Story: Inner-city living

Page 3. Inner-city revival

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There was a revival of inner-city living in Auckland and Wellington in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Facing a weakened office market at the end of the 1980s, Wellington City funded experiments with waterfront apartments, confirming a latent demand. By this time the English term ‘flat’ had been replaced by the more fashionable American ‘apartment.’ Developers were tentative at first, but within a decade 2,000 new apartments had been approved in Wellington and by 2008 the number had trebled to over 6,000. In 2009, inner Auckland had 17,500 apartments.

Reasons for growth

The growing demand for inner-city living reflected:

  • the greater relative price of detached single-unit houses
  • the increasing distance to new subdivisions from central-city jobs
  • a growing younger population who spend longer in tertiary education and delay having families
  • the building of new offices in Auckland and Wellington, which created a demand for city workers and released older office buildings for conversion into apartments.

Residential boom

Between 1996 and 2006 residential growth in Wellington’s inner city exceeded its employment growth. There was a 38.5% increase in the number of people living in the inner city, but only a 20.1% increase in the number of employees working there each day.

New urban culture

The social reforms of the 1980s and 1990s also led to the revival of inner-city culture. Weekend shop-trading hours, liquor sales, bar opening hours and gambling laws were liberalised, encouraging more cafés, nightclubs and casinos. In port cities, old wharfing areas were redeveloped into bustling café, museum and leisure precincts. City centres, once empty in the weekends, were filled with life.

This new vitality attracted students and others back to the inner city. Old warehouses and offices were converted into dwellings and serviced apartments. Developers once more put up purpose-built apartment blocks, many of them in the central business district. Some went up in bustling entertainment districts such as Auckland’s Viaduct Harbour, creating a symbiotic relationship between apartment residents and café or nightclub owners.

Apartment style

A few of the new apartment blocks were arresting and stylish. Others were dull and dated, and some apartments were tiny, raising fears that developers were building slums-in-the-making. City councils responded to this concern by encouraging better design and ordaining stricter building controls, including minimum apartment sizes (35 square metres in Auckland).

Other cities followed the trend set by Auckland and Wellington, with new apartment blocks also redefining the skylines of Hamilton, Tauranga and Christchurch.

Noisy neighbours

In 2002, residents in a new, poorly soundproofed Wellington apartment block complained that music and chatter from the long-standing Matterhorn nightspot was keeping them awake. Critics said residents should return to the suburbs if they wanted quiet. But the city council forced the bar to install soundproofing.

Suburban refugees

Many of the new apartment dwellers came from the inner suburbs. One 2003 Auckland survey found that most came from suburbs on the immediate edge of the inner city. The main reason for the move was to be closer to places of work and study, followed by the desire to be near entertainment. But the transition from suburb to city was not always easy. Complaints from new residents about street and traffic noise both amused and irritated longer-term city dwellers. ‘What did you expect?’ they asked. Noise remained the number-one bugbear of Wellington apartment dwellers in 2009.


Most apartments continued to cater for people without children; it was still believed that family life was best pursued in the suburbs. But, as before, a few families with children also took up apartment living (12% of central-Wellington apartment dwellers were families in 2009). City streets and parks became children’s playgrounds.

How to cite this page:

Philip Morrison and Ben Schrader, 'Inner-city living - Inner-city revival', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 21 July 2024)

Story by Philip Morrison and Ben Schrader, published 11 Mar 2010