Ageing in the CBD
In responding to my doubts about the employment assumptions behind Auckland’s plans for a new central rail link and what this means for the CBD, Patrick R cited the example of his 84 year old grandmother who enjoys the CBD lifestyle. Dan talked about the attractions of town centres in Europe where many older people hang out.
If people are attracted to the CBD for its amenities and lifestyle as they are saying, I am not sure of the relevance of the rail link. But I take their wider point: don’t underestimate the attraction of CBD living, and let’s make sure we make Auckland’s CBD attractive.
Interestingly, the European city argument is most relevant because it refers to people ageing in place. Many of the people Dan observed in Sardinia (and, indeed most other European towns) are likely to have always lived in and around the centre.
Seeking a balance
Patrick’s observations about diversity of ages in the CBD are important because they highlight a key planning issue in Auckland, and elsewhere. How to plan for an ageing population, particularly if reduced residential mobility is a feature of ageing? I agree with Patrick that we are not talking about an “either-or “ situation here, and that our interest in the well-being of the majority should not blind us to the interests and needs of the minority.
There are plenty of people who will move into the centre in new world cities given the chance, making the most of the revival in street life, the performing arts, cafes and restaurants. This is a reflection of a growing capacity in post-industrial cities for people to exercise choice about lifestyle and where they will live. But it’s only part of the story.
Living in the suburbs
The facts and figures I have cited in other postings indicate that the amenities associated with the CBD are also a growing part of the suburban story, a part that justifies greater attention and perhaps greater favour.
Suburban centres are becoming more like village centres. This is entrenched in Europe. Even in large cities like Paris and London the vast majority of people do not live in the centre, but live suburban lives focused on urban centres and urban villages. The localisation of amenity and living is reflected in a more intimate system of local government than we are used to, though. Perhaps one of our problems is having a single super city trying to plan for a diverse region. But that’s another story.
The New Zealand evidence confirms that people here prefer to age where they have their roots, which is overwhelmingly in the suburbs.  This is where they have their financial, social and emotional investment. Even moving out of an outsized family home is a wrench.
So where might older people prefer to live? I thought it would be useful to map their living preferences. So I did this for Auckland using the 1996 and 2006 Censuses, assuming (rather unfairly perhaps) that age 50 qualifies you as an older person.
I divided Auckland into several zones – the CBD; the inner Isthmus suburbs, (Westmere, through Kingsland, to Newmarket and Parnell); the balance of the Isthmus ; and the suburbs of the north, south, and west. Among the latter I separated those closest to the CBD – Northcote and Takapuna areas further south on the North Shore; New Lynn in West Auckland; and Otahuhu through to Mangere and areas north in South Auckland.
The figures tell the story. The upper part of the bars on the graph below represents the growth in the number of older people (using my definition) between 1996-2006. The lower part is the growth in those under 50. The squares show the share in each area aged 50 years or more in 2006.
Where do the over-50s live?
This 2006 figures show that the outer parts of the city have relatively more older people: 36% on the Hibiscus Coast (the coastal suburbs north of the metropolitan area), 30% in towns, and 29% in rural areas. Only 12% of the CBD population was 50 years or older. (The total for the city was 25%).
The city’s population grew 22% over the ten years to 2006. The number of older persons grew 33%, accounting for 34% of Auckland’s growth, but only 11% in the CBD and 18% in inner Isthmus suburbs. By contrast, oldies made up over half in rural areas and 35% in the outer suburbs
The gains were biggest in the southern suburbs, but the shares of growth accounted for were highest in the Hibiscus Coast (38%) and the west (40%).
|Auckland Population Growth 1996-2006 - by Age and Area|
Thinking about the next twenty years
There seems to be a preference for suburban and even outer suburban living among older people. It’s not absolute, but it does suggest that we should be wary of overstating future demand for CBD living as our population ages.
Current Statistics New Zealand projections indicate that the 50+ age group will account for over half of Auckland’s growth in the next 20 years. (The figure is much higher elsewhere, over 80% in Christchurch, for example – and that was before the earthquakes). So we should be clearly reflecting their tastes and preferences in our plans. And their attachments mean that the majority of that growth will take place in the suburbs.
What does this mean for the CBD?
The point is not that people do not want to live in the central city. Many do, although most are likely to be in transition. They include migrants and temporary residents. That’s not surprising: New Zealanders on their OE also favour living close to the centre of the cities they live in overseas. Many others are young, in education, early in their career, in non-family households, or not in long-standing relationships. For a majority – not all – the central city is a place of transition, traditionally a place where they dwell before stepping onto the housing ladder. And interestingly, young people building their careers and their independence, people in transition, will be a smaller share of our growing population, not a larger one.
So to maintain strong residential growth in the CBD we will need to influence more people’s preferences, and especially the preferences of older people. While some will come, it’s a big – if not impossible -- ask to get the sorts of numbers current plans project.
We need to think about the numbers as well as the anecdotes, and bring balance to our thinking about the CBD, its place in our lives, and how much we might be spending to make it something which it is not.
 I have argued this elsewhere, e.g. http://cities-matter.blogspot.com/2011/05/sustaining-suburbs.html, http://cities-matter.blogspot.com/2011/10/central-city-dreaming.html
 See, for example, Davey J (2007) “Ageing in Place: The Views of Older Homeowners on Maintenance, Renovation and Adaptation” Social Policy Journal of New Zealand, 27