, if our IT and other industries earn the wealth to pay for growing Auckland’s much-needed infrastructure, so much so that our vast acres of farmland can be released for development, housing for Jaffas would become so much cheaper. Alternatively, people could shift back to the regions, as I might, if the work was there.
And I would not be squealing about paying dearly for a fancy little shoebox. I would have a brick and tile bungalow of my own.