Auckland's population has fallen, losing people overseas and to internal migration.
Stats NZ population data released today showed New Zealand's population grew in the year to June 30, but only slightly.
But a majority of cities experienced population loss.
The data arrived soon after council elections and at a time when many businesses were already concerned about a labour shortage as pent-up Kiwis started moving overseas.
Auckland lost 5,900 people to net international migration in the June 2022 year.
Downtown Auckland and the innermost suburbs from Westmere to Newmarket in the Waitematā ward had a population decline of 5.8 per cent, the biggest loss in the country.
Of the 21 Auckland local board areas, 12 experienced net losses from both international and internal migration.
There were 12,000 more births than deaths in Auckland but that was not enough to compensate for the 15,000 lost to net internal migration.
Rodney district and Papakura on the city's periphery had population growth in the year, as did some south Auckland neighbourhoods in Manurewa.
The city's northwest and northern fringe from Henderson and Massey to the East Coast Bays had population growth, but of less than one per cent.
Christchurch and Wellington also had net losses from both international migration and internal migration.
Christchurch lost 900 people to overseas migration and 1,200 people to domestic migration.
But the nearby Selwyn district burgeoned, with population growth of 4.8 per cent, the country's highest rate.
Wellington lost 1,600 people to emigration and 1,700 to internal migration.
Dunedin's population declined but Central Otago's grew by 2.7 per cent.
Stats NZ said nationally, natural increase was the lowest since World War II.
Natural increase was 24,100 and the country's net international migration loss was 11,500.
Simon Bridges: Come back to the city
It's a depressing stat for Auckland, but at least things are likely to already be improving in the city, according to Simon Bridges.
"It's better today than it would have been in June," the Auckland Business Chamber chief executive said.
"We should all be impatient for the trajectory to speed up."
Bridges said he loved calling the CBD fringe home, and encouraged more people to live where inner-city workplaces were in walking or scootering distance.
Bridges said the population decline called for central government, local government and business to team up to find solutions.
He said big CBD employers should encourage staff to return to the office where possible, to enliven the city and add other benefits to downtown.
"If there are more people coming into work, there's less crime and antisocial behaviour. There are more people to keep it in check."
Unique city, unique challenge
Waitematā ward councillor Mike Lee said the ward was probably the most unique community in the country.
That was especially due to the presence, usually, of many international students and expats on temporary work visas.
Downtown and the inner suburbs were the most global part of a global city, Lee said, but the pandemic put the skids on many foreign arrivals.
He said many CBD businesses were already facing hassles from roadworks and the City Rail Link construction, and population decline could present another problem.
But Lee said the decline could be a blessing for the environment, and for ratepayers straining to fund infrastructure like wastewater facilities.
"Population movement is significantly dependent on immigration, so really, governments of all parties have had a policy of making Auckland as big as possible."
High Auckland population growth could fuel GDP growth and property prices, Lee said, but could impose an "infrastructure deficit" on the city.
"The costs of it have never been factored in."
He said declining population was unlikely to impact rates revenue, as rates were not a poll tax on individuals, but collected from properties.
Boomtown, Central Otago
It's a different story in the big sky country between the Queenstown Lakes and Dunedin. In Central Otago, population is booming.
Mayor Tim Cadogan said that popularity can seem good or bad, depending who you talk to.
"There are some people who would like Central Otago to stay the same as it was five minutes after they moved here."
The region's population has grown 20 per cent in just six years, he said.
That kind of explosive growth placed pressure on the environment, visual amenity, infrastructure and house prices.
But more ratepaying properties could lessen the per capita burden of funding local government services.
Cadogan said broadly speaking, Central Otago's population growth was a huge vote of confidence in the region.
But the council was also working urgently on ways to foster more intensive housing development, to prevent urban sprawl.
He did not believe Dunedin's population decline was driving Central Otago's growth.
Instead, many newcomers were from North Island cities, or Kiwis returning from abroad after "discovering" the region's natural beauty and relaxed lifestyle.
In years ahead, immigration was likely to be more influential n population growth, as birth rates fell to at or below population replacement levels.
On the eve of the pandemic, a Royal Society report said New Zealand, like many high-income societies, entered a demographic model typified by low birth and low death rates.
Professor Paul Spoonley at the time said growth was still projected to occur largely in the upper North Island.
"We anticipate that 60 per cent of the country's population growth through to 2038 will occur in Auckland, with important overspill growth in Hamilton and Tauranga," he said at the time.