Kōrero: Suburbs

Whārangi 6. Suburban life since the 1970s

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From the 1970s the quarter-acre ideal changed towards a more intensive and varied pattern of suburban housing. In many cities local authorities permitted smaller sections, less room between dwellings and infill housing – adding a new house to the section still occupied by an older one. In 1986 Housing Minister Phil Goff acknowledged that the quarter-acre section had become a ‘burden instead of an asset for many people’.1

This shift towards more compact and more varied suburbs was encouraged by the emergence of new types of families that departed from the nuclear ideal of the 1950s and 1960s. In the following decades single-parent families, single people, gay couples and extended families became increasingly visible. Many women were now part of the paid workforce and no longer spent weekdays in and around their suburban home.


As a result, suburban life became more diverse and less focused on the home and immediate neighbourhood. Shoppers had more options than their small local shopping centre and the large retailers in the central business district. Many large stores moved from the central city to the suburban fringe where parking was easier. These were often clustered into seven-day-a-week malls, which proved a magnet for teenagers.

Suburban identity and subcultures

Some suburbs also developed a stronger and more confident sense of local identity. In parts of west Auckland and the Hutt Valley young people developed a ‘bogan’ culture characterised by black T-shirts, heavy-metal music, fierce dogs, rugby league and beer. Pacific Island people concentrated in South Auckland and Porirua developed their own distinctive styles of street clothing, hip-hop music and speciality foods.

The Asian and African immigrants that arrived from the 1980s onwards often settled in the same areas as people from their home country. This has led to the rise of ‘ethnoburbs’ such as Auckland’s Howick, which has a high proportion of Chinese residents. These groups, and other smaller subcultures such as Africans from Eritrea and Somalia, have contributed to an increased sense of local identity in some suburban communities. This identity is celebrated and reinforced by community fairs, festivals and traditions such as the annual blessing of the fishing boats in Wellington’s Island Bay, which was originally settled by Italian fishermen from the 1890s.

Doing up the house

A boom in property speculation from the 1980s onwards meant that rundown older suburbs close to the central city, such as Auckland’s Freemans Bay, became newly desirable areas to live in. Century-old wooden villas carefully restored to their former glory proved highly valuable investments. As the boom continued, newer suburbs and newer houses, even former state houses in areas such as Strathmore in Wellington, were sought after by middle-class homeowners, developers and investors.

Kupu tāpiri
  1. Quoted in Ben Schrader, We call it home: a history of state housing in New Zealand. Auckland: Reed, 2005, p. 125. Back
Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Mark Derby, 'Suburbs - Suburban life since the 1970s', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/suburbs/page-6 (accessed 18 June 2024)

He kōrero nā Mark Derby, i tāngia i te 11 Mar 2010