Auckland: Boom town

By Russell Stone

As Auckland merges to create a supercity, the Herald looks back at how Auckland has changed over the years. Click here to view the full series.

In 1901 the Government census showed that, for the first time since
the gold boom began in the 1860s, more people were living in the North Island than in the South.

After that the North's numerical dominance became steadily more marked, until now more than three out of four New Zealanders live there.

Running parallel to this "Drift to the North" has been the steady increase in the number of people living in towns rather than in the country. By the end of the 20th century, 85 per cent of our people lived in towns and cities, making New Zealand one of the most heavily urbanised countries in the world.

Historically, Greater Auckland has reflected both of these demographic
trends. In 1911, when the population of the new Dominion broke through the one million barrier, our city became the first of the four regional capitals - Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin - to have more than 100,000 inhabitants.

Over the next 40 years this numerical ascendancy intensified. During the first half of the 20th century, when New Zealand's population grew by 150 per cent, urban Auckland was seen to be growing at twice that rate.

Economists tell us why. The city had acquired a productive hinterland of farm and forest, and had risen to become the country's main commercial centre and transport hub.

And the trend continued. When at the end of the third quarter of last century New Zealand's population - under the impetus of the post-war Baby Boom and renewed immigration - exceeded three million, greater Auckland had lifted to 743,000, once again showing a disproportionate share of the increase.

United front v parish pump

In pioneer Auckland, settlement was concentrated in the Queen St valley. As the population grew the pattern of settlement changed.

Houses, shops and workplaces moved up the ridges of Hobson St, Parnell, Newton and Grafton and later filled in the intervening gullies. But the main expansion was westward towards Freeman's Bay and beyond.

Unsurprisingly, it was to the thriving suburb of Ponsonby that the first tram route ran in 1884. In time these new inner suburbs, under the control of highway boards and puny borough councils, found they lacked the financial resources to make the lives of their ratepayers convenient and healthy.

Above all they needed sealed roads, reliable reticulated pure water and a hygienic sewage system. That's why in 1882 the ratepayers of Ponsonby, Grafton and Karangahape voted to come under the control of the Auckland City Council (ACC), which had been formed in 1871.

The mood for amalgamation caught on. Between 1913 and 1928, led by Parnell and Ponsonby, all the local bodies (save the Newmarket Borough Council) within two kilometres of the south shore of the Waitemata lying
between the Tamaki and Whau estuaries voted to join the ACC.

Then in 1928 the process stopped. Older boroughs with a strong sense of local identity like Ellerslie, Otahuhu and Devonport, and new boroughs like Mt Albert and Mt Roskill said to the ACC: "We're happy to run our own affairs, thank you".

So, just as the city and suburbs were about to grow exponentially, amalgamation was at an end and Balkanisation began.

The result was that by 1950 two-thirds of the population of greater Auckland lived in suburbs under separate local governments; this was in marked contrast to all the main urban centres from Hamilton southwards. The drip of the parish pump had become the defining characteristic
of New Zealand's largest city.

Moving Outwards

Between 1911 and 1930 Auckland's population rose to more than 200,000. As a result, the inter-war years saw the opening up of new residential suburbs in areas that were previously farm and wasteland, mainly to the west and south of the old city: Westmere, Pt Chevalier, Mt Albert, Balmoral and Three Kings were prominent among these.

Commuting by electric tram towork became the main mode of transport for Aucklanders.

Before the Harbour Bridge was built, the North Shore grew at a snail's pace. Its only realistic link with the city was by steam ferry.

In 1945, when the census showed that urban Auckland had a population of 263,000, less than 10 per cent of these people were living within the four North Shore boroughs.

Though Remuera had become popular and populous - at least as far as Upland Rd - before World War II, the adjoining region of warm seaward-facing slopes to the east of Hobson Bay was almost a population void. It was inaccessible until the completion in 1932 of Tamaki Drive as far as St Heliers, initially built in tandem with the so-called Main Trunk Deviation Railway route through the Purewa valley to Westfield.

Over the next 30 years large landowners in the eastern suburbs, the Crown, the Anglican Church, farmers and speculative syndicates subdivided on freehold and lease to open up today's affluent residential area.

Interestingly, it was in this region that in the later 1930s, Auckland's
first state house suburb was created, at Orakei. Other state house suburbs followed: in the Wesley Estate near the Three Kings, in Meadowbank, Sandringham and elsewhere.

Nevertheless, because of the virtual cessation of building during the Depression and World War II, Auckland entered the post-war era with a huge housing shortage.

- NZ Herald

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