New Zealand Atlas of Population Change

Urban Places

On this website, our 'Urban Places' maps and graphs include both 'Urban Areas' and Rural Centres' as defined by Statistics New Zealand (see below). Data on urban places provides a meaningful perspective on population change because most people can relate to these cities, towns and townships and comprehend what they represent. Urban places are natural spatial units that expand and retract with population change. Population data sets based on territorial and regional council boundaries hide the variation within these large spatial units. At a regional level, the decline of one town can be cancelled out by the growth of another, so the urban place perspective provides a more accurate spatial description of population change in New Zealand.

New Zealand's Urban Areas are statistically defined areas without administrative or legal basis. They are hierarchically subdivided into main, secondary, and minor urban areas. Together they comprise the statistically defined ‘urban’ population of New Zealand.

Main urban areas are very large urban areas centered on a city or major urban centre, with a minimum population of 30,000. Urban areas in the main conurbations have been further divided into urban zones, with each urban zone defined as a separate urban area.

Secondary urban areas were established at the 1981 Census. They have a population between 10,000 and 29,999 people and are centered on the larger regional centres.

Minor urban areas are urbanised settlements (outside main and secondary urban areas), centered around smaller towns with a population between 1,000 and 9,999 people. This complies with the international definitions of ‘urban’ population that includes towns with over 1,000 people.

Areas not designated as ‘urban’ under these arrangements are designated Rural Areas.The standard urban area classification as used by Statistics New Zealand has two categories of rural areas: rural centres and other rural. Rural centres are defined by population size, having a population of 300 to 999 in a reasonably compact area that services surrounding rural areas (district territory). They have a defined statistical boundary (an area unit) but no legal status. 'Other rural' is the urban area classification residual category and includes all area units not in urban areas or rural centres. This category includes inlets, islands, inland waters, and oceanic waters outside urban areas.