Making sense of suburbia: a spatial history of a small rural town in New Zealand


  • Roy Montgomery
  • Shannon Page
  • Nancy Borrie



incrementalism, neo-liberalism, private development, low-density, quarter-acre ruralism, seismic shocks, suburbia


Theories of urban planning are often associated with particular movements such as Modernism and New Urbanism, or with key thinkers such as Jane Jacobs, or urban designers such as Kevin Lynch and Jan Gehl. However, much planning activity proceeds privately and at a small scale, or “street-by-street,” so to speak. Only upon later reflection do patterns or trends seem to emerge. This discussion tracks changes in urban planning thought and practice by close scrutiny of the largely unremarkable unit of urban planning practice: the suburban residential subdivision. Analysis and interpretation centres on the establishment in the mid-nineteenth century of a very small rural village in the South Island of New Zealand, and the growth that has occurred subsequently. Changes in town layout in plan or overhead view over time is a principal tool for analysis in this discussion accompanied by contextual or explanatory argumentation. It is concluded that both incrementalism and major shocks, or seismic shifts, serve to perpetuate rather than disrupt or significantly alter the standard urban planning typology of privately-owned single homes on land parcels of between 500-1000m2, or the stereotypical ‘quarter acre’ dream as it often referred to in New Zealand.


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How to Cite

Montgomery, R., Page, S., & Borrie, N. (2017). Making sense of suburbia: a spatial history of a small rural town in New Zealand. Lincoln Planning Review, 8(1-2), 3–15.



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