In the early 2000s the move towards more compact and distinctive suburbs appeared likely to continue. Dunedin’s district plan promoted the development of the inner city rather than further suburban expansion. Auckland’s regional growth strategy favoured compact development with a small degree of expansion on the fringe of existing suburbs. Unlike earlier, relatively unplanned developments, this expansion was to be linked to the building of roads and public transport services. In Tauranga, intensive, medium-rise housing in the heart of the city was encouraged instead of low-density urban sprawl.
Both at a regional level and at the level of individual households, environmental sustainability issues were affecting suburban life. Rubbish collections now involved the recycling of some waste products. Home vegetable gardens were returning to fashion and access to good public transport was becoming vital. Some new suburbs were being designed for environmental sustainability from the start. On the Kapiti coast, north of Wellington, a suburb of 1,700 houses was planned, all with solar heating and insulation. Rainwater was to be recycled, and half the area reserved for wetlands, forests, walkways and cycle tracks.
The worldwide suburb
The communications revolution allowed an increasing number of people to work full- or part-time from their homes – so fewer people commuted to work each day. The suburbs were less likely to be deserted by working-age people during the daytime, and the internet kept suburban dwellers more closely in touch with distant friends and relatives than ever before. They may have been less likely to communicate over the fence with the next-door neighbour, but they were also less likely to feel isolated inside their homes.
One new form of suburban life, the gated community, was like a return to the walled city of medieval times. Gated communities, which emerged in the 1990s, were usually high-priced residential communities providing occupants with exclusive use of facilities such as swimming pools, golf courses, parks and reserves. The grounds and houses were often maintained as part of the ownership contract. Because public access to the whole complex was restricted, gated communities promised more privacy and security than private homes – although detractors saw them as elitist and anti-social.
The reputation of suburban life rose, fell, then rose again in New Zealand during the 20th century. The vast majority of New Zealanders continued to prefer living in the suburbs, occupying their own house on their own plot of land.