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Why this won't work in New Zealand

26 November 2018

It seems that the urbanisation of population is a problem in most developed countries these days.

People are gravitating towards large cities because that is where the jobs are, and as a result, the infrastructure in those cities is being put under immense pressure. Just ask anyone who needs to use Auckland's motorways at peak times and you'll find proof of that.

So how do you fix this urbanisation problem?

What kind of magic can be used as a method of encouraging people to return to the regional centres where many small towns have actually suffered sorely from population loss or a lack of growth? How can the overwhelming population of large cities be induced to move to smaller towns and cities?

Well in the USA they're trying something innovative. Something that relies on the proliferation of high speed internet.

As this story in the NZH outlines, Tulsa Oklahoma in the USA is trialling a scheme where they're prepared to pay $14,700 to anyone that relocates to a smaller centre and teleworks from there.

De-urbanisation via teleworking is a concept that (as long-time regular readers will be aware) I have long championed. It simply makes sense to take advantage of the Net to get some workers out of the city and allow them to interact via virtual services.

Office space in places like Auckland is ridiculously expensive, as are car-parks and other services. By relocating staff with suitable roles to smaller regional centres, overheads can be slashed dramatically.

I recall my days at 7am News as a great example of this.

At the pinnacle of that company's operations, its headquarters used a grand total of 4 square metres of office space and its workers were distributed around the world, receiving their assignments and delivering their stories via the Net -- and this was in the dial-up days! The monthly overheads associated with the HQ and staff space was measured in mere hundreds of dollars.

Once the venture crapitalists took over, the enterprise was moved to a Symonds Street high-rise, space was set aside for in-house workers and the overheads soared by a factor of 100 or more.

Was the business any more efficient?

Absolutely not.

Was it any more profitable?

No, it went from a healthy annual profit down to a huge loss -- burning over a million dollars before it eventually died through the mismanagement of those venture crapitalists.

There's (once) living proof that teleworking and decentralisation can actually make a hugely positive difference to an organisation's bottom line. Of course it's not a model that suits all businesses but increasingly, as workers become isolated in their cubicals, communicating with other co-workers more via instant messaging and email than by face-to-face, it is a very viable option.

I did once suggest to the fine members of the South Waikato's District Council that they consider setting up a teleworking centre as a way of capitalising on Tokoroa's position as one of the first two towns in NZ to get UFB. Sadly, they weren't interested, mainly because the dinosaur of a mayor at the time had no clue what "teleworking" was. His response to my proposal was "we've already considered having call-centres located here".

Sigh!

So would the US plan work here in New Zealand?

Sadly, I fear not.

Not for any technical reason. Not because I don't think there are plenty of people who'd love to relocate out of the "rat race". Not because I don't think there are masses of young folk whose only chance of getting on the property ladder is to buy outside of a major population centre.

No, it won't work because we have a ridiculous housing crisis that means, for example, that it's almost impossible to rent a house in a regional town like Tokoroa.

I find it hugely ironic that the local council are spending *millions* of dollars, much of which has already been wasted through ignorance and hiring the wrong consultants, to try and attract visitors and their wallets to the town... see this agenda for an extra-ordinary meeting to be held later this week in an attempt to stem the bleeding and bungling.

There's little point in trying to grow a town if you haven't made provision for that growth... or if there simply aren't any houses available to rent.

It's kind of like opening a shop in the high street before you've organised any stock, or cash registers, or shelving, etc. Lunacy of the highest order!

In fact, until NZ gets its housing situation sorted, we (as a country) are significantly restricting our growth and our options. While that's manageable right now, to a degree, I fear for the next five or ten years. Creating huge numbers of affordable houses is not something that can be done overnight -- but population will continue to increase and the demand on housing will ramp up.

Sadly, I fear that by the time we actually realise what a massive burden hour housing crisis has become, it will be far, far too late to remedy it in a reasonable timeframe.

Of course you could always move to Oklahoma and grab $14,700 eh? ;-)

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