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The new migration

By Owen McShane - posted Wednesday, 18 October 2006

When I first started writing about urban development about ten years ago, I soon learned that the biggest migration in the New World nations was the out-migration from the big cities, driven mainly by pre-retirees, returning to their roots or looking for "places in the sun" for a comfortable semi-retirement.

By the mid-1990s the number of people who had left US major cities exceeded the number who had migrated into those cities during the whole decade of the 1980s. All those who had been worrying about the depopulation of the regions had to change their tune and start worrying about the boom in the regions, and how to keep people locked up behind metropolitan urban limits.

However, these movements were not evenly spread. In some cities, in some countries and states, the out-migration continued to be largely balanced by the in-migration of young people leaving their rural villages or, importantly, migrating from other lands.


I had hardly finished presenting these findings in numerous reports when I found I was personally joining this wave of pre-retirees by relocating from the outskirts of Auckland city to a property on the shores of the Kaipara Harbour, one and half hour’s drive north of Auckland. So about ten years ago, I designed and developed a small hamlet, specifically targeted at pre-retirees. I did not realise it would end up appealing to divorced women even more.

Most lots in the rural areas are large - four or more hectares and prove difficult for many people to manage. These large lot zones are put in place by misguided planners who believe there is some need to conserve “productive” land. They do not seem to realise that if, two families have to buy two 4 hectare, (ten acre) lots, they use ten times as much land than if they could buy two lots of only 4,000sqm (one acre) - which is one of the most popular sizes.

So my original “managed park” was about 8ha in total area and incorporated seven lots within the park, most of which were only 2,000sqm in area. My company owned the park and, as we sold the sections, we planted about 80,000 trees and plants, created a series of ponds and built pathways, bridges and outdoor furniture, and a jetty to provide easy access to the harbour at the water's edge.

The company looked after the park but the residents only needed to look after their 2,000sqm lots. The olive groves and orchards and vineyard justified our use of machines and labour and the small lot owners paid a monthly fee for the right to walk on the park.

We soon found we were selling “health” because the walk around the park - which included reasonable slopes - was about a 45 minute hike, just right to get the cardio-vascular daily workout. The first three sites were sold to pre-retirees, just as I had planned.

My marketing strategy seemed to be on target and was paying off.


Then, about 18 months ago, I began to read overseas research papers identifying a new wave of out-migration - in this case driven by divorce or separation, especially from cities where house prices were highly inflated.

The cycle starts with a couple in a city, such as Auckland or Sydney, living in a house priced at, say, $500,000. If they have to sell as a couple it doesn't matter because they will be buying into the same market. But if their marriage or union dissolves they have to split their assets in half. Normally, they will have to sell the house to turn the asset into divisible cash.

So the “partners” come out of it with only $250,000 each. Typically the man rents an apartment over the nightclubs while the woman finds she has to move out into the countryside to get real value for her downsized nest egg. If children are involved, then small country towns have the added appeal of providing good schools and safe neighbourhoods at a much lower priced real estate market than can be found in similar neighbourhoods in the city.

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About the Author

Owen McShane is Director of the Centre for Resource Management Studies in Kaiwaka, New Zealand.

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