This paper locates the origins of New Zealand’s low-density urban settlement pattern or sprawl in capitalist social relations and the cultural practices of the first settlers during the 1840s and 1850s. While the grid plans of towns conveyed notions of order and regularity, the commercial imperative to maximise the profit-making potential of urban land created an uneven and sprawling settlement pattern. Settlers’ ambition for homeownership and preference for a stand-alone dwelling on its own section further reinforced the low-density urbanism and challenged metropolitan conventions about what constituted a town. Meanwhile, the primacy given to private property rights created an aesthetically diverse built environment that reflected the individualist ethos of settler society. These three attributes: low-density settlement, the stand-alone dwelling, and an eclectic built environment have defined New Zealand’s cities ever since. The paper suggests that present urban consolidation debates need to be better historically contextualised to acknowledge that urban sprawl has long been central to most New Zealanders’ sense of place and wellbeing. Future cities can be denser but still reference the best aspects of sprawl.
The author 2014
Proceedings of the 12th Australasian Urban History Planning History Conference 2014