Our National Science Challenge is called Building Better Homes, Towns and Cities: He Kāinga Whakamana Tangata, Whakamana Taiao (BBHTC). It will identify new ways of living that reflect Aotearoa’s unique identity, and respond to our changing lifestyle needs and aspirations.

Guided by the principles of mātauranga, the Challenge seeks innovative, affordable, and flexible solutions for our homes, towns and cities. This will enable us to create residential environments that suit the needs of our multi-cultural society. Included among these are effects of accelerating climate change and dynamic population shifts.

The Challenge parties will partner with industry, iwi, communities, and government, both local and central, to deliver robust evidence. They will also seek to improve end-to-end industry and regulatory processes.

The research outcomes will support New Zealanders to embrace change, and to understand what sustainable and effective land-use means for our 21st-century lives.

Our goal is to create distinctive “Kiwi” homes, towns and cities. These will offer a greater choice of living styles, nurture our sense of community, and enable us all to live well.

Read more about our Challenge partners and collaborators.

The Challenge’s objective is to improve the quality and supply of housing and create smart and attractive urban environments through:

  • an improved housing stock;
  • meeting future demand for affordable housing;
  • taking up innovation and productivity improvement opportunities;
  • improving urban environments and residents’ well-being; and
  • better systems for improved land-use decisions.

In order to deliver housing suitable for all, BBHTC has identified that a widespread shift needs to occur on four fronts. These are urban wellbeing; Kāinga Tahi, Kāinga Rua (Māori housing); affordable housing; and supporting regions to thrive. This is reflected in our four research areas for the second phase of the BBHTC:

1. Homes and Spaces for generations
2. Kāinga Tahi, Kāinga Rua
3. Thriving Regions
4. Urban Wellbeing

The National Science Challenge is focusing on delivering the evidence base for each of these four essentials.

The following sections describe in brief the research programmes and how they will contribute to Challenge objectives.

Challenge Research Areas


Homes and spaces for generations asks how homes and the spaces that work for people can be delivered for all communities and generations, now and into the future.

Research in this space is focused on how homes and neighbourhoods can work not only for the generations that currently use them but provide for future generations. Housing stock in many parts of Aotearoa New Zealand is not performing well in terms of quality of buildings, housing functionality over people’s life cycles, and housing costs in relation to incomes. The amenities, connectivity, accessibility, and security of neighbourhoods vary significantly. They are typically dominated by the private car, impose significant transport costs on low and moderate income households, and exclude those unable to drive or access car ownership.

Towns and cities continue to be predominantly low density and sprawl into greenfields, a tendency that exacerbates car dependency, loss of fertile soils and productive landscapes, and the costs and risks associated with infrastructure in environments vulnerable to adverse natural events. To date, intensified spaces and housing typologies have failed to deliver affordable, functional housing.

BBHTC research has explored a range of dynamics and determinants associated with those problems. It has highlighted that the shape of new-built homes and spaces reflect decisions and interactions between a range of financial actors, housing providers, the development, building and construction industries, and a web of regulatory and planning activities. The decisions of those actors do not necessarily reflect the needs of changing and diverse individuals, families, and households that use dwellings and neighbourhoods. Indeed, as homes become primarily treated as a vehicle for realising returns, use-values such as liveability, functionality, and reasonable entry and living costs become less pressing imperatives. The amenities and management of neighbourhoods also become shaped by, and shape, the real estate values of the dwellings located in them.

The burden of misalignments between people’s needs, available housing and the amenities of neighbourhoods falls disproportionately on Māori, Pacific communities, people with disabilities, children and older people. Evidence in Aotearoa New Zealand and overseas suggests that current dynamics reinforce housing classes and inequalities. They fuel concentrations of neglect, dereliction and under-provision in some neighbourhoods while, ironically, at the same time making them vulnerable to regentrification and displacement of vulnerable people and communities. At the core of this is a lack of affordable housing.

Affordable housing is functional housing that meets the needs of diverse households with low to moderate incomes at a price that enables them to meet other essential living costs, meet an acceptable standard of living, and promotes independent living and economic and social participation.



The Kāinga Tahi, Kāinga Rua Strategic Research Area recognises the dual and complex nature of our Māori identities and the many communities we construct our lives in. Simply, all Māori by whakapapa originate from a specific place, rohe, marae, kāinga, but are more likely now to live at their Kāinga Rua in a city. Many Māori may consider their Kāinga Tahi being the city now and their Kāinga Rua their marae.

The research area will deliver solutions for how we collaboratively finance, design and build developments, with buy-in from multiple stakeholders, to overcome discriminatory policy and legislative barriers to actively support Māori aspirations for long-term affordable and healthy housing that meets the needs of their communities.



Regional settlements in New Zealand are variably successful. There is local and central government drive to support regional settlement regeneration, and this needs to be underpinned by strong science. Regeneration includes property-led development, cultural and built heritage revitalisation, ecological restoration, business social entrepreneurship and community ventures.

So this programme will develop a model of the system of regional settlements and their linkages to cities and rural activity. Such a model will identify connections to improve urban environments.

It will also develop a knowledge platform based on regeneration in practice, to support Māori regeneration activities in regional settlements. Such a platform will improve urban environments.

Another feature will be an inventory of regeneration approaches, including assessment methodologies. It will also develop a community of practice involving researchers, key stakeholders and users, sharing information about how to create prosperous, liveable, healthy and sustainable (environmentally, socially and economically) regional settlements. This will increase the likely uptake of innovation.



How do our urban environments impact on our health and wellbeing? How do we make them better? This research programme area looks at ways New Zealand’s urban environments can deliver wellbeing. Liveable and well-designed neighbourhoods, including houses, benefit their inhabitants. These also contribute to successful towns and cities.

Researchers will investigate the complex factors involved in urban design, especially in relation to New Zealand cities, they will be examining a myriad of issues and ideas such as how both the physical and social structure of neighbourhoods are critical to their success; how urban communities are using farming and gardening to promote food security, social inclusion, and wellbeing; how communities can improve their well-being through better access and understanding of key semi-public open space; what are the elements of transformative community enterprises; and the environmental and social costs of conventional approaches to urban development, and how Water Sensitive Urban Design can reduce maintenance costs and produce healthier communities and cities.