While the New Zealand population overall continues to grow, a large proportion of towns and communities in rural or peripheral areas exhibit near-certain stagnation (Cameron infra) or decline in their populations (Jackson & Brabyn infra). This is in part due to declining fertility and ageing, and in part due to migration for economic or amenity-related reasons (Brabyn infra). This is not, however, the fate of all such areas, as it has long been thought that rural areas can benefit from growth spill-overs from nearby urban agglomerations. These spill-overs arise as workers with strong preferences for rural or less dense urban environments, but who wish to avail themselves of the employment opportunities available in urban labour markets, locate in the rural areas contiguous with or close to urban areas and commute to work. As a secondary effect, the presence of these ‘commuters’ in an area may support local growth via the demand for local goods and services they generate. There has been a long tradition of conceptualising the relationship between between spread effects, the positive effects on peripheral localities, when they share in the growth and wealth of a primary-growth centre, and backwash effects, the negative effects on the periphery arising from interaction with the growth centre.
The article is structured as follows. In the first section, we outline the classification system that we use to distinguish urban areas and the various levels of rurality. This provides us with a firm framework within which to discuss the relationship between the level of urban/rural interaction and a variety of demographic and labour market outcomes. The second section considers population change in the 2001-2013 period, disaggregated to the urban-rural classification, both for the population as a whole and by ethnic group. Our aim here is to describe any systematic variation in the age structure or pattern of population growth with the degree of urban influence. In the third section we reprise the approach taken in the second, but with the focus now on the labour market, particularly the employment rate and occupation structure. The penultimate section briefly explores the patterns of migration for the 2001-2013 period, again by urban/rural classification, while the final section discusses the results of the previous sections and makes some comments on the policy implications of the descriptive findings.
The overall finding is that, on the basis of the descriptive evidence considered, areas of high urban influence benefit from their close connection with urban areas and that some areas can improve their growth performance by developing or strengthening their ties with urban areas.