The signs along Auckland’s southern
motorway read: “Welcome to Manukau Ñ Face of the Future.” The trademark slogan comes out of research done by the specialist branding consultant Brian Richards, and comment made by Sir Paul Reeves when he was governor-general. Reeves described Manukau City as microcosm of New Zealand society now and into the coming decades, while Richards’ research turned up the key words “vibrant, diverse and unique”. In the year the calendars turned over not just to new year but to new century and millennium, it seems more than appropriate to look at developments in one of the country’s youngest and already the third largest city. “Whatever happens here today,” says Manukau’s mayor, Sir Barry Curtis, “will happen in New Zealand in the future.”
Past to future
One of Sir Barry’s beliefs is that you have to know the past and where you come from in order to recognise where you are going. The region to the south and east of Auckland City has many natural attributes, but there have been times when opportunities were squandered. The city’s “vision for the future” and multi-strand strategic plans include an element of putting right past mistakes and making strenuous efforts not to repeat them.
Manukau’s history has been one of successive waves of migration since the Great Waka Migration more than 600 years ago when the Tainui Waka was dragged across the narrow isthmus from the Tamaki River to reach the great harbour in the west. Over succeeding centuries, hapu spread across the old volcanic area, rich in flax, fern and manuka, and with plentiful shellfish beds and good fishing in its harbours. Such abundance inevitably made it contestable territory, causing conflict between tribes from Waikato and Thames. Then in the 1840s, the first European settlers moved in to farm the area, drawn by the fertile soils. The earliest of these new settlements were at Papatoetoe, Mangere and Howick. The region was to remain rural in character until after WW2 when Auckland’s spread south, accelerated by the construction of the southern motorway in the 1950s and growing industrialisation, began to eat into the agricultural communities.
The progress of urbanisation and development increased with large, badly executed state housing developments at Otara and Mangere, and the establishment of the Auckland International Airport and the sewerage treatment plant at Mangere. Manukau City was established in 1965 when it became apparent that specific civic planning and co-ordination were needed to manage this rapid growth. To begin with, there were five wards in the new city Ñ Mangere, Manurewa, Otara, Pakuranga and Clevedon. Then in 1990, with local government reorganisation, Howick and Papatoetoe also became part of Manukau. The combination of these seven wards, all with their own particular history and character, is part of what has given Manukau its distinctive identity. The city is now widely regarded by social scientists and politicians as barometer of change in New Zealand and an indicator of the nation’s society tomorrow.
The search for identity
Manukau has the distinction of being both one of the country’s youngest cities and the third largest, behind Auckland City and Christchurch. It is also one of the fastest growing. In 1965, the new city’s population of 70,000 was concentrated principally around Manurewa and along the 320 kilometre coastline. Today over 280,000 people from 142 cultures live in Manukau making it the most culturally diverse city in New Zealand. (More than 20 percent of the population speak two languages with Samoan the most common after English.) The population is increasing by almost 5000 each year. Every month the city hosts naturalisation ceremony for some 350 new New Zealanders. “We are mosaic of the world,” says the mayor, with obvious pride and pleasure.
The city’s diversity is not just in its rich cultural and ethnic mix Ñ nearly 40 percent are of Maori and Pacific Island heritage and about nine percent of Asian heritage, with groups from Western, Central and Eastern Europe and the Americas. It is also seen in the wide socio-economic disparities, the combination of urban and rural interests and needs, the juxtaposition of the country’s largest industrial area and manufacturing heartland with green fields and an emerging wine district, and the great difference between the maturity of some of Auckland region’s oldest established areas and the rawness of new subdivisions.
Other population statistics contain positives and negatives. Manukau is youthful city with over 280,000 residents Ñ almost 35 percent Ñ under 20. Each year 3500 adolescents leave school, half going on to tertiary education and half to look for their first permanent job. Some 35 percent of the population have no school qualifications, 30 percent have tertiary qualification; and while Manukau’s economy continues to grow at an annual average of four percent (5.3 percent in 1999) compared with national growth rate of 1.9 percent, the region’s unemployment rate Ñ eight percent Ñ is higher than the national average of 6.3 percent. About 18,000 are registered unemployed, 10,200 of them actively seeking work. Manufacturing provides employment for the greatest number of the labour force Ñ 22 percent Ñ with retail and property and business services together employing further 23 percent. Wages in the city grew by 15 percent between 1993 and 1998, with the most significant rise in the business and financial services sector; but real wages in local manufacturing also rose by nearly six percent.
Unemployment levels, occupation spread, education, upskilling and training and access to IT were all significant challenges identified in report on the social, economic and environmental conditions in the city in 1999. Although the city has higher proportion of people in low skill occupations than nationally, two in five people in the labour force attended training course in the last year. The highest attendance was among Maori residents (50 percent). Nevertheless, council, business and community leaders are only too aware of the dangers of having such large proportion of their workforce reliant on sector like manufacturing which has been shedding jobs.
“Few people know the diversity of Manukau,” says Fisher & Paykel’s general manager of corporate affairs, Richard Blundell, echoing many who live or work in the city. Blundell was on the steering committee set up to develop an economic development strategy for Manukau. “You go from the affluent housing of Howick in the east to the Clevedon countryside and up to Otara which may have its problems but has huge heart of its own. Then you have Half Moon Bay and access to water transport and over on the other side the airport.” F&P is one of the largest employers in Manukau and by July 2000 all its operations in Auckland will be situated there including Finance, Healthcare (in 23,000 square metre purpose built complex), its corporate office and the northern region sales and distribution centres. Amongst the reasons for the move south were the opportunities for business looking for employees with wide range of work skills and qualifications. The city’s labour force profile was perfect fit. In fact, Manukau has created the two largest employment centres in the country, at Wiri and East Tamaki.
A strategic vision
In the mid 1990s the city council undertook two year study within its many communities. The exercise was called ?Vision for the Future’. They were looking for some consensus on the issues facing the city and future goals. The result was framework of “strategic directions” to guide council and community through the next 15 years, from 1996 to 2010. One of the council’s first initiatives was to formulate an economic strategy for Manukau, the first local authority in the country to publish such development strategy. steering committee headed by Noel Robinson of Robinson