The Thriving Regions programme uses the “Whakataukī Hutia te rito o te harakeke, kei whea te komako e ko?” as a guiding statement and metaphor for our communities, settlements, localities, and regions. The pā harakeke represents our places, spaces, and conditions that enable our communities to collectively endure and thrive as well and vibrant places, and equally focuses on the shoots of the flax as the centre of that collective. Thus, our metaphor sets the image of how the whānau and the community are the rito that sustain the vibrancy of the collective region. There are two administrative components of the programme, one in the North Island and one in the South Island.

North Island: The Thriving Regions North programme is specifically focused on Māori perspectives of regional regeneration. The research is concerned with both the aspirations of tangata whenua/ mana whenua groups for regional, local, and settlement regeneration and revitalisation; as well as the vulnerability of Māori communities given disproportionate social, economic, cultural, and environmental impacts on communities. We are looking at the relationships between regeneration aspirations, regional planning, Māori design, and community outcomes; and Covid-19 recovery and related social, cultural, and economic impacts through a range of regional data, regional development activities, and Kaupapa Māori case studies.

Our key research questions are:

  • What are the emergent, diverse, and interacting factors re-shaping “regional” New Zealand and how are they impacting Māori?
  • How does mātauranga Māori inform innovative regional recovery, regeneration, and housing supply and demand?
  • What are the structural, legislative, and regulatory impediments to and requirements for the recovery and development of thriving regions for Māori?

South Island: The Thriving Regions – He Pā Harakeke South Island research programme comprises a set of integrated case studies of settlements and communities that are attempting to create positive futures for themselves. Researchers are working directly with community stakeholders as they navigate change, determine their own aspirations, confront impediments to wellbeing, and search for solutions to local problems and enact sustainable future pathways. The aim of the programme is to reveal what practical approaches are most effective at creating real-world change in different community, settlement, and regional settings, and document examples where residents, local governments, community groups, and businesses have collaborated to create change. These experiences will be shared with and applied in other settlements and regions across Aotearoa New Zealand to help generate positive social change.


Project 1: Matariki Hunga, Matariki Ahunga Nui

Matariki Hunga, Matariki Ahunga Nui is specifically focused on Māori perspectives of regional regeneration in the Hawke’s Bay. The research is examining the relationships between regeneration aspirations, regional planning, Māori design, and community outcomes; and Covid-19 recovery and related social, cultural, and economic impacts through a range of regional data, regional development activities, and Kaupapa Māori case studies. The response to COVID-19 has affected how we address regeneration in the regions considering the ongoing and downstream impacts of COVID-19.

The project is addressing the following key research questions:

  • How can Māori communities be supported to directly influence the building of better homes, towns, communities, and regions? How can the current and future needs of Māori whānau for accessible and affordable housing be prioritised by those with responsibilities and an interest in community, social housing, and property development?
  • What are the significant and diverse challenges for Māori communities in Te Matau a Māui and how are these understood and prioritised in recovery, regional outcomes and impact planning?
  • How are these measured and how can communities and challenge research teams share information, monitor the performance of agencies and communities in the recovery to make positive change? How do agencies share power and resources with communities to improve access to affordable housing and how can this be improved?
  • How do Māori communities contribute evidence, planning, and strategies to lead regional recovery, social and economic planning outcomes that support Māori housing initiatives and thriving communities for Te Matau a Māui and how can this be improved?

The Team

Principal Investigator: Kym Hamilton (Kaarearea Institute for Change)

Researcher: Aramanu Ropiha

Landsat satellite image of Hawke Bay. Photo: NASA.

Project 2: Whakamanahia te Rangatiratanga o Mana Whenua

This project works with mana whenua (iwi, hapū, marae, and whānau) in the communities of Pōkeno and Waharoa to identify and progress their aspirations and perspectives of vibrancy and regeneration in their communities and in their built environment. The research will develop a set of resources that will assist mana whenua groups when building, and local authorities (territorial) to identify, assist, empower, and protect mana whenua perspectives of vibrancy, regeneration.

The project is addressing the following key research questions:

  • Do mana whenua navigate the constraints in developing and establishing appropriate and aspirational land uses on land in Waharoa/Pōkeno? This includes identifying the current regulatory/statutory and other barriers that Māori landowners, and Māori as developers and entrepreneurs, face in planning and investment in regional settlements and how may they be overcome?
  • How can local authorities (territorial) help to enable vibrancy and regeneration by understanding the needs and aspirations of Māori within their communities?
  • How do BBHTC and te hau kāinga me ngā mana whenua support the establishment of a physical place of belonging for te hau kāinga me ngā mana whenua in Pōkeno to empower and protect their perspectives of vibrancy and regeneration?
  • In the strategic transitioning of Waharoa into a sub-regional industrial hub, how do we integrate the economic, environmental, political, social, and cultural aspirations of mana whenua in the planning and short and long-term investment of Waharoa? This includes identifying what an integrated, strategic approach to regional settlement regeneration looks like, and how might it include a mix of statutory and non- statutory planning instruments (e.g., district plans, spatial plans, next generation master plans, business plans, cultural plans, and district plans)?

The Team

Principal Investigators: James and Amy Whetu (Whetu Consulting)

Researcher: Haupai Montgomery

1863 map of Pōkeno showing the town and land to be auctioned. Source: Auckland Council.


Project 3: He Raraunga Hapori

This research works closely with Project 2: Whakamanahia Te Rangatiratanga o Mana Whenua to help build an evidence base about the wellbeing of Māori in the regions. Through a specific focus on mana whenua in Pōkeno and Waharoa and building on the regional indicators work completed in Stage 1, the aim of this project is to triangulate the needs and aspirations of mana whenua in Pōkeno and Waharoa with the range of housing, health, and social services that exist for mana whenua in these communities and the realities of wider demographic change.

The project is addressing the following key research questions:

  • How do the needs and aspirations of mana whenua in Pōkeno and Waharoa (as identified in the co-creation process) compare to regional level indicators of Māori wellbeing and future demographic change?
  • What are the range of services (including housing, health, and social services) that exist for mana whenua in Pōkeno and Waharoa and how does the provision of services compare to the needs and aspirations identified above?
  • How can demographic and spatial analysis (including the use of GIS storybooks) be effectively used to give voice to mana whenua in Pōkeno and Waharoa and empower mana whenua in their discussions with local and central government?

The Team

Principal Investigator: Dr John Ryks (Karearea Institute for Change). Contact:

Researcher: Moana Rarere (National Institute of Demographic and Economic Analysis)


Project 1: Reimagining Timaru

This project emerged from conversations with Timaru community stakeholders about how they are attempting to attract new residents and capital to the district pre- and post-COVID-19, while retaining as many established residents as possible. The following questions, which sit at the heart of the research, were co-developed with local stakeholders:

  1. What efforts have and are being made in Timaru to retain and attract (young) workers, their families, new businesses, and retirees, e.g., as related to Aoraki Development’s “Our Story” campaign and the promotional material associated with “Showcasing Timaru District”?
  2. How can those efforts be resourced, and enhanced and sustained over the long term?
  3. Why are people migrating to Timaru and what are the stories of relocation told by these new residents?
  4. What influences has COVID-19 had on Timaru’s development trajectory and allied place promotion and branding efforts?

The Team

Principal Investigator: Emeritus Professor Harvey Perkins (People and Places Limited / The University of Auckland).
Contact: /

Researchers / Advisors
Dr Mike Mackay (AgResearch)
Tracy Nelson (AgResearch)
Dr Jude Wilson (Jude Wilson Consultancy)

An evening family walk in Timaru. Photo: Mitchell Luo – Unsplash.

Project 2: Oamaru: Work, housing, and community well-being

This project was co-designed with people active in strategic thinking about the future of work and housing and associated cultural issues in the town of Oamaru and wider Waitaki District. A particular focus is on the wellbeing of the large migrant community of Pacific Islanders in Oamaru, and other migrant workers engaged in primary production and processing. At a local level, the research team are working closely with the Waitaki Housing Taskforce – a group that comprises a number of community organizations, cultural representatives and social entrepreneurs. The BBHTC research is informing and supporting the work of the taskforce in developing a community housing strategy. The study is addressing the following key research questions:

  1. How is the wellbeing of the people of Oamaru related to the availability of different types of work, housing, and social services?
  2. How well are newcomer residents, with skills and social capital, integrated into the capacity of the community to adapt to future challenges and inevitable shocks from external forces and events such as COVID-19?
  3. How well is a significant new group, such as Pacific Island workers and families in the town, positioned in terms of work, affordable housing, and culturally appropriate services?
  4. How can co-production of knowledge support development of a community-based housing strategy?

The Team

Principal Investigator: Dr Nick Taylor (Nick Taylor and Associates). Contact:

Researchers / Advisors
Dr Mike Mackay (AgResearch)
Dr Jude Wilson (Jude Wilson Consultancy)
Associate Professor Malcolm Campbell (University of Canterbury)

READ MORE – Community Wellbeing

READ MORE – Welcoming newcomers

Project 3: Kia Horomaka

The focus of the project is on how marae-based organisations and Māori whānau networks involved in local regeneration projects are adapting to the challenges and opportunities brought to bear by COVID-19, and the support and resources they will need to navigate change and advance their regeneration aspirations. The research is being undertaken with marae-based organisations and Māori whānau networks in the Horomaka, Banks Peninsula area. The research questions are:

  1. How well are Māori communities integrated into wider initiatives that seek to address the challenges brought to bear by COVID-19, and how might that integration be strengthened and sustained in the long term?
  2. How do Horomaka Māori regeneration stakeholders build the necessary capability and capacity within their communities for implementing new local regeneration projects, and how might that need to change in light of COVID-19?
  3. How might iwi/Māori-led regional regeneration initiatives be evaluated in terms of their impact on local communities and Horomaka whānau? (i.e., how do we know what works, what doesn’t, why, and for whom?)
  4. In light of the above, what lessons can be learned from the Horomaka experience that can be shared with and applied in other settlements and regions across Aotearoa New Zealand?

The Team

Principal Investigator: Kym Hamilton (Karearea Institute for Change). Contact:

Advisors: Dr Mike Mackay, Jonathan Kilgour, Maire Kipa, James Morrison, Darrell Chick, Benita Wakefield, Julian Phillips
Community Researcher: Kym Hamilton (Karearea Institute for Change)

Horomaka from the International Space Station. Photo: NASA.

Project 4: Regional analytics: Accommodation sharing in the regions

This research is combining geospatial data, regional analytics, and community interviews to understand the influence of AirBnB on accommodation supply (including rental housing supply) in regional settlements. The research team is working particularly closely with the Waitaki Housing Task Force by providing background data to their development of a housing strategy. These data relate to housing, rents, housing waiting lists and accommodation sharing. Comparative data are being provided for selected South Island districts.

The Team

Principal Investigator: Dr Nick Taylor (Nick Taylor & Associates). Contact:

Researchers / Advisors
Dr Mike Mackay (AgResearch)
Dr Jude Wilson (Jude Wilson Consultancy)
Associate Professor Malcolm Campbell (University of Canterbury)

Airbnb growth in Waitaki, from July 2018 to July 2019, saw the number of short-term rentals rise from 263 to 322. An increase in Airbnb accommodation reduces the number of long-term rentals available, resulting in rental price increases. Photo: Mike Mackay, AgResearch.


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Project 5: Regional transitions

A key focal point of this PhD research is on understanding how rural settlement futures are being “reimagined” in Aotearoa New Zealand against the backdrop of complex structural changes and challenges, and COVID-19. The research will explore how this process influences the ways people identify with, experience, invest in, and make and promote rural “places”. Insights for the research are being generated through case study work in Central Otago and Marlborough – two high amenity South Island regions with active growing economies based in primary production (particularly grape growing and wine production), tourism, and rural property development.

The Team

PhD Candidate: Alyssa Ryan (University of Otago).

Lead Supervisor: Dr Sean Connelly (University of Otago)
Supervisor: Professor Etienne Nel (University of Otago)
Advisor: Dr Mike Mackay (AgResearch)

Central Otago in Winter. Photo: Sulthan Auliya – Unsplash.


Supporting Success in Regional Settlements

This project has a number of strands that focus on examining what makes some settlements more or less successful than others, and what impacts this has on the development of those towns (including population and jobs growth). Key issues that the researchers examine include the importance of business-related (productive) amenities and personal-related (consumption) amenities in guiding settlements’ success. Individual settlements are interpreted within a system of settlements, so we also examine the linkages between settlements that may be important in guiding the success of certain settlements.

The published papers for this project highlight the importance of natural capital and other factors that underlie the value people place on towns and on houses within towns. Consistent with international literature, people appear to be valuing natural amenity factors more highly as average incomes increase. The researchers find that dwellings are more highly valued if they receive more sunlight. This result has important planning implications as cities increasingly look to intensify with the consequent danger of crowding out sunshine for other dwellings. The results also emphasise the importance of towns making the most of the natural features that they have. However, the researchers find a difference between the value that domestic residents and international migrants place on various types of amenity. Domestic residents (aged 25-59) value lifestyle (“quality of life”) amenities more highly than do international migrants (on average), whereas the latter value productive (“quality of business”) amenities more highly. The results have important implications for planning and investment decisions of local councils. These decisions affect not only the quantity and type of jobs in their location but also the quantity and type of resident (e.g. skilled vs unskilled; tertiary educated versus non-tertiary educated; domestic versus international) who wish to live in each place.

The Team

rthur Grimes, Dave Maré, Kate Preston, Stuart Donovan

Amenities and the attractiveness of New Zealand cities. Photo: Nicolas J LeClercq – Unsplash.


Supporting Success in 2nd Tier Settlements: Mana Whenua Building Vibrant Communities

This research is a place-based study that seeks a systems understanding, from a mana whenua perspective, of what makes vibrant and regenerative tier-two settlements. The project is the northern component of Supporting Success in Regional Settlements and focuses on three settlements in the ‘Golden Triangle’ – Pōkeno, Huntly and Ōpōtiki. The research focuses on the structural changes/trajectories occurring in these three communities; understanding the types of physical and social (including health, education) infrastructure contribute to vibrant communities; how mana whenua aspirations could shape the development of a vibrant community; and how these factors could be modelled to enhance mana whenua in tier-two communities and small towns.

The project has developed an exploratory indicator framework to measure community wellbeing and regeneration from an integrated mainstream and Māori perspective. The frame provides insight into the wellbeing in the three places of study and these findings closely aligned with the feedback from communities about the wellbeing of their towns. The study found a strong desire for investment in cultural, human, and social capitals. The research pointed to holistic community regeneration and integrated sense of wellbeing. It highlighted political, regulatory, and planning barriers to mana whenua aspirations for development. Local hapū and iwi spoke to designing and building towns that acknowledged and incorporated mana whenua connection to place. In general, mana whenua desired marae and papakāinga development as community hubs.

The research has resulted in reports directly to the mana whenua groups (iwi and hapū) in these towns to provide pathways to progress their development aspirations in these towns. These were also disseminated to key stakeholders to enable further discussions amongst key players in the advancement and realisation of these goals.

The Team

Jonathan Kilgour, Polly Atatoa-Carr, Moana Rarere, Maui Hudson, Thalia Ullrich, John Ryks, James Whetu, Jesse Whitehead, Lynley Uerata

Church Street, Ōpōtiki. Photo: Ulrich LangeCC BY-SA 3.0

Supporting Success in 2nd Tier Settlements: Regenerating for Success

This project is generating a new knowledge platform that will support, strengthen and advance settlement regeneration practice. The researchers examine how settlements and their people manage to renew themselves under challenging circumstances, and what drives success in regeneration projects. The researchers are working with stakeholders in two districts: Ashburton and Timaru.

There is a considerable level of commitment from public and private sector agencies and individuals to the development of local second-tier settlement regeneration initiatives. Despite a wide-spread view that some regional settlements are depressed and in trouble, the findings point to a much more positive situation, but also a group of challenges associated with limited financial resources and specialist expertise across a range of skill-sets. With respect to the built environment – whether to do with heritage buildings, adaptive re-use of former industrial sites, big-box retailing, the potential impacts of e-retailing, over-extended town centres, seismic retrofitting, the provision of public infrastructure (from public toilets, to new cultural and sporting facilities and spaces, and retirement homes) and the building of new commercial buildings – there are major issues facing second-tier settlements associated with finance, skills levels, and capacity to work strategically. There is no shortage of local commitment. The researchers have discovered very strong connections between regional settlements and their rural hinterlands, including small rural towns (for example, Geraldine in the Timaru District) and so a focus on settlement regeneration requires some considerable attention to the myriad activities occurring there. This has brought the researchers into touch, for example, with the growing and diversifying rural- and agri-tourism sectors, commercial outdoor recreation, the importance of irrigated agriculture, and food manufacturing, and a set of emerging issues associated with disruptive technologies such AirBnB and their effects on regional housing provision.

The Team

Michael Mackay, Deborah Levy, Harvey Perkins, Malcolm Campbell


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Oamaru – Supporting Success in Regional Settlements

This project is generating new knowledge that will support and advance urban regeneration practice in 2nd tier settlements in New Zealand. The research will elaborate and learn from an urban regeneration project in Oamaru (Waitaki District), combining elements of town centre revitalisation, the adaptive re-purposing of historic buildings, and the creation of a variety of new and attractive urban spaces (including a major investment in the Alps 2 Ocean cycle trail). These regeneration activities have also provided the impetus for new businesses to develop in the town and its surrounding rural settlements.

An important preliminary finding/highlight from work with local stakeholders is the importance of integration across the strategies and plans, especially when dealing with a large number of regeneration projects. The Council plays an important part in this integration along with community leaders and private investors. Formal plans are also important because they confirm the Treaty partnership with Māori, who have a long cultural, environmental, and economic interest in the Waitaki valley and coastline and are potential investors in new developments such as visitor facilities. The research suggests that the multi-faceted approach identified in Oamaru is likely to bring further success in the long term. In particular there are four key aspects that work together: retail growth and hospitality; housing and residential growth aiming for repopulation and suitable for a greater number of older residents; growth of the rural-service centres and rural processing; and the provision of further visitor attractions, accommodation, and services in an integrated package. The work also shows that planners must address the inexorability of demography. This includes the need to plan for cycles of decline (and growth!) evident in resource communities and changes in demographics such as an ageing population, and an increasing cultural diversity in the population.

The Team

Michael Mackay, Harvey Perkins, Nick Taylor, Karen Johnston

READ MORE – Social impacts of cycle trails

READ MORE – Reneneration of Oamaru

Harnessing the hinterland

This proposed study is driven by the identified need to focus academic and policy attention of one of the most neglected dimensions of New Zealand society and economy — namely the rural areas and the small towns within them. These places form the backbone of the export economy and are home to some 22% of the national population, yet there is a poor understanding of how these places differ, the challenges which they face, whether they are able to regenerate and respond to social and economic change and the specific needs of key, often marginalised groups — i.e. women and Mäori. Media attention has dramatized the fate of so-called ‘zombie’ towns and the seemingly bleak future of rural New Zealand. Our preliminary demographic analysis contradicts some of these negative views and while many small towns and rural areas are losing people, many others are in fact growing. Simultaneously throughout the country there are a range of significant local examples of local development and regeneration from which key lessons for the country can be derived. The study seeks to co-create knowledge with local stakeholder groups to better inform policy makers of local development challenges and opportunities. The research will be informed by key debates in international literature and the research will be influenced by detailed desktop analysis of statistical — demographic, social and economic trends taking place in rural and small town New Zealand. While the desktop research will provide a national overview, detailed field work will be undertaken in three fregions’ in the country: West Coast, Southland/Clutha and Taranaki and within each one small town will be a specific point of attention, particular with regard to local responses to economic and social change, and where relevant, local regeneration endeavours. A reference group representing a range of institutions, community groups, development agencies and NGOs will help guide the study.

27 July 2018: To see a powerpoint presentation about the Harnessing the Hinterland project presented to the New Zealand Geographical Society conference, click here.

January 2020: Nel, E., Connelly, S. & Stevenson, T. (2019). New Zealand’s small town transition: The experience of demographic and economic change and place based responses. New Zealand Geographer, 75, 3, 163-176. DOI: 10.1111/nzg.12240

The Team

Etienne Nel, Ann Pomeroy, Sean Connelly, Michelle Thompson-Fawcett