Residential choice and community formation

Understanding the types of urban environments that New Zealanders want to live in and the neighbourhood characteristics that contribute to wellbeing is critical to addressing the overarching research question of the Resilient Urban Futures programme: which potential urban futures will result in the most resilient, liveable, competitive cities?

A stand-alone house on a sizeable section has been the traditional New Zealand dwelling type and it remains the housing aspiration of most New Zealanders. However, the affordability of this type of housing is beyond the reach of many and the sprawling urban form it creates is at odds with the resilient, compact city model advocated in the growth plans of our major cities. Medium density residential developments, located close to public transport and community amenities, offer an alternative urban future.


We interview residents as they move into, live, and move out of case study medium density neighbourhoods. We are interested to understand the perceptions and circumstances that determine the housing choices households make, including the trade-offs made between dwelling and location characteristics, cost and amenity access. Residents’ amenity use, transport patterns, and experiences of neighbouring and sense of community are also explored.

Case study sites are located in Auckland and Christchurch. They include developments that have received significant public sector investment, for example, Hobsonville Point, a greenfields site in North West Auckland. The case studies include development histories and analysis of how sites are marketed to potential residents. The Christchurch study analyses consequences of post-earthquake population movements and examines factors that facilitate the formation of new communities.


Karen Witten, Robin Kearns, Simon Kingham, Eddie Dolan, Karen Banwell, Simon Opit, Phil Donovan


Fergusson E, K Witten, R Kearns, L Kearns (2016) ‘Everything is community’: Developer and incoming resident experiences of the establishment phase at Waimahia Inlet, (pdf) Massey University and University of Auckland, October

Kingham S (2016) A few seconds longer for a safer, more vibrant, attractive and liveable CBD, The Press, 7 March

Banwell K, S Kingham (2015) Community amenity, social connectedness and resilience: The informal response to the 2010/11 Christchurch earthquakes, (pdf) IGU Urban Commission Annual Conference, Dublin, August

Dolan E (2015) Understanding the importance of trust (and distrust) in Auckland’s intensification process, (pdf) State of Australian Cities Conference, Gold Coast, December

Dionisio MR, S Kingham, K Banwell, J Neville (2015) The potential of geospatial tools for enhancing community engagement in the post-disaster reconstruction of Christchurch, NZ, Procedia Engineering, 118, 356–370

Heins A (2015) Greenfield drivers: Residential choice, transport, and the subjective experience of travel in the greenfield suburbs: A case study in Christchurch, NZ, MSc thesis, University of Canterbury

Scott K, S Opit, E Dolan, K Banwell, K Witten, R Kearns (2015) Community formation: Literature review of factors that enhance place-based social relations in compact cities (pdf) Residential choice and community formation strand, Resilient Urban Futures

Opit S, R Kearns (2014) Selling a natural community: Exploring the role of representations in promoting a new urban development, NZ Geographer, 70(2): 91, doi:10.1111/nzg.12030

Opit S, R Kearns (2013) A new housing development at Hobsonville: Promoting and buying into a ‘natural’ community (pdf), State of Australian Cities conference, Sydney, November