Urban Places

On this website, our 'Urban Places' maps and graphs include both 'Urban Areas' and ‘Rural Centres' as defined by Statistics New Zealand until 2018 (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 those levels, 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 aare statistically defined areas without administrative or legal basis. Until 2018 they were hierarchically subdivided into main, secondary, and minor urban areas, and together comprised the statistically defined ‘urban’ population of New Zealand.

This classification changed in 20181 but does not affect our data. For 2018 we purchased a dataset aggregated to match our previous geographic boundaries, so the entire dataset used for our analysis 1976-2018 remains internally consistent.

In our analysis, 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 are further divided into urban zones, with each urban zone defined as a separate urban area (for example, Auckland is divided into four zones).

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 in our analysis are urbanised settlements outside main and secondary urban areas, centered around smaller towns with a population between 1,000 and 9,999. This complies with international definitions of ‘urban’ population that pertains to towns with over 1,000 people.

Areas not designated as ‘urban’ under the above arrangements are designated Rural Areas. The standard urban area classification as used by Statistics New Zealand to 2018 had two categories of rural area: ‘rural centres’ and ‘other rural’. Rural centres are (were) 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.