Where do graduates go? It depends on their degree

A highly-educated population is a known key driver of local growth and prosperity, but one of the main challenges facing non-metropolitan regions is convincing highly educated young people to move into their area and then keeping them. In turn, losing the brightest from a community can lead to reduced business creation, innovation, growth, and community well-being in such regions.

Local decision-makers wish to attract and retain young qualified people, but what are the specific drivers that encourage graduates to settle in a particular place? What are the chances of students returning upon graduation? Is there potential to attract other graduates to the area?

Research by Building Better Thriving Regions researchers through Motu Economic and Public Policy Research has analysed the locations of choice of university and polytechnic students in New Zealand.

Recent BSc Graduates at Victoria University of Wellington’s capping parade in May 2022. Graduates from all fields of study other than agriculture are attracted to locate in places that have high overall quality of business, which tend to be the large cities. Photo: Louise Thomas.


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Social Impact Assessment: Guidelines for thriving regions and communities

Regional communities are experiencing social impacts from economic regeneration projects, including tourism infrastructure development, heritage conservation, irrigation and new land uses, and housing, but how are these impacts measured?

Building Better researchers Dr Nick Taylor, from Nick Taylor and Associates, and Dr Mike Mackay, from AgResearch, have recently published a comprehensive practical guideline to Social Impact Assessment (SIA) to help councils and community groups learn the basics about how to conduct an SIA, contribute to an SIA, use the results of an SIA, and judge if an SIA is fit for purpose.

“During our work, we encountered many community leaders who were keen to learn how to assess the social impacts of the plans they design, how to take this information and use it to make decisions, and then, overtime, evaluate the outcomes for communities,” says Nick.


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Jetties and small settlement regeneration

New Building Better-funded research shows that jetties are deeply valued by people in a variety of ways from the recreational, to the historical, to the aesthetic. Jetties are places of connection, with intergenerational value. The researchers say that restoring a community’s jetty has a greater effect than just repairing the physical structure.

Recreational activities using jetties by the community were wide ranging including fishing, walking, nature appreciation, jumping off it, and using it to launch a kayak or boat.

In addition, many people interviewed for the research also emphasised that the jetties offered much more than their functional purposes. As an interviewee said, “I don’t think you have to use something for it to be precious.”

Jetties provide access to the marine environment to which many community members feel a connection and from which they get pleasure. Some utilise its access to nature for their wellbeing, with a respondent referring to their local jetty as the “Blue Hagley Park”.

The Church Bay jetty was successfully restored by the community by December 2016, after the Christchurch City Council made the decision in 2011 not to finance the jetty repair. The overall effect was of “bringing the community together”, with the grand re-opening occasion marked by a sign stating “We have saved our jetty”. The Kaioruru / Church Bay jetty was subsequently used as a blueprint for other community-led jetty restoration projects around the Peninsula. Photo: Kate Oranje, Lincoln University.


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Sustainable paving selected as ‘top venture’

A sustainable paving project sponsored by Venture Timaru, with support from AgResearch via the Thriving Regions programme of the Building Better Homes, Towns and Cities National Science Challenge, has recently been announced as one of the top 24 ventures in the 2022 Food, Fibre & Agritech Supernode Challenge.

The top 24 ventures have now been selected to move into an Accelerator programme. Participants are developing ideas that will solve problems in the sector, positively impacting the future of Aotearoa New Zealand as they support a cleaner and greener environment and facilitate more efficiency.

The paving project, part of Venture Timaru’s ‘Sustainable is Attainable’ initiative, is by University of Canterbury product design student Imogen McRae, and seeks to solve the problem of Timaru CBD’s slippery tiles, with replacements made from waste-materials from the food industry. The Accelerator programme could see the pavers eventually developed commercially, if they prove sustainable and fit-for-purpose.

Imogen has been developing pavers made of waste material sourced from South Canterbury – diatomaceous earth, a by-product from the beer brewing industry which normally winds up in the landfill, and polypropylene plastic, a waste product in many food processing and manufacturing businesses.

The Alps to Ocean pavement design concept was one liked by Timaru residents in Imogen’s survey. Photo: Imogen McRae.


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Non-slip, sustainable pavers could resolve Timaru’s slippery tile woes

New ideas can be a slippery slope, but not if University of Canterbury student Imogen McRae has her way.

The third-year product design student has been working on developing non-slip pavers made of waste material sourced from South Canterbury businesses as part of Venture Timaru’s ‘Sustainable Is Attainable’ initiative. She recently featured in the Timaru Herald News and on Stuff in this article by reporter Yashas Srinivasa.

The project is sponsored by Venture Timaru, AgResearch, and is part of the Building Better Home, Towns and Cities Thriving Regions programme.

University of Canterbury school of product design student 20-year-old Imogen McRae is working on non-slip pavers for Timaru’s CBD.


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The social impacts of irrigation

A Building Better research team has recently looked at the social impacts of irrigation developments in the Waitaki Valley (North Otago) and Amuri (North Canterbury) as part of evaluating the success of regional regeneration initiatives, along with developing methods and capability in assessing social impacts. The work is important to see how the actual impacts line up with the predicted Social Impact Assessment of such work: What worked well, and for whom? What patterns of change were not anticipated and how were these addressed? What can be learnt from these experiences?

The team have been conducting after-the-fact analyses of a number of initiatives for regional social and economic regeneration in Aotearoa New Zealand’s South Island. The research confirms that regeneration typically is a complex, incremental process involving multiple stakeholders over a lengthy period. Part of Building Better’s “Thriving Regions” work stream, the first tranche of research examined the social impacts of tourism infrastructure developments, including the Alps to Ocean (A2O) National Cycle Trail in the Waitaki Valley. The second tranche is looking at strategies for primary production, especially irrigation, and housing for a changing workforce and population.

Irrigation in the Lower Waitaki and Amuri brought changes in land ownership, land uses, farming systems, and farm size. Photo: Dr Mike Mackay.


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Enhancing the role of benevolent property developers in town-centre regeneration

A team of Building Better researchers studying town-centre regeneration in the South Island say a lot more could be done by local and central government to assist and work with benevolent property entrepreneurs who want their development projects to be both profitable and enhance the social, economic, and aesthetic elements of their home communities.

Regional settlement regeneration in New Zealand is usually undertaken by locally-based people with very limited external resourcing. Since 1984, New Zealand’s central government, consistent with a neo-liberal market-centred policy stance, has pursued only limited regional development objectives. The net results are uneven impacts on regions, their economies, settlements, and people.

The rise of e-retailing and changes in transport and vehicle parking preferences, and opportunities in edge- and out-of-centre sites, has meant that regional town-centres must innovate to attract investment. Timaru’s Stafford Street.


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Urban employment growth in NZ’s smaller cities

European regional policy promotes “smart specialisation” by encouraging regions to expand into activities that build on local strengths. The idea is that bringing together people with complementary skills helps them generate new ideas that boost innovation and growth. But does this actually work in a New Zealand context?

Research, recently published in the international journal Regional Studies, by Building Better researchers Benjamin Davies and Dr David Maré, Motu Economic and Public Policy Research, examines the potential for this way of generating ideas to promote urban employment growth in New Zealand. They find that, in New Zealand, the presence of related industries in an area is not a strong predictor of local employment growth. But why is that?

Local job networks may promote growth in big cities, but not in small ones. Wellington docks. Photo: James Coleman.


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Searching for community wellbeing in Oamaru

Regions around New Zealand are striving to create positive futures. To do so, the issues that need to be considered are wide and varying and include the future of work in rural areas and provincial towns, the supply of workers, demographic changes, and the supply of suitable housing and social services.

The Building Better Thriving Regions research team has recently published results from their Oamaru case study for the Waitaki Housing Task Force. Their report is to help guide an informed district housing strategy for the district as well as providing ongoing research of interest to other regional programmes.

Lead researcher Dr Nick Taylor says for community groups to establish a strategic approach to housing anywhere in New Zealand, the first step is to gather sufficient information on the population, housing need, areas and locations, and potential responses.

A rejuvenated waterfront in Oamaru contributes to the area’s prosperity and wellbeing. Photo: Mike Mackay, AgResearch.


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Defining functional labour market geography

Building Better Thriving Regions researchers Dr Dave Maré and Ben Davies have been delving into the nitty gritty of how to define the geography of interactions between employers and employees, and have recently published a methodology on how to define ‘functional labour market areas’.

Dave, a senior research fellow at Motu Economic and Public Policy Research, says defining the geography of a functional labour market is important for analysing spatial patterns of economic activity. “Traditionally, we might use administrative labour market areas, but these types of boundaries don’t necessarily capture the actual interactions that are going on within these populations, for example, the effects of commuting networks to deliver workers.”

Administrative labour market areas don’t necessarily capture the effects of commuting networks to deliver workers to firms. Photo: Craig Boudreaux, Unsplash.


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The price of Airbnb
The impact on long-term rental availability in Waitaki

Airbnb short-term rental accommodations have been sprouting like weeds in response to regional initiatives attracting people to New Zealand’s Deep South. This includes both in and around the town of Oamaru and in the small towns and villages up the Waitaki Valley that benefit from the flow of visitors by road and bicycle from the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail.

The trail, running from the base of iconic Aoraki Mt Cook to the world’s Steam Punk capital, Oamaru, prior to COVID-19 travel restrictions was fast becoming a tourism hotspot. Picked by Frommer’s Travel Guides as one of the world’s top 16 attractions, the dramatic natural landscapes and ready sightings of some of New Zealand’s rarest wildlife were turning into an economic boon for the Waitaki Valley, with businesses springing up along the trail to support burgeoning visitor numbers.

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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Social impacts of cycle trails on small towns and settlements

Prior to the Covid-19 lockdowns, Building Better researchers Dr Mike Mackay, Dr Nick Taylor, and Emeritus Prof Harvey Perkins assessed the impacts of the South Island’s Alps to Ocean (A2O) cycle-trail. The study focussed on the sustainability of tourist trails and how associated tourism initiatives were working together to improve the economic, social, and environmental performance of the town of Oamaru and settlements in the Waitaki Valley.

Positive outcomes are expected for local business and employment, along with an enhanced recreational environment and heritage protection. Importantly, the initiative has received funding from central government and has the involvement of the Waitaki District Council.

The A2O is a 300km, mostly off-road, cycle trail that descends from the base of Aoraki Mt Cook in the national park, through several small settlements located in the Waitaki Valley, before reaching the regional town of Oamaru on the Pacific coast. Photo: Mike Mackay, AgResearch.


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Drivers of urban development in New Zealand

New research by Stuart Donovan, Dr Arthur Grimes, and Dr David Maré uses census data to reveal the drivers that influence urban development in New Zealand. The modelling looks at data from 132 New Zealand towns and cities over a 37-year period. It highlights the relationship between local amenities that benefit firms and/or benefit residents, availability of wages and jobs, and the cost and supply of housing.

“Consistent with what we find in many countries around the world, New Zealand firms are attracted to locate in our larger cities,” says Arthur, a Senior Fellow at Motu Economic and Public Policy Research and a Building Better Thriving Regions Principal Investigator.

“In contrast, it seems that residents are attracted to smaller places: as cities grow, factors such as increased congestion make the larger cities less appealing to residents.”

The cost of building new housing rises as population increases in a city. Photo: Chris Gray on Unsplash.


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Where do bright young things settle after graduation?

A highly-educated population is one of the key drivers of local growth and prosperity. One of the main challenges facing non-metropolitan regions is the attraction and retention of tertiary educated graduates.

Local decision-makers wish to attract and retain young qualified people, but what are the specific drivers that encourage graduates to settle in a particular place? What are the chances of students returning upon graduation? Is there potential to attract other graduates to the area?

Graduates from all fields of study other than agriculture are attracted to locate in places that have high overall quality of business, which tend to be the large cities. High quality of life is also an attractor for some students but its impact is more diffuse than is the pull of income opportunities.


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Regeneration & revitalisation
The role of the built environment

How do you create opportunities for growth and development in small cities and towns that are experiencing either stasis or decline? A Building Better Thriving Regions research team reviewed the research literature that relates to the regeneration and revitalisation of these so called ‘second-tier’ settlements. They found that much of the international literature focuses on revitalisation, due to the sense of urgency to find solutions to the problem.

“There is a strong emphasis in the literature on understanding decline in the context of economics and demographic changes. Losing people, aka ‘urban shrinkage’, especially in some age groups, can have significant negative social effects on a town and region, and be detrimental to the built environment. Regeneration activities around the built environment usually require substantial capital investment to improve what is already there, to repurpose buildings, or demolish and rebuild,” says lead author Dr Raewyn Hills from the University of Auckland.


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Commuting to diversity

Does commuting increase workers’ exposure to difference and diversity? The uneven spatial distribution of different population subgroups within cities is well documented. Individual neighbourhoods are generally less diverse than cities as a whole. Building Better researchers David Maré from Motu and Jacques Poot investigate.

Auckland is New Zealand’s most diverse city, but the impacts of diversity are likely to be less if different groups don’t mingle. In this study, the researchers examine measures of exposure to local cultural diversity based on where people work as well as where they live. The study also examines whether commuting alters the exposure to diversity for workers with different skills or types of job.

People from neighbourhoods with high residential diversity tend to commute to workplace neighbourhoods that are also more diverse than average. Photo: Fabrizio Verrecchia, Pexels.


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Welcoming newcomers in regional settlements
Studies find evidence for a community-based approach

There are plenty of theories about how to attract and retain newcomers to a regional area, but little in the way of actual empirical evidence of success according to a recent international literature review by the BBHTC Thriving Regions researchers.

“Several international studies are examining how to attract migrants, foster their integration, and retain them in the community, but we couldn’t find anything that actually evaluated and outlined the ‘best’ strategies,” says one of the reports co-authors, Dr Mike Mackay from AgResearch.

Photo: Dr Mike Mackay, AgResearch.


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Building Better sunshine value research cited internationally

Building Better research on Valuing Sunshine has recently been cited by researchers in the United States in the Building and Environment journal.

The paper, The value of daylight in office spaces, cites the BBHTC paper by David Fleming, Arthur Grimes, Laurent Lebreton, David Maré, and Peter Nunns, which evaluated the real estate value of direct sunlight exposure for residential properties in New Zealand. In text, the US researchers write the New Zealand research was the most similar to their own examining the impact of daylight performance on rent prices in the commercial office market.

Photo: Jack Redgate, Pexels.


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How Airbnb is changing our regions

Local councils need more policy options and resources to address the impacts of accommodation sharing platforms. BBHTC Director Ruth Berry details recent research in an article for NZ Local Government Magazine.

Peer-to-peer rental platforms such as Airbnb have opened up a wide variety of affordable options for families and groups wanting self-contained properties.

Globally, Airbnb’s entry to the travel market in 2008 has significantly altered perceptions of what constitutes holiday and business accommodation.

Many Kiwi property owners have benefited from the introduction of this easy peer-to-peer shared property economy.

Yet new evidence from Building Better Homes, Towns and Cities (BBHTC) National Science Challenge suggests that for long-term residents living in towns that have a high concentration of Airbnbs, there are negative impacts, alongside the benefits for both residents and the region.

The research shows Queenstown Hill now has 204 Airbnb listings per 1000 residents. Photo: Ketan Kumawat, Pexels.


Regional development and the mana whenua of Pōkeno

During the 1990s, the township of Pōkeno was held up as an example of a declining rural Aotearoa New Zealand. By-passed from the national state highway, it lost its status as a service hub and drastic measures were introduced to revitalise the town, including renaming the town “”. Pōkeno has since undergone an unlikely transformation, with foreign investment and its location within an extended Auckland commuter zone meaning that the township has grown exponentially.

Building Better Thriving Regions researchers John Ryks, Jonathan Kilgour, Jesse Whitehead, Amy Whetu, and James Whetu have recently published a paper in the New Zealand Geographer examining the recent transformation of Pōkeno, including the historical development of the town, and uncover what has been missing in discussions about Pōkeno’s reinvention and revitalisation, namely, the place of mana whenua and Māori.

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


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Regional district and town profiles show positive results

While there are key issues facing many regional settlements, such as aging populations, the research shows that there are also many positive influences afoot in some areas.

Building Better Thriving Regions: Supporting Success in 2nd Tier Settlements researcher Malcolm Campbell has recently completed an analyse of three regional settlements, Ashburton, Timaru, and Waitaki Territorial Authority areas, using data from the 2013 New Zealand Census to give an indication of the similarities and differences between these places on a number of key measures.

He writes that it is important to recognise the economic success of the study areas. Ashburton, Timaru, and Waitaki have had further reductions in unemployment from already low levels, as well as increases in the level of employment, most notably Timaru, which is a positive story to tell. “It is reasonable to say that these areas are doing well. They are ‘healthy’ economically at present.”


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Study shows Gisborne quality of life average

Reporter Andrew Ashton from the Gisborne Herald examines the implications for Gisborne from Motu’s Research for the Building Better Homes, Towns, and Cities National Science Challenge.

At the time of the 2013 census, Gisborne was ranked around the middle of urban areas in New Zealand for quality of life and quality of business. ‘Natural’ factors such as climate have a positive impact on quality of life of places, but the study shows that Gisborne has room to improve in the quality of life and quality of business on offer to residents and prospective newbies.

Andrew interviews Motu’s research programme leader Arthur Grimes to get his views on where to from here for Gisborne.


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Moving for business or pleasure?

A new study from Motu Economic and Public Policy Research for the Building Better Homes, Towns, and Cities National Science Challenge uses a deep-dive analysis of census rent and wage data to look at whether people choose to move to locations with better quality of life or better quality of business.

Migrants are defined as ‘domestic’ if they lived in New Zealand five years ago and ‘international’ if they were not living in New Zealand.

Locations with a high quality of life attract migrants from other urban areas, but do not attract international migrants. Locations with a high quality of business do not attract domestic (urban or rural) migrants, but do attract international migrants.

“A one standard deviation increase in a location’s quality of business is estimated to increase international migration into that location by approximately one-third, while raising domestic residents’ migration out of that location by approximately one-fifth,” says programme leader Dr Arthur Grimes.

Do people choose to move to locations with better quality of life or better quality of business? Moving. Photo: Mike Bird from Pexels.


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Lincoln Planning Review – Special Issue: Building Better Towns and Communities

The Lincoln Planning Review has just published a special issue of their journal focussed on building better towns and communities. The publication features a number of research projects supported by Building Better Homes, Towns and Cities including Waimakariri Way: Community Engagement in Kaiapoi Town Centre Plan; Tourism-led settlement regeneration: Reaching Timaru’s potential; and Planning for Regeneration in the town of Oamaru. The journal also published an Australia and New Zealand Association of Planning Schools (ANZAPS) Conference Report by Hamish Rennie.


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Airbnb: Disrupting the regional housing market

Is Airbnb disrupting the regional housing market in New Zealand? If so, how and to what extent? The first stage of a Building Better Homes, Towns and Cities study by Malcolm Campbell, Hamish McNair, Michael Mackay, and Harvey Perkins shows short-term rental hotspots have been created in New Zealand.

For example, Queenstown Hill has 204 Airbnb listings per 1000 residents. The area with the highest number of Airbnbs is Wanaka, a smaller South Island tourist destination. But has long-term rental availability and pricing suffered as a result? Another key issue for future research is how short-term rentals pose a challenge to local authorities who collect property taxes based on the value of the property, with some local authorities proposing or enacting specific by-laws in relation to Airbnb.

The study, published in the Regional Studies Association journal, shows a snapshot in time of the spatial distribution of accommodation provided through Airbnb throughout New Zealand.


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Gauging the appeal

A Building Better Homes, Towns and Cities National Science Challenge study has looked at why some places are better to live and do business in. Lessons from this could help other towns and cities improve their economic viability and liveability.

Which are New Zealand’s best settlements to live in? Where are the best places in which to do business? Both of these are important when considering local development opportunities since a successful town will have both attractive work opportunities – quality of business – and be an attractive place for families to live – quality of life.


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Local growth is complex!

Current European regional policy promotes “smart specialisation” by encouraging regions to expand into activities that “build on local strengths”. Smart specialisation rests upon the idea that bringing together people with complementary skills helps them generate new ideas that boost innovation and growth. But does this actually work?

In a study funded by the Building Better Homes, Towns and Cities National Science Challenge, Benjamin Davies and Dr David Maré, both of Motu Economic and Public Policy Research, analyse the potential for this way of generating ideas to promote urban employment growth in New Zealand. They find that, in New Zealand, the presence of related industries in an area is not a strong predictor of local employment growth.


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The regeneration of Oamaru

With a population of around 14,000 and climbing, the regeneration of Oamaru continues to be a New Zealand success story for the revitalisation of second-tier settlements. The town provides a primer for how to reboot a region and prevent the development of “zombie” settlements.

The Oamaru case study by Building Better Homes, Towns and Cities National Science Challenge, led by Dr Mike Mackay, Lincoln University, and involving Drs Nick Taylor and Karen Johnston, and Emeritus Professor of Planning Harvey Perkins, provides an analysis of Oamaru’s past, present, and future initiatives for regeneration. How did Oamaru become an attractive place to live, visit, work, and do business?


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Success in Regional Settlements team delivers results at RSA Conference

Building Better’s Supporting Success in Regional Settlements research team was out in force to deliver research results from Phase 1 at the Regional Studies Association of Australasia Conference, held this week in Christchurch. Led by Emeritus Professor Harvey Perkins, the team examined the lived and comparative experience of regional small-town New Zealand.

“Part of our mission is to interpret and support local efforts to make these places more attractive to live in, visit, work and do business. Identifying practical solutions for settlement regeneration success is a central goal.

“The research team is examining the broad contexts of regional settlements, their trajectories, and how residents are defining their situation and engaging in initiatives to improve their towns economically, socially, culturally, and environmentally,” says Harvey.

Places that are attractive to live in tend to be sunny, dry and near water. Kerikeri River. Photo: Louise Thomas.


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Home and business: Living in harmony

In a column in Architecture Now, Arthur Grimes, programme leader for the Supporting success in regional settlements research team writes about findings from a recent study his team has completed regarding what individuals and businesses prefer when it comes to locale. It seems that the things that make a place liveable and the things that make a place good for business are at odds. But can we have both?


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Amenities and the attractiveness of New Zealand cities

A new report by Building Better’s Supporting Success in Regional Settlements team, Kate Preston, Arthur Grimes, David Maré, and Stuart Donovan, analyses the factors that attract people and firms (and hence jobs) to different settlements across New Zealand. The team compiled quality of life and quality of business indicators for 130 settlements from 1976 to 2013, using census rent and wage data.

“Households and firms prefer different amenities, which means places with high quality of life often have low quality of business. For instance, households appear to prefer sunny, dry locations near water, while firms appear to prefer to locate in larger cities,” says Dr Grimes.


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Supporting regional settlements

The strength and integrity of regional settlements in Aotearoa New Zealand is under scrutiny, with questions about how to reboot struggling regions. There are economic and demographic issues linked to quantitative evidence of declining and ageing populations and challenging economic circumstances.

In response, National Science Challenge: Building Better Homes, Towns and Cities has the objective of building a better understanding of the lived experience of regional and small town New Zealand. Its mission is to support local efforts to make these places more attractive to live, visit, work and do business.


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Valuing sunshine

The famous Swiss-born French architect Le Corbusier once said that people needed space and light just as much as they need bread or a place to sleep. To paraphrase, dwellings that are situated or designed with good exposure to sunlight are generally preferred as places to live and work compared to those with lesser light levels. Now, research organisation Motu Economic and Public Policy Research have managed to put a price on that sunshine.

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Nine to Noon Radio NZ interview with Arthur Grimes: Giving sunshine a price tag

To listen to Arthur Grimes Giving sunshine a price tag interview on Radio New Zealand’s Nine to Noon programme, with Kathryn Ryan, please click play below:


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