Rendering the invisible, visible: giving voice to indigenous aspirations in small-town development: an aotearoa/ new zealand case study

Kilgour, Jonathan Timatanga (2018). 'Rendering the invisible, visible: giving voice to indigenous aspirations in small-town development: an Aotearoa/ New Zealand case study' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Buenos Aires, Argentina 2018.


This presentation outlines the initial findings of a research project supporting regenerative activities in three small (tier-two) settlements in Aotearoa/New Zealand, and especially from an indigenous (Māori) perspective.


Presently in Aotearoa/ New Zealand, people are increasingly moving to larger cities for better economic opportunities, but they also face significant housing affordability issues in those larger cities. This dynamic conversely motivates people to migrate away from big cities for better and more affordable lifestyles in smaller towns. Yet, population change in tier-two settlements reflect net outward migration, particularly in younger age groups.


While the zombie town phenomenon is increasingly discussed in Aotearoa/New Zealand, as people migrate to larger cities, there is also growing interest in how smaller towns can become vibrant places and communities. Within this context, and with more government investment in regional infrastructure, how then can smaller towns regenerate to support both their existing and incoming populations? How can we build sustainable settlements, by supporting community capabilities and capitals in positive reinforcing cycles?


Of most interest to this project, we are specifically concerned with Māori aspirations for these towns and how their values and aspirations can be acknowledged and supported. Often Māori voices are marginalised as minority views and, subsumed by the majority rather than treated as valid because they are indigenous. This project seeks to find ways to bring those voices to the fore, and to influence positive, regenerative and sustainable development for the whole community.  


This research specifically focuses on three tier-two settlements in the North Island of Aotearoa/ New Zealand: Opotiki, Huntly and Pokeno. It seeks a systems understanding, from a mana whenua (indigenous Māori) perspective, of what makes vibrant and regenerative tier-two settlements. Our central research questions are:

(1)  what structural changes/trajectories are occurring in these three communities,

(2)  what types of physical and social (including health and education) infrastructure contribute to vibrant communities,

(3)  how can mana whenua aspirations shape the development of a vibrant community, and

(4)  how can structural change, infrastructure and aspirations be modelled to enhance mana whenua in tier-two communities?


The presentation will discuss the need for this research, how it fits into the National Science Framework within Aotearoa/ New Zealand and the initial findings from the research.

Jonathan Kilgour, of Māori (Rereahu and Ngā Rauru) descent, is a Research Fellow at the University of Waikato in Aotearoa/ New Zealand. He is a Māori Science Leader and the Principal Investigator of the Mana Whenua Building Vibrant Communities project, which is part of the Building Better Homes, Towns and Cities National Science Challenge. Jonathan also has governance roles on two tribal organisations. He is a former Research Manager for the Waikato-Tainui College for Research and Development, a tribal postgraduate college;  and a former Ambassador to the International Association of MBAs. Jonathan has over fifteen years experience working on Māori development issues in the public and private sectors.

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