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New Zealand’s Small Town Transition: The Experience of Demographic and Economic Change and Place Based Responses

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A significant percentage of the smaller urban centres around the world are losing people which raises questions regarding the appropriate responses to this challenge.

Responses from the state have generally been muted, and as a result, concepts of new localism and new regionalism are useful for understanding the role played by place-based leadership and partnerships between local businesses, community groups and individuals. Key within this space is the role of endogenous responses anchored on local social capital and resilience. This paper overviews key themes in the literature before examining statistical evidence of small town growth, stabilisation or decline in New Zealand. This leads into an examination of how three small towns in the country are responding to demographic and economic change. The cases illustrate the importance of local-led responses to the debilitating effects of change and the degree to which place based development can be critical in the context of coping with change in small towns. The paper further argues that “right-sizing” to a new economic and demographic reality may be the appropriate focus of local attention.

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