We feature today a book with an unwelcome message for many regions of New Zealand. Though it is called Rebooting the Regions, sociologist Paul Spoonley argues in it that some regions of declining population and business should accept their fate and adopt strategies of "smart decline".

This means recognising that the young and those of working age will continue to drift away but the ageing population that remains presents its own opportunities. Rather than spend money on facilities for young people in hope of holding back the tide, smart councils in these towns and districts will invest in facilities for the old.

People of retirement age are a rapidly growing demographic that remains fit and active well into their seventies. Not all of those who have retired in Auckland want to stay there. Not by any means. The idea of cashing in on the Auckland house to buy a much better house in a smaller and pleasant community, is attractive to many.

Places in "smart decline" will work out what might make them attractive, if they are not already. They could start with their appearance. Spoonley mentions that Ruapehu District Council is asking Taumarunui residents for their views on a scheme for improving its main street which is spoiled by closed shops. It may bring the remaining shops closer together and do something with the green spaces left.


Few towns in New Zealand do not sit in a beautiful landscape, most have a river or sea nearby. For the most part our built environment does not begin to match our natural blessings. The rough and ready character of pioneer settlement still prevails. Farm service towns had no need to worry about their appearance in their heyday and have not done much about it in their decline.

But smart decline also means attending to social conditions. If those school leavers who have not moved away are hanging around town unemployed and bored, work or training needs to be found for them. Beautification projects should provide some.

Retired populations create plenty of demand, and plenty of volunteers for clubs and community life. They attract their own health services. Kawerau now has more doctors than it had when it was thriving. Retired baby boomers still patronise cinemas, rock concerts and restaurants. They might make the place so pleasant, young families will come back.