The moral case for immigration

In a post several weeks back, I talked about the economic case for immigration and population growth. In it, I hypothesised that:

New Zealand has a strong feedback loop between net migration and economic growth. When growth prospects get worse – as they did in the 1970 and 1980s – it dissuades people from coming here and encourages Kiwis to leave for greener pastures. This in turn worsens growth prospects by sucking consumer demand out of the economy and reducing perceived household wealth (i.e. lowering house prices).

By contrast, good growth prospects tend to attract migrants to New Zealand’s cities and encourage potential emigrants to stay. This in turn leads to a virtuous cycle between higher growth and increased migration.

In my view, building good cities that attract and efficiently accommodate population growth can make us better off by strengthening the agglomeration economies at work in New Zealand’s economy. It can also make us better off in non-economic ways: consider romantic relationships, for example. If you’re young and single (or old and single), you should absolutely prefer more people to be arriving than leaving. The more young, mobile people are staying or arriving in New Zealand cities, the better your odds are of ending up in a good relationship.

However, I don’t think the economic case for immigration is as strong as the “moral” case for immigration. That’s because immigration is one of the most powerful mechanisms for enabling people to lift their incomes and social status. Migration can offer individuals opportunities that they never would have had in their home countries.

I’m going to discuss some economic research on the topic, but first I want to explain why it’s important to me.

Basically, in the 200-400 years in which reasonable data on my ancestors is available, migration has been just about the only thing that has enabled us to have any significant social or income mobility. Ever.

Migration has worked out well for me. Moving back to New Zealand has given me opportunities that I might not have had in the United States. Thus far, I’ve had a more interesting and fulfilling career and I’ve been surrounded by interesting and friendly people while doing it.

Migration also worked out well for my parents and several of their siblings, who left New Zealand in the 1970s and 1980s during the wave of economic destruction caused by collapsing commodity prices and Muldoonist Think Big initiatives. Like many other New Zealanders, they’ve done well overseas.

And, back in the 1840s-1890s, migration to New Zealand opened up opportunities for social mobility and independence to my great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents. In fact, those were just about the first opportunities anyone in my family had to get ahead. If it weren’t for migration, we’d still be lower-middle class in some grim former mill town in northern England.

I’m grateful for the opportunities that migration has offered me and the opportunities that it’s offered to my family. Furthermore, I feel strongly that more people should have similar opportunities. I don’t believe in pulling up the ladder. If some hard-working folks from Nigeria, Guatemala, Bangladesh, Samoa, or wherever want to try their luck moving to an unknown country, I’m all for it. Give them a fair go.

Several recent papers by University of Otago economist Steven Stillman (another immigrant!) and several co-authors help quantify how valuable giving people the opportunity to immigrate can be. Stillman uses evidence from two “migration lotteries” operated by the New Zealand government. Under a programme started in 2002, a small number of Tongans and Samoans randomly selected from a pool of applicants are offered residency in New Zealand.

Evidence from the Tongan migration lottery shows significant improvements in well-being for migrants. Stillman and his co-authors found evidence of:

  • “Very large gains in objective well-being result from migrating to New Zealand (Table 2). The weekly wage of principal applicants rose by NZ$321 (US$200) within a year of first moving which is almost three times the weekly wages of the control group in Tonga (NZ$117).”
  • “More subtle and complex effects on subjective well-being…” After four years, they observed a “very substantial rise in the other components of mental health, of about three points, which is equivalent to one quarter of the wave 2 scores for the control group in Tonga.”

Evidence from the Samoan migration lottery shows that migration can also improve wellbeing for migrants’ families in the old country, at least in the short term. Stillman and his co-authors found that migration increased household consumption and reduced poverty in households that sent migrants to New Zealand, although these effects faded away over time.

In short, even after controlling for self-selection bias (i.e. the fact that migrants tend to have both motivation and resources to migrate), migration seems to make people better off. It doesn’t necessarily work for everyone, but it certainly works for most people.

In my view, the evidence suggests there are good economic and moral arguments for enabling migration, rather than cutting it off in the good times. If we want to manage house price inflation, it would be fairer and more sensible to pursue other policies instead. This could include (but certainly isn’t limited to):

  • Changes to tax policy to harmonise our property taxes with major trading and investment partners – as Stu highlighted, our unusually low property taxes distort people’s investment decisions and push cash into housing
  • Supply-side policies like a revitalised programme of state house construction or urban planning policies that enable people to build more housing in areas that are accessible to jobs and amenities.

What’s your experience with immigration? Remember, you or your ancestors came here relatively recently by boat or by airplane!

Northland, Politics, Transport, and Pork

On March 28 the (normally safe) National-held electorate of Northland heads for a bye-election. The outcome of the bye-election will be fascinating for several reasons.

The first reason is that it’s politically important. If Winston Peters wins then it will be more difficult for National to pass controversial legislation, because they will need the votes of not just one but two support parties.

Legislation like the Sky City casino-for-convention-centre deal and RMA reforms suddenly become pawns in a three-way game of arbitrage between parties with somewhat different support bases and philosophies. Amusingly, National could end up leading a government not too dissimilar to what they warned the opposition would have been like, had the latter prevailed at the last election.


The second reason the bye-election is so interesting is that transport has, somewhat unexpectedly, become a major campaign issue.

Early in the campaign, the Minister of Transport (Simon Bridges) suddenly found $69 million in previously stretched transport budgets for two-laning a number of bridges in Northland. This funding announcement was apparently made without any information or advice being sought, or received, from transport officials. This is an announcement that Winston himself would be proud of, indeed he’s pulled similar stunts in the past.

The reality for National, however, is that few people seem to have been impressed by the transport funding announcement. Instead, it has received considerable attention for delving so blatantly into pork-barrel politics.


Questions have also been raised about the effectiveness of the spend. For many of the locals interviewed by Campbell Live, two-waying bridges seem to be far from the top of the priorities list.

National have also apparently linked funding for the Puhoi-Wellsford highway to the outcome of the bye-election. Amazing how an apparently essential piece of transport infrastructure can so suddenly becomes not so important when there is a bye-election.

I’ve personally found it interesting watching National’s transport pork-barrel approach in Northland, especially in light of recent political happenings in Australia, where I am currently based.

In Victoria, Dennis Nathpine’s Liberal Government tied their political fortunes to the eye-wateringly expensive $18 billion “East-West Link”. It was a bad pick, with polls showing the East-West link had levels of support that were half of comparable metro rail projects. Napthine was subsequently kicked out of office.

Article Lead - wide6165269910pke2image.related.articleLeadwide.729x410.10pfiz.png1412250883220.jpg-620x349

Meanwhile, in Queensland, Campbell-Newman built a reputation for delivering large, expensive, and largely unnecessary motorway tunnels. His Government’s promises of more roading pork were spectacularly dismissed after only one term in office after a 12% swing back to Labour.

And at the Federal level Tony Abbott’s unwillingness to fund passenger transport improvements in Australia’s rapidly growing cities is receiving growing criticism. This is in stark contrast to the former (and possible future) Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull, who supports passenger transport.

As an economist, I think there’s a key message for National in all of these events. It’s not just that roading pork hasn’t been sufficient to save political bacon, but also that there is often a large gap between stated and revealed preferences.

Why is this important? Well, I suspect what all of these conservative parties have done, including National, is held focus groups where they’ve asked people whether they support more investment in roads. In response, many of these people have said “yes”. Something like these guys.




The problem with stated preference surveys is the trade-offs are usually not made explicit. More specifically, when you invest more in roads, you often find that you don’t get much bang for your buck.

So while people say they want more investment in roads, after a couple of years of fluffing about with largely ineffective road investments, they suddenly realise that they’re not actually much better off. Political strategies based on stated preferences may therefore work in the short run, but they are likely to run out of gas in the long run.

The lesson for National in all this, I think, is that they increasingly run the risk that people will catch onto the fact that their transport pork is failing to return much value. Every new road that opens which fails to meet forecasts, every new business case that is shown to be baloney, eventually creates the case for your opponents to shred your credibility. It won’t happen overnight, but it probably will happen.

This is especially true when you’re foolish enough to do what National have done, i.e. hang your dirty transport laundry out to dry in the blazing heat of a Northland bye-election.

This seems to be a timely and early lesson for Simon Bridges: Emulating the pork-barrel approach employed by Joyce and Brownlee will not necessarily bring you enduring political success. Just ask Nathpine, Campbell-Newman, and Abbott if you want to see the proof in that political pudding.

A Boy in the City

*** Here at TransportBlog we’re big advocates for making Auckland more “family friendly”. In general, this means designing our city to be safe and pleasant for the most vulnerable people: Children. While many parts of Auckland are a long way from idal, the City Centre has – in my opinion – come a long way over the last 10-15 years, I’m struck by the number of families and children I now see wandering around enjoying all that the city has to offer. This post documents the experiences of one such family. Edward and his family have lived in an apartment in the City Centre for almost a decade. This post provides a glimpse into their experiences, warts and all. We hope it encourages decision-makers (elected representatives and public servants) to continue to “family proof” Auckland, while also encouraging more families to consider living in the City Centre. As Edward notes, there are some significant upsides to living in an apartment. Less time spent maintaining property and/or travelling = more time spent with loved ones. ***

My name is Edward and this is a photo of my son eating a Popsicle while watching cricket on a large screen down at Britomart.

watching the cricket at Britomart

My son has spent all of his seven years living in an apartment in central Auckland. He goes to the only primary school in the city centre.

We are not particularly well served with playgrounds where we live. Until recently the closest playgrounds were Victoria Park (which he doesn’t rate highly – the equipment looks good but doesn’t offer good climbing challenges); Wynyard Quarter (which is fun because there are a lot of other kids playing here on the weekends); and Gladstone Park (opposite the Parnell Rose Gardens, which is a hidden gem with long slides and climbing apparatus).

The newly upgraded playground in Myers Park is a great addition to the city centre. Last time we visited there were about 40 people of all ages using the playground, with the large swing especially thrilling for children of my son’s age. The primary issue with Myers Park is the poor pedestrian connections to Aotea Square, which makes it less easy and safe to get to the park from that direction.

Living in the City Centre has encouraged us to to improvise. We wade through every water feature we can find, climb a lot of the pohutukawa trees, and play on the steps of buildings. Indeed, it’s almost as it the city is his playground. The photo below shows us enjoying Auckland Anniversary activities on Queen Street.

Auckland Aniversary activities on Queen St

Cycling is particularly important to us: It allows us to roam further afield and unlock more places to explore and play. From our apartment we can easily reach the Parnell Baths and Pt Erin Pools within 20 to 30 minutes away along mostly flat routes with only about five road crossings to tackle. We take cycle paths when they are available but we will bike on footpaths, parks, squares and shared spaces to get where we are going.As a parent, however, I’m aware of how the design of our streets creates unsafe situations for children.

Britomart Farmers Market

Pt Erin pools

The city centre is alive in the weekends and we try to make the most of it. But when we need quiet time it is easy to retire to our apartment and shut out the noise.

There are so many activities for him to do. Every year we go to the Diwali, Lantern and buskers festivals. During the Lantern Festival we ate dinner in Albert Park and walked home in 10 minutes, with none of the stress and hassle involved in driving through traffic and having to park miles away. In December we walked to the Domain to Christmas in the Park.

We have been spoilt over the last few years and now the idea of driving somewhere and searching for a car park when we get there seems like too much hard work, so we try to avoid it if we can. When we feel like an excursion we tend to take the ferry to Devonport or a bus to Takapuna. On a recent weekend we took the ferry to Waiheke, which simply involves a 5 minute walk to the Downtown ferry terminal.

Winter activities are a bit scarcer. We swim at the Tepid Baths or the Newmarket Pool (after mid-day when the smaller pool is released from lesson duties), visit the Art Gallery or  library, and attending the great Pick & Mix activities at the Aotea Centre on Saturday mornings. The Britomart farmers market on Saturday morning at Tukatai Square also has a great hum and there are always other children there. I’m interested to know whether they also live in apartments nearby or whether they are simply visiting.

The primary thing the city lacks is other children.

He is the only child in our apartment building. Pregnancies begun and babies have appeared but they have all disappeared into the suburbs within a short time. Children come into the city whenever there are events on or to visit Wynyard Quarter but we don’t see regular faces on a day-to day basis. The birthday parties he attends are all in the suburbs, as is his sport and extra activities he has participated in. Cricket at Victoria Park would be the closest organized sport he could attend or tennis at Parnell (the closest tennis club at Stanley St doesn’t have a children’s holiday programme).

I think his life will be more interesting if he had friends living nearby. I understand the Pioneer Women’s and Ellen Melville Hall on Freyberg Place will provide a space for children’s activities soon. I hope so. We will support it if it does. The recent closure of Quay Street was a fun opportunity for us to explore a place that is usually hostile to families.

Cycling around on a closed Quay St 2

Some people are unsure how to treat kids in the City. Security guards tell him to stop playing on steps because he could fall and hurt himself. Adults tell him to walk on the edges of shared spaces because a car might drive down it.

Apartment living has many aspects we like. We can lock up and go away for the weekend without too much effort. We don’t have to spend time commuting or maintaining our property. We are lucky that we have a lot of friendly people in our building willing to give my son some attention. I know more of my neighbours than I ever did when living in the suburbs. The city centre has most shops we need. I do need to get in a car if we want things from a hardware shop.

Living in an apartment means I spend a lot of time with my son, which I see as a good thing. But it is not just the quantity of time we spend together, but also the quality of time – both of us enjoy the interesting things on our doorstep together, with little to no stress involved. Living in a smaller space encourages us to get outside more and experience the spontaneous entertainment one often encounters in the city.

It is different from my childhood in Hawkes Bay and I am constantly looking for signs of deprivation, but so far I haven’t found any.

Tomorrow is transit driver appreciation day

Tomorrow is “Transit driver appreciation day“:

“Consider this… For hours on end, transit drivers manage to keep a schedule, check fares, give directions, announce stops, remember stop requests and more, all while safely maneuvering an extra-large vehicle through unpredictable traffic, adverse weather conditions and some really tight spaces! The fact is, transit drivers don’t have an easy job, they just make it look that way. On March 18th, join us in celebrating the contributions of our hard-working bus drivers and rail operators! That could be as simple as a smile and a wave when you board the bus or train, and a “thank you” when you leave. You can also print out and personalize any of the thank-you cards below to show your appreciation in person, and you can help spread the word using the sharing links provided. And, don’t forget to submit an official commendation for a job well done, so your drivers can be formally recognized for their efforts.”

At times, I find the discourse around public transport can be rather negative.

This is somewhat understandable in a city such as Auckland, where many people are aspire for better service. Most of the issues with our current system, however, reflect decades of neglect and under-investment by central, regional, and local councils (representatives and public servants). Many of these representatives and public servants got inculcated in the cult of motordom, and subsequently “strategically misrepresented” the benefits/costs of private vehicles versus public transport.

None of this, however, is the fault of our drivers.

Nor are they usually at fault for running late (who would want to run late?), or for their bus being full, or for running out of change because too many people by cash.

Indeed, my personal experience is that drivers are almost universally decent people, if not downright pleasant. One Ritchies driver I was talking to told me that the best part of his job was driving over the Harbour Bridge with a bus load of people in the morning peak. He said it gave him immense pleasure to know that he’d made a positive contribution to so many people’s lives. Many of whom he recognised as being regular customers.

Yes there’s the odd bad experience, e.g. I have been left flailing at a stop as a bus drives past in the middle of the night. But in my experience these are the exception not the rule.

They also seem more likely to result in a bus system characterised by inaccurate timetables operating in mixed traffic. In our current system, drivers tend to be the people left carrying the can for systematic issues arising from the aforementioned neglect and under-investment.

For these reasons, if you’re using transit today then please spare a thought for your driver. Try employing your kiwi accent to its fullest by bellowing a “thanx drivah!” as you exit the bus. Or if you feel so inclined, then consider going to this website to print one of these cards to give to them when you board.

Thanks to all the drivers out there.


Postcard from South Africa #2 – Durban Beachfront

This post doesn’t really have anything to do with the first Postcard from South Africa post, but I should probably put a link in anyway. It has more to do with this post.

Going to South Africa is all sorts of culture shock. But one of the things that surprised me the most when I went there with my then-girlfriend in 2010 was that there weren’t really any taxis as we know them. I was also told that it wasn’t safe to take public transport, and tourists didn’t have much choice but to hire cars to get around. I couldn’t accept the taxi thing, though: surely where there is demand from tourists and locals, there must be taxis? It turned out there were some in Cape Town – they’re called “meter cabs” – but not in many other places.

Going back in 2014, though, there were a lot more, including in Durban. It seems to be a much less formal setup than in NZ, with more independent operators than large companies. Uber also seems to be taking the country by storm – when you’re cautious of your safety, and many of the cab drivers are independents so you have no real way of knowing how legit they are, an app that lets you book a driver and see the reviews they have is pretty appealing.

South Africans do use “taxis”, but the word means something very different than it does in New Zealand. Essentially, taxis are minivans like the one below, which operate a sort of informal bus service. There are very few full-size buses, but these taxis seem to travel along fairly well-defined routes, although I doubt if there’s any kind of timetable. As far as I can tell, drivers are completely independent and don’t coordinate with each other at all, so there might be five taxis passing your stop in ten minutes or there might be none.


Every now and again, well-meaning people (and the odd sprawl pusher) ask why New Zealand cities don’t adopt minivans as part of their public transport, with minivans making it easier to serve more different places (and “point to point” service) compared with larger buses. Even the most basic financial analysis, though, shows that it won’t stack up – the labour costs are too high in countries with a reasonable minimum wage, the capital costs are too high, and there’s not much fuel efficiency gain compared with private cars, so not much saving there either.

Like Auckland, Durban is a city defined in large part by its coastline – although the main beachfront, next to the CBD, probably has more in common with somewhere like Surfers Paradise. Good surf, high temperatures and the odd shark. The beach carried on unbroken for seven sandy kilometres, lined with retail stalls, amusement parks, pools, casinos, hotels and the occasional car park. The picture below probably isn’t the fairest one, a typical shot of the beach would show more people and fewer car parks, but this is the one I’ve got:


The promenades along the beach have been upgraded, and a typical summer day now sees plenty of families walking, cycling and generally just enjoying the beach. It was a sight that made my now-wife very happy, as these improvements have made the beach much more accessible and family-friendly than when she was growing up there.


As our cab driver told us, there are now a lot more tourists coming to Durban, and the city is vying with Cape Town to attract more international visitors. Anywhere in the world you find tourists, you’ll find locals cheerfully devising schemes to part them from their money, such as the one below which I’m going to call a gaudily decorated rickshaw thingy, although there may be a more technical term for this. This probably isn’t a very effective means of transporting people along a 7 km beach, but I think it was at least 35 degrees and humid on the day I took this photo, so let’s all have a moment of sympathy for the poor bugger.


One last shot, taken from one of the many piers along the beach:


Postcard from South Africa #1

Greetings from Durban, South Africa, where it can get very hot and humid (apparently 44 degrees and 80% humidity on Christmas, although I wasn’t here for that) and the thunderstorms are pretty impressive (fork lightning is badass).

John P Durban

The long Durban beachfront. In the distance, you can see the stadium built for the 2010 Fifa World Cup – it’s achieved the holy grail for stadiums, covering its ongoing operating costs

Naturally occurring electricity is one thing, but the manmade power grid is another. South Africa’s power supply is currently going through the biggest disruption for a number of years, with “load shedding” across the country – rolling power cuts, affecting anyone who hasn’t got a backup generator (and many of the wealthier households do). The state-owned power company, Eskom, is cutting off power to entire suburbs or cities at a time, trying to prevent a devastating national blackout where no one can get electricity at all:

Eskom’s Andrew Etzinger says the power cuts are necessary to avoid a countrywide blackout.

“The worst case scenario is a national blackout which we seen in other countries over the last couple of years which happens when the entire grid is lost and no customers are supplied.”

He said if that happened in South Africa, it would take around two weeks to restart the grid while the entire country is remains in darkness.

How did things get to this stage? Again according to Eskom, “over-burdened power plants, the neglecting of refurbishing infrastructure, poor coal quality, heavy rains and an over-reliance on diesel are among the reasons for South Africa’s current power crisis” – pretty wide-ranging there, and presumably most of the fault lies with Eskom itself, or with the government. Eskom do go into more detail on their current problems in that article, making it a good place to start for more information (also another article here). President Zuma, on the other hand, has pointed the finger at apartheid:

South Africa’s energy problems were a product of apartheid and government was not to blame for the current blackouts, President Jacob Zumasaid on Friday.

“The problem [is] the energy was structured racially to serve a particular race, not the majority,” Zuma told delegates at the Young Communist League’s congress in Cape Town.

He said the ANC had inherited the power utility from the previous regime which had only provided electricity to the white minority.

Twenty years into democracy, 11 million households had access to electricity, double the number in 1994.

While everything from the second paragraph onwards is obviously true, it’s facile to blame a system which ended 20 years ago, especially given the various failures which Eskom have acknowledged. Electricity is an indispensable part of modern living, and an unpredictable supply can lead to all sorts of other issues for households and businesses.

Anyway, it does make you take stock and think again how lucky we are to live in New Zealand, where electricity is reliable and affordable (not to mention mainly renewable), and the market system appears to work reasonably well.

Flyover Fund: Wellington Auction Tonight

The Architectural Centre’s Auction for the Anti- Basin Flyover Fund takes place tonight at  7:30pm St Joseph’s Church, 42 Ellice St, Mt Victoria, Wellington.

The auction is happening because NZTA are still trying to force this pointless and expensively hideous structure on little Wellington despite losing the case for it at the Board of Inquriry. More millions of our  tax dollars on QCs…

Here is the catalogue of donated works.

There is a great range and something for all tastes, I have donated a print of my 1988 portrait of Ralph Hotere [selenium toned silver gelatine print], because I know which side he would be on:

Ralph Hotere

Here’s a short description of my experience of meeting Ralph for the first time on the visit that I made the portrait:

In winter 1988 I had the opportunity to visit Ralph Hotere at Careys Bay near Port Chalmers for a few days and make this portrait of him. It was an extremely rich experience, he had a way of offering things in a simultaneously casual and formal way; looking back I can see now how lucky I was, although at the time I was principally concerned about whether I was ever going to get a chance to take the portrait.
I got to hang out at his house; major works by his own hand and others, including McCahon, stacked deep against the walls, and down at the pub, which back then was a seriously quotidian operation, focussed on serving the fishermen from the boats that tied up across the road. Ralph cleaned up all-comers on the pool table. The pub seemed to never close. Both buildings were freezing.
We drove around in one of his lovingly maintained old Jaguars, up to the cemetery on he hill where he said there was a headstone McCahon had painted I should see, and, where he suddenly turned to me and asked, almost accusingly; ‘got your camera?’ He clearly had decided this was where he wanted to be photographed, he then arranged himself apparently casually but in fact quite deliberately. He gave me the shot.
He also took me to a studio he kept in the stables of a Victorian estate up on Observation Point, overlooking the port. He spoke of the great sculptural qualities of the straddle cranes working below. He was at that time fighting to save the headland from the port company’s land eating expansion plans.
Thinking of an appropriate image to donate to this auction I immediately thought of Ralph: he often found himself at odds with the plans of powerful public institutions. And not because of a resistance to change or progress, but because so often those plans resulted in brutally clumsy outcomes developed through poor processes. In particular those that discount long lasting negative effects on people and place. So it is with this proposal.


Sunday music: Talking Heads on cities

A blast from the past: the Talking Heads’ ode to urbanity, “Cities”. This is from the band’s fantastic concert film Stop Making Sense:

The Talking Heads emerged from 1970s New York. The city itself wasn’t doing so well at the time – like many other large American cities, it was struggling with deindustrialisation, white flight, and a crime wave. But it was a fantastic time and place to make music. Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaataa were originating hip-hop; Television, the New York Dolls, Patti Smith, and the Ramones were putting together punk rock.

People were swapping ideas and innovating. Things were happening. That’s what happens in cities.

Talking Heads frontman David Byrne realised how important urban places are to creativity. A few years ago, he wrote a great book about cities and streets, drawn from his experience touring all over the world and riding around cities on his folding bike – it’s called Bicycle Diaries.

Pets in the city

Here at transportblog we’re big fans of initiatives that increase housing and transport choice in Auckland. This is why we support investment in Auckland’s “missing modes”, such as public transport, walking, and cycling, as well as simple policy changes, such as removing minimum parking requirements and apartment sizes, which will enable more intensive and diverse housing developments.

While any single transport investment or policy change is likely to have a small impact, when considered together their impacts can be cumulative and synergistic.

Indeed, improved housing and transport choice would leave us materially better off, due to lower housing and transport costs. We could expect greater social mobility, with Auckland less spatially stratified by age and income than it is now. Improvements in material well-being and social mobility would leave us as a society happier and healthier. On a day-to-day basis we’d also sit on our arses less. Auckland’s high rates of obesity, and associated complications such as diabetes, would decline. The ecological footprint of the city would shrink with its waistline, as people used less energy and land to sustain their life-styles.

We would likely see more families living in the city centre, and also the flip-side of the same coin: More young adults living in the suburbs. Imagine blocks of terraced houses located above shops adjacent to a train/bus station, from where young adults can easily access both the socio-economic opportunities of the city, as well as supporting their aged parents. Such urban villages could emerge across Auckland if our transport investment and land use policies were focused on enabling such choices. (Note to NIMBYs: Restrictions on housing intensification are effectively forcing your children to live further away from you).

I would also expect to see more pets in the city. Like our precious Princess Kura below, with her favourite plastic pot (if you look closely you can see the teeth marks around the top of the pot).


Personally, petting time makes an important contribution to my quality of life. And it would appear that I’m not alone (source):

Social support is critical for psychological and physical well-being, reflecting the centrality of belongingness in our lives. Human interactions often provide people with considerable social support, but can pets also fulfill one’s social needs? Although there is correlational evidence that pets may help individuals facing significant life stressors, little is known about the well-being benefits of pets for everyday people. Study 1 found in a community sample that pet owners fared better on several well-being (e.g., greater self-esteem, more exercise) and individual-difference (e.g., greater conscientiousness, less fearful attachment) measures. Study 2 assessed a different community sample and found that owners enjoyed better well-being when their pets fulfilled social needs better, and the support that pets provided complemented rather than competed with human sources. Finally, Study 3 brought pet owners into the laboratory and experimentally demonstrated the ability of pets to stave off negativity caused by social rejection. In summary, pets can serve as important sources of social support, providing many positive psychological and physical benefits for their owners. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2014 APA, all rights reserved)

In the rest of this post I want to explore some of the ways in which we can accommodate pets in the city without necessarily increasing pet numbers. In some respects I am focused on increasing productivity, i.e. getting more petting output for the same pet input.

First let’s consider barriers to petting time. One barrier is, I think, particularly important: Uncertainty over future location. Traditional pet ownership implies a reasonably long-term commitment. This commitment is a problem not just for young people who are mobile, but also old people who are not confident they’ll be able to support the pet for the duration of its life.

This uncertainty is likely to have two effects, both of which are negative. First, many people will not get a pet, hence their petting time will be suppressed optimal levels. Second, the people who do get a pet may subsequently find themselves in a position where they can no longer look after the pet, at which point the pet is effectively given up.

Thankfully, awareness is growing of the benefits of petting time, as well as the barriers to pet ownership, is growing. And as usual, people are finding some awesomely creative ways to solve the problems.

The first solution is “pet-friendly cafes”, where you can see lots of other people’s pretty pooches. Overseas this has been taken even further, with the development of “pet cafes”. These places supply their own little fur babies.


Many pet cafes partner with animal rescue organisations so as to increase public awareness of the opportunities for animal fostering and adoption.

One really effective way to increase petting time, while avoiding the pitfalls of pet ownership, is to sign-up to fostering. This is an excellent option for people who travel a lot, are unsure of their finances, or are unsure if pet ownership will integrate with their lifestyle. In these conditions, fostering can be an excellent way to test the waters. The RSPCA in New Zealand notes:

Foster parents are a vital part of our work. Every animal that you foster is given a second chance at life – and the more animals you foster, the more lives you help save. Many of the animals that come into the SPCA Auckland Animal Village need a little extra TLC before finding their new forever home. Foster Parents provide a temporary home for these animals as they recover from surgery or illness, or simply put on a little more weight before being desexed. While each animal is different, the average length of stay is 3 – 5 weeks for cats, and 6 weeks for dogs. Once they are ready, the animals come back to the Animal Village and are put up for adoption.

Fostering is a wonderful experience that gives you the opportunity to meet and help many wonderful animals. Animal rescue organisations typically contribute to the costs of fostering, e.g. equipment, food, and vet bills – so beyond your time and love costs are minimal. There are a range of foster options, with some animals requiring fostering until such time as they are adopted (anywhere from a week to months) with others needing fostering for a specified length of time, e.g. until they recover from illness, holiday relief for other carers, or pets in crisis.

A common argument advanced against fostering is that “it would be too hard on the animal to give it up”. While emotions are a relevant consideration, I think it’s really important to understand that there are simply more rescue pets than there are available foster homes (or potential adoptive families). So the harsh reality is that the dogs who are not placed in foster care will often be put to sleep; this is especially true of animals with behavioural issues. So the majority of foster dogs are 1) very much in need of fostering and 2) relatively well adjusted in temperament and demeanour, having been screened and assessed for unsociable traits.

And one of the large advantages of fostering is that you can trial a range of different animals and, if you bond with a particular one, then there you usually have the option to adopt it. Like this little one; Punky the Yorkshire terrier.


Which brings us nicely to the issue of adoption.

Animal adoption is a more serious commitment, insofar as you commit to caring for an animal for the duration of its life. However, in many cases animal rescue organisations have a surplus of older animals, whose original owners have passed away or had their living arrangements change. So if you are uncertain of your ability to commit to the full lifespan of an animal, or having the skills/time/energy to nurture and train them when they are young, then I would encourage you to consider adopting an older pet. Adopting older animals has a number of advantages. First, less certainty is required about your future. Second, they tend to be cheaper to adopt, and you have a clearer idea of their personality and temperament. Contrary to perception, older animals often come pre-trained, and they are still trainable.

So just to re-cap some of the key points in this post:

  1. As Auckland grows our transport investments and housing policy changes should support greater choice.
  2. We can expect these changes to result in greater spatial diversity, and greater demand for “pets in the city”.
  3. There are ways to accommodate increased demand for petting time, without increasing the number of pets.
  4. Options include visiting pet-cafes (i.e. pet sharing), fostering, and adoption.

Which brings me to my final plea: If anyone of you out there is considering getting an animal, then please consider adopting an animal from a rescue organisation. There are many, many beautiful animals out there who would love to be part of your family. You will also genuinely be supporting animal welfare, rather than inadvertently funding pet over-breeding and the profits of backyard breeders.

To drive or not to drive, that is the question: generation Y research

This is a guest post from Dr Debbie Hopkins, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Otago – she’s currently doing some research for the NZTA on non-drivers. Read on to find out more and see if you might be keen to help out with the research by being interviewed.

Every day we make decisions about how we travel. These decisions include whether to go somewhere, where to go and how to get there. While we have some control over how we travel, there are a whole range of things that we might not have much control over that influence our travel decisions, such as where we live, access to public transport, and family commitments.

And these influences have changed over time.

For the past 100 years or so, the car has been the main way that people travel. Nowadays, our towns are designed to help people drive cars – large shopping centres with parking, direct routes for main roads – but sometimes this means that people without cars are left out. It can also mean that our urban areas might not be nice, safe places for people to walk or cycle. This has meant that for many people, car travel is preferred, so driver licensing, car ownership and distance travelled have all been increasing.

But it seems that things might be changing. In the past decade, there has been increasing evidence that generation Y – people born between 1980 and 2000 – are travelling in different ways and not wanting to travel by car as much as earlier generations. Industrialised countries including the USA, Canada, the UK, Sweden, Norway, Japan and Australia have all reported declining licensing amongst the 18-35 age group. Young people are also less likely to own a car and if they do own a car, they are travelling less.

We can make assumptions to explain why young people are travelling differently, but this isn’t very helpful… it is important to actually know for sure what is making this change happen. This could help policymakers and planners to design transport systems which better suit the needs of young people.

The Energy Cultures research project ( is conducting research to find out more. Dr Debbie Hopkins is looking for non-drivers from Auckland, who are willing to be interviewed about their travel behaviours. This would include people who might have a licence but don’t need/ want to drive, or people without a licence at all.

Participants need to be:

  • Aged 18-35 years old
  • New Zealand resident
  • Living in Auckland
  • Grown up in Auckland (especially ages 14-18)
  • Non-drivers (either with a licence but not driving, or without a licence)

Participants will be put into a draw to win one NZ$100 supermarket voucher.

If you, or someone you know, fit the criteria please contact: