Auckland: city of cultural segregation

A leading Pacific studies academic says social policies have driven cultural segregation in New Zealand's largest city

How often do we hear that Auckland is this wonderfully diverse city where immigration has produced an exciting multicultural mix and made it a truly dynamic city to live in?

The portrayal of Auckland as a place where different ethnicities live side by side and share the fruits of its booming economy suits many narratives, but is it a myth?

Associate Professor of Pacific Studies at the University of Auckland Damon Salesa says the residential segregation in Auckland is remarkably high in Auckland, and not far behind what you would find in South Africa or parts of the American South.

“The most segregated population is actually European New Zealanders in Auckland. These people have no window or vision on the rest of Auckland…. the city many European New Zealanders live in is not diverse at all."

Salesa points to census figures which he said showed that there were more than 477 Pacific-dominated neighbourhoods in Auckland. “We know for instance that those people are really unlikely to have a pākehā person in their neighbourhood and the figures are worsening…. And many things we do in public policy exacerbate it."

Salesa says school zoning (even though he believes in it) and the building of social housing on the cheapest land, add to the problems of segregation.

He says it is now not uncommon to find south Aucklanders who have never been into the city or crossed the Auckland Harbour Bridge, and conversely, Pākehā residents of the North Shore and Remuera who have never been to Ōtara or Māngere.

“People are going to make personal and political decisions based on a really slanted, and not accurate, experience. It is one of Auckland’s great problems.”

Salesa told Newsroom the high cost of living was now driving Pacific Islanders out of Auckland. But the favourite destination of recent years, Australia, was no longer in vogue.

“Migration to Australia has probably peaked and Pacific Islanders coming back. We are now seeing a creative response where a lot are moving to the regions, centres where people would be very surprised to see them - like Oamaru or Dargaville - where the cost of living is lower and the kind of work that people want is available.”

Salesa, whose wife Jenny is a Labour MP, says the lack of social housing and affordable housing is the number one problem confronting Pacific Islanders living in Auckland. He is hoping this will get some more attention in next week’s Budget.

"I would say to the politicians: 'Housing, housing, housing'."

* Watch the complete interview in the player at the top of this article page

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