Tauranga is growing at a phenomenal rate but what will our city be like in 2050? And are we prepared for the big changes ahead? Carly Udy reports.
If you live in Tauranga and don't like change, you might be living in the wrong city.
This is the view of Tauranga Chamber of Commerce chief executive Max Mason, who says whether people like it or not, Tauranga is set to transform over the next 40 years. And that, he says, calls for courage.
"It won't remain the same," Mason says with an emphasis on the word and a shake of his head. "There's a wave of change and we either choose to surf the wave and retain a degree of control, or we can be overcome by it."
Mason says Tauranga's population is set to change, along with inevitable property price and rates rises. "If people don't like that, they may have to live elsewhere - in a less attractive area. We can't have people moving here and demanding the rates be left low. They need to accept they are part of the population problem and that it's expensive to live in paradise."
The city's main aim going into the next 40 years is ensuring "quality rather than quantity".
"If we just want people to pour in and it's just about money, then we will kill the golden goose. Everything should be about quality. It's about recognising and retaining the natural beauty of the place and doing that at all costs."
We're upstairs in the chamber's boardroom. It's a gloomy day. Rain is falling outside. We sit at a long oval table. Mason sips a cup of tea, while I scan a document he's typed up that details his analysis of what's going to happen to Tauranga. The list is long.
Mason says buildings will go upwards, land values will keep rising, bigger businesses and the economy will continue the integration with Australia, Maori will have more economic influence, kiwifruit will diversify into other horticultural industries, climate debate will become radical, international resorts will pop up on Mayor, Matakana and Motiti islands and Tauranga will be become a retirement mecca like never before.
He's right about the last one. The most pivotal thing to have changed for Tauranga by 2050 is our demographic make-up. Out of a population of 285,000, more than a third will be aged over 60, and about 35,000 will be aged over 80.
In a report to the Bay of Plenty Health Board, the Population Ageing Technical Advisory Group estimated the number of people aged 80-plus will grow from less than 3000 in 2006 to 35,000 in 2050. In the Western Bay, the 65-plus demographic will double by 2031 (up 27,600).
In 40 years' time, Mason himself will be 90. He baulks at the thought. He believes old age in 2050 will pose a tough moral debate.
Who is going to pay for all these elderly people in Tauranga?
"What government agency makes the decision to pull the plug when I've been taking my last breaths for three months on scarce taxpayers' money? It becomes a moral choice. Is that money being best used for the common good?"
University of Waikato demography professor Natalie Jackson says even now the average age in Tauranga is older than in the whole of New Zealand. The trend is one that's set to continue.
Eighteen per cent of Tauranga's population is aged 65-plus, compared with 13 per cent nationally. Tauranga has almost nine people aged 65-plus for every 10 children aged 0-14.
Jackson says the region is ageing faster than total New Zealand due to largely migration but also low birth rates.
"One would assume that these trends will continue and that almost all Tauranga's future growth will be at the older ages."
Bay of Plenty District Health Board general manager of planning and funding Helen Mason says the organisation plans to spend more on hospital and support services to cater for the growth of people aged over 65.
Housing is another thing that will change.
Tauranga property developer and director of The Thorne Group Bob Thorne says economically, Tauranga will be forced into having more homes - smaller houses on smaller sections.
"The cost of development has far exceeded incomes.
"Construction costs continue to rise and smaller houses will result," he says.
Thorne, a property developer of 25 years, has developed the housing subdivision Urban Ridge in Brookfield, where the average section is no more than 388 square metres - less than half the quarter acre of years past.
The next stage of development in Urban Ridge sees bigger sections of up to 674 square metres.
The streets and homes in stage one look to me like a retirement village. For starters, homes are narrowly spaced with little or no yard. Driveways are no bigger than a car parking space and there are no footpaths. Try to fit a trampoline on one of these properties and it would be near impossible.
But Thorne says less than 10 per cent of the residents are retirees and all houses are owner occupied.
He says smaller is the way of the future.
"We initially assumed this development would appeal to the 55-plus. Instead we have noticed that the demographics are widely spread from 25 years through to 90."
Thorne has contracts on 70 per cent of the stage two development. The houses in Urban Ridge are slick. They are "apartment living with garden" and equate to smaller borrowings and less maintenance for the working couple.
Thorne says it's a trend that is likely to take off in the years to come.
"People want to live close to facilities and there will be re-development of existing housing close to amenities.
"We cannot continue carving up productive land for housing development.
"The cost of land has got off balance with the cost of building ... costs to develop greenfield subdivisions [starting from scratch] are prohibitive ... ratepayers cannot afford rate increases."
Despite this, it's the kind of living Otumoetai couple Lisa and Andy Adams despise.
The husband and wife have 1972sq m of land in Otumoetai (just under half an acre) but fear their three boys aged 5, 4 and 2, will never get the opportunity to own a property like it.
The 42-year-olds say inner-city living is about to change and they don't think it's good.
Sitting at their expansive, wooden dining table, Lisa says matter-of-factly: "It guts me."
Andy agrees: "A section this size will be worth so much and you either won't be able to afford the mortgage or you'll be too old to look after it. You'll have to sell it and it'll be cut up."
The couple do not like the "chicken coop-type sections" some developers are building on around Tauranga.
"They look like little poultry boxes - there's just people living in them instead of chickens," Lisa says.
The stay-at-home mum says whether its 2011 or 2050, she can't see parents changing their minds about wanting space for their children.
On their property is a playhouse, bikes lying on the driveway and birds rustling leaves.
They say Tauranga's future worries them.
The Adams anticipate changes around technology and say electric cars are likely to take off by 2050 and the city's landscape will have begun to go sky-high.
Lisa imagines the Mount one day looking like a slightly understated Surfers Paradise.
Population to double
ASK chairman of SmartGrowth Bill Wasley how he expects Tauranga to look in 40 years and his face flashes a smile.
It will look something much different to the view he's looking at now from his upstairs office on the corner of Spring and Durham Sts.
In 2004, Tauranga City Council, Western Bay of Plenty District Council and Bay of Plenty Regional Council adopted SmartGrowth - a 50-year plan for Tauranga, which will be updated next year after this year's census.
The plan recognises that as Tauranga grows there will be a need for more housing, new types of houses, more business land, more community, cultural and educational facilities, more health care services, better roads, more efficient public transport and ensuring water and wastewater services can cater for the growth.
At the same time, the environment needs to be protected.
The city outside Wasley's office is quiet for a Thursday afternoon. Cars pass by but there are few pedestrians.
Wasley says that will change.
"We're looking at a community that will essentially double in population to what it is now," he says, eyes still focused on the outside world.
Wasley says population growth in Tauranga is similar to greater Christchurch.
The trouble with that is while Christchurch is "well founded" with a long history, Tauranga as a city evolved much later. "In 1945, we were a fishing village of 4000."
There has been significant growth in the past 20 years but, with growth, comes pressure on local government funding.
"There is limited funding available so it's about being creative.
"It's about building a community, not just the physical aspect."
Wasley says the number of traditional families will have doubled in Tauranga by 2050 and single and two-person households will have trebled.
At Tauranga City Council, there is a team of people working towards Tauranga's future.
One is environmental policy manager Andy Ralph, who says there are still some "major discussions" to be had.
One is how far the city sprawls.
"Because there are costs to a city spreading out over new farmland. I think there will be redevelopment of existing areas to different forms of housing. You can spread a city but Auckland has proved there's a huge cost."
Ralph has a map of Tauranga on his wall. He uses it, like a teacher, to do a condensed lesson on what changes we might expect to see. While the suburbs will see a mix of housing, the city centre, he says pointing to the map with his pen, will see more houses per vacant piece of land.
And Te Puna could face pressure as the city sprawls out towards farmland. Papamoa is likely to have bigger sections than in town.
Ralph says Tauranga has a problem looming with housing affordability and, therefore, it's imperative to look at how land and building costs can be kept low.
Among other challenges is pressure on Tauranga Harbour with recreational and port activities.
"Very strong leadership will be required by councils to manage that harbour."
Tauriko and Papamoa have areas set aside for industrial action and, in another 20 years, there will be a shopping centre in Papamoa East.
"I'd like to say there's some radical change but it's just not the Kiwi way," Ralph says. "We'll just evolve. The provincial harbour city image is a really good image to have."
Mayor Stuart Crosby says he'll do his best to see Tauranga City does not become "over-manufactured".
His council office is the size of a small living room and has a view over the city and down to The Strand. It's a daydreamer's paradise for contemplating the future.
Crosby moved to Papamoa from Gisborne at 7 and says coming to Tauranga was like travelling to a "completely different" place.
"We got dressed up to go to Tauranga, white shirt, pants below my knees."
Papamoa's population was 250.
"I'd hate to see the city over-manufactured. I think we need to let it evolve on its own and form its own identity. We are, to a degree, still struggling to find our sense of identity and a lot of that can relate to rapid growth."
When asked if he's thought about Tauranga in 2050, Crosby replies: "I always think about it."
"The decisions we make have an enduring impact, time wise. We need to understand what the look of our city in 2050 might be."
Crosby says there is no intention to develop high rises any more than what's seen now in 2011.
"To my mind, I would see four to six or seven storeys but no higher than that; with adequate green areas and adequate lighting. New Zealanders still like their piece of land around them."
I ask Crosby if Tauranga will be a better place in 50 years. "That will depend on us, the city leaders of the day," he says, with the voice of responsibility.
Bill Wasley, of SmartGrowth, says Tauranga is already preparing itself well for 2050 by building the future Eastern Link. We also have the current Harbour Link and, in time, people could travel between Tauranga and Papamoa to Te Puke on trains.
Whereas the city's commercial and retail activity is currently dispersed, with it stretching as far as Papamoa and Mount Maunganui, the CBD will, over time, become more of a place where people live and have a cultural heart.
The chief executive of economic development agency Priority One, Andrew Coker, envisages Tauranga in 2050 to be a centre of research in IT, horticulture and titanium. "I think we will also catch up in arts and culture ... it will be a sophisticated city that highly paid people seek."
As well as a downtown university campus, Coker wants to see the development of the waterfront go ahead, creating a parkland setting, with a boardwalk for walking, cycling, picnicking, and holding events including markets. And his ultimate vision is that of a future $80 million Sulphur Point marine precinct project. He says there has been interest by financial backers for staged development over the next few years.
The vision is for a travel lift, all-weather refit shed and 6000sq m of marine shops, cafe/restaurant and offices for the first stage on the waterfront underneath the harbour bridge.
Later development would include further refit and maintenance facilities, a 600-tonne syncrolift (taking vessels up to 55m in length out of the water), an environmental paint hall, engineering and other workshops, more office/retail buildings and expanded boat-building activities across the road.
Ultimately, the development would pump an additional $100 million a year into the local economy and create jobs for nearly 300 skilled workers earning an average gross salary of $53,000.
For those who think outside the square, the sky is the limit.